Snapchat: A New Lens for Old Sights

By: Hannah Bredar

Snapchat allowed me to share this Tolkien-esque vista with over 100 friends. (This view is from Buckskin Pass is in Colorado’s Maroon Bells/Snowmass wilderness area)

The days of Polaroids and darkroom photo development have been replaced by the modern era of digital ubiquity. Photography apps have risen in popularity among smartphone owners, as users are now able to take, store, and send pictures from one device. The Snapchat app is a particularly pervasive example. Indicative of the times, the name of this app is a quippy hybrid: “snap” morphs with “chat” to imply a short exchange, quick as a shutter speed. But what’s the point? Why not use real cameras? What’s the allure of Snapchat? Allow me to explain.

Let’s assume you are on a white water rafting trip and pull your raft up onto the bank of the river. The lighting is magnificent, the rapids are terrifying but magnetic, and you realize this experience MUST be shared. You whip out your phone, open the Snapchat app, and take a picture. Assuming all of your friends also have Snapchat, you can send them this picture. However, the app gives you the ability to set a time limit for the number of seconds for which the photo will appear on your friends’ phones. If they click on the picture but are not paying attention for the six-second time limit you have set for it, they cannot reopen it! This scene before you — the mesmerizing dance of swaying trees and violent rapids — will go unappreciated by all but you unless your friends are paying attention for those six seconds you allow them.

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This view is worth more than any pot of gold. And yes, there are two rainbows. Taken via Snapchat in upstate NY, on the road between Elizabethtown and Westport.

So the question remains: what’s the point? What consequences do your friends incur from this experiential time limit? On the one hand, Snapchat limits one’s exposure to nature. Your friends only have six seconds to see and process the picture you send. This is no way to experience the wild! A six-second photograph can’t convey the triumph of the water’s strength as it shapes the riverbanks, nor does it hint at the ravenous sound of the falls in the distance, nor the lulling scent of sun-warmed balsam firs lining the shore. And then there’s you. Does looking through a lens put distance between you and your object of focus? Snapchat differs from ordinary digital and film cameras in that it is a form of social media; you are sending this picture to specific recipients. In all likelihood you are anticipating their reactions, allowing those to color your own immediate experience. We all know this feeling: it is difficult to be fully present when we are sending an email or a last-minute text. This is why there are hands-free laws and those omnipresent signs that read, “No Phones Please!” Snapchat, too, can be a distraction. Like many other kinds of social media, it prevents full absorption of one’s surroundings as one attempts to send time-limited photos and videos to one’s entire social sphere.

Snapchat captured this interplay of light and dark along a Champlain Area Trail in upstate New York

On the other hand, Snapchat could be portraying nature realistically: wilderness is something fleeting, rare, and valuable. One must be present and attentive when one is exposed to it. Snapchat enforces this reality, disallowing prolonged exposure to the precious vistas, permitting just a hint of sublimity. That human desire to have more of something after just a brief taste could encourage further rafting excursions and thus increased wilderness education. This is good: the more that people know about the natural world, the better we will be at protecting it. Additionally, as the Snapchat photographer, you are forcing yourself to view the scene piecemeal. The grander scope of the roaring water, the glaring sun, and the threat of hidden boulders has a tendency to overwhelm, and the limited parameters of your smartphone’s screen may allow you to process the vista more thoroughly, and to cherish it.

It is controversial whether or not Snapchat’s cons outweigh its pros. Long-form nature film, on the other hand, is widely accepted as a comprehensive representation of the wilderness. It educates the masses on the value of the wild, combining cinematography with narration to tell the history of a place. If individuals are inadvertently educating their peers about this history through apps like Snapchat, the primary consequence will be increased awareness. Is this deleterious? As you stand on the riverbank, taking a photograph and sending it off to your social sphere, you are neither mentally nor emotionally present. But imagine the good that could be done if your friends are paying attention when they open the photo! They are introduced to a world of dynamic beauty and sublime ferocity, if only for six seconds.

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I’ve tried to find an imperfection in this view and I simply cannot. Lake Champlain has never looked so good. Documented by Snapchat in Westport, NY.

Focus on Keynote: Daphne Sheldrick

Dame Daphne Sheldrick
Kenya- born and bred Daphne Sheldrick is recognized internationally as the world’s expert on the African Elephant and Black Rhinoceros, and considered the international authority on the rehabilitating of orphaned baby elephants back into the wild. Through four books, numerous articles, lectures and television appearances, she has been a tireless voice for wildlife conservation worldwide.

Daphne SheldrickHer recent memoir, Love, Life and Elephants is her story of her love for her late husband David Sheldrick , legendary warden of Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park , and her love of animals and her experiences raising and rehabilitating elephants, black rhinos, buffalo, zebras, elands, kudus, impalas, duikers, reedbuck, dikdiks, warthogs, civets, mongeese and birds.

Following the death of David Sheldrick in 1977, in his memory she founded and currently runs (along with her daughters) the  David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and orphans nursery in Nairobi National Park. The Elephant Orphanage hand-rears traumatized baby elephants – who have fallen into wells, or watched their mothers, sisters and aunts slaughtered for ivory – during a three year rehabilitation program, to their ultimate release back into the wild in Tsavo National Park.

Photo @Henry Holdsworth
Photo @Henry Holdsworth

In 2001 Daphne Sheldrick received Kenya’s Order of the Burning Spear, in 2002 the BBC’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2006 she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II, the first such honor to be awarded in Kenya since the country received Independence. Dame Daphne Sheldrick will receive the Teton Outstanding Achievement Award in Conservation at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Don’t miss this special conversation with Dame Sheldrick, and the award ceremony, Wednesday September 25.

Guest Post by Lori Robinson of AfricaInside.org

2013 Outstanding Achievement Awards Announced

Each year we acknowledge achievements in natural history media, science or conservation. The highest honor recognized by JHWFF, previous honorees include: Dr. Richard Leakey, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. E.O. Wilson, Dr. George Schaller, Prof. Hans Hass, Sir David Attenborough and Gil Grosvenor. This year, the JHWFF Board of Directors has chosen to honor Beverly & Dereck Joubert for their notable impact in media, and Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, for her work in conservation.

Dereck & Beverly JoubertBeverly & Dereck Joubert 
For nearly three decades, conservationists Beverly and
Dereck Joubert have celebrated nature and wildlife in documentaries, books, scientific journals, photographs and magazine articles. The couple’s arresting visual work has earned them five Emmys and many other awards. The Jouberts, both National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence based in Botswana, are dedicated to understanding and preserving key species throughout the African continent. The couple is particularly interested in large predators, and lead the Big Cats Initiative, a campaign to stop dwindling populations and bolster public awareness. Beverly and Dereck are also building a new model for preservation as partners in Great Plains Conservation. Striking a balance of preservation, community and commerce, GPC aims to save endangered habitats in Africa and surrounding the Indian Ocean through low-impact tourism and the sale of carbon credits and villas or bush homes.

Daphne Dame SheldrickDr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick is a Kenyan author,
conservationist and expert in animal husbandry,
particularly the raising and reintegrating of orphaned elephants into the wild for over 30 years. From 1955 until 1976 Sheldrick was a co-warden of Tsavo National Park with her late husband, David Sheldrick. During that time she raised and rehabilitated back into the wild, elephants, black rhinos, buffalo, zebras, elands, kudus, impalas, duikers, reedbuck, dikdiks, warthogs, civets, mongeese and birds. Queen Elizabeth II appointed her with the first Knighthood to be awarded in Kenya since the country received Independence. Dame Daphne Sheldrick has tirelessly campaigned at an International level against the abuse of captive animals. Daphne Sheldrick is recognized internationally as probably the world authority on both the African Elephant and the Black Rhinoceros, with a broad knowledge of natural history and the interlocking role of different species within the environment. Through four books, numerous articles, lectures and television appearances, she has promoted wildlife conservation worldwide. Through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, established after the death of her husband in 1977 in his memory, she has made a further significant contribution to wildlife conservation in Kenya, supporting the Kenya Wildlife Service by meeting contingency needs during times of economic constraint.