As a photographer, it was a dream to travel to the Faroe Islands for a four day adventure. It quickly became evident after we got off our plane that my good friend Marco and I were experiencing something truly special. Every turn we made in our small white rental car revealed a dreamscape; fierce waters, jagged mountains, and ever changing weather created an atmosphere like no other.
Short Film - Ascent
Filmed & Directed by Joshua Paluh
I had the opportunity to visit the Faroe Islands while studying at University in Ireland. The Faroe Islands have always been a place shrouded in mystery and beauty for me. As a nature photographer, it was a dream of mine to go there for four days and shoot the landscapes and the people that live on these small islands. As we drove along the single lane roads, we passed countless waterfalls that would have been overwhelmed with tourists and complemented with paved parking lots in any other mainland country. The experience was better than I could have ever imagined, and I instantly went to social media to share my experiences on the islands. After a hiking and photo-filled weekend, it was time to return home.
As I began my journey back to Ireland, I started to revisit thoughts on where my interest in the Faroe Islands had begun? How did I, a citizen of the U.S., quickly become interested in a small group of islands near the arctic circle? It felt like I had always wanted to go to the Faroe Islands; that it was my destiny to visit these untouched lands. This was obviously not the case. The answer surprisingly came easily to me as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed in the Billund, Denmark airport. The first image that appeared as I refreshed my phone’s page was of Mulafossur Waterfall in the Faroe Islands. It was from one of the most famous photographers in the world, projecting the beauty of the Faroe Islands to me and to over two million of his followers. As I continued to scroll past a few more images, I came across yet again, another Faroe Islands photo with over 50,000 likes. It was of the town of Torshavn; a community of no more than a 100 people living on the most northern edge of the islands. The answer thus presented itself.
The power of social media combined with visual imagery has changed how people see the world. It has given influencers the ability to globalize cultural experiences such as the one in the Faroe Islands, share them with the world, and create a new tourism market. Simply put, the underlying reason for why I visited the Faroe Islands is because I had fallen into the influencer trap. Based on my own personal interest in hiking adventures, I began to follow Instagram influencer accounts that told me that the Faroe Islands were the adventure I was looking for. This was no coincidence. I realized over the past couple years and with my daily consumption of Instagram, I was likely seeing at least one image of the Faroe Islands everyday by one famous social media account or another that I followed on Instagram. I was being sold an adventure on the small screen in the palm of my hand and I did not even realize it.
As I was in the Faroe Islands in the off season, I did not see the full scale of the social media tourism, but I did see signs. One place in particular stood out. My friend and I had seen countless images of this secluded cabin on the edge of a beautiful lake called Saksun. We were eager to find it. Millions of people have seen this image as well on social media as it has been replicated by multiple famous influencers with large followings. When we found the location, we soon realized that that the location was not a public place for us to see, but a farmer’s private property! A meager fence surrounded the property with signs saying “No trespassing” and “Enough! This is our land.” In respect, we did not cross the fence to see the cabin, nor take photos, but this was not a case for others. Clear footprints were everywhere, destroying the vegetation, crossing the fence, and down to the cabin. It was disheartening to see and to know it was motivated by influencers.
Even though I do not have millions of followers of social media platforms, it was hard to realize that I was still a part of the problem and needed to be more cognizant of my actions in our global media society. It is important to realize that we are all influencers no matter how big or small our followings are. A small but important step I have taken is to no longer geotagging locations. It may sound silly, but this adds another step for those that want to visit and can help delay overtourism. I think it's also important to listen to the community and be aware of your environment. It can be easy to get caught up in the perfect shot, but if community members want to keep a place out of the public eye, we need to respect those decisions, and (*shocker warning*) maybe not take the photo. Third, I think we need to be transparent when we decide to post a photo of a desired location. It’s easy nowadays to take tourists out of images with photoshop (trust me I am guilty too), but maybe showing that there are people at these locations, discussing tourism and damage, and simply educating can be an important step to protecting the places we love. I do not want to stop people from visiting the places I have visited, that would be hypocritical, but I feel it's necessary that we use our experiences to educate the next generation of explorers.