Smokes N' Mirrors

I’ll be the first to admit we are lucky to live on the road.  It was always the dream and we are grateful that we’ve come this far. We get to travel around the country, see some amazing things and meet incredible people but it’s not exactly as advertised. Right now we are siphoning WiFi from a fast food restaurant off of I-90 in eastern Wyoming. We haven't showered in a few days and we look rough. So does the trailer with new dents and scuffs, our clothes in piles, she too in need of a wash. This is the norm for us, dirty and unkempt off the highway.  On our Instagram feed, we are perpetually somewhere scenic with nice light, a soft wind forever blowing in our hair. That’s the half truth but nothing we put out there is 100% truthful. Our images and words are carefully composed, selected and scrutinized. At first glance, life looks really good for us and we know that. It’s intentional.

It’s called Image Crafting and it’s a huge part of what we do. We are all guilty of it on a certain level; it’s a luxury afforded to us thanks to social media. The average Facebook user does this by posting the best parts of their lives through selected photos and crafted status updates. Seldom telling the full story, we show a highlight reel. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or even a text conversation, digital communication allows us to curate a version of ourselves that we may perceive as being superior or ideal. It’s not an outright lie, but it’s dishonest and we all accept and partake in the practice. The harm is that the constant exposure to this type of information can breed insecurity. When everyone else appears to have a perfect life, partner or job, how else are we supposed to feel? We respond by ensuring our social media content is as equally curated and our online persona is on par. We perpetuate the cycle.

As photographers, Jill and I do this by cherry picking the images we release and putting our best visual foot forward in our feed. We only present half of our story. What we omit is part of the act too. We edit our photos thoughtfully (no, we are not somehow the only people at a crowded national park) before putting them out into the world.  We untag unflattering photos and retroactively delete images or posts that no longer feel relevant. All to form a visual narrative that we feel is the best, most exemplary version of ourselves. The risk being this is no longer real life; it becomes a campaign.

It wasn’t always this extreme. We started Our Wild Abandon to share a journey we were embarking on, and it ended up going further than we thought. Once people started noticing our work, we became more careful and selective with what we shared. We became self-conscious. We only wanted to share the strongest images, the easiest images to digest. We worried about offending someone with a caption or photo. We started to measure the success of our work in likes. We pared down our feed to just the “greatest hits” and started to leave out a lot of what were experiencing. Gone were the days where we would post shitty iPhone photos of us being detained in a Yuma holding cell. It sucked. We weren't happy. Travelling and taking photos (the two things in the world that brought us the most joy) started to feel like a chore, like a contest we could never win. We have been trying hard this year to come back to a place where our voice is genuine and we share our full experience.

The need to curate ourselves online does seem counterintuitive in a way. In our real lives our strongest relationships center around honesty and vulnerability. We all spend our whole lives learning from our mistakes and most days, we don’t look so great. This is pretty much universal, so why is it so terrible to think about sharing a more complete picture online? It’s simple, because the option exists for us not to. We never need to be vulnerable or imperfect unless we choose it and we all take the easy way out.

We see the product of image crafting in our feeds every day but seldom do we confront it. Jill and I definitely perpetuate it. We don’t expect anyone (ourselves included) to start posting their worst selfies or most recent romantic failure in detail online but we felt it was important to say that we are all in this together and that none of us are perfect.  We should be more honest, we should be open to showing that it's not always sunsets in sundresses. It's Walmart parking lots, unshaved legs and unpaid balances.

So, in the spirit of transparency, this is what life really looks like.