Searching For Authenticity.
On seeing the world through a traveling lens, with photographer Peter Amend.
Peter Amend grew up in California. He’s lived his whole life in the Golden state, relishing its variety, its seasonal changes, its easy access to everything from beautiful beaches to alpine valleys and major metropolises. He has an intimate connection to the land and the people that make Cali what it is, and (we think you’ll agree) it’s a connection that comes across in the imagery that represents our summer sandal line.
While his Californian roots run deep, he’s not one to settle into a rhythm defined by geography, time or space. “Routine is like a swear word to me” he says. He needs variety, and while a weekend trip will do, he’s most excited when throwing his bare essentials in a backpack and heading somewhere tropical, with crystal water, and new perspectives to be gained.
Peter started travelling from a young age and his experiences in different parts of the world helped influence his approach to taking photos. It’s through travel that he grew to appreciate the importance of shifting your perspective and forming a thorough understanding of other people, especially those living in different circumstances and other parts of the world. “Understanding people is the best way to connect with your subjects”, he says. Searching for this genuine connection, for an authentic way to relate to his subject, is essential to Peter’s approach to his craft. It’s an approach many could learn from, and one that goes far beyond taking photographs.
We live in a time of personal branding gone berserk, a time in which most people are presenting a curated image of themselves and their lives through social media. While brands vie for hard-earned dollars, people compete for the rarest commodity of all in the most competitive market: the attention and admiration of their peers and contemporaries. More than a billion people use Instagram every month, and while not everybody is a model or influencer, the idea of one’s ‘personal brand’ is becoming increasingly widely used and accepted. As a result, for many, both the purpose and the nature of travel have changed.
"I think your use of front-facing or rear-facing camera says quite a bit about you, and what you value."
“It seems like many people travel to places JUST to take ‘that one photo'”, says Peter. “I think your use of front-facing or rear-facing camera says quite a bit about you, and what you value. We've become pretty narcissistic in showing so much of ourselves so often, and a lot of what we like to show online are false representations of reality, and ourselves.” It’s a growing phenomenon, what we’ll call ‘bucket-list tourism’: going places not necessarily for the sake of really being there and experiencing them, but to be able to show your friends, enemies, family and potential lovers that you were there. You’ve ticked all the boxes on your favorite travel-site’s most popular listicle, and you can safely say, ‘been there, done that, got the perfect angle Insta-snap that’s worth at least 100 little red hearts on smartphone screens.’
Ironically, as Peter points out, despite the importance to so many of ‘getting the shot’, the very value of each image itself has become diminished. Because there’s no financial cost associated with each click of a shutter we can take countless photos, searching for the perfect one. The more images we have, the less value we place on each, until we’re neither really appreciating the destination we’ve traveled to, nor the images that distract us from the experience we’ve supposedly come so far to have.
One might argue that online inspiration and aspiration have ended up undermining the true value of connecting with a new place and/or culture. While this type of travel may seem simply contemptible to some, it’s worthy of more serious consideration than just a roll of the eyes. As Peter rightly points out, the more people are drawn to the same Insta-iconic locations, the higher the risk of causing damage to ecologically sensitive areas and culturally sacred spaces. Not to mention the inherent environmental impact involved in traveling in the first place.
So how do we avoid falling into the trap of being part of a problem? Peter suggests a simple acid test, “I like to ask myself 'Would I actually do this if I couldn't photograph it/post about it'? And I think that's a fairly good metric to try to base your social media life around. I also think it's important to consider choosing not to geotag your photos in places that might influence unsustainable high-traffic visitation. Traveling, whether by car, plane, or boat is already environmentally burdensome, so it's really important to try and offset your footprint when you’re on the go. I try to follow Leave No Trace ethics when traveling too, to minimize my impact as far as possible.”
Of course just like his constant desire to connect authentically with the subjects of his photos, Peter’s concern for the environment is just as strong at home in California as on the road. “There are so many ways to reduce your impact on the environment. I think we can all do our part, and that might mean in very different ways. Some people avoid meat, some people travel by bicycle, some wear sustainable clothing. There are a lot of little steps to take care of our planet, and the more tiny steps we take, the easier it is to make larger decisions about your lifestyle, in general.”
It’s partly these values that Peter strives to convey in his work. He chooses to shoot for eco-conscious brands wherever possible, and points out that the outdoor industry is a leader in environmental consciousness, with more and more brands prioritizing sustainability in their products and operations. In creating the images that represent those brands to the public, Peter plays a crucial role in gently guiding producers and consumers alike toward a place of being more authentically connected to the world around them.
When it comes to making those authentic connections for himself, it’s Peter’s camera that ends up playing the opposite role to most, by allowing him the space to truly focus on where he is and what he sees. “I think there's a connection with making a photo that sometimes brings me closer to the natural world, and situations around me. When you look through the lens, you can sometimes distance yourself from distractions around you - and tune into the beauty.”