Snapchat Explorations

For a long time, I didn’t really see the point of Snapchat. My impression was that it was just some fad-ish thing (with its disappearing posts, etc.) Something teenagers frequented as an alternative to a Facebook utilized by their parents and grandparents. I was a little curious about it (articles like this and recommendations like this spurred my interest)  – but not enough to get on the platform and try it out myself.

I just couldn’t quite see a practical reason. What would I get out of it that I didn’t from Twitter and Instagram and the handful of other sites (like WordPress!) that I already was active on? Did I really need another social media platform? In what context would I even use it?

It was reading about climbers Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richardson and their plan to Snapchat their trip to the top of Mount Everest that finally put me over the edge and had me signing up.

I mean, how interesting is that??! I didn’t even know you could get an internet connection on Mount Everest! And to follow along in real time as somebody records bits and pieces of a climb to the top? I would have followed that on any platform!

(The documentary Meru hasn’t stopped resonating with me yet!)

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As it turned out, I really enjoyed the snaps from Everest. The commentary and explanations of things by the climbers all the way along…imagery like that of Nepalese prayer flags flapping in the wind…the views from the mountainside itself. Even the crazy hair!!

There’s just this immediacy to Snapchat, this feeling of presence, that doesn’t exist on any other platform I’ve ever used. You truly feel like you’re there, right alongside the people posting.

Twitter has a feeling of immediacy…yes. I like following live-tweets of events, for example. And Twitter is my go-to site for of-the-minute news.

But it’s not the same feeling at all. I think maybe it’s the fact that Snapchat is so visual – based in photography and especially video – that makes such a world of difference to the experience of the platform.

And it’s un-curated, un-edited photography and video at that. It’s raw and even kind of ugly sometimes – with wind noise on the videos and bad light and everything that comes with spontaneity. But I find that I don’t mind that at all – not in the slightest degree. That unfiltered, unedited aspect drives the feeling of authenticity – and I’m really enjoying that.

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So, following adventurous people (Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richardson, as well as various photographers) has proven to be the most interesting and fun part for me of being on Snapchat. But that feeling of immediacy, of presence, is compelling in less exotic accounts as well, I’ve found.

Watching Hillary Clinton speak at events on the campaign trail, for example – complete with all the sound of noisy crowds and all the glaring sunshine and the snippets of rather mundane conversation – is strangely interesting. There’s no glamour at all to her snaps (or rather, her team’s; she’s not the one snapping). But yet, viewing them, it feels like being a part of her entourage might feel. You’re kind of seeing with those eyes (not a high-up member of the entourage; rather, a low-level intern or something. But still! You’re there!)

I don’t necessarily find enough value or substance in any of her snaps in and of themselves to help me in deciding whether or not to vote for her or anything like that – or even to feel as if I understand her better as a candidate, much less a person. But as a complement to other information about her (articles, tweets, news reports, etc), it is interesting to look at the snaps. They flesh out the picture a little bit of what it’s like to campaign for President…the nitty gritty sights and sounds of it. I like that.

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Soon after I started following the Everest guys, I started following photographer John Stanmeyer – who was on a trip to the steppes of Kazakhstan for National Geographic at the time. And I think that’s what sealed Snapchat for me as a platform I’d stay on and dive deeper into – because his snaps were great.

I had no mental picture of Kazakhstan at all going in – and some parts he passed through were rundown and unattractive. But some parts were breathtakingly beautiful (the steppes, notably.)

He and his group camped on the steppes and brewed coffee in a french press as they looked out across the grasses and into the huge sky. And they couldn’t continue on down a road in their car sometimes, because groups of camels were crossing!!  He snapped all of that – in video and still pics.

And sure: It’s not like I can’t open an issue of National Geographic magazine and see images like the ones John Stanmeyer was capturing in Kazakhstan. Most likely his images! And in all probability considerably more beautiful versions of what I saw on Snapchat, as he would have taken them with a DSLR instead of his phone, and edited them. He’s an incredible photographer, and his work is very powerful.

But to see through his eyes (so to speak) in the raw, present way he enables by using Snapchat – that’s just something else entirely.

I’m certainly not saying I prefer his snaps to his finished photography (I don’t.) But again, there’s just this fascinating immediacy to Snapchat. It feels like you’re right there, looking at things right with the person taking the snaps. And getting to walk along and look at things (and drink coffee and talk about photography) with somebody like John Stanmeyer?? I love that!

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Most recently, I’ve been watching Adrian Ballinger (post-Everest now!) with fellow-climber Emily Harrington lead a group of hikers up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. I’ve seen photographer Vivienne Gucwa exploring the French Pyrenees, and John Stanmeyer leading a photography workshop in the unexpectedly interesting Tbilisi, Georgia. I’ve watched actor Jared Leto climb mountains in Spain with the likes of Chris Sharma, and blogger Alexandra Pereira traveling glamorously in Barcelona and the Hamptons.

Every one of these accounts is unique and interesting in its own way. It’s fun when you find people who are using Snapchat not just to screw around, but like these are: to show what they see…what captures their attention…what some of the little moments look like.

I suppose you can get this on other platforms – like Instagram, say. (Not all of Instagram is highly polished and edited.) But for some reason, that element is more here…and better here. And I like that about Snapchat.

John Stanmeyer, for example, goes to these places (Kazakhstan, Tbilisi, Armenia, etc) that I know nothing about and shows what it’s like to walk around there and engage in professional photography. And he also makes time to drink coffee. (A lot of coffee!)

In Tbilisi, he went out every morning and bought coffee from a woman who brewed it in the back of her car. He put the video snaps of this on Snapchat, in between interesting and artistic photos of city sights, and video from an outside patio that overlooked charming city rooftops, as well as snippets of the workshop he was teaching. And amongst all of this he speckled commentary – thoughts, information, impressions – on everything. Very eclectic! Fun and thought-provoking and interesting (which is a nice combination!)

Another example: I viewed a series of snaps from Jared Leto a few weeks ago, sent from a mountainside in Spain. He’d climbed it (as in professionally climbed it – so this wasn’t exactly a simple vantage point to reach) and had aimed his camera at a monastery down below him to take video.

And the monastery didn’t really look like much from that distance (it wouldn’t have been a particularly impressive view on Instagram). But you had such a clear sense in that raw Snapchat video of where he was sitting: high, high up, literally on the side of a mountain, surrounded by wind and sky and nature.

That in itself was worth looking at. I’d like to think I’ll get to Spain someday and experience the countryside there, and maybe view a medieval monastery there – but I’m HIGHLY unlikely to do it attached to ropes on the side of a mountain!! So this was an interesting glimpse into another world, for sure.

But then the monastery bells started to ring – and you could hear them perfectly, echoing through that valley and into his phone and through Snapchat and out of my phone. And it gave me chills! There was something about the raw experience of it – that sound, set against that environment – that was just fascinating.

Snapchat, incidentally, is SO MUCH stoking my travel lust!!!!

I’ll just add that when you have two Snapchat people traveling together (Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington in Africa, for example, and John Stanmeyer and another photographer, Anush Babajanyan, in Tbilisi), it’s especially fun, I’ve discovered – because then their snaps are complementing each other. Just like two people don’t see a view in exactly the same way, two people don’t snap a moment in exactly the same way, or with the same focus.

Is it clear how much I’ve been enjoying lurking on Snapchat?!

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I say lurking because I haven’t actually sent any snaps yet myself. I only view! But when I move and start exploring (only two more weeks now…yay!), my plan is to dive in.

I’m intrigued by the idea of getting better at capturing my initial impressions of things – partly as a mindfulness tool.

There’s a time, I think, for doing things with great care and meticulous, well-thought-out precision.

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Like when you’re playing Jenga, for example!

I’ve approached my deep dive into photography this way, largely.

But there’s also a time for devoting yourself to the life of the moment – even if that means sacrificing some polish.

Snapchat, in this unexpectedly powerful way, drives you to grasp that.

I want to see what I can do with that – as a photographer and writer, and just personally.

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So feel free to check me out on Snapchat about two weeks! (@MaggieCarlise) You can get a look at Richmond, VA, with me if you like, as I explore it in snaps (and blog posts, of course 🙂 )

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