Does Photography Really Make People Unhappy?

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A couple on their wedding day photo

As a wedding photographer, I feel like I have one of the best jobs in the world. I know everyone says that, and it’s infuriating to hear it, but I think it’s true. After all, I get to experience the very happiest moments of people’s lives, and record them for couples to keep forever. I even get to take advantage of the open bar and buffet now and again. It seems like the perfect gig.

But what if all I’ve actually been doing has been spreading misery and jealousy? That’s the contention of a village called Bergün in Switzerland, which hit the news recently for banning photographers from the local resort, issuing ‘symbolic’ £4 spot fines.

The reason for this wasn’t what you’d expect; too many tourists ruining the scenery for example, or trespassing to get the perfect shot. No: the photographers had been banned because they were making people jealous.

According to the resort’s website, “It is scientifically proven that beautiful vacation photos on social media make the viewers unhappy, because they themselves can not be on the spot.” The site and its Facebook page have taken down photos of the locale, and have asked others to do the same.

Now, this could all just be for publicity. While getting rid of photos of your stunningly beautiful resort seems counterproductive, many people may not have heard of it before. And photos and reviews will still exist. If anything, only hearing about it and not seeing it might make it more enticing. People who visit would feel like they were in a secret club.

But what if there’s something to this? What if all the photos I’ve been taking of weddings that get shared on Facebook are making people feel sad that they’re missing out?

To be fair, we’ve probably all experienced this at some point. You see friends on glamorous holidays in far away lands, reclining on beaches while you’re on Facebook in your lunch break. Constant reminders of how much fun everyone else is having are not always the best motivation.

Sometimes that can go double for wedding photos. The reminder of another friend getting hitched as you drift through your 20s and 30s can be uncomfortable, even if you are delighted for them!

This doesn’t just apply to the average person either; it can also be a consideration for businesses. Lots of brands think of themselves as aspirational, teasing people with glimpses of a better life. They align their products with glamorous celebrities, hoping people will buy them to sample a bit of that lifestyle.

Kendall Jenner probably doesn’t drink Pepsi on a regular basis, but the company clearly hoped that the endorsement of a supermodel would convince some young people. And the infamous Fyre Festival, which won the endorsement of a number of Instagram models, promised paradise and ended in disaster.

None of this is to imply that marriage is a scam, of course! It’s a wonderful, magical event that creates some of the best memories of people’s lives. It can be expensive and flashy and gaudy, or it can be tight-knit, stripped back and raw; but it’s always genuine. It’s unique, too: you can only take so many pictures of mountains, but no two couples or families are ever alike.

There are imperfections though. It’s always important to remember, when you see those holiday photos, that people are showing their best side. They share the wonderful moments and would like everyone to think that every moment is wonderful (don’t we all!). Social media is performative. There are bumps along every road, and ugly parts of even the most handsome ski resort.

My documentary style of photography often involves showing these contrasting emotions. There will often be tears and scrapes, last-minute scares about who’s got the ring, a literal raining on the parade after the ceremony. There will also be moments of joy, wonder and romance that I never tire of capturing. All of them are part of the same story; all are part of what it means to be human.

So the next time you find yourself getting jealous of beautiful photos on Facebook or Instagram, take a moment to reflect. Remember that there are real people and places behind every picture, and wish them well. That beach you’ve got your eye on for a holiday though…that will be perfect.

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Kent wedding photographer Joe Josland is the founder of JJosland Photography, undertaking documentary style shoots in Kent and across the UK. His unique natural style aims to replicate the story of a wedding day or engagement event through pictures, capturing the moments of joy that matter most. You can find him on Twitter here and on Instagram here.

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