Understanding Footprint & Brainprint in Photography

Most people have heard of the term footprint these days, mostly in the context of carbon footprints. But that’s not the only context in which it can be used. There’s also another term, one that’s less known, and that’s brainprint.

The impact of photography

There’s a reason that the saying “a picture paints a thousand words” exists. Still and moving images can be incredibly powerful tools for telling stories. It’s why they play a vital role in our lives, from the news that keeps us informed about what’s happening in the world, to marketing and advertising trying to convince us how we should spend our time and money.

No matter whether your photography is your livelihood or just a passion, it’s important to understand the impact it can have on people and the planet. Photography connects people, organizations, businesses, and brands. To lead the way to positive change and long-term wellbeing for all people and the planet, it’s important to take ownership of the impacts our work can have.

Understanding footprints

When we refer to footprints, we’re talking about physical, real-world impacts. These include:

  • Emissions
  • Pollution
  • Waste
  • Depletion of finite resources
  • Environmental damage
  • Poor human health
  • Furthering inequalities

When it comes to photography, the footprint can be linked not only to the physical impacts of being a photographer, but can also reach to the physical consequences of what may be portrayed in the images themselves.

Let’s look at a couple of examples of aspects of your personal footprint as a photographer:

Positive impact

  • Taxes
  • Job creation/outsourcing

Negative impact

  • Equipment production & shipping
  • Travel emissions
  • Personal and business waste

Your footprint also extends beyond your own personal impact. The work you create also has its own footprint. It might promote a product, a service, or a lifestyle – and these all have their own footprints.

Travel photography inspires more people to travel, which brings with it many sustainability challenges. Product and fashion photography encourages increased consumption without considering the footprint of the whole impact of production and the lifecycle of what is being promoted.

Example: The Footprint of Travel Photography

Let’s take this example of a photo from travel in Jordan, and break down some of the potential impacts an image like this might have:

Positive tourism footprint impacts

  • Increased tourism can provide more jobs and provide locals with high wages and allow them to improve their quality of life
  • Taxes from tourism can boost the local economy and also help pay for improved infrastructure
  • Increased tourism can raise awareness and promote conservation and restoration projects

Negative tourism footprint impacts

  • As areas become more popular for tourists, the cost of living for locals can increase
  • Property is purchased by foreign investors
  • Foreign businesses take more than they contribute
  • Increased visitors can put a strain on local resources, such as water, food, energy and healthcare
  • In poorer regions, children are encouraged to work or beg instead of going to school
  • The inequality between rich and poor increases
  • Historical, cultural or natural sites irreparably damaged
  • Increased emissions & pollution from travel
  • Increase in waste production without sufficient waste management systems
  • Animal abuse

Everything we produce and consume has real-world impacts at each stage of its life cycle. To fully recognize our footprints, we need to become aware of how and what we consume and endorse, and how that affects people, nature and the climate from the sourcing of raw materials through to their disposal, and beyond.

To develop a long-term positive footprint, we need to understand:

  • The social and environmental systems that are vital to wellbeing
  • Their current state
  • How our actions can affect them
  • How our actions can restore them

What is brainprint?

At the core, brainprint is how we see the world, based on our own values and experiences.

Photography and media hugely influence our brainprint – that is, our identities, culture, and society – although much of this happens on an unconscious level. For decades, we’ve been surrounded by images and messages telling us what is desirable, how to gain status amongst our peers, and what things we should want or aspire to. In fact, so much of what we consider to be “tradition” or normal these days isn’t tradition at all. From what we eat for breakfast to how we get married, much of our modern life is shaped my marketing and the media – where photography plays a key role.

Every image we see, whether that’s part of a marketing campaign or simply scrolling through social media, has the ability to influence us, and how we think, feel, and act, both towards ourselves and towards others.

Areas where we are influenced by brainprint include:

  • Consumption habits
  • Desires & aspirations
  • Stereotypes & bias
  • Self-image

Let’s look at some examples of negative brainprint:

  • Image editing and manipulation promoting unrealistic beauty standards that impact mental health
  • Travel imagery may stereotype the way certain cultures are represented
  • Lack of diversity & representation in the wedding industry media, making many people feel excluded

Example: The Brainprint of Travel Photography

Using the same image as above, let’s take a look at some of the possible negative brainprint impacts of this image:

Positive tourism brainprint impacts:

  • Increased cultural awareness of the Bedouin lifestyle
  • Increased environmental awareness of the challenges of the region
  • Increased understanding of the Islamic faith and Middle Eastern cultures

Negative tourism brainprint impacts:

  • Reinforcing negative racial stereotypes
  • Cultural appropriation of Middle Eastern culture and traditions
  • “Traditional” tourist activities such as camel or donkey rides encourage animal abuse
  • The commodification of people and places as tourists travel to get the Instagram shot and quickly move on, rather than taking time to engage in the history and culture of an area.

Can we use brainprint for positive change?

While brainprint can promote unsustainable consumption, environmentally damaging behaviour and negative stereotypes, we can also use the power of brainprint to create a most equal, just, and sustainable future for all people and the planet.

This begins with being more analytical and critical of the images we are sharing, and the potential impacts they may have. We can use photography to promote sustainable lifestyles, address inequalities and encourage the protection of nature and non-human animals.

Final Reflection & Thoughts

– Can you think of more examples where the use of photography or film has a positive or negative effect on people?

– What are the possible footprint and brainprint impacts of the work you share?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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