Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tourism As Time Travel

tourist project: the falls   #8989People gather at places where people gather. If it is a definitive place remarked upon in guidebooks and tourist literature, then they will gather to take photographs. This is the second in my series documenting the behaviour of tourists, of which I am sometimes one. I find the relationship of the bodies to each other and to the subject of their attention to be fascinating.

If you look up the history of Niagara Falls you will read that it was first reported to Europe by Samuel de Champlain. But he in fact did not see the Falls, and described them only inaccurately second or third-hand in the first volume of his journal, Voyages of Samuel de Champlain (text here):

Then they come to a lake some eighty leagues long, with a great many islands; the water at its extremity being fresh and the winter mild. At the end of this lake they pass a fall, somewhat high and with but little water flowing over. Here they carry their canoes overland about a quarter of a league, in order to pass the fall, afterwards entering another lake some sixty leagues long, and containing very good water.
-- Samuel de Champlain


tourist project: the falls   #8999It seems that people have always been disappointed by the grand places they visit. Even before there were tourists, there were underwhelmed descriptions: "somewhat high and with but little water flowing". People might look back on their snaps in the same way -- "This is us at Niagara Falls... this is us at the CN Tower" -- a parade of the banal. But I am not so interested in this cynical take on the post-modern condition of affect leveling.

Instead, I am intrigued by how photography manipulates time and consciousness.

The primary activities of the people in these photos is that of looking and taking photographs. This makes them time travelers, because when taking a photo they are in the future already, looking back on their present and wondering how it should be framed for posterity. There's a nice tension between projecting forward and looking back. I can feel it when I take photos in similar circumstances, and I can see it in the way bodies are arranged in these shots.

tourist project: the falls    #8985Being a tourist with a camera displaces the present. One thinks too much of one's relationship with the supposed subject (in this case Niagara Falls) to actually be in a relationship with it. One "preserves" the present, "captures" a moment, "frames" a scene. There simply isn't time to be there. The present is never long enough, is it?

How do we take a photo that not only extracts an objective slice from the continuum but embodies a subjective experience? This is the very problem of photography, one that many photographers struggle to solve. What is so lovely is that these tourists have naturalised this relationship. They are not self-conscious about their activities; they just do.

tourist project: the falls   #9003I hope The Tourist Project demonstrates the beauty of the social. There is so much to look at here: the textures and colours of the clothing, the railing and frame that makes a stage set of the promenade, the special gestures and body postures known only to those who take photos.

It is clear that the camera as a tool has shaped those who use it in definitive ways.

(As usual you may click through the images to see larger sizes on Flickr. Or view the entire set.)

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1 comment:

spaewaif said...

Fascinating post.
I like your blog...

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