A colour vision – Journeys

The next few pages of the coursework deal with the effect or photography on tourism and vice versa, in particular Jonas Larsen’s Geographies of Tourist Photography and John Urry, author of The Tourist Gaze.

Jonas Larsen opens chapter 14 by stating that ‘tourism and photography are modern twins,’ which I took to mean they go hand in hand, are two sides of the same coin and influence each other greatly; are intrinsically linked from birth.

I completely agree with him that tourism and photography are irrevocably joined, that no matter where we go, our cameras are ready at hand to capture various sightseeing opportunities, and in the main these opportunities have been constructed for our entertainment ‘culturally, socially and materially’. This chapter is concerned with the role of photography within tourism and examines ‘the relationship between cameras, images, places, tourists’ and how they are portrayed.

Citing Sontag (1977, p.24) Larsen comments that she successfully argued how ‘ photography dramatically transformed the perception of the world by turning it into a “society of spectacles” where circulating images overpower reality’. Previously,  any ‘geographical or social space’ could not be easily represented, but modern technology coupled with the boom in photography and photographic equipment has allowed the world to be converted ‘into a department store or a museum-without-wall…every subject is depreciated into an article of consumption…an item for aesthetic appreciation’ (Sontag, 1977, p.110)

Larsen discusses ‘picturesque tourism’ developed in the late eighteenth century  and how Urry drew ‘attention to the organised and systematised nature of vision and picturing tourism’ he goes onto explain that we are in effect indoctrinated to see what is framed for us, that ‘gazing is a performance that…classifies , rather than reflects, the world.’ With social media, travelogues, fascination with celebrity and holiday brochures I can easily see how this argument can hold true. People visit Chislehurst Caves as Dr Who was filmed there once many years ago, many others still flock to the once seedy area of London to photograph the areas where Jack the Ripper once stalked.

The actual exercise is to comment briefly upon John Urry’s The Tourist Gaze, but I felt it equally as important to carefully read and comment upon this extract. Be interesting to read his views on the recording of travel photography, as Larsen concludes ‘the new temporal order of tourist photography seems to be ‘I am here’, rather than ‘I was here’.’ as more people use social media to promote their lifestyles to others rather than to record their own memories.


To read the first chapter of The Tourist Gaze and write a 200 word reflective commentary about its relevance to documentary.

In summary:

  • on the face of it his book is about pleasure, holidays and travel but in fact it looks at the bigger picture and how this is not a trivial topic at all
  • it also takes into consideration the consumption of unnecessary goods and services to generate pleasure
  • how and why people leave their normal routine lives behind for a short period of time
  • how as tourists we gaze in curiosity and interest
  • experts construct and develop our gaze
  • the gaze presupposes a system of social activities and signs which locate the particular tourist practices
  • In looking at this area of photography it is not as trivial as it first appears but can be regarded as deviant behaviour which in turn can reveal significant aspects of the norm and to make sense of a wider society.

My response

The question is what relevance does this chapter have to documentary photography? The simple answer could be that tourists are documenting  places in the world, recording how some remain the same and how some have developed/altered over time. They are also documenting a period of time in their lives, which they either want to preserve as fond memories, or use to justify a certain lifestyle/impress friends with that lifestyle. The action of recording their brand of tourism validates the places they visit as well as why they visit them. Tourist images can have a sociological value and therefore also a documentary value.

Tourists are documenting aspects of different cultures, even if these aspects are not totally authentic, it could be construed as documenting how the tourist industry works. As time passes we can see different trends within the industry, how war and other social factors have affected the pattern of travel and the markers ‘of status,’ this in turn documents the ‘norm’ as well as the deviance away from that ‘norm.’


There are many differences between holiday snap-shots and straight documentary photography, but I don’t think the question is asking us to discuss these, more to identify why it is relevant to documentary and how it overlaps. On this I would say that both rely heavily on semiotics; signs and symbols that aid us with recognising not only the genre but also the narrative. Tourists rely on experts – documentary programmes, articles and travel brochures – to inform which views/objects should be gazed at, documentary photographers rely on those who went before to inform how documentary images should be styled and also portray that which they specifically frame and want their audience to gaze upon…thinks FSA… and in this respect I feel that this is very relevant to documentary photography despite the apparent chasm between the two.



OCA Resources: larsen_geographies.pdf

https://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/urrytouristgaze [Accessed 20 March 2017]

http://www.iub.edu/~iuam/online_modules/grand_tour/02_theme_tourism.php?ptID=2 [Accessed 20 March 2017]

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