Erik Cohen on how travel skews our photographic sensibilities

“Strangers entering a new environment as temporary visitors find themselves, whatever their specific motives and purposes, in an ambiguous predicament. They are typically marked by a heightened awareness and attention to life, coupled with considerable cognitive and emotional disorientation. This predicament necessarily has an impact on their motivation and conduct. It induces them to seek to capture in their photos those features of life by which they are momentarily most strongly impressed (i.e., what appear to them to be the most “authentic,” “typical,” or “exotic” subjects). However, their limited acquaintance with the environment and consequent inability to grasp anything but the most obvious and easily recognizable features of it, necessarily induce them to stereotyping. In general, the briefer the time span of their sojourn in the new environment, the stronger the tendency to stereotype becomes. Hence, this tendency is common among the most fleeting type of strangers, the tourists, and particularly among organized mass tourists. One can frequently see busloads of tourists brought to touristic sights, all of them taking pictures of the same objects, be it a landscape, a building, or a local person, often under the guidance of a tourist guide. Among more individualized, nonconventional tourists, the choice of subjects is more differentiated and discerning, and the aspiration to catch the “authentic” more pronounced. Thus, participants in jungle trekking tours in Thailand, going beyond the boundaries of conventional tourism, usually disperse in the hill tribe villages in which their party stayed, each roaming the village to take individualized pictures. They eagerly “hunt” for objects, situations, and scenes that appear to them to be “authentic,” in the sense that they are part of the flow of “primitive” life, undisturbed and uninfluenced by the presence of strangers. Still, their brief stays in the village necessarily restrict their photos to a few daily scenes.”
–Erik Cohen, “Stranger-Local Interaction in Photography,” Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 19 No. 2 (1992)

Posted by | Comments Off on Erik Cohen on how travel skews our photographic sensibilities  | September 24, 2012
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