I was going to places that were official tourist attractions and taking pictures of people being tourists. The idea that a person could turn into a tourist when they go on holiday is something that excited me. I wanted to find out more about the dueling identities that could take place at these attractions.
The places that I would like to go sight seeing or the things that I like to look at are often run down or abandon. Broken old buildings with overgrown vegetation fill me with optimisms. But at the same time I expect the sight before I see it and I have my reasons for wanting to see it. I have the experience of the sight seeing trip before it takes place and the only reason that I actually go is to confirm the fantasy and in a sense validate it’s existence. Going to those dilapidated landscapes that I like to look at seems just as contrived as going to one of the official tourist attraction like Yellowstone National Park or Disneyland. When I go to one of the official tourist attractions my main interest there is in the people who are attracted to these places. It’s interesting to me to see the way that people interact and negotiate that attraction. The abandoned hospital and the California theme park are the same. The photographer/tourist searches for confirmation of their expectations in the meaning of a place.
Sometimes I take a picture of a tourist and I get caught in the act. They look at me with cold stern eyes. They are concerned that I may be a threat to them. A creep or a stalker. But they always let me go untaxed. They have to because I’m one of them. Me photographing me.
The pictures that come from there are dialogic. They may stimulate conversations of the likes and dislikes of people. We have all imagined the barren landscape. It’s the Bonneville Salt Flats. I’ve seen it in books and movies. So I went there and stood on the salt and thought about racecars and Chuck Yeager. And I saw someone like you there too and then I took a picture of you taking pictures of the salt and also probably thinking of racecars. We were on the same uncommon ground, that flat salt landscape. Together trying to be outside of our selves. Where does outside and inside happen when thinking about myself. I feel like every thing is inside of me. The tourist is my invention. A figment of my own constructed reality. They are my alter egos. I can shoot them as I shoot myself. We’re all the same in that way.
If I show my pictures to other people as a spectacle does that make me exploitive? What does exploitive mean when dealing with cultural constructions?
A picture of an empty parking lot might seem like a picture of total nothingness to some people. Other people may see a memory unfold or maybe recognize a sign or artifact within that landscape that reveals clues to a past life.
I was making a joke about what the tourists were looking at. Equating the documentary photographer to a tourist on a boat sailing past exotic lands and stealing snapshots to take home. Pretending that they were immersed in the places that they only visited for a week. Thinking that they went somewhere besides their own head. Thinking they could now travel back to the place from which they originally came from.
What I’m trying to talk about is how we as people decide what is home and what is not home and also through that process of distinction how do we define our identity.
Why do people go sightseeing?
We want to go somewhere away from our selves so that after some amount of time we can come back to our selves.
I saw a billboard in Nevada that advertised a hotel to local people with the slogan,
‘You don’t have to travel far to get away for the weekend.’
Exactly how far do you have to travel to get away?
When we see something it’s through a filter of all our past experiences, beliefs and opinions. There are built in expectations when we look at anything.
Sometimes I wonder if there is anything else besides those expectations.
What is considered a scenic landscape is totally arbitrary and dependant upon what the viewer brings to the viewing of that scene. A landscape ceases to exist without a viewer.
Sight seeing and being on vacation is really about identifying with your home and your self. You have to critically analyze this environment that you’re in if you are going to be able to recognize that its not your home. Identify different elements of the culture and the landscape. Make comparisons to culture and landscape of home and find similar or dissimilar attributes there in. Little details of the same and of not the same compared to home. They confirm that you have the right idea about home. You know where you come from. You know what you’re made of because you are able to sort through the differences between your kind of people and place and their kind of people and place.
I was at the volcano standing at the edge of the cauldron. There were a lot of people there. A tour bus full of Japanese people on their vacation. We were all out there on the edge looking over the guard rail. Looking over and out to the other side and you could see at the other side, the opposite, another look-out with more people standing there looking back at us. People were taking pictures with digital cameras and making movies with video devices. An old Japanese man was making a picture of the caldera with his cell phone. Maybe he will send the picture back to his friends and family who are sleeping at home. If you want to make a picture of your friend or loved one with the volcano in the background you inevitably will capture other visitors in the same frame. People who you don’t know become part of your vacation memories. You take the strangers home with you. Look at the pictures, show them to your friends. Those people at the volcano who you don’t know also have pictures of you in their album. I want to feel close to the people looking at the volcano. I take pictures of them taking pictures of themselves, the view and me. I want to put my hand out to them. I want to touch their faces. I want to put my arms around the family and be in their photo album with them. The crowd moves like water. Surging back and forth. Every one is in movement swirling around each other seeking the best spot for scenic views and picturesque snapshots. Some people are bored and want to go back to the rental car or tour bus. Other people look really happy. Their eyes are fully open and there is a real sense of excitement as they stand there and see something that they never saw before. Every thing is new to them. Everything is worthy of being in a picture. I go to the look-out and stay for awhile watching people come in their rental cars. They grab their camera and walk out to me on the footpath and go through the same experience that the last group went through. I let them come to me and feel the crowd surge in and away. You can start to feel the rhythm of the sightseers. This is how the volcano might feel. People come and have a look at it, take a picture of it, take another one just the same but with their family included, wait for a moment and then go back to the parking lot. I’m still standing there. More people come and do the same thing. People see the sights and then sometimes they see other people seeing the sights. They might wonder where that other person comes from or maybe they wonder where they got their shoes.
I wanted to get away from the daily routine. I felt so tired, every day the same thing. Get up. Eat breakfast. Go to work. Eat lunch. Back to work. Go home. Tell my girl friend how my day went. Watch T.V. Go to bed. Maybe have sex. Maybe not. Every thing is a routine. Sometimes I try to make it seem different. Take a different way to work, skip lunch, and go to bed without a shower. It’s all just tricks.
I need a vacation.
I wish I was some place exotic, some place like Egypt or Turkey or Iceland. Things would be different. I would feel alive if I were there. I wish I lived in Paris. I want to be on an airplane. I wish I were going somewhere. I can’t wait until I get some time off work. Sometimes my girlfriend and I like to lie in bed on Sundays and talk about all the places were going to go someday. Someday when we’re rich we’ll be globetrotters. I want to ride the Orient Express or go down to South America and see the ancient Aztec ruins. I wish I could have been alive back in the old days. I could have been an explorer. I would have loved it. Kakis and a pith helmet leading an expedition into the uncharted heart of Africa. Discovering new tribes of native peoples and showing them the wonders of the British Empire like soap and coffee. They would treat me like a god. And then even when I wasn’t traveling, back home in England people would think I was so brave and mysterious. Women would lust after me, the great adventurer.
I think the next vacation we go on will be to the Hawaiian Islands. I saw a good Internet deal on a vacation package and I think I’m going to buy it for my girlfriend’s birthday.
When we get to the look out point after all these hours of driving I wonder what the air will smell like. I wonder if it will be hot. I wonder if I should wear a sweatshirt. I wonder what a volcano looks like. Maybe there will be molten lava. I wonder if any animals live there. I wonder what the food will be like. I wonder if they sell grilled cheese sandwiches.
The air does smell different here. Walking out to the footpath there are giant ferns growing over our heads and they make shade for us. Rays of light come through the ferns and touch my face and I smell the air and feel really good for that moment. I forget for a second about work and Internet bills and tax forms. I feel like the noble British explorer. I feel refreshed and relaxed. It feels like a blessing from god to be out here. To see a real volcano to see the steam venting out from the earth. The incredible power of nature. I wonder if any deer or some other kind of animal like that live out here.
When we get to the edge of the crater there isn’t any more vegetation. There’s nothing to shade us from the sun. There’s nothing but black rocks and dirt and a giant hole that drops off at an abrupt edge and falls 400 feet to a floor of steaming cracks and jagged rocks. The sweet smell of the ferns and flowers is replaced with the smell of hot sulfur and sunscreen. There’s sweat coming out of my face and my armpits and it’s hard to keep from squinting because the sun is so bright. For a few moments I look out over the edge and I’m amazed at how big this hole is. I take a picture of my girlfriend looking out over the edge probably thinking the same thing and then we walk back to the rental car.
I want to go back to the hotel room and take a nap in the air conditioning.