The ‘Tourist Gaze’: picturesque

!!to be elaborated from Landscape Photography

“I am wary of picturesque pictures. I get satiated with looking at postcards in local newsagents and at the picture books that are on sale, many of which don’t bear any relation to my own experience of the place… The problem for me about these picturesque pictures, which proliferate all over the place, is that they are a very soft warm blanket of sentiment, which covers everybody’s idea about the countryside… It idealises the country in a very unreal way.” (Fay Godwin)

“…the landscape photograph implies the act of looking as a privileged observer so that, in one sense, the photographer of landscapes is always the tourist, and invariably the outsider. Francis Frith’s images of Egypt, for example, for all their concern with foreign lands, retain the perspective of an Englishman looking out over the land. Above all, landscape photography insists on the land as spectacle and involves an element of pleasure.”

Graham Clark (1997 p73)

 Do you think it’s possible not to be a ‘tourist’ or ‘outsider’ as the maker of landscape images?

In its conventional sense as a noun, the land is inanimate space though it may have life in it – so the photographer is inevitably apart as an observer in the way they are not necessarily with documentary or street photography where the subjects of the photograph may participate in determining the meaning .If one takes ‘landscape’ as a verb and not a noun – an act of slicing parcels of space and thereby giving them some meaning – then also the photographer is always in some sense an observer and hence ‘outside’.

But an observer is not necessarily superficial, privileged, a disinterested tourist or portraying land as spectacle for pleasure. Much depends on the intention of the photographer, their understanding of the complexities of the space they are ‘landscaping’ and the intended audience or market for the images. People may photograph the environment in which they live, or serve as a voice for other people living in the landscape – they are then less of an  outsider. Many photographers have also acted as advocates for preservation or restoration of landscapes devastated by commercial or other human exploitation – those images are far from pleasurable. Technically it is possible to select the content and composition, include even parts of the photographer’s body in the image, to increase the feeling of immersion and involvement. If the intended audience or market for the images is looking not for pleasure or commercial attraction, but to be informed of issues in the landscape/landscaping and the forces that shape it then the photographer often does in-depth research akin to documentary to select the images and meanings to communicate.