Photographs and ‘Personal’ Experiences of Tourist Destinations

I read an article today about technology in Canadian museums, and a single phrase crystallized something I’ve been mulling over for quite a while now.  The phrase that caught my attention was referring to the way people use their smartphones, and are seemingly interested in “curat[ing] a personal experience”.

This articulates one of the phenomena I have noticed as a tourist in many different places over the past 15 years, namely the need for everyone to take exact same photo from the exact same place, of the exact same view.  I’ve gotten annoyed with myself and others for missing out on the real experience in favour of documenting it through a lens.  A related but different phenomenon is the apparent belief that if you don’t take a selfie someplace, you clearly didn’t visit that place.  I have thought about selfies before, but it was more thinking about the cultural backlash to selfies at ‘dark’ tourist attractions.  I had never connected it to the phenomenon of tourists all taking the same photo.  Are they both manifestations of the same desire?

Arabic castle in Palmyra Tourists photographing the sunset

Arabic castle in Palmyra
Tourists photographing the sunset

Personally, I don’t like crowds.  I’m also a bit ornery.  Therefore, in response to seeing huge crowd snapping the same picture, I have found myself deliberately distancing myself for my photo, patting myself on the back for not following the crowd.  But I have also worked hard to recreate photos that I had seen elsewhere.  Clearly a personal experience is important for me, but there also is some aspect to a personal tourist experience that requires that I do certain things the same as everyone else.

So are these sometimes annoying habits of photographers a desire to create personal experiences at tourist destinations?

Are tourists actually creating personal experiences by snapping selfies and recreating the photos they saw in their guidebooks?

I suppose that depends on your definition of personal.  Does personal mean doing it personally?  Does it mean inserting yourself into a location/experience?  Does it mean achieving at least the appearance of something original?  Does it mean all of these things?

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2 Responses to Photographs and ‘Personal’ Experiences of Tourist Destinations

  1. Pete says:

    I also wonder if the tourists ever considered the fact that they are more focused on taking the picture then experiencing the moment. Living in Alaska i have observed thousands of visitors photographing a bear or moose and never even bothering to linger and absorb what they have witnessed and that is sad…. A photograph is icing on the cake, but the experience of being there at that moment will be with you the rest of your life.

  2. Yes exactly. But then I wonder if tourists today are so rushed, so pushed to see ‘everything’, that taking your own picture that you can review at your leisure reminds the photographer that they were there themselves?

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