On Tourism Photography

The photographs we take often say more about us than about our subjects. Recently, I decided to take a look at the photos I have taken as a tourist and see if I could discern any patterns in the photographic choices I made. I found that many of my photos fall into one of three general categories. These are:

  1. Pictures of subjects I see there, but I don’t see at home;
  2. Pictures of subjects that I do see at home, but I didn’t expect to see there; and,
  3. Pictures of subjects that I do see at home, and that I did expect to see there, but that look fresh in a new context.

Below are three photos I took in China that illustrate the three types. In a later post I will select three photographs from Mexico.

Category I: Subjects seen there, but not at home

Prayer at a Buddhist Temple

Taken in Tianjin, one might say that this photo belongs in the third category, namely, subjects seen both at home and in the tourist destination. The decision could go either way. I chose the first category because while we have a few Buddhist temples in the United States, they are relatively rare, comparatively speaking.

Category II: Subjects seen at home, but not expected to be seen there

Starbucks in the Forbidden City
Starbucks in the Forbidden City

In 2005, when this snapshot was taken, I was not entirely surprised to see a large number of Starbucks coffee shops in Chinese cities. But, I would have never guessed that I would see a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City. I could have more easily imagined a McDonald’s inside the Lincoln Memorial. (This coffee shop has since been removed from the site.)

Category III: Subjects that are expected to be seen both at home and in the tourist destination, but which have a fresh look in a new context.

On the Way to Dance Class

In this photo, taken in Shijiazhuang, a young girl rides backwards on her father’s bicycle as she is on her way to dance class. She reminds us that children are much the same everywhere. Why, indeed, would anyone ride a bicycle looking to the front when it’s more fun to ride backwards?

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