Tourism Photography vs. Other Realities / Fotografía del turismo contra otras realidades

Front View of Santo Domingo Church in Oaxaca

Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church – Oaxaca de Juárez
Photo by Charles Cottle

Following the rules of photographic composition usually renders idealized versions of reality. Anyone learning to produce pleasant looking photographs will consider the “rule of thirds,” the importance of lighting, the importance of the foreground and background, the elimination of clutter, and so forth. Yet, as beautiful as many of the resulting photographs might be, they fall short of a more representational view of reality. Compare, for example, the picture above of Santo Domingo de Guzmán church in Oaxaca with the picture below of the same church. The image above is similar to almost all those you will likely see that promote the tourism of Oaxaca. The image below is one you will almost never see. The one above follows the rules of composition. The one below breaks a number of those rules, but gives you a better feel of what Oaxaca is like and the church’s place in it.

Which photo is better? Many would rush to say it is the one above. I’m not so sure.


Versión en español –

Siguiendo las reglas de composición fotográfica por lo general resulta en versiones idealizadas de la realidad. Cuaquiera quien aprenda a producir fotos agradables considera la regla de tercios, la importancia de la luz, la importancia del primer plano y el fondo, la eliminación del desorden, y muchas cosas así. A pesar de la belleza que resulta en muchas de estas fotos, ellas pierden una vista de la realidad más representiva. Compare, por ejemplo, la foto arriba de la iglesia Santo Domingo de Guzmán en Oaxaca con la foto abajo de la misma iglesia. La imagen arriba es como casi todas que se ven para promover el turismo de Oaxaca. La imagen abajo es una que casi nunca se ve. La de arriba sigue las reglas de composición. La de abajo rompe muchas de las reglas, pero le da a uno un sentido mejor de como es Oaxaca y como se ve la iglesia en su contexto.

¿Qué foto es mejor? Muchos van a decir que la de arriba es mejor. ¿Yo? No estoy tan seguro.

Santo Domingo Church from afar with telephone lines, cars, and buildings blocking the view

Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church – from Afar
Photo by Charles Cottle

13 thoughts on “Tourism Photography vs. Other Realities / Fotografía del turismo contra otras realidades

    • I’ve been thinking about this issue for some time now. As you know, Walker Evans and other photographers working for the Farm Security Administration in the 1930’s were criticized for making extreme poverty look so “attractive.” Perfectly composed and exposed photographs created an image of reality that many felt betrayed the mission of the photography project itself. While most tourism photography doesn’t have the same impact, there is no question that it tends to idealize the subject in front of the lens.

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    • Yes, you don’t see the cars in the tourist info or in most images on the Web, but they are everywhere. The historic district of Oaxaca, which you see in the 2nd photo, is developing a real air quality problem. And, of course, there is the noise pollution of so many cars, buses, and horns. I have a video of Oaxaca traffic that I may post later. It’s not a video that would make you want to go there. Yet it remains my favorite city in Mexico.

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      • I think is more controversial but is true to the place, but you did make me think we just take photos in certain way, and this photo tells a story. I changed the way of seeing things now, the more your travel or live the more you learn.

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  1. Yes – good points. All those wonderful rules, I love to work with for beautiful photos – the media construct, so to speak . . . and more ften than not, it is just what is just out of view of the lens that holds the majority of reality – or at least the rest of the picture! Good posy . . . love your blog.

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