These photos are about tourism: not about the tourist industry or about tourist destinations, but about the act of being a tourist. Being a tourist is a self-induced transformation of cultural status and mental state as much as it is a change of physical place or daily routine, and expresses a common human experience of ambiguity and estrangement that happens at home as well as abroad.
My own experience of tourism is one of periodic self-exile, born out of habits established early on in life (my family were compulsive travelers). Early travels with my family introduced me to travel photography, and the gold standard to which we aspired was National Geographic. Now, as an artist and long-time photographer, I’ve discarded that standard. My eye is deeply jaded against the photo that claims to “represent” a place, a concept that is confederate with the creation of cliches, and I’m drawn to more metaphorical and ambiguous expressions of experience. The “tourist experience” of ten necessarily includes closing ones eyes to a lot of reality‚the tourist destinations, and even our reactions to them, are pre-defined by books and magazines (including National Geographic), travel brochures, travel agents, and by other vacationers before us who have submitted to this experiential luge. Now my photographic impulse when traveling is to try and see what is taken for granted, or pushed to the back of the vision in order to have the “proper” experience of a place – the “in between” moments of existence. Is Disneyland fun? Yes, at times. It’s also boring, sticky, tiring, surprising, run-down, depressing, exhilarating, and gross.
I’ve shifted my camera from “documenting” the experience of being a tourist (those thousands of shots of flamingos, castles, statues, monuments, and the like), to the act of tourism and the tourist him/herself. That one would leave one’s home to be subject to strange foods and places, to new routines, to become a foreigner intentionally, all in order to relax and refresh oneself, seems at once heroic and moronic. The idea that home and work are so burdensome that they require a regular escape seems understandable but depressing and dysfunctional. At the same time, the tourist sometimes seems transcendent, and open to experience, at once a witness and a component of the strange landscapes they explore. I like to photographically select scenes that emphasize these emotionally charged situations: peering over a cliff, puzzling at some indecipherable landscape, or perhaps allowing oneself to be subsumed by that same landscape.
In the end, these pictures document a wider variety of experiences than those narrowly dictated by brochures and travel guides. By having a less traditional experience of tourist destinations, I create photographs that break down these places into less defined and distinct monuments. I record tourists in a wide range of emotional experiences, and thereby create a more inclusive and ambiguous vision of what it means to be a traveler.
Scott Whittle works and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He earned his MFA in photography at the School of Visual Arts in NYC and his BA from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. He has shown his photographs in exhibits at the Annual Brooklyn Working Artists‚ Collective, Park Slope Open Studios, the Visual Arts Gallery, and the E.M. Donahue Gallery, all in the NYC area. Whittle was an artist in residence at the MacDowell Colony and has taught photography workshops at the National Theater for the Handicapped. Timothy Greenfield Sanders, Kiki Smith, Doug and Mike Starn, and others have collected his work.