Tourism and Visual Culture



Returning to the specific case of tourism, it can readily be seen that it is a both a special form of travelling and a special form image use. Tourism manipulates metaphors and pictures and, whether they are descriptions of Aegean hideaways, a Hawaiian paradise, a simple crofter’s cottage at the edge of a romantic Scottish loch, or unconquerable mountain vistas (which are there to be conquered immediately and have spiritual overtones).


They are usually aspects of culture, locality and history alienated from their original context, the very image(ry) of dreams. Those dreams are themselves socially mediated geographies and chronologies. They are cultural states of mind. ‘A place on the map,’ writes Adrienne Rich, ‘is also a place in history.’


The question here, of course, is whose history? In our drive to possess images it seems we are often seduced into selecting local colour and custom as if it was a new dress or car, from a purely consumer point of view.


Many Western Shangri-Las are located in the southern hemisphere and whether they are tropical or picturesquely inaccessible mountainous regions, they are ‘simpler’ lands with less ‘civilization’ - but often no less comfort. Often they exhibit greater social order and stratification and are more rooted in tradition. Sometimes they contain many reactionary elements reflecting a nostalgia for the past, for an enlightened golden age-gone-by which, in fact, never existed.


There are aspects of this in Gaugin’s Tahiti quest, for example. “... Tahiti was in 1890, in fact, a place that had broken almost entirely with its old religion and Gaugin’s source of information was not the Tahitian people themselves, but accounts first published by European travellers a century earlier. The stories recounted by Gaugin in Noa Noa are, as the art historian Nicholas Wadley points out, lifted verbatim from a book published in Paris in 1837.”