Exercise 3.2 (i)
Gather a selection of postcards that you have either received or collected yourself. Write a brief evaluation of the merits of the photographs you find. Importantly, consider whether, as Fay Godwin remarked, these images bear any relation to your own experience of the place depicted in the photograph.
How I laughed when this postcard came through the door. It is a view of Kaikoura, New Zealand that will be imprinted on my mind for life. At any other time before 14/11/2016 at 00:02 hrs. the image would have served as a mere souvenir of the stunning panorama that I was lucky enough to experience. The photograph shows a paradisiacal community set by the sea, with a snow-capped mountains serving as a spectacular backdrop. This is a prime example of tourist souvenir gathering as Sontag, Godwin and Mitchel speak about at length. Indeed, if NZ would have me, I would be moving there.
However, not withstanding the usual politics of any community and in particular the continued battle that the Maori people still face, geologically there is a major problem. It is major problem that was only partially known about until I rocked up in town a few hours before. My experience of Kaikoura will go down in folklore – the day that mother earth threw 2 simultaneous 7.8 earthquakes at the community. Three fatalities, 100,000 landslides, 2 billion dollar road repair, infrastructure completely broken etc. And it still going on and on. It is worthy of an assignment in its own right. I hadn’t anticipated appreciating standing in this spot in the pitch black to avoid a tsnumai with the ground rocking underneath meNor had I anticipated being looked after by the Māori community until I could be evacuated 3 days later.
This community has a very uncertain future. It is dependant on tourists. There is a very fine line between heaven and hell. What is not in any doubt is the strength of the community and the kindness shown when in crisis.
I have selected two post cards by Francis Frith (1906) as these postcards were still being sold and used in the village. It is a remote Devon village that people move to from suburbia to ‘live the dream’.
The first postcard is of the wider village and it oozes the idealised Devon. The thatched roofs on ancient building are typical of how Devon is represented.
The second postcard is of the road through the village and the school children that continues to resemble Frith’s topography approach to the composition. Other pictures he took in the set show the village as a tired and remote ‘working’ village where aesthetically, the main through road hasn’t changed very much since.
The reality is that thatched homes in centuries gone by were filthy places to live in. If you were lucky, the rich families of the parish would fund charities for the old, infirm or widowed. The remoteness up until 1940’s meant that attending grammar school would require the need for boarding – 5 miles away. Now thatch properties remain a fire hazard, as is isolation and loneliness
Today, Devon villages benefit from cars. However mobility has been at the cost of local businesses. Our village has just lost its post office. There was once a forge, bakery, butcher, general store, police custody, fire engine and several pubs to serve a much larger population pre Industrial Revolution. All that is left now are the pubs that struggle and a village hall that is trying to sustain a community run post office.
It takes a certain type to live here too. There isn’t any anonymity and your face has to fit.
On the plus side, tourism in my village doesn’t exist (unlike Cockington which is a living museum). We still manage a carnival, wassailing, folk events, a monthly indoors market, Yoga and Bingo. A great effort is made to keep village groups thriving too.
Carving a living out of the area can be difficult. Minimum wage is the norm – many commute to London and Bristol to maintain lifestyle.
My daughter looked at this card and said, “Where is this?” She looked astonished when I said that we have been there quite a few times. The ‘penny’ finally dropped and then she stated, “As if Brixham actually looks like that.” “Well, it has rained most times that we have been there…” Said I.
The postcard is of the same view as a very similar post card in my possession but the one I have is ‘saturation hell’ with halos around the skyline buildings. This version is from an archive. Nothing really looks real but it still sells the harbour as an idealised destination that is steeped in history.
Brixham is a community that historically has depended on the fishing industry. It still does have some fishing vessels but, again, it is dependent on the tourists to sustain the community. The harbour side caters for the annual influx with cafes, pubs, souvenir shops etc. Behind the harbour side tourist veneer are signs of hardship with tired buildings. The economic future of Brixham is unknown and this is because of Brexit and the impact on the fishing industry.
This postcard is an example international tourist attracting material that aims to persuade the would be British Empire pilgrim to part with their money to visit the ‘greatest city on the planet’. It also feeds into UK tourist patriotism that hangs on to the back of British Empire grandeur and our devoted Queen who has witnessed the best and worst of the capital over her 90 years of life.
London is everything that the postcard suggests – rich in history, architecture, culture and pageantry. Only a very naïve traveller could expect a city to be without its problems though,
My experience of London has been both as a tourist and as somebody charged with trying to ensure the safety of all who find themselves their. This postcard is designed to show London ‘at its best’ but there is inevitably a very dark side to the capital that harbours corruption, gangs, terrorist cells, homeless, criminals etc. This experience is far more interesting but not such a draw for tourists.
Write a brief response to…
“…The landscape photography implies the act of looking as a privileged observer to that, in one sense, the photographer of the landscape is always the tourist, and invariably the outsider. Francis Frith’s images of Egypt, for example, for all their concern with foreign lands, retain the perspective of an Englishman looking out over the land. Above all, landscape photography insists on the land as a spectacle and involves an element of pleasure.”
Graham Clarke (1997,P.73)
Do you think it is possible not to be a ‘tourist’ or ‘outsider’ as the maker of landscape images?
I am inclined to say that there isn’t a definitive answer to the question. Obviously, a photographer can’t claim not to be an outsider if they are taking photographs of an unfamiliar landscape. Even if they have researched the locations ‘place’, until you have spent a considerable amount of time somewhere to understand the rhythm of a ‘space’. As well as this, if one has spent many years living within a county, without spending considerable time learning about the dynamics of the landscape, the space and all who exist within in the desired composition can only be from an outsiders / tourist perspective.
To illustrate this, I spent my former years in the vicinity of Slough until I was 18 years old. I understood the cultural make up, land ownership, politics and social difficulties of the area. It is my hometown. If I had been a photographer then, I could claim to be an insider. But my insight was generalised and how much did I really ‘know’? If I went back there now, I wouldn’t have a clue about the narrative of the town and how it has evolved.
Various writers touch on this topic. Sontag speaks of the landscape a flaneur would traverse. They were voyeuristic outsiders to a subtext within a familiar location. I also recall that she also speaks of the paradox of being an outsider that is shut off from the real experience but also interacting with the landscape at the same. Interaction in itself still doesn’t mean that you have become an ‘insider’.