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Experience and the Protest Against Forgetting. By Deb Nicholls
My Name is Deb and I am a Cultural Tourist. I am currently completing a BA in Fine Art. As part of my studies at Griffith University I enrolled in International Study Tour Program. This program gave students the opportunity to Travel to Europe in July 2011. The focus of our tour was to engage with other cultures, art history and theories. Together with students from James Cook University we all returned with a sense of what it is to be a cultural tourist. This is my interpretation of my journey as a cultural tourist. D. N.
I have always had a strong desire to travel. As Smith (1989: 9) contends, 'Tourism can be a bridge to an appreciation of cultural relativity and international understanding.'
This is not a new idea, a desire to travel and gain knowledge has inspired a history of cultural tourists.
The cross channel passage from Dover to Calais 1789
The way we travel has changed but our motivation and desire remains the same. We leave seeking knowledge and experiences that can not be found at home. .
The importance of the Grand Tour is is reflected in the words of James Boswell written in1765. ‘months of travel in this delicious country have done more for me than all of the sage lessons, which books, or men formed in books, could have taught me. It was my imagination that needed correction and nothing but travel could have produced this effect.’
(Boswell, cited in Burgess 1967: p93).
Grand Tourists of the past recorded their observations in journals and letters. These were used for remembrance and a way to share knowledge. They also motivated generations of cultural tourists.
3rd endpaper: Various eighteenth century documents 1776- 1780
I also kept a journal. Unlike the journals of the past, my journal evolved from being reasonably organised.
…to completely organic
It reflected my interest in visual culture. Capturing an essence of the places I visited and the things I experienced.
I collected all sorts of information and visual imagery in the form of brochures, leaflets, flyers, tickets, guides, maps and books – snippets of the everyday. These are the ephemera of cultural production and invaluable sources of information. ‘The visual cultures of tourism may be grasped as both contextualising representations (in painting for example, prioritizing [sic] destinations, directing or suggesting ways of seeing, and providing points of departure for the tourist.’(Crouch & Lubbren 2003: 7).
Home - Brisbane
Something as simple as a tourist map becomes a signifier of the city. Maps ‘can be made to interact with that repository of textual and visual images that allow us to imagine, to navigate, to mentally manage those cities. Most importantly, they can contribute to what we call the visual identity of the metropolis that they represent, in more than one sense.’ (Egea 2011:152)
Postcards became an obsession for many reasons.
‘As images that are carriers of text, and the textual correspondence that brings images across boundaries of class gender, nationality and race, postcards are artefacts that provoke questions of discipline and subjectivity , especially as these relate to concrete practices of production, consumption, collection and appropriation.’ (Mendelson & Prochaska 2010: 11)
A Postcard can say a lot about a place. According to Van Laar (2010: 95), postcards of places set up distinct relationships between the place, the image and the viewer. We seek to find an image that will summarise the essential features of a place and typifies our understanding of it and best communicates our experience of it. ‘This is an effort to describe something as completely as possible in order to convey its exceptional importance as a place and as an experience...Postcards are intended to be the best possible representation of something worth communicating and remembering.’
The postcards I collected typified the importance I associated with the place and my desire to remember it. Together with my photographs they reflect a desire to remember. Bonami (2005: 177), also suggests that collecting postcards, photographs and relics expresses a ‘desire to possess individual pieces or replicas of the world …in order to hold the world within our grasp’.
I also bought various souvenirs.
Souvenirs are physical reminders of a place, but they also reflect the culture and traditions. They are ‘tangible evidences of travel that are often shared with family and friends, but what one really brings back are memories of experiences.’ (Grayburn 1977:21-36)
Most importantly I collected photographs
According to Sontag (1989: 162) ‘the urge to have new experiences is translated into the urge to take photographs: experience seeking a crisis proof form’.
While I was in Europe I took 3772 photographs
I asked myself why did I take so many photographs?
Baerenholdt et al (2004: 105) contends that the photography is used to accumulate memories. A fleeting moment can be captured and becomes a tangible Prague reminder that makes the moment last a life time.
Without the tangible reminder will the objects and experiences become lost in my memory?
Do photos do my memory work for me?
Without them will I become forgetful?
I wanted to preserve my experiences and memories.
New experiences are purposely collected along the way. These imbue the tourist with greater knowledge: greater than they had before and greater than those at home who have never been, seen or done these things. (Bell, C.& Lyall, J. 2005: 194).
On the road to Prague
Because of my obsession with photographing my experiences, a part of me fears being mistaken for ‘just another tourist’. As Urry (2002: 13) states ‘The person who only lets the sense of sight have free rein is ridiculed. Such sightseers , especially with a camera draped around their neck, are conventionally taken to be superficial in their appreciation of environments, people and places.’ I feel that I am more than a spectator, participating in a sightseeing holiday. I am looking for experiences that will bring understanding and knowledge.
I, like many travellers try to distinguish myself from the others in the tourist milieu. Using classifications like ‘I am a traveller, you are a tourist, HE is a tripper.’ [emphasis added] (Waterhouse 2010: 3)
Cultural tourism is more than travel in search of sensation or merely entertainment. For the cultural tourist the motivation is entirely different. Cultural tourists seek knowledge on a personal level.
Wurzburg wine festival
Before I leave home I already identify myself as being a cultural tourist. I research future destinations prior to travelling in order to gain knowledge which will hopefully enhance my experiences and make them more memorable. McLaren (2010: 466) contends that travelers should act responsibly by seeking out accurate information about the places they intend to visit.
My level of understanding directly affects my travel experience and impacts how I feel about a place and how I choose to remember it.
But does it ensure the memory will last longer?
Without this knowledge are the places I look upon more transparent?
Or does having the background knowledge make the experience more concrete?
We are acutely aware that memory is unreliable, places and experiences that are clear at the time may change in our memory.
Kennedy (2009: 197) confirms this by stating that memory fades with time and can distort experiences.
In my role as a cultural tourist preserving memories and experiences was a priority. ‘As Kodak points out, photographs are a way of preserving memories and are powerful and pleasurable stimuli for reawakening forgotten experiences.’ (Curtis & Pajaczkowska 2003: 150)
My photos not only recorded places …
They also recorded my gaze …
Photo by Meredith MacLeod
Venice Biennale – Hong Kong
My shared social experiences…
Wurzburg wine festival
Looking through my lens at places I have visited before raised feelings of nostalgia.
With heightened awareness I recorded my experiences in my photos. To me they were extraordinary and worthy of preserving for future reflection. Urry (2002: 13) contends ' there has to be something distinctive to gaze upon, otherwise a particular experience will not function as a tourist experience. There has to be something extraordinary about the gaze.‘
Andreas Feininger Exhibition - Prague
As historical sights and ‘Museums epitomize cultural tourism’ (Lippard 1999: 77) there was no shortage of extraordinary places and objects to experience first hand. .
Poignant individual experiences were obtained upon viewing long admired, works of art first hand.
Richard Long -Berlin
These experiences are enriched by the extent to which these artworks also speak about culture and history.
They remind us of times that have past.
The Museums themselves become works of art and become strong visual clues about the cultural evolution of that place.
Jewish Museum -Berlin
Monuments of ‘momento mori’ are also reminders of the past and promote contemplation. These monuments can evoke powerful emotional experiences that remain ‘unforgettable’.
Jewish Museum -Berlin
Without these emotive memorials would these historical memories become like ghosts of the past? Lippard (1999: 119) states ‘Public memorials and visited sites are the battlegrounds in a life and death struggle between memory, denial and repression.’
Jewish Museum -Berlin
Poignant and emotional experiences are just as easily evoked by a dilapidated graveyard. Here the layers of history are never more obvious.
Jewish Museum and cemetery -Prague
Embracing all aspects of a location will allow for an experience that is rich in understanding.
Not all memories are gathered at particular sites and places. Some of the most poignant moments are spent in transit. Scenic countryside, conversations with strangers on a train, meals on the run, being as hot as hell, getting lost or finding your way, all add to the experience.
On the train to Berlin
Time spent in transit also allows us to reflect on our experiences and how we remember them. ‘We think over where we have come from, how far we have come and where else we desire to go.’ (Crouch 2002 cited in Baerenholdt et
al, 2004: 33)
Memory of previous visits adds another dimension to the travel experience. Baerenholdt et al (2004: 33) contends ‘Tourists categorise, compare and consider different qualities of places experienced at different times.’
Milan Train Station 2011
‘Tourist places are simultaneously places of the physical environment, embodiment, sociality, memory and image.’ (Baerenholdt et al, 2004: 32) . They are places of wonderment and
Milan Train Station 2007
Upon re-visiting I found many places that are rich in cultural history were also places of significant family memories.
Mitch and Sam – Venice 2007
I have been fortunate to be able to share my love of culture and travel with my family. ‘A seldom-mentioned motivation to travel is the desire of parents to interest their children in the world around them; many families take trips to expose children to interesting and significant places, historical, cultural and natural.’ (Bon Gmelch 2010: 8). Re-visiting these places left me with feelings of nostalgia and homesickness.
My boys and I - Venice 2007
Simple things become a trigger for significant memories.
Sam’s favourite flavour - Venice
The photos I took aimed to represent all these things. They became my tool for looking at culture and pondering my place within it.
They also recorded how culture becomes layered….
How architecture reflects the temporal nature of history..
They are also a reminder that all places are constantly in a state of flux. We as cultural tourists observe and become a part of those changes.
‘Places are not bounded in place and time they are not cut off from outside influences and change.’ (Bon Gmelch 2010: 7)
Prague – on Charles Bridge
Our experiences as a cultural tourist broadens what may otherwise be a narrow view of the world. The photos and objects we collect along the way seek to preserve that knowledge.
Looking out the window towards the canal , Venice
I would like to leave you with the words of Francesco Bonami. ‘Although many aspects of travel are physical, its truly transformative effects take place within the mind, where the symbolic contest between the familiar and the new occurs. To pass through this challenge to a habitual mode of being travelers, observe norms, behaviors and beliefs of different cultures and begin to understand various approaches to life as structures and patterns of behavior inherent to specific cultures rather than as universal phenomena. This knowledge results not only in an expansion of the travelers’ comprehension of the places they visit, but also in a widened viewpoint through which to see and interpret the world.’ (Bonami 2005:153)
Aboard the Vaporetto #1, Venice
Baerenholdt, J., Haldrup, M., & Urry, J. (2004). Performing Tourist Places. Hants: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Bell, C., & Lyall, J. (2005). as cited in Dahlgren, K., Foreman, K. & Van Eck, T. (Eds.). Universal Experience. Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art. Bon Gmelch, S., (2010). Tourists and Tourism-A Reader. Illinois: Long Grove. Bonami, F. (2005). as cited in Dahlgren, K., Foreman, K. & Van Eck, T. (Eds.). Universal Experience. Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art. Burgess, A., (1967). The Age of the Grand Tour. New York: Crown Publishers. Crouch, D. & Lubbren, N. (Eds.). (2003). Visual Culture and Tourism. Oxford: Berg Publishing. Curtis, B.& Pajaczkowska, C. (2003). ‘”Getting There”: Travel, Time and Narrative ’. In Crouch, D. and Lubbren, N. (Eds.). Visual Culture and Tourism. Oxford: Berg Publishing. Egea, J. (2011). ‘Subterranean Modernities’. In Kocur, Z. (ED.), Global Visual Cultures – An Anthology., West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell. Grayburn, N. (1977). ’Tourism the Sacred Journey’. In Smith, V., Hosts and Guests. p: 1-36. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Kennedy, D. (2009). The Spectator and the Spectacle. Cambridge: University Press. Lippard, L. (1999). On the Beaten Track – Tourism, Art and Place. New York: The New Press. McLaren, D. (2010). ‘Rethinking Tourism’. cited in Bohn Gmelch. Tourists and Tourism-A Reader. Long Grove: Illinois. Meldelson, J.,& Prochaska, D. (2010). Postcards – Ephemeral Histories of Modernity. University Park Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.
References Continued. Smith, V., (1989). Hosts and Guests: the Anthropology of Tourism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Sontag, S. (1989). On Photography. New York: The Noonday Press. Urry, J. (2002) The Tourist Gaze. London: Sage Publications. Van Laar, T. (2010). ‘Views of the Ordinary and other Scenic Disappointments’. In Prochakaska, D. & Mendelson, J. Postcards – Ephemeral Histories of Modernity. pp. 194-202. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press. Waterhouse, K. (2010). as cited in Bon Gmelch, S. Tourists and Tourism-A Reader. Illinois: Long Grove. .
All images are copyright of Deb Nicholls unless otherwise stated Photos taken in Galleries are taken with the permission of the Gallery.
Slide 1. Source: australianfrequentflyer.com.au. Viewed: 2 September 2011, <http://www.airreview.com/Qantas/QantasMap.jpg >. Slide 4. Burgess, A. (1967). ‘The cross channel passage from Dover to Calais 1789’. The Age of the Grand Tour. New York : Crown Publishers. Slide 6. Burgess, A. (1967). ‘3rd endpaper: Various eighteenth century documents 1776- 1780’. p. 39. The Age of the Grand Tour. New York : Crown Publishers. Slide 34. Image by Meredith MacLeod.
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