My approach to tourist photography is a bit complex. As some of you might know I have studied tourism research as my major. I am aware of the theories and discussions about tourist gaze and the ways of how people tend to take photographs on their journeys. Then when I am being a tourist myself I constantly analyze my own behavior and interests which is annoying. Thus the experience of being a tourist and enjoying it without self-criticism is partly spoiled from me because of my career choice. I recognize my inner snob who avoids iconic landmarks that most of the people want to see in the destination. I have an urge to get on my film spool something unique and how cliche is that!
We individualistic travelers want to see, experience and document something that no-one or at least our fellow travelers, haven't noticed. Maybe be one of the locals for that week we are at the destination. In the action we scratch the surface and end up seeing precisely what we have been taught to see. Easy way to explain what I am meaning is the case Statue of Liberty. Me and my friend went to Staten Island Ferry that goes past the Statue. We had both seen a good number of pictures of the Statue before our journey. Photographs and movies that set up in New York. We had been taught to look after certain kind of monument yet what we saw was quite small statue with large scale surroundings. This made me ponder from which angle have all the movies been filmed and photographs taken? In a journey back from Staten Island I finally spotted the angle that made it possible to catch an iconic New York picture that had been presented to us through numerous popular culture products.
To see the Statue of Liberty was not my number one goal when travelling overseas. If it was I could have just googled it and actually in that way I would have seen it better than in presence. I have been fascinated about the stories of New York and its atmosphere. The reason to travel was the need to know what is true. Can New York really be that amazing and one of a kind? Also the reason to leave home is to see something different, be in a new environment, meet new people and experience things that are not possible in where one lives their everyday life. I think one of the driving forces to travel is to feel the difference and exotic of far away lands. Sure we see more than generations before when we open the internet. But it is different to see it with your own eyes, or are we capable of seeing and learning?
Is it possible to make a notion that what we see is the same we have around us in everyday life? That actually people are the same and doing same activities as we would in our homes if we weren't touristing at the moment? Fun thing is that I myself live in a town that is a popular tourist destination. On an ordinary day I go to the library and might see travelers exploring Alvar Aalto architecture in our main library. Then I travel over seas to stare and photograph New York Public Library because it looks so different compared to what I see weekly. I acknowledge that I am intruding to peoples lives with my camera. Maybe they want to wander between the shelves, study and concentrate, like I want in my own home library. But at the same time in New York I am amazed by the decorations in the ceiling, the spirit of history flying past me, old binds that rest on the shelves feeling no time. I am absolutely thrilled when I notice on my last day in New York that the library has been decorated for the Holiday season. The whole place makes me think of fantasy books like Harry Potter.
Yellow cabs make me think Sex and the City and boutiques on Fifth Ave are bursting with clothes and accessorize beyond imagination. Those creations of fashion are magic to my eyes, I rush from a pile of glitter and color to another almost without breathing. After seeing a season or two of Sex and the City I have anticipated that people in the streets would be wearing these kind of clothes. I have stressed that my clothes, black coat and jeans, will step up from the crowd as old fashioned and worn out. I even watched YouTube videos where people from USA explain how to dress in Europe, learning about differences and searching for clues how I should dress in my journey. In real life people are wearing exactly same kind of clothes as I am, jeans and warm coats as it is winter after all.
Then one day, Thursday it is, snow begins to fall down. The drains can't take in all the water that comes from the wet melting snow and crossings turn into pools. We have bought tickets to New York Philharmonic's concert, there are Viennese waltzes in the program, and before the concert I decide to visit MoMa. Since I don't check things, I have to realize on the door that the museum closes in thirteen minutes so there is no sense buying the costly entrance ( I succeeded to see the exhibitions following day). I have few hours to spend in snow covered city. Trees have been decorated with fairy lights in a small park between two tall buildings. Snow on the branches make the christmassy effect even stronger. Small bars with their colorful signs look warm and inviting. I love how every surface is covered with those signs that come from bars, shops and theaters, it makes the view look very homey. To avoid soaking my heels to some of the pools I pop into a coffee house on the corner. There, sitting on a bar bench in front of the window I sip the coffee and eat a chocolate croissant. I look people in the snow storm and hear the Christmas songs played on the background and I feel I am in New York. The city had felt so big and hard to comprehend for the first days after arriving that a kind of anxiousness to experience something over the big mass of emotions had followed every step.
That was my New York moment that was essential in making an emotional picture of the city. The moment made the blurred picture clear. Picture that had been affected by all that I had seen through my life from a television and magazines to what I had self experienced in four days. When I stepped back to the stormy street I saw a kid with a parent. The young New Yorker gathered snow to a mitten, looked it for a second and tasted it. Just like the kids in Lapland who sit in their piles of snow wearing overalls. Places are unique with their own characteristics and atmosphere. But at the same time most of the human life is same.
New York for me is a huge but cozy city. I absolutely adore the contrast between old and new buildings. How in the arms of polished skyscaper there is a shabby old building with its blinking signs that sell everything between heaven and earth. I enjoy seeing the magical clothes that hang in luxury boutiques even though I have never had nor ever will have money to buy those. Still I have afford to be inspired by the creatives who have designed them. And the doughnuts are great, how cookies, cream and chocolate can be served in a handy way in a one bun. Yet it is equally worth noticing the sameness. The world opens in two ways. To see that something is similar doesn't mean the journey would be unworthy. Chasing after uniqueness can be a way of blindness and arrogant desire to preserve images of exotic when the exotic doesn't exist. It is healthy to fix those images inside our heads every now and then.