My basic question is where is our society going? There is a lot of noise: with walls going up and democracies in decline, our moral compass is being re-normalized against a different “north”. Division and polarization are permeating through our society, materializing in an inability to agree on fundamental facts leading to questions of what is true, what is false? What are the magnets that are repositioning our north? Are they mass migration, generational change, globalization, or something else? To cut through this complex web of entanglements I use tourism as an allegory and photography as the language to make sense of what’s going on. Globalization, the mass movement of people, the intersection of multiple cultures, deep divisions among the participants, and mass commodification, tourism parallels many of the processes underway in our society, but in a way that is visible and understandable.
This documentary project, entitled “Manufactured Dreamscapes”, is a research and creation project to explore these questions using photography to express that which cannot be in text only. This project is the third in a series executed over the last 2 1/2 years exploring the impacts among globalization, culture and the individual. The first two projects prepared a historical baseline, describing a path across four generations of my family marking ethnic and cultural changes triggered in part by migration. This project extends that path along a trajectory towards an increasingly globalised world.
This third step untangles the complex by decomposing it into its constituent parts to explore issues of deep personal concern related to the widening gaps in our social structure, our tendency towards political extremes, the danger of losing our humanity, and repeating history.
I use tourism because of its familiarity for so many of us, and as a microcosm of globalisation, enabling us to directly witness the intersection and convergence of social norms, food, landscapes, architecture, place, and identity. A critical look at tourism asks us to reflect on our understanding of the authenticity of these things; to observe the visual construction of place as a reflection of romantic notions, nostalgia, and contemporary exoticism to create experiences. In their book, The Tourist Gaze 3.0, authors John Urry and Jonas Larsen note “Places emerge as ‘tourist places’ when they are inscribed in circles of anticipation, performance and remembrance … “ Citing “themed places” they talk of the emergence of the ‘experience economy’ such as: “Luxor Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, Bellagio and The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas or Disneyland are its icons, celebrating commercialism and postmodern ‘theming’” (119) or what I (and others) have termed the Disneyfication of place, driven by marketing and economics, to develop a brand in the age of destination culture. An exploration into the participants in tourism (the tourist; tour operators; governments; developers; local inhabitants) exposes the tensions among their respective goals, and motivations and the dark underbelly of the industry.
My preference of photography is shaped by its ability to define a place, an event, the tourist’s experience, to objectify, to elevate importance and make consumable the world around us. As Urry and Larsen note: “The ability of photography to objectify the world as an exhibition, to arrange the entire globe for the tourist gaze, is stressed by Sontag: ‘[Photography’s] main effect is to convert the world into a department store or a museum-without-walls in which every subject is depreciated into an article of consumption, promoted into an item for aesthetic appreciation’” (166). Continuing they note: “Rather than mirroring or representing geographies, photographs partly create them, culturally, socially and materially. They produce what Said coined as ‘imaginative geographies’” (167). Photography’s role in the creation of make-believe parallel’s the tourism’s role in the same, thus positioning a secondary aspect of the art’s contribution to the work.
My core objectives are connected to globalization and where it takes us, not just economically, but culturally. Using tourism as the metaphorical looking glass I can see a trajectory that leads us to, as Professor of Anthropology Carol Greenhouse observes: “… a mono-culture of shopping malls, hotels, karaoke bars and restaurants — a cultural fusion that is erasing native culture.” Given the historical dominance of American and European travellers, that fusion has been strongly influenced by western values of capitalism, commercialism and democracy. However, as China plays a larger role in the tourist market, where will the fusion evolve? Will China’s march along a path of integrating surveillance technologies, DNA identification, and big data lead us towards a global panoptic state?
Manufactured Dreamscapes: A Study on Culture, and Authenticity
My questions will evolve and grow, either in breadth or nuance, over time. But they start with those related to authenticity:
- What does it mean to be authentic?
- What are things are authentic? What’s not authentic?
- Why do we seek it? Or may be why do I seek it?
This question first came to mind visiting theme parks which recreate some mythical environment in order to create an experience for the visitor. I came across the passage a critical look at tourism asks us to reflect on our understanding of the authenticity of these things. This linked tourism and authenticity resulting in the name of the project Manufactured Dreamscapes, reflecting that many of the tourist sites we visit are created for the tourist. It made me think about how many other things in our daily life are manufactured …
My approach merges both theory and practice. I find that theory (and by this I include formal theories, usually related to the humanities, as well the works and observations of other artists) stimulates my thinking, guiding me on what I should photograph. Yet, when I actually go out to photograph, I add to the list subjects that strike me at the time. The decision is usually very intuitive, and often I don’t really know why something interests me, but I’ve learnt to go with it. As I review the photographs I have taken, I think about why a particulate shot interested me, which very often has me look back to my readings for an explanation.
For this work I have read extensively on tourism and looked at the works of artists that have done something in this area. In terms of the practical I have to date undertaken three trips:
- Cayman Islands,
As we stayed in a resort, this trip crystallized in my mind the notion of the manufactured dreamscape.
- Arles, France (Residency)
My intent was to explore the impact of tourism on the city and the area; to get a sense of whether, and how much, local culture had been influenced by this industry. But what struck me more was the difficulty I had in relating to the place. The prevalence of Roman artifacts, while historically interesting, offered little for me to connect. Even though I am of European decent, my language and many of the rituals I follow are rooted in that heritage, I felt nothing. It was startling, and confusing.
- Rogers Cove, Newfoundland, Canada (Residency)
My intent was to explore a location that experiences (relatively) little tourism, again to get a sense of whether, and how much, local culture had been influenced by this industry. I found I connected with Newfoundland much more readily than with Arles. The challenge over the coming months is to delve down and understand why this is.
My intent was to explore a cityscape that has emerged out of the sand in the last 50 years and whose population is largely made up of expats. It poses some interesting questions around culture and identity.
- Costa Rica
Here, we travelled with a tour group, which changes the travel experience putting into contrast the one we usually have.