In 1841 William Henry Fox Talbot predicted that travel and photography were destined for each other. “How many travellers are almost ignorant of drawing, and either attempt nothing or bring home rude intelligible sketches! They may now fill their portfolios with accurate views without much expenditure of time or trouble.” (1) And, so they have and so they still do, often with little or no logic, and since the advent of digital capture, without even the expectation of adding to the family album or punishing friends and family with the annual slide show.
The relationship between the tourist and the travel photograph has evolved from documenting the place, or recording the culture to proving we were there. In Small World (2) Martin Parr investigated the relationship between tourists and the places they visit, resulting in a series of pictures of incongruous people against a backdrop of landmark destinations. For Parr Small World is about the gap between the “reality and mythology” of tourist destinations and the rampant nature of consumerism. In typical Parr style the series is simultaneously amusing and biting.
Parr’s series came to mind nearly when arriving in Barcelona for a long weekend. The tourist is by definition an outsider but in a city famous for its tourism paradoxically they are not out of place, it is organised around them, their strange rituals no longer bemuse the locals, it becomes their natural habitat.
(1) Smith, Graham (2012) Photography and Travel. London: Reaktion Books
(2) Williams, Val ( 2002) Martin Parr. London: Phaidon