Rob Walker: Pictures of the Familiar: Observers Room: Design Observer

The camera is a device that “makes real what one is experiencing,” Susan Sontag argued, whether for “cosmopolitans accumulating photograph-trophies of their boat trip up the Albert Nile,” or “lower-middle-class vacationers taking snapshots of the Eiffel Tower or Niagara falls.”  Moreover: the “alliance … between photography and tourism” is at the heart of what she called “the predatory side of photography.” We’re still hunter-gatherers, under this theory, bagging images like sustenance.More recently, I was randomly reminded of a passage from White Noise that seems relevant. It’s a somewhat famous bit about “The Most Photographed Barn In America,” and conveniently, a site called Check In Architecture has plucked that very excerpt and posted it right here. Basically the barn is known for being photographed, and as a result, people show up to photograph it. “Every photograph reinforces the aura,” one of DeLillo’s characters observes. The suggestion here is that we take pictures of much-photographed things precisely because they are much-photographed.   “GPS and The End of the Road,” an essay by Ari N. Schulman, in the Spring 2011 edition of The New Atlantis, adds another wrinkle. The piece cites a number of other writers, most notably Walker Percy, complaining about the problem of pre-familiarity, whether via imagery or guidebook, with a place you’re supposed to see; the example of the Grand Canyon is offered. Schulman argues that GPS, in effect, exacerbates the underying problem: “In travel facilitated by ‘location awareness,’ we begin to encounter places not by attending to what they present to us, but by bringing our expectations to them, and demanding that they perform for us as advertised.”

via Rob Walker: Pictures of the Familiar: Observers Room: Design Observer.


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