The Tourist and The Tulip

Welcome to a brand new blog and an opening pic of a shitty flower bed.

A tourist trap outside my office in Bergen.

A tourist trap outside my office in Bergen.

This bed of tulips is right outside my office, and a few days ago I came across a tourist sitting on his knees and interrogating one of the flowers with his Handycam. Now, he’s probably not the first to do this. My office is right by one of the busiest cruise ship ports in Norway, so close to half a million cruise passengers pass by each year. Last year I had this conversation with an American woman in her late sixties, just moments after she had disembarked:

– Are you local?
– Yes, I am.
– Where is the nearest McDonald’s?
– Really?
– Yes, really.
– Oh, it’s that-a-way. About a five minute walk.
– No! That’s too far!

I don’t know – maybe she was just looking for free wifi at McDonald’s. But her general physique suggested that she was used to having extra large meals with her free broadband access.

Vision of the Seas. Old ladies starving for a happy meal won't find salvation onboard this vessel.

Vision of the Seas. Old ladies starving for a happy meal won’t find salvation onboard this vessel.

Back in March I overheard two other American tourists walking and talking along the Hanseatic wharf. Their conversation went like this:

– Look at the angle of those buildings! Look at that! Have you ever seen such crooked buildings? Have you ever seen such a crooked door? Look at those angles! Will you just look at that..!
– Jim, we’re drunk.
– Oh. Yeah. Right.

At least Jim and his drunken buddy had something to look at. I met a Japanese guy on top of the funicular Fløibanen a few years ago – in a dreadfully foggy weather. Visibility was limited to just a few metres, so this unlucky Japanese guy was photographing the supposed view off of a brochure! I made one of my all time favourite tourist pictures of him.

Mr. Hideyuki Uchida from Matsuyama in Japan photographs a brochure showing the view from mount Fløien the way it's supposed to be. Mr. Uchida onlys has nine days for all three of the Nordic countries, leaving him with no time to wait for the fog to clear.

Mr. Hideyuki Uchida from Matsuyama in Japan photographs a brochure showing the view from mount Fløien the way it’s supposed to be. Mr. Uchida onlys has nine days for all three of the Nordic countries, leaving him with no time to wait for the fog to clear.

Of course, as a lot of other photographers, I find tourists to be an invaluable motif. I can spend long summer mornings discretely following groups of Japanese tourist being led around by guides with red umbrellas (a friend of mine once «kidnapped» an entire group by a clever coup d’umbrella). And sometimes the opposite happens. I was having a morning cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll in public once, when a tourist guide must have remarked that I was enjoying something alike the Bergen national dish. In any case, I suddenly had 20 Japanese photographing me having breakfast.

Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria

Photography and tourism are of course merely two sides of the same coin. Since the very beginning of the medium, photographs of the exotic lands has allured people to travel to the very same places so that they themselves could experience the photographs in real life. Pictures of the pyramids in the 1850s led to the first proper wave of tourists going to Egypt. And the more people travelled, the more they photographed, the less exotic these places became. Now there is no real distinction between the real pyramids and the tourist pyramids. At least I don’t think there is. I haven’t been to Egypt. But I have been to Venice – and thus experiencing the most intense love/hate relationship that I have had to any city. As with the pyramids (probably) there is as good as no difference between the real and the touristic Venice. It’s doubtlessly one of the most beautiful cities I have been to. Still, I felt absolutely suffocated. Some hundred thousand tourists may pass my office each year, but over 15 million visit Venice. Tourist Venice is the real Venice today. And without my camera I wouldn’t have managed. Of course, this makes me one of them, yet another tourist with a camera. I was photographing other tourists rather than the gondoliers. But still.

Venice - the cradle of... something.

Venice – the cradle of… something.

Sintra. Castle of the Moors (and the day trip crowds).

Sintra. Castle of the Moors (and the day trip crowds).

This sort of brings me around to the reason of this blog. I much prefer to travel when working (as a photojournalist) rather than in my spare time. The reason is two-fold: one is the tourist’s shame – the other is access. I’m curious by nature, but I’m also shy. Not painfully, but I’m not great with people either. Smalltalk doesn’t interest me. I have a hard time of approaching strangers – unless that is – I’m working. When having an agenda, having a story to tell, I am to some extent a different person.

This summer I’m going to the US for a month long road trip with my girlfriend.

USA. Mapping FTW.

USA. Mapping FTW.

It’s not a work trip. It’s a holiday. I don’t think I’ve had a holiday lasting as long as this since high school. That’s fifteen years ago. And I really believe that I will have a substantially more interesting time in the US if I try to tell some stories from this trip. But I’m not going to commit myself to a publisher other than myself as that would sort of kill the idea of a proper holiday. So I need a different outlet, another audience – at least a potential audience. Thus a blog.

(Truth be told this is my second attempt at a blog, the first being a tumblr-site that never really took off. Then again I never really felt at home in a community based on the microblogging of nonsense either.)

Anyhow – now it is soon my turn to be the traveller and the Americans’ turn to mock me (lovingly, the same way I mock them, I hope). I pretty much know I won’t be asking for directions to McDonald’s, and I very much doubt I will be crawling in their flower beds to shoot tulips up close. But I just might be looking at crooked houses while drunk. And this blog will be where I boast about it.


(Read Geoff Dyer’s brilliant introduction to Martin Parr’s even more brilliant Small World for more on the relationship between photography and tourism – some pics here).

2 thoughts on “The Tourist and The Tulip

  1. Ahem. While I searched the websites of Regione Del Veneto to find a good source for the Venice tourism numbers, and generally try to be as factually accurate as possible, I did commit one small fact gaffe: these aren’t tulips. They’re daffodils..

  2. Pingback: New York Fact Sheet | Eivind Senneset's Blog

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