Monday, August 22, 2011

The Tourist Effect - Helping You Become a Better Photographer

This is something that every photographer, no matter how experienced or dewey-eyed, has the potential to fall into.

The Tourist Effect:  A debilitating psychological disorder triggered in the brain of a person far from home, quite possibly on "vacation". This disease is mostly harmless but presents with the following symptoms:

  • The unavoidable compulsion to take pictures of anything and everything that is different.
  • The insistence to document everything that happens to them.
  • Fanatically taking pictures instead of simply enjoying the tactile experience. 
  • The assumption that people will want to see these photos later.
  • Complete Disregard for Other People's Property
  • Traveler's Diarrhea
For the sake of understanding lets create a hypothetical tourist and send him on a hypothetical vacation.

Meet: Pillock Jones a distinguished man about town.

Pillock pretends to enjoy selling insurance by day and has a girlfriend who is angry at him for not proposing by  now. They live in a cosy two bedroom apartment in building D in a large apartment complex within driving distance from the Super K-Mart.

Pillock occupies his spare time with sports video games and mindless drivel. Occasionally he faffs about with a DSLR he got for his birthday last year. He's the kind of person who takes pictures on the side as a sort of "Hobbyist". People he knows really well see those pictures and say, "I didn't know you were a photographer." in that tone of voice that means ,"I didn't know the definition of photographer was so lax..."

Anyways, Pillock shares his interest in photography and soon, mostly because he is incredibly hard to shop for being a milquetoast insurance salesman, he has accumulated a fair number of coffee table books about photography. The surface of said table is littered with empty cans of mountain dew and taco bell wrappers. Underneath that however are large glossy books with the works of Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz that he's never opened.

I've derailed my train of, vacation. Pillock gets it into his head that he should go on a vacation to escape his boring milquetoast life. He makes the plans to visit someplace cultured and far far away, like Greece or Italy. He lets the girlfriend in on this plan and she thinks it's just wonderful. They set the departure date for the coming summer. She buys a copy of Rosetta stone Italian and never bothers to install it. Life is good.

Vacation day arrives. Pillock has his camera batteries fully charged, an arsenal of CF cards that have way more space than he'll ever use (or so we thought), and the rest of the crap he wants to drag along.

Pillock and girlfriend get on a plane and fly to Italy.  Suddenly when the captain makes that subtle announcement "Ladies and Gentlemen we are now beginning our descent into Leonardo DaVinci International Airport" something triggers in Pillocks feeble mind. He leans out the window and snaps the first shot of his trip, mostly of a blurry shoreline, part of the airplane wing, and the smudge on the window where he had fallen asleep.

But this one picture is the sneeze that triggers the avalanche. He gets all excited and takes more pictures out the plane window as they fly over the Italian countryside.

They land in the airport. Suddenly things are in other languages. Advertisements are slightly different. A vending machine that sells cell phones! A man in a blue suit... with a hat! Pillock has to take pictures of them all. He snaps photos of the bathroom signs, the floor tiles, the brightly dressed travelers, and the man at the customs counter. Whenever he can't think of anything to photograph he takes a picture of his girlfriend who is not paying attention.

All the pictures of her are from the back or the side of her head and are not flattering. She secretly hates this, but doesn't say anything because she plans on going through and deleting them before they can be uploaded to the internet.

Not that Pillock would notice anything if she did start talking, his brain is already in the full stages of "The Tourist Effect". From their cab ride from the airport to the hotel he as taken over 200 pictures. By the time they've unpacked and are ready to go find someplace to eat he has filled his first camera card.

Looking back later he will wonder exactly why he needed twenty different shots of how European toilets and showers are different, but for now it makes perfect sense.

They leave for dinner, take a cab into downtown, and walk around until a restaurant strikes their fancy. Pillock takes pictures of the restaurant, the host, the waiter, the other customers, the menu, the food, the table cloth pattern, the light fixtures, and the fact that his coke came in a can without ice before even considering conversation with the girlfriend.

He has completely missed enjoying the tactical experience of being in another country and eating something delicious because he was photographing everything in site.

By the next morning the photo-fever has struck his brain and he starts to feel a twinge of anxiety when there is silence not interrupted by the click of a shutter.  The whole day is a blur of taking pictures.

So many scooters!
Man reading a paper!
My own shoes on a man-hole cover!
Other Tourists!
Eating Lunch!
Pooping yesterday's lunch in a weird toilet!

The craze goes on and on. Two days and five memory cards down he begins to run out of space. Pillock decides the best course of action would be to start dumping them onto girlfriend's computer. Girlfriend doesn't mind because she is asleep and therefore has no say.  Over the next couple of days, without her knowledge, her hard drive slowly fills to capacity.

Pillock and girlfriend travel the countryside to all the famous cities, Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, and finally end the last leg of their journey traveling through the Tuscan countryside.

By this time Pillock has degraded into a pathetic shell of a former man. He has a dark ring around his right eye from where he keeps looking through the viewfinder. The strap has left a clear light spot on his neck, which would be noticeable except he hasn't taken it off the entire trip. Half of the pictures he took were through the window of a moving vehicle and are blurry or shot during a rainstorm.

Despite these things, Pillock continues to take pictures. He can't stop. Even after he filled up girlfriend's hard drive he couldn't stop. Even after he uninstalled her copy of the Sims and all her saved games to make more room, he couldn't stop.
Finally the vacation is over and they make their way back to the airport. Girlfriend has packed all of the souvenirs in the suitcases with care. Pillock thinks, "I took pictures of all those souvenirs for free, we didn't need to BUY them...."

They board their plane back to the United States and on the flight Pillock falls asleep.

As if by magic the spell is broken; it is over. Engulfed in familiar surroundings Pillock feels the urge to photograph things slowly fading away. Exhaustion sets in.

They make it home from the airport and crash.

Pillock gets up the next day to find that girlfriend is frantically cleaning the already clean apartment. She paces back and forth, clearly upset.

"Is something wrong?" asks Pillock groggily.

"Is something wrong?" she retorts, mocking him. "Of course something is wrong... you deleted my copy of the Sims!"

At first Pillock doesn't remember this. He searches his brain but all that turns up is the faint sound of a shutter closing over and over again. They fight. It is revealed that in his lack of a marriage proposal, girlfriend had made sim copies of them, forced them to get married, built them a house, and was more attached to them than to her real relationship.

Long story short, they break up over his inconsiderate action.

In an attempt to win her back he goes through the Vacation pictures and puts together a book of all the photos with her in them. He gives it to her as a peace offering. She opens it, notices how all the pictures are of the back of her head and unflattering angles, throws the book at his head, and leaves him forever.

Feeling miserable and unable to go back to his job as an insurance salesman Pillock decides the best course of action is to commit suicide.

The police find his body a week later, hanging by his camera strap from the ceiling fan.

This is a true story. This happens every year. Don't let it happen to you! Avoid the Tourist Effect.

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