Peter Otto's tourist places
Susan Sontag famously remarked on tourists’ use of photography. Replacing postcards, photographs provided a means for people to appropriate a place and to unequivocally prove that they had been there. This radical visual appropriation of cultural landmarks and iconic sites was symptomatic of the way people now experienced their holidays, or generally speaking the world around them; instead of travelling for the sake of the actual experience, the point of being a tourist evolved into the photographic equivalent of playing Risk. Command and conquer through a lens, with photographs becoming the ultimate trophy.
Peter Otto’s photographs are a humorous study of the relationship between tourists and their cameras. Turning his lens on the spectator instead of the spectacle, he reverts his own images back to the human experience of travel. Similarly and famously, Thomas Struth photographed museum visitors taking in the sights at the Louvre and the ruins of the Pantheon in Rome, amongst other locations.
But Otto’s images are more personal than Struth’s large scale summations of museum crowds. His series focuses on the relationship between the tourist and their camera, rather than the tourist and their location. You can spot some of the locations in the photographs from the telltale architecture, but for the most part the sites are obscured and the tourists themselves are the focal point. A woman striking a standard pose as her husband bends down to take a low angle shot, two women holding up their point-and-shoot cameras to take a picture of a painting out of frame. The images are an inversive statement about the photographic culture now engrained in tourism. As Sontag said, ‘the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.’