The Role of Imagery  

                                           on the development of

                                                           Landscape Tourism
                                                                                                   by Jorge D. Goldfarb 

Part IV:             Photography


                              To arrest the fleeting images that fill

                  The mirror of the mind, and hold them fast,

                  And force them sit till he has pencill’ed off

                  A faithful likeness of the forms he views. 

                                                                                                                                                                       William Cowper, The Task, 1785

    In the times of William Cowper photography was yet to be born. Landscapes though were then, as now, "fleeting images that fill the mirror of the mind"  but to arrest  those fleeting images, besides  pencilling on a pad we have Photography...and this, as we shall see, makes quite a difference. True, the whole idea is, of course a pretense, a make-believe, since the camera does not capture mental images. Nevertheless we cling to the notion  that, by photographing, we can arrest somehow the flow of consciousness and freeze it as it were for years to come. For the landscape tourists, and notably for the ones in a hurry to see as many as possible, this is a gift send by the Gods. Their gaze doen't even have to dwell on the landscape, enough to point at selected angles and all those "fleeting images" will be safely preserved for generations. No wonder then that Photography, or rather, the capability to photograph a view, has been playing a predominat role in popular landscape tourism. 



     In the following pages I intend to explore the role of photography in the development of landscape tourism. It should be said at the onset that this exploration will be restricted to what may be called “tourist landscape photography, that is the photos taken by people when in tourist mode and, even more, as 'existential outsiders' of E. Relph. This, as opposed to landscape photography as a genre of artistic photography; the latter implies a different attitude towards the landscape than the usually casual and hurried snapshot of the former. Serious landscape photography, as opposed to the trivial one, will I hope, be the subject of a future article in this website, a much needed one since it is intrinsically linked to landscape appreciation.

     In the beginnings of these series I said that one of the pertinent questions  to be asked is about what makes some people to prefer as their destination places of “outstanding natural beauty” instead of  towns (urban tourism). We quoted R.W. Hepburn [1] asking "what is the appeal of:  “a fleeting and distanced impression of countryside through a touring-coach window or obligatory visits to standard viewpoints"  and, should we add now, to snap-shot points?”  


    One of the  topics to be explored is then  the connection between “"standard viewpoints"” and “"snap-shot points"”; in other words, between the direct perception and experience  of a landscape and its recording in a photographic image.  It may safely be said that in our times one is ingrained in the other, so much so, that to travel to destinations where these standard viewpoints  are located, without snap-shooting them is considered a rather eccentric behavior. Touring-coach tours of regions gifted with beautiful scenery are just not suited for contemplation of landscapes,  neither for communing with beauty, they are just suited only for “a fleeting and distanced impression” of them and hence the desire of turning “fleeting” into “permanent” or long lasting; photography, we tend to believe, is the perfect medium for doing it. The fact is that popular landscape tourism as an activity, is inconceivable without the means for visual recording  of what  is seen, To record without going there is a a physical impossibility but, to go there ,  without recording what is seen appears to be a cultural impossibility.



       John Urry [2] notes that a distinction may be drawn between romantic and collective tourist gazes. “In the former, the emphasis is upon solitude, privacy and a personal, semi-spiritual relationship with the object of the gaze. The presence of other people detracts from the quality of the experience. The “collective” gaze by contrast involves conviviality. Other people are necessary to give atmosphere to the experience of place which then becomes a shared process of visual consumption.” It is Urry’s “romantic gaze or what I called above contemplative mode which are pertinent to landscape appreciation; the “collective” tourist gaze, concomitant with hurried and fleeting impressions are a trait of organized or conducted landscape tourism. This way of connecting to landscapes arises a desire, almost a compulsion, for the photo-recording, that can at last, fulfill the desire, so well expressed by Cowper nearly a century and a half ago “To arrest the fleeting images that fill the mirror of the mind… and hold them fast” because photography, we believe has the capacity of fixing   a faithful likeness of the forms he views.

   So far we’ve been exploring imagery that people acquired and that resulted in connecting people to landscapes and enticing them to travel to the places depicted. This imagery, be it landscape posters, photochromes or postcards, was created by others; in the photography we are talking about now, for the first time the same said people creates their own imagery. This was made possible thanks to technological advances like cheap color film and prints and the so called “automatic cameras” In former times you needed to be equipped with a number of gadgets like range meters, exposure meters and a battery of lenses to obtain good scenery images . Some minimal expertise was needed; with the automatic camera, on the other hand, everyone could come up with landscape photos which were sharply focused and with the correct exposure. “The invention of the camera, the manufacture of the ubiquitous box camera, the development of daylight loading film and the mass production of picture postcards have all coincided with landmarks in the democratization of travel and the expansion of tourism.  [3] 


   The following images are just a random assortment of examples of landscapes seen through the tourist eye. Whether or not they are “true to type” is hard to guess because no one seems to be sure of what that type could be. One could only say, tentatively, that the panoramic view is favored more than “intimate beauty”, that mountain views vast expanses of water or sand are largely prefered, a tendency not so much to the subleme but to the spectacular and astounding. 

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    In spite of the fact that “capturing” the destination landscapes in a photo image, became an activity inseparable from popular landscape tourism more than half a century ago, comparatively little attention was paid to the relationship between both. In 2003, at the initiative of The Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change and the School of Cultural Studies at Sheffield Hallam University, UK, a conference took place to examine the subject more in-depth.  


         The aims of the conference --  Tourism and Photography, Still Visions- Changing Lives, were very much relevant to the subject under discussion here. I quote:

  "The 'taking' of photographs is one of the most characteristic and symbolic moments in tourism.

Social and human scientists of various disciplines (art history, sociology, anthropology, geography, etc.) have been investigating different dimensions of photography for many years, though relatively little attention has been given to the particular relationships it shares with tourism/tourists. Hence, the aim of this international conference is to explore these relationships from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

Why do tourists take photos of certain things and not of others? Why do tourists take photos at all? How do photos build places, how do they change places and shape lives? How do locals negotiate photographic images of themselves?"


         Searching questions indeed! I'd paraphrase them like this:  

  Why do tourists take photos of certain landscapes and not of others? Why do tourists take photos at all? How do photos build  landscapes, how do they change them?


      These questions are explored in some of the Essays included  in the book The Framed World [4] which I'd  recommend for further reading on the topics mentioned here.  


 From Crawshaw and Urry [3]:  

     "Every day expressions such as “seeing the sights”, “capturing the view” “eye-catching scenery”, “picturesque villages”, “pretty as a postcard” illustrate the significance of the eye to both the traveler and the travel promoter. Sometimes tourism seems to be understood as little more than the collection of disparate and unconnected sights, which are given an objectified form in travel brochures, postcards and photographs. Furthermore, the promotion and practice of collecting sights can dominate the very pattern of travel, which is often organized to facilitate fleeting views of spectacular scapes. (Urry 1990)


  Despite the apparent popularity of sightseeing among the traveling public, this type of tourism is commonly denigrated. The experience is taken to be irreducible superficial, both because it involves the sense of sight and because the tourist follows well- trodden routes leading to very familiar viewpoints."


  Here I tend to disagree with Crawshaw and Urry on the reasons why this type of tourism is “commonly denigrated”. I see it as  just another manifestation of the way the “highbrows” look upon most of “lowbrow” tastes and activities. The predominant attitude (prejudice?) as applied in this case, being that since it is “popular” or “mass” tourism it must involve low taste; explanations or rationalizations are introduced a posteriori to justify why we look down upon it. I hope that in what's been written in these series I have managed to avoid the usual highbrow attitude; the emphasis in my opinion should be in acknowledging that popular landscape tourism is important precisely because it is popular and that, within landscape studies, we should endeavor to understand it. This, in turn, requires hard "field" research work and, regrettably, we have very little of it on which to base more general conclusions. It seems to be that social scientists in later years have initiated efforts in that direction and the  work of  Tuohino and Pitkanen quoted below is a case in point.


Lakes and Landscape Tourism 


  Tuohino A. and Pitkanen K. [5] set out to study the possible ways in which tourists may experience Finnish lake landscapes. Some of their monograph is on-line at this LINK (pfd. fileand its reading is heartily recommended as an example of the type of research work that needs to be done in the field. Their experimental results with selected groups of tourists can be better understood by reading their paper; here only some general relevant quotes:


     "Outsiders and participants see the same landscape differently. To the participant, the landscape is a place, part of oneself, while the outsider looks at the landscape from a distance. The outsider pays attention to the visually prominent aspects of the landscape without a personal relationship with an unfamiliar environment. What is important in the interpretation of a landscape is how the elements of the landscape are seen, not what particular elements a given landscape contains."

"A neutral lake environment becomes a meaningful once the tourist  links to it images and feelings born from experience.

 Can tourism promotion convey not only landscape images but also place images that require a more subjective approach? "

  "If we approach the lake through the concept of ’spirit of the lake’ (analogical to the concept of sense of place) we first have to consider the lake as a place or (at least) as a meaningful landscape. A lake is more than forms of land and water or the play of sunlight on the landscape. A lake is more than forms of land and water or the play of sunlight on the waves. Through human interaction with nature lake landscape becomes "lived world" full of values and meanings."

Interpreting the marketing picture :

In the social sciences and tourism research, the photograph has traditionally been considered a new and more objective method of recording reality. It has not been problematized as a representation; rather it has been seen as an instrument of knowledge acquisition. It is only with the so-called linguistic turn of the social sciences in the late 20th century that attention has been paid to the role of the photograph in the construction of reality.  As a social phenomenon, the photograph has become one of the most important methods of representing reality.  Photographic representations tell us not only of the topic itself but also of the images that the photograpjer wanred to convey as well as the meanings and values (s)he associated with the picturest also of the images that the photographer wanted to convey as well as the meanings and values (s)he associated with the pictures."(below Lake Titicacca, Bolivia, Lake Grassmere, England) 

List of References:

[1] Hepburn R.W.: Trivial and serious in aesthetic appreciation of nature. In: Landscape, natural beauty and the arts; Kemal and Gaskell, Editors, Cambridge Univ. Press (1993)

[2] Urry John : The Tourist Gaze, Sage Publications, (2003)

[3]  Crawshaw C. and Urry G.: Tourism and the Photographic Eye. In: Touring Cultures. Rojeck C. and Urry J. Editors; Routledge (2004)

[4] Robinson M. and Picard D. (Eds) The Framed World, Tourism, Tourists and Photography, Ashgate Publishing, Surrey,

[5]  Tuohino A. and Pitkanen K.: The Transformation of a Neutral Lake Landscape into a Meningful Experience. The Interpretation of Touristic Photos.   (pdf file on line at This Link).