I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Reflections on World Tourism Day

2 minute read

Living and working in New York City, it’s easy to get frustrated with tourists. It’s not just that they stop dead in the middle of busy sidewalks; it’s that few seem interested in seeing the true essence of the place. Most are content with taking in a smattering of the city’s all-but-sanitized attractions, and calling it a day.

“Real” New Yorkers, on the other hand are always on the prowl for the genuine article or experience before it’s discovered and ruined. “Didn’t you hear? Cronuts are the new cupcakes. Edison bulbs are the new LEDs. Local is the new global.”

The deeper truth, of course, is that in our own lives, we’re all tourists; we’re only passing through, existing at a distance from most everything — as the photographers in this gallery work at a distance from their subjects.

In recognition of World Tourism Day, Lightbox offers a series of photographs that, while distinct in intent and subject matter, manage to illustrate this paradoxical notion of what could be termed our shared separateness. Whether we identify with the outdoorsman dwarfed by a vast landscape (slide 10), the explorer confronted by the inscrutable pyramids (slide 6) or the museumgoer seeking answers or solace in works of art (slide 13), we recognize in these pictures our own, and others’, isolation.

Our efforts at creating an “authentic” record of our experiences, meanwhile — both at home and abroad — only confirm this sense of passing through. Even as we pursue the world with a camera, it withdraws from us.

Garry Winogrand spent a lifetime photographing people up close on the street, and summed up what he’d learned with the stark observation that photos “have no narrative content. They only describe light on surface.”

Critic Susan Sontag gave photography more credit — but not much. “A way of certifying experience,” she wrote, “taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.”

It might be time to retire that “DON’T HASSLE ME, I’M LOCAL” t-shirt. In the grand scheme of things, we’re all more similar to those who stop dead in the middle of busy sidewalks than we like to admit.

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME.

Cruise terminal in Cozumel, Mexico, 2010Floto+Warner—OTTO
South Downs Way, West Sussex, 8th October 2007 from the series We EnglishSimon Roberts
White House from My Life in Politics, 2004Tim Davis
U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973Stephen Shore—303 Gallery, New York
A chef from a nearby luxury lodge waits for his guests to arrive from an air balloon excursion, for a champagne bush breakfast in the middle of Kenya's Masai Mara game reserve. 2012Guillaume Bonn
Zabriskie Point, located east of Death Valley in Death Valley National Park, USA, 2005Ambroise Tézenas
Paris, China, 2001Robert Voit—Courtesy Walter Storms Galerie Munich
White Man Contemplating Pyramids, Giza, Egypt, 1989 Richard Misrach—Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery
Untitled, from the Terres Compromises series, 2010Matthieu Gafsou—Courtesy Galerie C
Men in Mombasa, Kenya, like Frank, 35, prostitute themselves to foreign women along the beachfront. Romance tourism, as it is called, is often characterized by marked cultural, economic and emotional differences. 2010Sofie Amalie Klougart
Pergamon Museum 2, Berlin, 2001Thomas Struth
Museo del Prado 1, Madrid, 2005Thomas Struth
Museum of Wild Fauna, Boñar, Spain, 2006 Jordi Bernado—Agence Vu/ Aurora Photos
Murambi genocide memorial site, Rwanda, 2012Ambroise Tézenas

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