Depth of Field, volume 4, no 1 (September 2014)Dennis Schep: Aura, Artifact and Apparatus; Towards a theory of tourist photography

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Abstract

While both tourism research and photography research have grown into substantial academic disciplines, little has been written about their point of intersection: tourist photography. In this paper, I argue that a number of philosophically oriented theories of photography may offer useful perspectives on tourist photography. In my readings of Benjamin, Flusser and Barthes, I highlight those aspects of their theoretical work that offer insight into tourist photographic behavior, while pointing out where their theories need to be revised before they can be extrapolated to this domain. In particular, drawing on Barthes, I highlight the photograph's function as a material testimony constituting an implicit autobiographical narrative; drawing on Flusser, I foreground the camera's productive capacities, opposing these to a widespread perception of the camera as a passive recording device; and, drawing on Benjamin, I analyze the photograph's capacity to endow sites with an elusive aura that cannot be reproduced in any actual pictures of the site. While these authors have provided the theoretical framework for my analysis of tourist photographic practices, all of them need to be assessed critically, as their theories require significant alterations before they allow us to grasp the specificity of the tourist situation.