Text and photos by Yoav Horesh.
Virtually every travel guide will have a section for the purpose of detailing the history of the region it is dedicated to. The guide will identify exact locations where historical events have occurred or where memorials have been erected to commemorate such events. Popular travel guides and tourism literature have designated these sites as “points of interest”. This term usually refers to the attention received by these sites that has been generated within a specific historical context. This historical context is comprised of two unique moments in time – first, that of the original event of to which the site refers and, then, that of the period of time in which the monument was created or the site was declared as such. These ‘historical sites’ hold together two different cultural references of two different times, but this is not the only reference they hold. In these ‘points of interest’ the personal interest of the tourist is called to match that of the public, the nation, or the canonic historical narrative.
In many cases, typical activities of tourists who visit such sites, will be just like of any other “points of interest” and will include taking photographs and being photographed, usually with the site or memorial in the background. Such photographs not only confirm that the photographer and company were in a particular place in a specific time, but also aim to capture the state of pleasure that this activity entailed.
I first photographed tourists while I was merely a tourist myself. These small glimpses into people’s own family albums and lives were not engaging enough for me without including my own interest in history, memorials, trauma and site. More particularly, I have found many moments of observing tourists in those sites to be self-referential. These touristy historical sites tend to be saturated and dominated by photography – people photograph themselves, they ask strangers to photograph them and they receive information about the history of the place from photographs presented to them by their guide or the site’s informational display. As a photographer, I have found this state of “hyper-photographization” to be a challenge to my professional identity and my personal identification. The very status of ‘a tourist’, to me, seems to be deeply connected to a particular and circumstantial point-of-view. In other words, through the artistic lens, one might find how closely related – even reciprocally defining – are the terms ‘site’ and ‘sight’.
“Traumatic Tourism” is a body of work that deals with the historical significance of sites and their transformation into tourist attractions. The way history is being diluted down to “historical designated” spots became evident to me while observing and photographing how tourists experience, interact and move through these sites and memorials so quickly.
In such places, tourism, photography and self-identification seem to meet and fuse under a specific approach to history. As claimed by many critics and scholars, trauma is a mental process that involves forgetting rather than remembrance. In my work, I have questioned this act of forgetting/remembering in the architecture of the historical site, as well as in the tourists’ activities in the site. The tension between the main goal of such a site – i.e. to eternalize the memory of a specific event – and the main goal of the tourists who visit there – creating a document that proves their visit – creates a tension between public and private histories. While the former is a local institution of memorization, which simultaneously points to the material geography of the place and the more symbolic geography of the nation, the latter is typically alien to such geographies, in a way that would construct one’s own accumulating mobile geography. From this point of view, the full human figures are represented here alongside the monuments, as though constructing their own relationship to the past traumatic event through their pocket-cameras.
Another aspect in the story of identification told by these sites is the tourist-group. During my observation, I have tried to relate to this idea of organized groups whose collective identity had been continuously charged by the past event of the traumatic site they chose to visit. The construction of the group seemed to me to bring another register of identification to interfere in the gap between the private and the public histories. Unlike individual tourists, the tourist-group brings its purpose of visiting the site to the forefront, to the public sphere, and that is how the site, as a whole, is directly influenced by such a communal, organized visit. The fact that I was always outside such groups has contributed to my reading of these traumatic sites.
The remaining point that seems to me to affect my work here was the particularity of time limits, which is inherent to the touristy experience, as well as to my experience as an observer and a photographer. The tour is always time-framed; the site has, in many cases, opening hours; and the visit, as defined by the very temporary leaving of a home, is subdued to day-light hours and convenient-weather seasons. I have shared the time-limitations with the subjects of my project – the tourists – in a much more important aspect: all these time-limitations that derive from the touristy experience directly influence the work of photography. In this way, the site itself rules the photographed results of my observation: the colors, the light, the shapes, the contrast, are also set by the geographical location of the site. The very act that turned ‘a place’ into ‘a site’, which is, consequentially, the same act that turned one into a visitor, a tourist.
The similarity among the photographs of different visitors to the same site, or between those photographs and the commercial souvenir-postcards sold in the site, testify for these norms of touristy representation and creativity. It is within and against these norms that my work is to be observed.
The body of work “Traumatic Tourism” started in 2006 and still continues by photographing sites of historic significance and trauma throughout the US, Israel and Europe.
The work is created using a 4”x5” view camera and consists of Gelatin-Silver and archival inkjet prints in various sizes, from 16”x20” to 30”x40”.
For more informations and photos, visit Yoav Horesh webpage.