Art of Travelling Gaze

CopyRight: Rebecca Lee 2008

Travelling is an appealing experience for most people. It’s an ideal way to leave your current life behind to pursue a more relaxing or adventurous break, or to live in and explore a new country. The experience of travel is commonly about venturing out there and bringing back experiences to talk about. There is this kind of role behind travelling that involves recording the experiences that are different from your common, home life.

This makes me believe that the reason for, or the result of travelling, is to open your eyes; to explore and see what is not normally seen in your daily drive to and from work. Does it help you to see better, with more detail, with interest in something different, especially once you have returned home to view the pretty, photographic snap shots of your experiences? Which is more important, the experience of your holiday, or the images to be studied and shared with family and friends at the end? The evidence of something different. As Roland Barthes describes in Camera Lucida, ’The photograph is never anything but an antiphon of “Look”, “See”. “Here it is”: it points a finger at certain vis a vis, and cannot escape this pure deictic language” p.5 (1982). Photographs are better studied by an individual when they have a subjective reality and recognition in the mind. The objects photographed on travels are commonly mimicking postcards and guide book compositions to show that they know what to do on a holiday, or simply objects of difference from the norm.

This foreign experience of travelling to experience different cultures is what I’m exploring in this project. The perception of feeling interested in common objects of another culture, simply because they have the markings of another culture. As Alain de Botton tells in ‘The Art of Travel’ where he describes a sign he sees when getting off a plane in Amsterdam “Despite its simplicity. Even mundanity, the sign delights me, a delight for which the adjective ‘exotic’, though unusual, seems apt. The exoticism is located in particular areas: in the double a of Aankomst, in the neighbourliness of a u and an i in Uitgang, in the use of English subtitles…” he goes on to describe ‘if the sign provokes such pleasure, it is in part because it offers the first conclusive evidence of having arrived elsewhere. It is a symbol of abroad.’ p.67 (2002). The object of a sign is not a distinctive item to the casual eye, and common in many cultures, yet the differences are unique to the country that it is created in, it has a presence of another culture and mindset. All sorts of common objects around different countries can tell us more than there intended meaning; they can speak of the nation that created it. Containing a National character.

I’m breaking up common elements found in India that are of interest because they are common to all cultures such as signs, traffic, transport, people, shelters etc, yet have culture markings of the nation they are created in. These markings are signs of the culture, and I’m displaying them in a way that entices a viewer to explore collectivism and individualism, by mosaicking them all together to be seen as a whole or close up, as a comparison of individuals. They are spectacles to a visiting gaze, yet common to the nations. As one viewer may see it as different and exotic, another may see it as home.

In the book ‘The Sociology of Tourism, Theoretical and empirical investigations’ Urry (1996) explains in the writing ‘Structures of social inequality in the tourism system’ that the tourist gaze is a passing through visual experience, to anonymously travel, arrive, gaze and move on. This activity focuses on what is there to be seen, either it be relaxing oasis, or an exotic oriental location where you look photograph and move on. It isn’t unusual to see a foreigner in a country photographing a sign, house or car that seems uncanny to them. They monumentalize these objects through the desire to see difference, which is a common sensation of travel. This desire for unfamiliarity is a call to travel to other cultures, to feel you are away from your known life.

This emotion of wanting to be away from home and see a place in a new light comes from the experience of the traveller being in an a non-place environment when away. This is explained by Auge when he writes,’ “As if the position of the spectator were the essence of the spectacle… A lot of tourism leaflets suggest this deflection, this reversal of the gaze, by offering the would be traveller advance images of curious or contemplative faces, solitary or in groups, gazing across infinite oceans, scanning ranges of snow capped mountains, or wondrous urban skylines. His image in a word, his anticipated image. Which speaks only about him, but carries another name (Tahiti, Alpe d’Huez, New York). The traveller’s space may thus be the archetype of non-place”. p 86 (1995). The traveller wants to experience differentiation, in the hope of finding a greater place that they have been dreaming about depicted in brochures, to examine self as self or as other, in the hope of finding in themselves a better person, or alternative mindset to life.

The project is strictly a visual exploration, aimed towards the scopic desire and the human investment in the visual urge to look and compare, which creates an interactive relationship between the viewer and the text. I cannot claim that these common elements that I have chosen alone, with their cultural markings, are what make India appealing for any foreigner, as cultural background and social elements will sway their view; what is more there were plenty of sounds, tastes, textures and definitely smells that contributed to the foreign feeling of culture, but my exploration is photographically visual, as that is the main element people take back with them, when returning from visiting a place.

I have represented this experience by creating a series of images that work together to form a picture of common icons with cultural markings. I feel the collage technique creates an overwhelming observational experience, which is similar to that experienced by a tourist. The fragmented pieces are placed in homogeneous or distorted collages that are intended to draw the viewer in to observe a little closer to create participation of the mind.

The repetition plays with the illusion that from a distance the mass objects in the image all seem the same, but if the viewer comes closer to study the objects, the details and differences become clearer, enabling the viewer to become more familiar with the object.

Collage and digital manipulation are used in a subjective manner, letting viewers know that this isn’t reality, just a reason to look, explore and travel with the mind. The represented reality is highly mental, as the mind manipulates the representation of a place. The eventual meaning derived from observing and studying these photographic images would be shaped by the viewer’s cultural background and preconceived ideas of the place.

I intend for the images such as Autos (Front, Side & Back), People (Looked at, Looking) etc, to continue increasing in size as I continue this project; the eventual effect being that the viewer experiences an overwhelming saturated feeling as they come in closer to observe. The man made objects are to be displayed homogeneously and the natural objects, such as people and nature, are to be distorted and clustered to show their movement and growth.

Allon, F. (2000). Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, Nostalgia Unbound: illegibility and the synthetic excess of place. Sydney: Taylor & Francis Ltd.
Apostolopoulos, Y. Leivadi, S. Yiannakis, A. (1996). The Sociology of Tourism, Theoretical and empirical investigations. London: Routledge.
Auge, M. (1995). Non places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. John Howe (trans.). London and New York: Verso.
Barthes, R. (1982) Part 1. In Camera Lucida (part 1 pp. 3-60). London: Flamingo.
De Botton, A. (2002). The Art Of Travel. England: Hamish Hamilton an imprint of Penguin books.
G + B Arts. (1996). Photography After Photography, Memory and Representation in the Digital Age. Amsterdam: OPA (Overseas Publishers Association).
Lister, M. (1995). The Photographic image in Digital Culture. London: Routledge.
Wells, L. (2004). Photography: A Critical Introduction, Third Edition. USA: Routledge.

Art of Travelling Gaze

Bec Lee

Perth, Australia

  • Artist
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