“Pictures or it didn’t happen”: that mantra from the social media age could be the title of an entire album of tourist photos from the world, in which people are clicking selfies or holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, picking the Taj Mahal by the tip of its spire, or swallowing the setting sun. Documenting every visit, every meal and sunlit moment has become so essential to travel that it is almost as though the experiences themselves are secondary to getting that perfect shot, the one that tells your friends how exciting your holiday was.
“I am fascinated that we give up seeing with our own eyes and adopt a small screen as our intermediary with the world,” said photographer Antonio Perez Rio. “Our world experience is being transformed and everything that is off the screen loses weight and becomes virtual. I am fascinated that most of our behaviours are shaped by a small digital device and that we behave as the physical extension of a smartphone.”
The Spanish photographer’s photo project, titled Art for Cyborgs, is a collection of images where his camera focuses on the tourist’s phone as they take in the exhibits at one of the biggest museums in the world – the Louvre in Paris. “It’s my guide to the works of the Louvre, by exposing one museum within another Museum,” said Perez Rio.
“The Louvre is a paradigmatic place,” Rio added. “It is one of the most visited museums in the world and one that allows you to take photographs with total freedom – something that does not happen in many other museums. This causes a radical change in the approach to the works by the visitors of the museum. The Louvre pretends to be a civilisation story and contains the largest proportion of iconic images of Western art. It is not a museum: it is the museum.
Art for Cyborgs is on display as part of JaipurPhoto, an international photography festival, which explores travel and its relation to photographs. In its second edition, JaipurPhoto is displaying the works of 19 photographers in an open-air festival, which uses the architectural heritage of the Pink City as a backdrop for its exhibits.
Another theme which appears to have captured the interest of more than one photographer is constructed travel: In Goodbye Pyongyang, lensman Paulo Simão has put together a photo album from a fictional trip to North Korea, while Austrian photographer Reiner Riedler’s Fake Holidays delves into the world of theme parks and the absurdities of artificial paradises, like tropical islands in Berlin, or the Niagara Falls in China.
“I have two children and of course I need to show them the world and how it functions,” said Riedler. “For kids it is so important to experience nature with all its different aspects. In a leisure park, there are lots of stimuli, which can of course produce fun, but its nihilistic consumption far away from real experience for life.”
Riedler visited almost 50 theme parks around the world for this project. In one image, taken at an indoor ski resort in Dubai, men wearing dishdashas (full-sleeved robes) and keffiyeh (headdresses) stand chatting inside a fake snowscape. “After work people approach these artificial areas, which are basically equipped with sand, palm trees in pots, sometimes a little pool, bar with drinks and music, feeling like being on a real holiday,” said Riedler.
Simão takes the concept of fake-ations or fake vacations one step further – a trip planned to North Korea in 2014 did not work out, but a photo festival held in Portugal in 2015 on the theme “Power of Illusion” gave the photographer the idea for Goodbye Pyongyang.
In this project, the republic of North Korea is presented entirely through artificial images. “It was not just about building a fake trip,” said Simão. “I wanted to make people think about the way they live and see images and news from the media, how they look at advertising, television, internet or social media. I wanted to leave the seed of the doubt and to reflect with the observer about the quantity and the quality of the information we get every day and to understand what is real or not.”
While some of the photographs show the mundane and look like they could be from anywhere in the world – a stuffed bear, a close-up shot of a closet full of shirts – there are some stark images of a city under the iron rule of Kim Jong-un. The symbols of his power are everywhere – a flag atop a high-rise, portraits of previous supreme leaders, Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung.
Another set of works by photographer Julien Lombardi on display at JaipurPhoto are thematically similar to Perez Rio’s. Lombardi too explores the changing face of mass tourism, but in Playground, the French photographer concerns himself with the antics of tourists as they smile for the camera at the Giza Pyramids in Egypt. Collected from travel websites like Tripadvisor, or social media platforms like Instagram, the images of tourists emerge as a distinct photographic genre with hashtags such as #kissthesphinx and #touchthepyramids.
Lombardi reflects on how the tourists insert themselves into the site ad nauseam until the monuments no longer look real and instead begin to look like the imitations erected in Las Vegas or any other theme park around the world.
According to Perez Rio, for everyone, photography has become akin to breathing. “It has become one of the basic functions of this new human being who thinks like a cyborg,” he said. “The current technology is so powerful that you can see people of all ages and of all nationalities adopting this way of using photography.”
There will be 19 site-specific exhibitions across heritage buildings in Jaipur, such as Hawa Mahal, Jawahar Kala Kendra and Albert Hall Museum. Large-format prints adapted to the exceptional architecture of the venues will be mounted on these buildings in open air.
JaipurPhoto is on from February 24 to March 5 in Jaipur. Venues vary.