The facing illustrations are part of a series of photographs taken on a black
and white film which remained uncollected at a processing outlet in London1.
The photos depict a couple who are quite clearly enjoying a holiday in Egypt.
These photos are remarkable in a number of ways, not least because the
figures in the picture are out of focus and not as clearly defined as one
From the pictures we can assume that the couple have been led to the spot where the photographs were taken, where the three pyramids can be seen to their best advantage, tapering off to the right in strict perspective. The framing of the photographs, the viewfinder, has to squeeze its subjects/objects together; the base and the point of one and almost two thirds of another of the monuments are in view along with our two figures in the foreground. This act of framing has to serve a very real purpose; it is the transcribing of an event ... an opportunity. But these photographs offer us more than a simple "I was here". In fact the structure and conventions of tourist photography (and these photographs are a good example) inadvertently reveal what, at times, a particularly aggressive way of seeing the medium of the photograph is. To a certain degree, to photograph an object, an event, a place etc. is to have possession of it, however momentarily. This urge as, Junger called it, to endow the living process with the character of a slide prepared for the microscope, gives the impression that a given 11 reality" has been caught and etched on to a film. Yet as it does so it also miniaturises, cuts up, slices that reality; thus showing the power this medium has in its "ability to pass itself off as a miniaturisation of the real, without revealing either its constructed nature or its ideological content" 2 Thus, with our photographs, the grandeur of the pyramids are vanquished and, because of the necessity of the framing, there is a curious alignment of the figures heads with the points of the pyramids producing a disorientating effect in scale. So much so that it becomes easier to classify these images as souvenirs rather than as photographs. A souvenir in as much as it condenses, interiorizes, the experience of the foreign. Moreover, as Susan Stewart states; "The souvenir reduces the public, the monumental, and the three dimensional into the miniature, that which can be enveloped by the body, or into the two-dimensional representation, that which can be appropriated within the privatised view of the individual subject." 3
Allied to this is the use of black and white film which may be seen as an attempt to
better the cameras ability to construct idealised images. Indeed much tourism becomes
in effect a search for the photogenic; travel is a strategy for the accumulation of
Brought to the place on camels a local guide whose horse waits to the left of the picture, the couple pose clumsily astride their unfamiliar mounts having asked their Egyptian guide to take a photograph ... A photograph of what - of whom-where? Having travelled over a thousand miles to be there, on the fringes of the desert, maybe the guide naturally assumes that it is the pyramids that are to be the focal point of their holiday, the pyramids that are to be photographed...
It could be argued that this subtle misunderstanding, this failure to comply with that unspoken law of Western conventional representation, may have been due to the guides failure to use a camera correctly, to gauge the depth of field, to focus the lens... This conclusion, however, precludes the guide from even that basic knowledge in a common instrument that allows children to become competent at taking pictures. Yet maybe this guide has lived all his life subject to a local economy commanded by tourism and its ubiquitous cyclopean facet the camera. It can, therefore, be reasonably presumed that the couples' guide is adequately versed in the technical aspects of the camera but not in the mysteries of the contingent cultural codes that accompany the tourists photographic record of their holiday. In these photos the sharp-ness and austerity of the pyramids obliterates the identity of the couple, they become anonymous ,absurd, japing nervously within the parched and indifferent landscape. Beneath the fury of such a precise architecture human form blurs, loses its primacy, succumbs. Had the focus been reversed, however, a familiar set of signs would have come into play; pyramids which are large and triangular don't really have to be in focus, but by standing in front of them, the camera set on a short depth of field, your features sharply defined, then you have a testament, you have proof, you have been there, to a warm place where you smiled and, before the soft outlines of an exotic landscape, you joked with your guide, he smiles blankly at you, you think him indolent and corrupt ... you stare at these ancient monuments and then head back to the hotel not knowing that the precious moment that has been recorded will always remain a blur.