Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tourism, travel and serendipity

click photo to enlarge
Fritz Baedeker and Thomas Cook have a lot to answer for: their travel books and companies were instrumental in starting the mass tourism that blights our planet today. The nineteenth century idea of telling people where the "best" places are, and making it easy to get there, spawned today's queues at the Tower of London, the throngs around the Grand Canyon viewing points, the acres of tourist buses on the Giza plateau, and the trails of litter on the flanks of Kilimanjaro.

Today's publishers, from the "Lonely Planet" and "Rough" guides, to "1000 Places to See Before You Die" continue the early travel organisers' task of directing tourists, but now to the places they've seen in photographs and on television. Countries, places and sights have become, for many, objects on tick lists. I've always felt that travel needs to involve effort and time commensurate with distance, and should involve discovery. The idea of stepping on a plane and a few hours later being deposited in a completely different part of the world is one I find abhorrent. Furthermore, I've never bought into the idea of going to the honeypot locations:for me the interest in travel lies in coming across the unexpected, not looking for what I know is there. I remember reading, many years ago, Daniel Boorstin's 1962 book, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America, in which he described how tourist authorities across the world were working hard to ensure that visitors to their countries saw the things that they expected to see: that's a phenomenon that has only deepened with time.

On my recent church-visiting break in Leicestershire I was told about Foxton Locks, a section of the Grand Union Canal where barges negotiate an incline using 10 closely spaced locks. On my visit to this fascinating, and still working part of England's industrial heritage I took a lot of photographs. Today I post one that I didn't expect to take, but that just presented itself to me. It shows the metal steps that lead up to a viewing platform on top of an engine shed where there is a panorama of the whole of the site. A wide angle lens and my wife at the bottom in cold-weather wear seemed to be an interesting composition. One that was all the more rewarding for its serendipitousness!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/125 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On