One of the many strange things about stereotypes is how we can think of some behaviour as typical of some group of people while happily behaving in the very same way ourselves.
Japanese tourists are proverbial for arriving at a famous place, hurriedly taking lots of photographs and leaving again. When our bus stopped somewhere in the middle of Glencoe last summer the guide even said it: ‘We’ll have a ten-minute stop here and act Japanese tourists.‘ Everybody understood, everybody laughed – and then everybody went out and began shooting snaps. Naturally the same thing happened on other days at Eilean Donan Castle and so on. (I didn’t walk the cities with the rest but I have no doubt the same applied there as well.)
What fascinated me was that I saw no reason for this. What’s the point of taking a picture of, say, Dunvegan when you know you can get hundreds of better ones on the Net, unless it’s in some way particular to you? Ay, I took over 400 photos myself during the trip, but most of them were not of the ‘famous sight’ type and even those that were had always something personal about them. For example, the point of this one is not the fact that it features the Inverness Cathedral, but that it was taken while smoking a fag on the same bench where I had been smoking and watching it both in ’90 and in ’97. And so forth.
It often seemed as if people were less bent on actually seeing something than on taking pictures and only taking a proper look, much later on, at those. After all, the more time you spend photographing, the less time you have for looking around. I’m almost positive that quite a few of my fellow travellers never saw a Glencoe scenery – only parts of it which were either more or less likely to look good on a photograph.
I’m not the first one to notice this. I thought James Hawes was exaggerating when writing the following passage in Rancid Aluminium, but after seeing some after one day in the Trossachs and another in the Great Glen complain they had seen no heather so far, so that they had to be told on the next day near Pitlochry ‘here you can take some snaps of the Scottish moorland’ (they shooted a lot then), it looks like he was simply observing a fact:
This is the photo-age: no-one really believes anything until they see the prints. Weddings are just photo-opportunities nowadays; births are going the same way: at the moments we should feel most alive, we are half-thinking Hey, these’ll be nice pics! Funerals are the last video-free zone, the last-ditch fortress of unfilmed emotion. The day we start videoing our funerals will be the day the Big Ref should blow the whistle.