The Rhetoric of Tourism

Jul 21

Juxtaposing Text and Theory

900 words, due by midnight on the evening of Sun, Jul 21; MLA citations

Essay submission via this link AND via the comments, below.

“To collect photographs is to collect the world.” Susan Sontag makes photography sound like imperialism, but imperialism on a small scale, imperialism that invites the participation of everyday tourists. In just the first chapter of her 1977 book, On Photography, Sontag sets forth a wealth of insights about the many functions that cheap 35mm photography had assumed in contemporary consumer culture: documentation, appropriation, idealized figments, “a defense against anxiety,” even “a tool of power” (8). In the 40 years since her book was published, the cost of photography has plunged further, to the point where it seems completely free—and this has only intensified many of the social trends she identified. Photos are cheap today in part because they are no longer material objects, but mere packets of data. And yet Sontag hinged her analysis\ on the material status of photographs: objects that can be possessed, collected, rearranged. So while Sontag may serve some of you as a prophet, helping to explain the many functions of photography in our lives today, others of you may decide to serve her by working to adjust and update her analysis for the changed conditions of the present day.

Your essay can assume either of the following forms:

  • The Lens: use Sontag to explain the mysteries of a photograph or photographic practice from the present day.
  • The Patch: use a photograph or photographic practice of the present day to challenge and/or update Sontag.

You need not focus on tourism, but I do encourage you to draw on your experience(s) and the photographs you’ve taken over the past few weeks in London as anecdotal evidence in your essay. This might take the form of self-observation and introspective analysis; it might also take the form of an anthropological site study, focusing on the minute observation of, for example, a tourist site in London or even your peers’ instagram feeds.

Source Citation: MLA.

Length: This essay will be scored (√+, √, √-) for length, earning a √+ for coming within 50 words (above or below) the prescribed word count and a √- for being more than 150 words too long or too short. My word count will not include your Name, any Headers or the Works Cited, but will include the essay’s title.

“This is my girl back home, and this is a funny sign I saw this morning, and these are forty pictures of a sunset I took trying to get the exposure right, and this is . . .” — The New Yorker, May 23, 2019.

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