Mark Twain pioneered this aggressive self-defense in the 1860s, the early years of democratized and commodified guidebook travel. By the time Lévi-Strauss took up the cudgel, photography was beginning to catch up with tourism, and since then travel writing and travel photography have come to seem, to the skeptical, like two sides of the same counterfeit token. Lévi-Strauss continued: “Travel-books, expeditionary records, and photograph-albums abound. …
Mere mileage is the thing; and anyone who has been far enough, and collected the right number of pictures (still or moving, but for preference in colour), will be able to lecture to packed houses for several days running.”
The travel writer, at least, had to sit down and actually bash it all out, which gave him or her some measure of self-respect. The travel photographer had it worse. The right to call itself art rather than mere mechanism had been photography’s struggle since the medium was invented, but now practitioners had to differentiate their efforts from the unstudied shutter-clicks of rank amateurs. The problem grew even more dire as travel photography transitioned from a hobby to perhaps the ultimate signifier of the inauthentic and the conformist.
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