Tourists can be the worst.
When they’re not destroying precious works of art and historical artifacts or being awful on aeroplanes, they’re… bored and blasé.
No one knows this better than Laurence Stephens, a British documentary photographer who turned his lens on the hordes of disinterested tourists he saw on his travels who were just going though the motions, ticking off bucket-list items with ennui.
The result? A hilarious and satirical look at travel in the modern world.
Keep scrolling for some of the best pictures from Stephens’ new book, “Bored Tourists.”
Laurence Stephens is a British documentary photographer who has been in the business for 13 years.
But it wasn’t until a recent move to Barcelona, Spain — and a visit to the Barcelona Cathedral — that he saw the potential for a humorous look at tourists.
“In the cool dark rooms of the cathedral, I quickly realised the humorous photographic potential that tourist hotspots like these could offer,” he told INSIDER.
“Juxtaposed against the beautiful architecture was an array of bemused, disillusioned tourists, bored, half-asleep, unintentionally waiting to be photographed,” he said.
While the photos for the book were mostly shot in Spain and Portugal, it “covers countless locations.”
“The light I found in the two countries suited the project perfectly, as it balanced well with flash, enhanced saturation, and created a balance of colour and light throughout the book,” he explained.
He emphasises that none of these photos are staged. “I’m simply observing a cultural phenomenon and presenting my personal vision of it,” he said.
To capture these travellers in their natural habitat, he likes to research a few tourist hotspots in advance, then split his day between two or three places, spending at least three hours at each.
“The best images often come out of perseverance,” he said. “A lot of the time is spent feeling disappointed and frustrated.”
But when things went well, he’d spend entire days focused on one small area, “photographing the same setting over and over until I had the perfect image.”
His biggest takeaway from the series is how much the experience of travel has changed in recent years.
“Although the phenomenon of being bored on holiday isn’t a new one, since the advent of the smartphone and social media, our expectations of a holiday are being challenged more than ever,” he said.
“Our attention is not infinite, nor is our capacity for curiosity; we only have so much time and energy to expend,” he said, adding that social media and the internet compete with the real-life experiences people have spent a lot of time and money on obtaining.
“We’re becoming more and more focused on making a record of our experience of life,” he continued. “So many of us who engage with social media platforms now feel the need to communicate, value, judge, be judged, and project our experiences to others.”
Per Stephens, “It’s a phenomenon that is especially evident when examining the subject of tourism, and one that I feel can be both a positive and a negative thing and definitely alter our experience we have on holiday.”
While he can see the positive — having memories to share and look back on — he also feels that social media is ruining people’s ability to immerse themselves in the very thing they are trying to record.
“The judgments we make about each other’s lives can often make us feel disappointed with our own. Pushing us to construct ever more flattering memories to post online, often to create the illusion we’re having a better time than we actually are,” he said.
He hopes that people will gain amusement from these photos, as he did. And if it gets people to question their own interactions with their surroundings, he said, “then my job is complete.”
“For me, the book expresses something that is universal to the human condition,” Stephens said. “In life, expectation can often lead to disappointment. I feel this is especially evident in tourism.”
He continued, “Wherever you go in the world, if a tourist experience is on offer, you’ll find people realising that it’s not what they’d hoped it would be. So in producing the work, I set out to capture moments which highlight for others an aspect of life that we are all subject to, wherever we come from.”
You can buy the book, published by Hoxton Mini Press, here.
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