The Tourist Gaze

Although Urry does make the point that the tourist gaze has altered over time, a fundamental point from a documentary point of view is that the tourist as outsider cannot ever be objective about the visited environment. This in itself is not a problem as long as it is recognised in advance; one can still be objective about a specific set of concerns that may not be directly relevant to the place itself.

As an example, Ingrid Pollard’s “Pastoral Interlude” ( explores the black experience of the English countryside. The places visited are not directly relevant to her work so much as how these places provide a different experience for black people than the mostly white visitors.

Urry writes about the different viewpoints of Boorstin and MacCannell, where the former describes the tourist experience as ‘pseudo events’, and the latter suggesting tourists crave authenticity. If, like Pollard, documentary work wishes to position itself outside the tourist experience itself then this distinction may not be particularly relevant. In any case it is likely that some visitor now will view ‘pseudo events’ as genuine experiences in their own right, experiences that become distinct from the fake environment they depict.  

James Morris depicts tourists and associated facilities visiting Llanberis Pass in Snowdonia.

This is another useful example of how documentary can comment on the tourist gaze but also retain a semblance of the tourist experience itself.   


Urry, J. (1990) The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies (Published in Association with Theory, Culture & Society). (First ed. edition) (s.l.): SAGE Publications Ltd.

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