Thoughts on Paul Fusco and ‘The Tourist Gaze’
I was prompted to write this piece after reading Geoff Dyer about Paul Fusco’s photographs from the funeral train for Robert Kennedy. It was not until after I read this I found out that Paul Fusco died last week.
Dyer describes the crowds lining the tracks as the train passes. “People stand to attention; smoke; smile; hold hands, flowers, babies or flags; wave, wave flags; kneel; point; pray; salute; remove their hats; hold signs…It’s a true democracy – at once arbitrary and representative – of mourning” (Dyer,2006:32). Fusco’s photographs highlight a turbulent nation in crisis, that for many U.S. citizens this is not just one more horror but something much bigger.
Apart from the last phrase in Dyer’s writing here and a few other significant words (pray, kneel), it could just as easily describe a moment of celebration rather than sadness. There are distinct parallels with the idea of the tourist gaze. John Urry aligns the sociological idea of ‘deviance’ with tourism, explaining that “such practices involve the notion of departure, of a limited breaking with established routines and practices of everyday life and allowing one’s senses to engage with a set of stimuli that contrasts with the everyday and the mundane” (Urry,1990:2). As a statement this could very easily be applied to the people lining the tracks in Fusco’s photographs. Urry mentions specifically that tourism involves the idea of leisure but apart from that, the criteria he uses apply to the people in Fusco’s photographs just as well. Very few people live right next to a railway so we can assume that most of the mourners have travelled to get there; they are visitors just as much as holidaymakers are.
A close parallel can be seen at major bike races such as the Tour De France. Visitors travel (sometimes very) long distances to get to a point where they can view the riders passing by very quickly, so that they spend much of their time in anticipation of the actual ‘thing’ they have come to see. One could quite easily use Dyer’s writing about Fusco’s photographs to describe crowds lining the streets in France.
Although Fusco had total sympathy with the crowds lining the tracks, his position on the train does give him at least a degree of outsider status here. He is observing the mourners from a distance and is not directly part of their collective grief. Applying the tourist gaze here is referring to the mourners, not to the photographer – and by extension not to us the viewers. From inside the mourners this is obviously tourism, although it is possible some had come just for the spectacle. The parallels are so close though that perhaps it is the term ‘tourist gaze’ itself that is not sufficient. Maybe we need a more generalised term to describe this kind of exceptional event – ‘visitor gaze’ perhaps?
Dyer, G. (2006) The Ongoing Moment. (s.l.): Abacus.
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.