The sublime stage @ Trolltunga

Based on my observations, and considering the literature I have been reading which explains tourist practice in light of performance, I would like to assert five reasons why the rock ledge at Trolltunga is a sublime stage.

1. The tongue [Place]
Trolltunga means troll’s tongue. The rock ledge at this site, a (roughly) 20 x 4 metre rocky platform protruding out toward Ringesvaldt Lake does indeed resemble a giant tongue extended out into the crisp mountain air. This unique natural formation (and the photo opportunity it presents) provide much of the appeal of this destination and is as such one of the main factors contributing to its rapid growth. The size and shape of the rock ledge attracts visitors to walk out onto it. According to promotional texts, venturing out onto this precipice creates a sense of defying gravity as is the sheer drop on three sides and the 700m or so of empty space below. As Fjord Norway [a] describes it:

Imagine the feeling when standing, perhaps sitting out there at the tip, almost floating between the sky and the water, an almost surreal and truly sensational feeling.

Indeed, the flatness and apparent stability of the rock platform do make it so that the ledge can be conquered by the average person. It’s flat, platform-like shape does also allow a great space for poses which may be easily photographed from surrounding viewpoints.

2. Aura [Authenticity]
 Drawing on the work of Walter Benjamin, tourism scholars have discussed the role “aura” in contributing to the authenticity of a location and thus its attractiveness as a touristic destination (McCannell, 1976; Rickly-Boyd, 2012).  Aura is a subjective and abstract phenomenon that is shaped by the positive attributes of a given thing, such as uniqueness, reputation or impressiveness. Thus, Benjamin (2008, cited in Rickly-Boyd, 2012, p.270) defines aura as a: “strange tissue of space and time: the unique apparition of a distance however near it may be.” At Trolltunga, the dramatic natural formations and complex layering of colours and light create a stunning visual effect. The hike and site are largely ‘natural’, there are few man-made structures and these are low key in nature. The impressive visual aspect and wild nature coalesce in a feeling of wonder that is accessible yet elusive in its grandeur. This feeling, in combination with the physical exertion needed to visit, likely contribute to a heightened existential awareness on the part of the visitors, emphasising the auratic nature of this site. Aura is rare and thus valuable to tourists as it creates a powerful environment for performances of self. Interestingly, MacCannell (1976) points to the Grand Canyon (a site with significant parallels to Trolltunga) as an example of an auratic tourist location.

3. Private performance [Control and choreography]
The space at Trolltunga has developed implicit rules for tourist conduct based on both environmental factors at the site and the shared goals of tourists. Environmental factors include the hazardous nature of this site, in particular the steep drop-off from the rock ledge and surrounding areas. The dangerous nature of this site was highlighted in the fatal fall of an Australian tourist in 2015. In the time since this accident, promotional strategies of DMOs such as Fjord Norway have shifted from promoting the photographic opportunities at the rock, highlighted through text like “If you want a lot of likes on Facebook you should go walking in a picture postcard”, or, photographs of travellers performing impressive stunts (see: Walker Rettberg, 2015), toward a more responsible outlook emphasising responsible hiking practice as a key part of visiting, for example: “CONSIDER CAREFULLY WHETHER YOU ARE IN GOOD ENOUGH SHAPE AND HAVE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT BEFORE SETTING OUT” (Fjord Norway b). The rapid growth of the site in recent years, based largely but by no means exclusively on amateur promotion on social media, means that visitor numbers have seen significant increases year after year. A high percentage of visitors intend to share photos from the site on social media (90%, according to a study by Evers [2016]) meaning that during peak times within the hiking season tourists must line up so that they can have their own photographic moment at the ledge. This practice is not only safety-oriented, it also ensures that tourists are able to take a private photo which features only chosen participants and does not contain unknown others. Estimated wait time at lunchtime on the day the author visited was one hour and a half hours. This significant demand for photos means that visitors may only have a limited timeframe on the rock ledge in which to conduct photographic performances, or else risk violating the turn-taking rules. However, such a process ensures that, for a short period of time, the tourists may use the ledge like a stage in order to engage in a private performance. Indeed, the fact that many tourists choose to carry props (such as flags or personally significant items), or costumes, despite the 10 or 15km hike to the ledge, highlights the explicit nature of the site as a stage for presentations of self.

4. Onlookers [Audience]
The rock ledge at Trolltunga has an atmosphere that is at once transcendent and intimate. Visitors occupy a private, auratic space amidst grand nature, yet, this brief occupation is in most cases subject to the regulations of turn-taking and cooperation (that said, there are times when the site is less busy, and the processes may not be in effect). Thus, performances on the rock ledge are commonly viewed by a significant audience of other tourists surrounding the ledge, both those waiting in line and others resting or camping. Indeed, this is a common scenario for touristic sites in which posing or other behaviours are regulated by the “disciplinary gaze” of onlookers (Edensor, 2000; 2001). Significantly, while standing on the tongue, tourists commonly face this gallery of onlookers for photographs. This means that performers are likely conscious of the unknown audience who may view their performance, both those on-site, and, by extension, online.  Thus, the audience, and in particular, the unknown imagined audience forms an explicit context for the performances which take place on the tongue.

5. Materialisation [Representation]
Performances are recorded and materialised through the visual practices of photography and video (as well as accompanying text). Such materialisation seeks to capture the extraordinary nature of the site and the tourists’ proximity to it in order to open avenues for social capital (Crang, 1999). These representations are based on previously consumed materials and serve to create the template for future performances (i.e. the hermeneutic cycle of representation). Through the narrative process, certain behaviours or trends ascend within representation and thus create the pedagogical model through which the site is experienced and which edify the sense of the “stage” present at the location.
Conclusion:
The five elements presented above in square brackets i.e. place, authenticity, control & choreography, audience, and representation, characterise the nature of the “sublime stage” present at Trolltunga. These elements are discussed in order to highlight the fact that any landscape feature (built or natural) may potentially comprise a stage for touristic performance if it satisfies some, or all, of the criteria discussed above (or, if it provides other outcomes valuable to the presentation of self). Tourism is a socially shaped yet personal activity meaning that tourists are free to impute personal significance to any location. This explains why there were numerous photos being taken on the way to Trolltunga in addition to those being taken on the ledge itself.  Tourists’ self-presentation thus takes place in a way that is flexible and contingent, however, which at the same time likely prioritises certain areas as backgrounds for performance given the particular characteristics they may add to that performance (e.g. aura, scenery, alterity, … ). Tourists’ knowledge of touristic sites and conduct, as well as that of the cultures and economies of social media (i.e. the “selfie gaze”) provides a frame through which to identify relevant stages for touristic performance within the travelled-to landscape.

References:

Crang, M. (1999) ‘Knowing, tourism and practices of vision.’, in Leisure/tourism geographies : practices and geographical knowledge. London: Routledge, pp. 238-257. Critical geographies. (3).

Edensor, T. (2000). Staging tourism: Tourists as Performers. Annals of Tourism Research, 27, 322-344. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0160-7383(99)00082-1

Edensor, T. (2001). Performing tourism, staging tourism: (Re)producing tourist space and practice. Tourist Studies, 1(1), 59–81.

Evers, A. B. M. (2016). Transforming a Norwegian Landscape into an Iconic Tourist Attraction: The Trolltunga Experience [Unpublished Masters Thesis]. University of Stavanger.

Fjord Norway (a). Trolltunga. Retrieved from: https://www.fjordnorway.com/top-attractions/trolltunga/himmelstigen

Fjord Norway (b). Things to do: Trolltunga. Retrieved from: https://www.fjordnorway.com/things-to-do/trolltunga-p958013

MacCannell, D. (1976). The tourist: A new theory of the leisure class. Shocken books: New York, NY.

Rickly-Boyd, J. (2012). Aura & authenticity: A Benjaminian approach to tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 39(1), 269–289. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2011.05.003

Walker Rettberg, J. (2015, Sept. 23). More people are killed by tourist brochures than by sharks. Retrieved from: http://jilltxt.net/?p=4347

 

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Reflections on Image and Place @ Trolltunga

Saturday 12.08

Trolltunga features prominently in promotional material from DMOs in Norway. Indeed, it is often found on the cover or in double page spreads. These images refer almost exclusively to the rock ledge and the unique photo opportunity that exists there. From my experiences, it did seem that the rock ledge at Trolltunga was the current star of Norwegian tourism. Its image kept popping up throughout the trip: on postcards and brochures, a glossy canvas in the restaurant at our hotel, in a slideshow at the rental car office… Throughout the trip, we (I), felt its presence: something worthwhile, something we should go and do…

The image the rock ledge at Trolltunga sits within the context of wider Norwegian Tourism. Fjords are an iconic image of Norway. This distinctive landscape underpins Norway’s destination image as “powered by nature”.  Fjords and glaciers have been popular destinations in Norway for a long time. The ‘discovery route’ developed for continental tourists was popular in the early c20th as tourists moved by passenger liner or horse and cart along the Hardanger Fjord.  Industrialisation ended this tourist rush as industry and pollution tarnished the views. Yet, in the later half of the c20th, Norwegian tourism was reinvigorated by new forms of excursion like cruises and self-driving tours as supported by the growth of destinations like Bergen, Trollstigen, the Lofoten islands and the North Cape. In recent years, hiking has ascended as a more active way of experiencing the Norwegian landscape. An example of this can be seen in Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) near Stavanger. Much like Trolltunga, this impressive rock platform is accessed via a strenuous hike. The sites of Pulpit Rock and Trolltunga are quite similar, yet there are salient differences. The hike at Pulpit Rock is considerably shorter and the rock platform is much larger and flatter. The ‘iconic’ images of these sites reproduce these differences. Images of Pulpit Rock usually show a heterogenous group of visitors (from a quick browse of Google image search, around 20-40 people), or, if the subject is alone, the foreground is much shorter than at Trolltunga and thus the image less impressive. In contrast, images of Trolltunga usually feature a single traveller or a small intimate group on the rock ledge and generally do not show unknown others. Saliently, Trolltunga has a turn-taking system ensuring that tourists can get a photo by themselves or with chosen others on the ledge (someone in line may take this shot for them). This system is undoubtedly safety-oriented given the rock ledge’s narrow profile and steep drop-off, however, it likely responds to the photographic opportunities presented by this space as well. The catwalk-like shape of the rock ledge at Trolltunga, combined with the magnificent view in the background creates a unique space for photographs which is simultaneously intimate and transcendent. The ledge at Trolltunga is thus a stage; a space of self-performance where a single actor or group of actors enact a monologue or dialogue for the (online) audience. Owing to the wide reach of Trolltunga images in both social and mainstream media, tourists may perform a self that is concocted in advance, one that is imagined as tickets are booked and finalised during packing when costume and props are decided upon. Digital photography and social media are an explicit context for this performance, and, thus, for the site as a whole. The arduous nature of the journey (a 20-30 km return hike done either in one day or combined with overnight camping) adds legitimacy to the traveller’s chosen performance on the rock ledge (and is often mentioned in comments). Travellers’ self performance is thus earned not merely self-proclaimed.

The image of Trolltunga in promotional materials, foregrounding, but perhaps underplaying, the challenging nature of the hike, portrays the rock ledge as a space where identity is constructed. The active nature of hiking supports traveller’s self-presentation, allowing them to assert self-image through choices in performance, capture and display. The arduous hike, and self-transformational nature of tourism itself, add credibility to the performance at Trolltunga. The performative space of the rock ledge builds on the context of Norweigan nature tourism as a whole including sites like Pulpit Rock. Indeed, one should not miss the symbolism that a pulpit is indeed a kind of stage. This symbolism is enhanced by the physical shape of the ledge at Trolltunga and furthermore the construction of touristic place by tourists themselves (i.e. turn-taking) which is shaped by the pedagogical and performative background of social media. While the spatial and interpersonal relationships at Trolltunga have a predominantly harmonius nature at present (excepting rescues, accidents), it is worth considering how sustainable this atmosphere is considering growing tourist numbers, and whether there will need to be any changes in this place (the path, for example, or other amenities) as tourist numbers grow. If so, what effects would these have on this “natural”, challenging experience?

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1) “Powered by Nature” from Visit Norway homepage

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2) A modernised version of the “Discovery Route” promotion at a hotel in Hardanger region

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3) Visual your improved self, while enjoying our complementary buffet breakfast! Oslo airport hotel.

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4) Promotional materials and postcards

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5) Trolltunga vs Pulpit Rock as presented in Fjord Norway brochure. Full page image below. Notice the intimate vs shared nature of the rock platform.

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The hike @ Trolltunga

Wed 9th of August

We started a little later than expected and that was perhaps our downfall in making it out onto the “tongue” (Trolltunga meaning troll’s tongue). There are two parking areas, one being 4km closer (8km on the round trip) but it fills early. We were too late and took the further one. Return, the hike from the further one is 30km. We made it within 3km of the Tongue, enough to see it from a distance: the two levels of rock, the long orderly line of hikers waiting for photographs, like ants, at the ledge, the hiking track undulating up and down rock gullies, well-populated with travellers moving both ways: to and from the endpoint.

We made it far enough to see and traverse alongside Ringedalsvatnet Lake which forms the magnificent backdrop to the famous image of Trolltunga. An achingly serene body of cold blue water. Its shore like a Sicilian beach perched against limestone cliffs, an electric blue sea one could almost dive into, until its utter inaccessibility at the base of near 1000m sheer cliffs kicks back in and the surface glazes over, near freezing and brutally hard like the terrain that surrounds it. As someone who’s spent most of their life living close to the coast, strangely, the distant lake seemed more familiar and approachable to me than the mountain-top on which we hiked which felt threatening and alien. This feeling of out-of-placeness contributed to a sense of caution maintained throughout the day. As a whole, the landscape is grand and elemental. One needs to note here how the sublime beauty of the surroundings adds an auratic character to the landscape and, inevitably, the photos taken. This is in part due to the layering and contrast of colours composing the scenery. The mountain sky is wrapped in low hanging clouds, yet open to sudden changes and bursts of sunlight. The summer sun is low, often unseen behind the banked clouds, but at times intense, showering the scene in shiny white light. The tops of the cliffs are a mixture of snow banks, light grey boulders flecked with a livid almost fluro green lichen and a paler green shade of mountain grass. The lightness of this top layer catches and reflects light. When the clouds come over it may be darker and gloomy but when the sun gets through it is radiant, shining brightly, shimmering as is the moving grass and bumpy topology of the boulders with snow banks swerving in between cooler gullys in the rock. The cliffs, huge alpine formations, touched only by cascading falls of melt water are dark, hard, slate grey, patterned with cracks and fissures. And the lake, born from the snow above, deep dark blue, bordered by a thin strip of aqua where it meets the stony shore at the base of the cliffs. The four layers: the bunched clouds and mottled sunlight, sparkling cliff top, dark rock walls, and the smooth, crisp surface of the icy blue lake, combine to create a visually stunning backdrop which emphasises the intensity of this rugged natural landscape.

The hiking is tough. Tough at least for someone from a flat country but perhaps more normal for Europeans or people from mountainous areas who are better-prepared and versed in the routines of alpine hiking. It is quite crowded, and the crowd is a mixed touristic crowd comprising a variety of body types, ages, relationships and motivations. The hike is relatively well-amenitied especially given its remote-feel, there are frequent signposts, bridges over the worst stream crossings, trail markers and emergency cabins, not to mention the presence of the Norwegian Red Cross on hand, at a ranger station and in helicopters. If the site was popularised on social media, these elements undoubtedly add to its accessibility and facilitate the hike and Trolltunga’s growth as a tourist destination. This infrastructure is likely developed in accordance with Norwegian outdoors culture and tourism, indeed, the local populace as a whole (store workers/ passport control) impressed me with a sense of responsible mountaineering. Tourist agencies like Trolltunga Active also help to promote safe hiking at the same time as they contribute to the growth of this destination. In such an environment, the decision to end the hike early was both easy and hard. Easy as a responsible, enjoyable choice (not to trudge on steadfastly); hard as we passed may people seemingly less prepared or more tired than ourselves heading toward the cliff (an “if they can, so can we” kind of situation). Such a scenario made me consider how far people are willing to go to get the photograph at the cliff, and, once having started the hike, if pride is an issue that stops people turning back. There are indeed many rescues each season.

The hikers comprise all types, seemingly skewed toward tourists or more casual hikers but also with hard-core hikers interspersed. I wondered why the savvy mountaineers wouldn’t find a less crowded path (this one showing signs of excess like the inevitable rubbish, boggy Nutella-like patches in some well-trodden areas of the path, and over-used toilet stops). Tourism in its connotations to luxury, knowledge, cultural enrichment and self-transformation is a stage  for self-transformation (like new year’s eve is). The traveller may pick a holiday destination which reflects an aspect of the aspired-to or ideal self and the values contained within (luxury, adventure, cultural sensitivity or empathy, cosmopolitanism, health… ). The rock ledge at Trolltunga is a stage par excellence. The photo opportunity that exists here provides a powerful opportunity for defining identity. The naturalisation of the photographic process at this space through the popularisation of the solo or group performance image in both traveller-created (social media) and official (DMOs) imagery creates a space of outwardly motivated performance. On the day I visited, a lengthy line of travellers wishing to take a photo on the ‘stage’ formed at the base of the ledge. The travellers take turns occupying the ledge and getting a photo. Other line members may assist in taking photos for those out on the ledge. At midday, the estimated wait time was an hour and a half.

Highlighting the performative aspect of this space, I saw some travellers with props or artefacts of self-presentation such as national flags, juggling sticks and special outfits. The arduous walk did it seem strengthen and confirm this process of identity construction. I saw moments of self-doubt or questioning from travellers on their way to the ledge. The challenge inherent in the hike seemed to legitimise or add power to the eventual photos which would be taken. The rock becomes a sacred, ritualised space for expressing identity. The magnificent and auratic quality of the surroundings makes it so. In the photographic process that takes place on the ledge (lining up, turn-taking, performing, capturing), identity is expressed. In addition to the audience present at the sight, the wider reception of performances is implicit in the variety of photographic equipment (smartphones, professional quality SLRs, point and shoots, 360 degree cameras, GoPros, drones, tripods, monopods and selfie sticks) used by travellers to capture unique and personally significant images (we met one pair of travellers who had to line up twice after their first photograph proved to be overly zoomed in). Social media could be seen as the context for such images given the Trolltunga’s significant online presence. Indeed, a study performed on-site indicates that 90% of visitors intend to share photos from their trip on social media (Evers, 2015). Travellers may participate in the hermeneutic circle, re-creating images they have seen online. On a deeper, metaphorical level, the physical environment: the open space, chill air, elemental quality of the sheer cliffs and exposure of the traveller whilst on the ledge itself could be compared to online social media space and the invisible, potentially dangerous and yet thrilling quality of the internet audience.

References
Evers, A. B. M. (2015). Transforming a Norwegian Landscape into an Iconic Tourist Attraction: The Trolltunga Experience [Unpublished Masters Thesis]. University of Stavanger.

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1) Pay parking at the lower lot.

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2) New bridges under construction

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3) Stone stairs

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4) Hikers

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5) Scenic opportunities on the way

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6) For king and country. A flag for the hike or for the photo?

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7) Grand nature

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8) That’s it in the distance

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9) Signage

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10) Happy hikers

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11) Route info at the tourist information center in Odda town.

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12) Season guide

Trip to Trolltunga

Sat 5th of August.

Yesterday we arrived in Norway. To our, and almost all international passengers surprise, there were huge, freeform lines snaking around the insides of the relatively small passport control hall. It took us a good two hours in the end with a mix of camaraderie and complaining from those waiting with us. When we made it to the front, the man seated in the booth – twenty-something, blonde long hair tied back in a pony tail, clear face – asked why we were visiting Norway, and we gave our reply “Tourism …. Trolltunga”. To our surprise, while doing the various checks he had to do with our passports, he proceeded to give us an update on recent conditions at Trolltunga. The hike had been closed because of torrential rain, however, it looked like weather conditions would improve. Having finished with our passports he added some further information hurriedly: the police had been waving people away from the start of the track, we should be careful not to get lost, and, apparently, Tom Cruise was looking to film the next Mission Impossible movie at the site some time this season. Surprised, a little worried, and generally in awe of his friendly demeanour, we were waved through.

The forecast on Google showed rain all week. “What if we can’t go?” I lay in bed thinking after my jetlagged 5 am start,  morning light just starting to squeak through the cracks of the blinds in our AirBnB room. C’est la vie, Shoga nai, No worries, mate. If it were too rainy, too muddy, too dangerous, or Tom Cruise was occupying the site with wires, stunt coordinators, a film crew and catering, then we couldn’t go. That’s all. It was our explicit mission for this trip, travelling a long way, at considerable expense. But even without the same end point, the effort remains the same. We have prepared to visit Trolltunga: planned, packed,  researched, trained, strategized, imagined and anticipated our experience there. We’ve tried on and purchased hiking boots, prepared photographic equipment and data storage, climbed a small but challenging mountain close to our house in the morning light to prepare our legs. Virtually, we have climbed the mountain with two middle aged American men over a time span of about 7 minutes on a YouTube clip: started in the car, paid parking, done the ascent, been advised of walking conditions and come down. We’ve ambled (or, depending on how tough you consider negotiating the results of Google Search to be, hiked) through various tutorials, weather reports and periphery information. Had anticipatory chats with friends and loved ones describing our destination, shown photos of it on our smartphones many times. Booked accommodation. Created contingency plans. Speculated on necessary and unnecessary items. We, or at least I, have visualised the experience, imagining arriving, starting, the pain of the uphill, savouring the researcher role I am to play in observing the actions of other tourists at the top, the well-earned rest in our beds that night. So, what if we are not actually able to live it? Will the university request for me to give my funding money back?

Not all tourist experiences are “successful”. The unplanned, unexpected deviations, whilst perhaps little appreciated in tourist literature, are as significant as those processes that work from start to finish as expected. The emotional experience of living the trip makes it so. If we don’t climb those stairs, see the view, take a photo, we can’t say that we were on top of the rock, but we can still say we have been to Trolltunga. Why? Because that is the contours which our trip followed. We packed, planned, anticipated. We will still go to the head of the trail, observe the peripheral structure around the site, breath the air, see the mountains, feel the ground, imagine what it would be like to go up. Thus, we may not get the money shot, but we have still had a version of the Trolltunga experience as best we could. And in this unpredictable world we all share, even the Tom Cruises, the plan b is always a possibility. One you can make your own, be proud of. Who knows, not hiking Trolltunga could be more enlightening than hiking it!

So, even while whether the hike is possible remains to be seen (it could in fact be do-able but conditions adverse, which will make us think about how bad we want it), we will have our Trolltunga experience. The internet will prove part of this (checking for recent info, like on TripAdvisor) and our instincts also. We might start and turn back. Such tough emotional experiences likely make for deeper connection and experience. The journey is, after all, as important as the destination (even in fieldwork).

[Note: As it turns out, the location for Mission Impossible is another Norwegian clifftop: Pulpit Rock, meaning the immigration officer perhaps had this location in mind rather than Trolltunga]

Shooting and sharing on the GoPro


Seeing life from the heavens looking down helps us be more aware of the incredible nature of our world. That’s what our brand is all about, helping you capture and relive experiences that celebrate you as a human.

Nick Woodman, Founder and CEO of GoPro

Last week, action sports capture device company GoPro unveiled its new 5th generation products: the Hero 5 camera and Karma drone. Why is this related to online travel narratives? GoPro’s cameras arguably birthed the class of small, weather and impact resistant cameras which are used widely in the capture of POV and drone imagery today. GoPros are also used by travel photographers as a way to capture images in wet, wild or crowded conditions where a regular camera would be damaged or a burden to the photographer; by extreme sports enthusiasts and by travellers who want the lightest possible capture device on the market.

Regarding the use of GoPros for the telling of travel narratives, it is interesting to note the way in which the company positions themselves not as a consumer electronics (i.e. camera) company but rather as a content capture company by working on a variety of accessories including applications for wireless transfer and cloud storage designed to facilitate the process of recording and sharing content using GoPro cameras. Brand analyst, Jeff Harbaugh provides this reflection on the brand positioning of GoPro:

You aren’t for people who want to take snapshots either. That’s what we’ve got cell phones for. But if you can be the chosen way for the active outdoor market to create, edit, produce, and share content and if you can tie that community to you through not just your camera technology but your proprietary software, then you will be meeting a social need and requirement of the millennials, now a larger generation than the baby boomers.

Here, Harbaugh highlights the social need for younger generations to create and share content on social media as part of their day to day socialising and GoPro’s positioning as an enabler of this behaviour. In general, the development of drone technology has opened up a whole new angle for lifestyle capture. The social and legal implications of drone use are still unfolding and it will be interesting to see if drones like Karma become a popular travel accessory as they become more portable and reliable.

Looking at GoPro here brings to light the way in which consumer goods companies and social media platforms (or other types of content management systems) shape both the travel experience and the way in which online travel narratives are told. Crouch and Desforges (2003, p.13) explain that the use of a camera shapes experience as the tourists’ vision and memory are extended by the camera’s viewfinder, stating: “To use a camera is to experience place through the lens, with its creation of borders, inclusions and exclusions, its potential capacity to enlarge the scene in front of us, or illuminate through the flash.” With its slew of accessories in hardware and software form, the frontier of the GoPro ranges from so intimate to so large that it arguably starts to lose its borders. It is hard to think of a situation the GoPro can’t capture. With the rewards present on social media for new and interesting images, and the continual arrival of new products to facilitate travel capture, it easy to imagine that the content and quantity of online travel narratives will continue to increase. It will be interesting to monitor the repercussions of new technologies on the “interpersonal dimensions” of travel (Crouch & Desforges, 2003), and also to follow how the balance between experience and capture is enacted as travel technology and the online audience become more pervasive elements within the journey.

A final thought, the GoPro doesn’t have a viewfinder (or at least didn’t on previous models) meaning that the photographer is more likely to turn it on and let it roll, rather than framing and selecting specific scenes while in the landscape. Does this speak to a mode of automated capture (and perhaps, editing and upload) coming in the future, leaving the traveller free to experience the moment with the evidence provided by a machine?

Sources

Harbaugh, J. (2015, July 29). GoPro’s Quarter. What Kind of Company is This Anyway? Jeff Harbaugh and Associates.
Crouch, D. & Desforges, L. (2003). The sensuous in the tourist encounter. Tourist Studies, 3(1), 5–22. DOI: 10.1177/1468797603040528

“Pressure” in Online Travel Photography

Reporting on connected tourism trends in a report commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board, We Are Social’s Simon Kemp reflects on the “pressure” felt by social media users within image sharing platforms such as Instagram to produce high quality content in order to stand out from a crowd of mixed amateur and professional content. To alleviate this pressure, Kemp suggests that destinations provide directions so that tourists can find the best angles of a particular scene or even go so far as to provide on-site professional photographers to assist tourists in phototaking. While these tips may indeed help tourists to collect memorable and shareworthy snaps, will it not be just a matter of time until feeds are well stocked with these special angles and slick packaging, and the pressure to find something new fills in once again?
This phenomena of social media induced pressure to create and share is well worth investigating. Visit an internationally famous tourist site, or prowl the travel blogosphere and you will find evidence of the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between social media using tourists and the destinations they visit. Take the selfie stick, a metonym for online photography, banned from numerous destinations and the bearer of stigmatised names like “narcisstick”, yet still quite popular, and indeed, useful, for capturing travel images. Notice also the changing standards of behaviour and experience of connected tourists who view the travelled to landscape in terms of photo opportunities and fail to connect with local ambience. Online, numerous voices opine that the need to constantly capture and share is ruining the experience of the journey. The compulsion to document one’s trip does, moreover, change the dynamics of tourist space. Photographic practices including the physical movement of the photographer and the scope of their lens do indeed take up a significant amount of space, and, with more and more people engaged in this behaviour, and valuable capital on the line, the activity starts to rub antagonistically with other tourists and locals. Not surprisingly, photography related accidents and fatalities are on the rise.

So where does this pressure to document and share come from? The imperative of travel photography to capture and record exotic experience is well covered (Sontag 1977, Urry 1990), but what affect does the addition of an online audience virtually tagging along (Urry 2002) with the journeyer add? In a study of the photographic practices of young Korean tourists, Lo & McKercher (2015) report 3 principal reasons for tourist photography: aide memoire, relationship management and impression management/self presentation. It can be seen that these last two motivations have come to the fore as the audience sits on our shoulder while we have our overseas experiences. In the era of social media, tourist experience is an effective vehicle for making assertions about what type of person one is given travel’s positive connotations with cosmopolitanism, wisdom and adventure. While on the one hand, published images are shared within the frame of the users’ profile, images do also end up in a wider menagerie of similarly tagged content. Over time online travel photos end up in competition against the content of other users and against one’s own previous creations (Dinhopl & Gretzel 2016). This competition is scored via the metrics of social media success: likes, follows and shares. The bar is set high. Or perhaps more correctly, it is set by tourism tastemakers. A recent article in The New York Times recounts the way in which Instagram, like basically all popular social media platforms, has been hijacked as a promotional tool by industry: “Tourist boards flew popular Instagrammers to their idyllic locations and paid them to post impossibly stunning photographs to attract other world trekkers.” In such an environment of performance and reward users strive to “again and again present the self as extraordinary and different” (Dinhopl & Gretzel, 2016) in a game of “social comparison” (Lo & McKercher, 2015).

The consequences of tourists online performance may easily ripple out into the wider world. Recounting a recent trip to Angkor Wat, reporter Mary Pilon recounts, “the fight for the perfect Instagram” taking place amongst the mob of technology equipped tourists jostling to snap the ideal picture of the famous monument at dawn. Looking further into this phenomena of compulsively documenting and sharing our travel experience, Pilon explores the subject with well followed Instatraveller, Annie He. Here He describes the palpable “pull to share” created by her 60, 000+ followers and the fact that this pull, and the rewards it offers, has led her to cross her personal safety thresholds in the name of a satisfying snap.  What then happens when this threshold is crossed time and time again by users competing in a tournament of what writer, Timothy Egan has called, “documentary one-upmanship.”

A recent blog post by Internet scholar, Jill Walker Rettberg brings to light the way one destination marketing organizations’ promotion of a picturesque cliff outcrop in Norway that was stated to be able to garner, “an avalanche of likes” if shared on social media, preceded, and indirectly contributed to, the fatality of a traveller engaged in photographing this site. This tragic example highlights the disjunctive relationship between destination marketing organisations, connected tourists and destinations/ hosts at this time in which picturesque travel experience is promoted to the point of jepordising personal safety. The “pressure” felt by tourists to successfully document their travel online contributes to this problem and as such merits further investigation. In my opinion, it would also be fair to say that the repercussions of our relentless image quest do indeed go beyond physical consequences and potentially damage the intercultural exchange within touristic “contact zones” (Pratt, 1992) as tourists are too preoccupied with chronicling their trip to notice the space around them. It would be interesting then to see how the increasing volume of photographic activity is accommodated by tourist spaces and how it is operates within the social reality of particular sites. This could include things like investigating how tourist photography at a destination is viewed by the people who live there, as well as business and tourist operators, and tourists themselves. Another point of inquiry would be investigating the processes through which travel photography occurs and the factors which influence this such as the interplay between what the traveller says and portrays online and their physical experiences.

The trend of recording and sharing one’s travel moments online shows no signs of stopping – rather it is demonstrating that it is it’s own mode of tourist experience, a ‘digital gaze’ (Dinhopl & Gretzel, 2016). Here, increased knowledge about the practice of recording travel online will lead to ideas on how to better structure tourism to accommodate travel recording behaviour in a sustainable way. This could be through interventions in physical tourist space, online publishing communities or the “hermeneutic circle” (Urry, 1992) of travel recording.

Cover Image reblogged from Wall Street Journal A Traveler’s Guide to Social Media

Shutter clicks: A review of the photographic record of my trip

It was John Urry who said that “travel is a strategy for the accummulation of photographs”  (1990, p.139).

Indeed, it seems that during travel my photographic activity did dramatically increase, and, after 3 months I am left with a pile much larger than that which I would collect in the same period of daily life.  With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to look through the photographic record of the trip that exists in the memory of my personal photographic devices (camera and smartphone). The purpose of this activity being to gain a broad overview of my travel image taking (i.e. the amount and type of photos I took), in order to develop a better idea of what I thought was photoworthy during my trip and the process through which I took travel photographs.

The first step was to calculate the total number of travel photos (i.e. any image created within the period of my travel) in each device memory. The Iphone 6 is quite a thoughtful technology in this respect, its geotagging technology allows one to see on a map where they took photos and how many they took. Scroll in and this information gets more detailed as one is able to go from country to region to city/suburb. This is quite a time saver. After a little tallying, I found I had 844 images from the trip on my phone. The two SD cards from my 7700 Nikon Coolpix, would, however, require a more manual analysis. On these I found, 564 trip items (i.e. photo and video), thus making a grand total of 1408 clicks of the shutter.

The second step was a content analysis of my photographs in which they were grouped according to the main subject, or, the purpose with which a photo was taken (as I am analysing my own photographs, I can remember the intention with which each was taken). By personal practice or perhaps because I have copius free memory available on my Iphone and SD cards, I don’t often delete photos after I take them and so I have an almost complete photo record of my trip.


Results:

  Phone Camera Total
Landscape 308 218 526
Travel companion 381 57 438
Critical Blog 60 144 204
Travel blog 18 89 107
Information 84 7 91
Me and travel companion 79 3 82
Video 31 5 36
Me 24 0 24
  1408
Doubles 237 96 333

Photos of the landscape: (Phone: 308 + Camera: 218) = 526
This includes any photos of the foreign landscape (without myself and my travel companion) that weren’t taken for my blogs. These feature things like scenic views, food, signs, animals, and accidental photographs which are blurred or without an obvious subject. A small percentage of these were uploaded online (around 5%).

Photos of my travel companion: (P 381 + C 57) = 438
These are any photos in which my wife is present, excluding, however, those in which we both are present.

Photos for my critical blog: (P 60 + C 144) = 204
The purpose of this blog you are reading now is to reflect on how connectivity affects the practice of recording travel. Part of the process of this reflection was observing Internet connections in the places I visited and the way these were utilised by travellers. This included taking a number of pictures to support my observations, some of which were uploaded to this blog.

Photos for my travel blog: (P 18 + c 89) = 107
I have a somewhat unique blog in which I draw a sketch of the day and then photograph this sketch and upload it on Tumblr. As lighting is quite important for achieving a good result here, sometimes I may photograph the same sketch multiple times.

Photographs of information = (P 84 + C 7) = 91
These are photos which include some kind of information which would prove useful later on in the trip. This is things like screenshots of timetables, contact information and online advertisements taken on my phone. It also includes photos of maps, Google driving routes and landmarks used for navigation.

Photos of me and my travel companion: (P 79 + C 3) = 82

Videos: (P 31+ C 5) = 36

Photos of me= (P 24) = 24
Where I am present only.

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A final category here is ‘doubles’, that is, photos which were taken in close succession and in which the framing is almost exactly the same but in which the position of the subject may differ slightly. This was found to be 333 photos in total (P 237 + C 96), or about 1/5 of my total. Here, one photo from each set of doubles was not counted (i.e. 7 near identical shots would be counted as 6).

Reflections on the data:

> In total I took about two thirds of my pictures with my phone, this percentage would likely be even larger, however, I left my phone in a hotel room and didn’t have it for a month (4/28 – 5/24). As my phone is compact and has more than one function, I found it easy to carry around with me.

> For photos which I knew I was going to publish on my social networks, I tended to use my camera which takes higher quality pictures. Conversely, I used my phone, which is more portable, for candid pictures of the landscape, my travel companion or information useful to the journey.

>  My wife is featured in a large number of photographs as I felt like I had an opportunity to help her remember the trip fondly by doing this. Conversely, I know my wife took a substantial number of shots of me as well.

> Only about 10% of the photographs taken contain myself and only a very small percentage (2%) contain me only. Perhaps as I knew my wife was taking photos of/for me.

> About ¼ of my photos were of subjects featured in my blogs.

> The daily average is 14.08 shutter clicks. This pattern was not, however, evenly distributed with some days having no photographs and around 100.

> Videos were extended slices of the landscape, intended to capture atmospheric details like background noises or the full panorama of a chosen location.

> ‘Doubles’ are, I think, a fairly new travel photography practice which has been brought about by digital technologies in which the user can easily delete photos (in tandem with the ultrafast shutter speeds of newer smartphones). This technique allows the photographer to snap a number of shots of a particular subject in order to increase the likelihood of achieving a good photo. I used this technique particularly with moving subjects (or when I was moving, e.g. in a car) as an alternative to a single well-timed click.

Conclusions:


In their exploration of online tourist photography, Lo and McKercher (2015) identify three main reasons why travellers take cameras with them, these are: 1) aide memoire, 2) relationship management, and, 3) impression management (i.e. self presentation). I would say that my photography did indeed fall into the purview of these three areas. While taking photographs was partly a method for me to capture and remember things I liked or which were significant to me(1), it also served the purpose of having something to share with friends (2,3), a way of crystalising and verifying my interpretations of the foreign landscape which I shared on my blog (3), a way of making travel easier by storing information (1), and, a way to prospectively increase my companion’s enjoyment by recording the trip’s pleasant moments (2).

I have analysed ‘my’ photographic record here. As I proceeded through this task, however, I came to realise that not all photos within my device memory were in fact my own. While cameras and especially phones are personalised devices (smartphones commonly requiring a key code to enter) some of the images in my device memory were taken, with my complicity, by my wife, or, by complete strangers. A handful of these images (around 10) were downloaded into my record, rather than taken as a photograph. When I started I assumed the photographic narrative I was looking through was a chronological record of my own voice, and as such univocal and linear. Instead I find that it contains polyvocal and nonlinear elements.

Another salient point that comes to play here, is that because I was travelling with my wife, we effectively shared the responsibility for recording travel moments, and, indeed, acted as photographers for each other. Sometimes when we went out only one of us had a device, and thus this person took the role of taking photos for, and of, the other one (my wife is featured in about 1/3 of my shots). When I didn’t have a camera of my own and saw something interesting I asked my wife to take photos or took photos myself using her phone. Afterwards, these images can be easily shared via an Internet connection or Bluetooth. This same practice of image swapping would, I’d say, occur with many groups travellers as it provides a convenient way to enlarge one’s photographic record and to get pictures of oneself in the landscape.

It would be fair to deduce, that, because I travelled with another person, and, with online narratives such as my blogs, that my trip photography was a social activity in which the decision to take a photo frequently occurs with an audience in mind. Indeed, Dinhopl and Gretzel (2016) contend that connected travellers see the landscape not only through their own eyes but those of the imagined audience as well. Indeed, what I saw as photoworthy in the landscape was influenced by my online social circles, and, particularly, the presence of my travel companion with whom I could share images. This may not have been the case in previous times when travellers were more separated from their contacts and photographic images were more costly to produce. It is interesting to note here, following this comment on the increased profusion of photos within travel, the way in which informational content also forms a significant part of my photo record, highlighting the increased role technology plays in how travellers see, navigate, and experience the landscape.

In a future study, it would be interesting to expand the size of the photographic record surveyed in order to include other sites where records of the trip from myself and others are available, such as my computer memory (such as screenshots and photos downloaded in relation to the trip), my travel companion’s photos, photos taken by others that are displayed on my social networking websites and any other images collected throughout the trip (such as a disc me and my bought from a professional photographer who accompanied a day tour we went on). Such a study would help highlight the way in which the traveller not only sees but also remembers their travel in a social way as images are collected from a number of sources and form a kind of collaborative collage across their digital devices/profiles. Such a study would also highlight the increasingly distributed and polyvocal nature of travel narratives in their digital form.