Chasing the Exotic

Last week I went to the beautiful Maison de la Photographie, a privately owned photography museum in the middle of the medina. Their collection spanned from the late 1800s to the early 1900s and included works by the Lumière Brothers and other pioneering photographers/ filmmakers of the time. Needless to say the photography was gorgeous, the subject matter absorbing and the window into Morocco’s past utterly fascinating. Dabbling with analogue photography myself, it was all incredibly inspiring and had me itching to get out my 1950s Braun Paxette that’s been relegated to my backpack since I left NZ.

But for all the awe I felt, I had this niggling feeling in the back of my mind. Something that I’ve been struggling with for a while: like the adventurers of old, am I chasing the exotic? When I feel the burning desire to photograph people on the street, whether here, in Europe or back at home, am I treating human beings like a tourist attraction? Am I just another explorer out to enrich my own life by subjecting others to my colonizing gaze? Where is the line between appreciating beauty and objectifying the “other”?

I never worried about this when I incessantly photographed my friends and family. Is it a completely other matter when it comes to strangers? What about strangers in a foreign country?

Before I settled on taking this trip I always pushed back against the notion of being a “backpacker”. I associated the term with self-righteous douches who felt their lives were so much more enlightened than everyone else’s, that their traveling experiences were so much more “authentic”, that they really understood every culture they briefly imposed themselves upon. Have I become no better? I even have the 55 litre bag to prove it don’t I? Does it make a difference that the countries I’ve visited have all been selected to help me learn French, that there’s a purpose to it all, an end result? Or am I just another privileged middleclass traveller out to “find herself” by dipping my toes in other peoples lives?

Honestly, I don’t have an answer. I hope that being aware of my position, being sensitive, being teachable, will negate many of the negatives I bring with my presence. I want understanding, I want cross-cultural exchange, I want to have a greater awareness of the world we all share. I don’t want to be an ignorant and ill informed suburban nobody unchallenged and complacent in her own little corner of society.

I just hope I’m going about it in the right way.



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