Wish you weren’t here: photos that show an hour in the life of ‘quiet’ tourist spots | Travel

Natacha de Mahieu arrived at the shores of Obersee, a remote lake surrounded by lush green mountains and spectacular waterfalls in a corner of southeastern Germany, in August 2021. It was cold; the rain fell “It wasn’t that fun to be there. It was very cold and everything was wet,” De Mahieu, 26, he says from his home in Brussels, laughing.

Tourists came and took portraits against the view. De Mahieu noticed that as soon as someone stepped in front of the camera, they would peel off their layers, braving the cold to convey the image of a happy summer. In front of the camera: T-shirts, floaty dresses. Back: quilted jacket bands. It was Instagram versus reality.

De Mahieu’s photographic series, which she calls Theater of Authenticity, explores the link between tourism and spectacle, and how we act when we travel, especially when we think no one is watching. The photos make up the graduation project for her master’s degree in documentary photography, and bring together the three topics that concern her the most: tourism, social networks and climate change.

“I love to travel,” says De Mahieu, recalling a trip to Bolivia when he was 18 as the moment he became interested in photography. “I’m also very curious about why we like to travel and our motivations.” And, he adds: “I spend too much time on social networks.” Scrolling through Instagram, De Mahieu began to have “the feeling that everyone is going to the same places, using the same photographic compositions, the same colors”. It sparked the Gen Z artist’s dilemma. Surrounded by endless digital content, she began to wonder if she would ever make something truly unique.

And so De Mahieu took this preoccupation with singularity and gave it a twist. She would take precisely the kind of photo that tens of thousands had already taken. But instead of doing what many camera tourists have done when faced with a crowded destination: blocking out other people from view and offering an image that suggests they’re alone surrounded by natural splendor, I’d add more people .

It started by identifying some of the most geotagged European tourist destinations on Instagram, including Lake Obersee, Turkey’s romantic Cappadocia region (famous for its hot air balloons), Spain’s Bardenas Reales desert, and the rocky . streams (streets) in Marseille. Traveling to these destinations in his motorhome during the summer, he usually spent two days in each location. The first day was set aside to explore the area and find the best angle to shoot from. The next day, he would set up his camera on a tripod and take pictures at hourly intervals, documenting the tourists coming and going. When editing, I used Photoshop to produce a time-lapse collage showing all the people who had visited the area during 60 minutes. A finished image can take up to a week to perfect.

There is a version of this project that would take on some of the most popular landmarks around the world: walkers on top of the Great Wall of China; hundreds trying to prop up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But De Mahieu deliberately chose off-the-beaten-track destinations. “I wanted to show the impact of this type of ‘invisible tourism’ in these places. When I say invisible, I mean that when you are there you feel like you are alone. But more than an hour, or an afternoon, there are a lot of people.”

It’s a commentary on how social media can quickly transform somewhere into a must-see destination – an Instagram post from an influencer can open the floodgates – and also how that fame can have harmful environmental effects (in June this year, the Calanques de Marseille). the national park limited the number of visitors for the first time to protect the rock formations). “Climate change is very real and very obvious,” says De Mahieu; it was “quite natural” that his work responded to these concerns.

She is not exempt from the culture represented in her photos. De Mahieu loves to travel, and admits that he spends too much time on social networks; even in his own photography, he feels the pervasive influence of the Instagram aesthetic (soft pastel colors, a neat composition that fits the default square shape: “I say: no! I don’t want it!”) . His photographs, rather than judging, are a playful invitation to think: about what we look for when we leave the house; how the appeal of a beautiful image influences our everyday decisions, and why, in a culture that values ​​individuality, we all seem to crave that photo of ourselves in front of a log cabin on the lake at our best summer, surrounded through the mountains, the trees and the open water, and absolutely no one else.

CappadociaTurkey, November 2019

Labeled 2.2 m times on Instagram (based on tagged images at the location at the time of publication)

All photographs: Natacha de Mahieu

“Every day at sunrise, hot air balloons filled with tourists fly over the mountain ranges of the Cappadocia region in central Turkey,” says Natacha de Mahieu. “Here, travelers take selfies, while a couple proposes in a vintage car in front of a professional photographer. In this series, I wanted to play with the line between fact and fiction: are these photos ‘real’ or ‘fake’?’

The Calanques de MarseilleFrance, May 2021

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Calanques de Marseille, France, May 2021

“The rocky limestone cliffs and emerald streams of the Calanques in southern France attract more than 3 million visitors each year. As the region is difficult to reach on foot, specially authorized boat tours are offered for tourists, which cross each other.

Lac Blanc, ChamonixFrance, August 2021

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Lac Blanc, Chamonix, France, August 2021

“Lac Blanc can be reached by a two-hour ascent of 500 meters after a cable car ride to 1,877 meters, and offers stunning views of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, at the eastern end of France. This collage is made of photos taken over the course of an hour.”

Real Bardenes desert, Spain, June 2021

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Bardenas Reales Desert, Spain, June 2021

“Bardenas Reales is a semi-desert landscape in northern Spain. The Castildetierra rock formation shown here appears in many Instagram portraits. I included myself in this photo because the series is also a way for me to reflect on my practices as a tourist and photographer”.

Verdon Gorge, France, July 2021

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Verdon Gorge, France, July 2021

“The Gorges du Verdon in south-east France are the largest river canyon in Europe and have become increasingly popular. I took this photo from far and high to refer to the landscape paintings of the Romantic era. “

Obersee, Germany, August 2021

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Obersee, Germany, August 2021

“The fisherman’s shack on the shore of a lake used to be completely unremarkable. Then came Instagram. This collage reflects the competition that occurs as we each try to find the best spot for a selfie.”

Peneda-Gerês national park, Portugal, June 2021

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Peneda Gerês National Park, Portugal, June 2021

“This image, inside Portugal’s only national park, was taken remotely using a wireless connection between my camera and my phone. I discovered that if I stayed close to my camera, tourists they would politely fall out of the frame. The only way to compose this image was to put my camera on a tripod, walk away and press the shutter from a distance.”

Pont d’Arc, Ardèche Gorges, France, July 2021

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Pont d'Arc, Gorges de l'Ardèche, France, July 2021

“This collage image of the Pont d’Arc, a large natural bridge in the Ardèche in south-eastern France, was made from photographs taken over an 80-minute period in the height of the tourist season. The final result, made from 100 images, took over a week to complete.”

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