Observer Observed

In 2012, I moved to the town of Banff, Alberta. The town’s permanent population, according to its 2014 municipal census is 8,421, while its shadow population (non-permanent residents) is 965, for a combined population of 9,386, which led to the development of Observer Observed.  On top of the transient nature of the town, the park attracts over 3 million visitors per year. These incredible numbers are what sparked my interest in focusing on tourism. I find the millions of photographs taken by people fascinating and the idea that regardless of where we find ourselves in this world, many of us are compelled to document our surroundings and share our experiences.
In 2013, I began to explore these ideas by creating large-scale panoramic photomontages where multiple images of tourists are compressed into a single image within the Banff landscape.  These people represent the constant flow of life that exists around us, which we rarely make direct observations of.  Without passing judgment, these photographs feature how people seemingly interact with each other and the world around them through technology.
In September of 2014, upon expanding the project to Iceland while attending the Listhús í Fjallabyggð residency program in Ólafsfjördur, my focus was on the tourists whom traveled there. This created a thought provoking comparison to the photographs taken in Banff.  Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest National Park and was originally designed to drawn tourists to the natural hot springs that were found in 1883.  As already mentioned, today the national park see’s over three million visitors a year.  In comparison, in 2008 Iceland experienced a major economic and political financial crisis.  Because of this, tourism has become a more significant part of the national economy.  In 2014, the population of Iceland was 300,000, yet there were over a million tourists that traveled throughout the country. 
In The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a virtual Age, Richard Louv states that “…the Nature Principle suggests that, in an age of rapid environmental, economic, and social transformation, the future will belong to the nature smart – those individuals, families, business, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of nature, and who balance the virtual with the real.”[1]  While observing tourists documenting the landscapes around them, I wonder if this is the new generation of “nature smart” people, who are equally drawn to the beauty of these places for a refreshment of the mind and the creation of new ideas.  Similarly to Louv, I also believe that “[w]hat’s different now is not the presence of technology, but the pace of change – the rapacity of the introduction of new media and adoption of new electronic devices,”[2] and although this change is occurring, as a society we can balance our technological selves and become “nature smart” through our constant desire to have a close connection to the natural world.  By layering people taking photographs of the natural, landscape, I will analyze this “second digital revolution,” by emphasizing the number of visitors that document such picturesque places, regardless of the quality of images taken or on what social platforms the images will ultimately be displayed.
[1] Louv, Richard. The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2012. Print. 4.
[2] Louv, Richard. The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2012. Print. 37.

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