Raymond Aubin is an artist in contemporary photography who also writes critiques and reviews in visual and media arts.
Tourists: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, a collection of photographs by fine art photographer Jake Morrison, invites viewers to reflect on the ambiguity of tourism. The ghostly figures that fill Morrison’s photographs almost appear deliberately placed over otherwise familiar-looking tourist settings.
These settings include museums, buildings, squares, and monuments that inherently attract tourists, such as the Parliament of Canada or the National Gallery of Canada. The backgrounds in Morrison’s photographs are softly lit, low-contrast wide shots with no out-of-focus areas. The perspective is normal, like that of a person standing. The images are meant to be neutral, almost like a postcard. This aesthetic choice is significant, suggestive of the lack of attachment one feels to tourist venues: they should not surprise; or at least, not too much. In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan wrote that tourists are content to see how they will react to what has long been familiar.
What is most striking about Morrison’s photographs is the tourists themselves, unfurling in front of bland backgrounds. They look. They take pictures. They take pictures of themselves or their loved ones. They seek to leave a mark, in their own minds, as in photos. They do it for themselves, but also for those left back home, those who could not come themselves. Something they can use to show how lucky they are—because tourism is not for the hoi polloi.
And that is where the magic of Morrison’s images really comes through. The photographer deliberately made the tourists appear fuzzy, surrounding them with a kind of halo. He also boosted the colour saturation, turning tourists into little gems coquettishly donned by drab tourist venues to boost their image. Morrison’s intervention served to significantly distance visitors from their surroundings, giving them more of a decorative role. They are interchangeable. They are fleeting.
Yet, tourism is ambiguous. No one can deny its economic contribution in a place like Canada’s capital. After all, tourism is the biggest global industry. Beyond financial considerations, tourism helps bring people closer together. Exposure to difference is the major factor in happy cohabitation, wrote sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. Tourism may be an ingredient of world peace. Rather than cynical observation, Morrison’s essay is a call to reflection. The artist invites us not to become ghosts ourselves in our own jaunts as tourists. He invites us to belie the very title of the exhibit, Tourists: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.
The exhibit is presented in a classical format: 40 cm x 60 cm paper prints with mats and black frames. The straight hanging along with very effective lighting quickly take viewers to the heart of the artist’s essay.
Morrison studied at the Ottawa School of Art and the School of Photographic Arts: Ottawa (SPAO). He has been showing his creations since 2007.
The Atrium Gallery is located at Ben Franklin Place on Centrepointe Drive. Opening hours can be found on the gallery web site. The exhibition is running till April 20. Morrison is giving an artist talk at the Gallery on April 2nd at 6 p.m.