IN MY POCKET

In the 18th century a typical traveller carries with him on his journey a Claude glass. The Claude glass is a convex piece of glass, similar to a photgraphic lens, which is tinted in a dark colour, making it reflect the world around you in a distorted perspective and with a limited colour range. It is a tool allowing one to see the surroundings as prescribed by the fashion of the day: One talks of the picturesque and paints in very saturated colours. One of the traveller's joys is to discover in nature what he has already seen in paintings. However, in order to see a motif reflected in a Claude glass, it is necessary to turn one’s back on the motif. Already then people joke that the traveller turning his back on the motif is a reflection of his attitude to what he sees.
During this period the traveller is almost always a man, often of nobility, and the journey is a Grand Tour. A woman venturing out on a similar adventure is seen as compromising her reputation. This period also sees many European discoverers and researchers travelling out in the world in order to map and catalogue. It is a task that relies on the gaze and, through that, the ability to watch and observe. The gaze they apply is seeking and purposeful, creating hierarchies in the process.

Approximately one hundred years later, around the 1850s, tourism in Egypt is in full swing. The country is appreciated for its warm, dry climate, far away from the damp and cold of Northern Europe. The economic situation of the Europeans has improved and the outer edges of the world, as seen from Europe, have become frequent travel destinations for the more sophisticated strata of society. The typical traveller, which now can be either a man or a woman, has already before setting out bought photographs of the destination. The educated are keen to purchase photos by Maxime Du Camp or Francis Firth, professional photographers working with heavy cameras, often glass plates, and with a team of carriers and assistants. These photographers focus on the big monuments, palm trees, the Nile. Occasionally a veiled woman will find her way into the frame but generally the local population is absent. The photographers do not want them in the images – they don’t sell well back home.
1888 sees the launch of a Kodak camera, with the slogan 'You press the button, we do the rest'. The new technology is the film roll, and the camera is both user-friendly and affordable. To own a camera is becoming a possibility for the masses. Mr Benjamin once pointed out that this was the moment the world started being reduced to a postcard. Through the great professional photographers, the typical traveller knows how to take photos – the journey is now a sightseeing tour, and the memories, the photos, its souvenir. Europe’s prosperity is being built on coloniality and modernity. Eurocentricism is thriving and Europe sees itself as the key to the happiness of the entire world, as well as the place against which everything else is measured.

A little more than a hundred years later, in 2012, I travel from Gothenburg to Alexandria. The journey is described as a residency allowing one to experience and discover something different. It is said that the eye needs a certain distance. In the year 2012 the typical traveller travels to the same places, photographs the same pyramids, palm trees and once again some veiled woman. The traveller, who can now be either a man or a woman, maybe travelling on their own, has before their departure usually bought a guide book and knows what they want to see and experience. Sometimes the traveller travels with heavy cameras but often they carry only a small camera built into a mobile phone. The average traveller sends very few postcards, except now the posibility exists to send one’s photos digitally and instantanously for friends and aquantances to pore over. The stereotypical photos are instantanous souvenirs. The image becomes a sign that is itself reproduced and consumed, making tourism a form of consumption of sought-after experiences. My images belong to this centuries-old tradition; they contain monuments, they favour the unusual, the exotic, and it is almost impossible to find people in the photos. The gaze and the image of something implies undeniably to take power over that something, but at the same time it also makes ownership possible – in my case, the right to be part of a far-away space filled with palm trees, monuments and some new friends.
Europe is no longer the obvious yardstick against which the rest of the world is measured. The outward gaze is tired, is afraid of misintrepreting the world but still demands to be seen. A fear of losing control is spreading and the inward look is unforgiving and didactic.

Translation from swedish by Ulrich Hansen

in Arabic by Sausan Rook & Tezt Rooke

in Swedish

 

Some of the images in the serie.

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The text and some of the images from this visit became a book:
Travelogue / I min ficka / In my pocket