The Family Gaze


Haldrop, Michael; Larsen, Jonas. ‘The Family Gaze’ Tourist Studies 3 (London: Sage Publications, 2003) pp.23-46


Despite the fact that taking photographs is perhaps the emblematic tourist practice and that tourist studies have been dominated by a visual paradigm of gazing, remarkably little sustained research has explored the general connections between tourism and popular tourist photography.
[on current writing about tourism and photographing] Besides being somewhat derogatory, they reproduce the hegemonic position that tourism is essentially about ‘consuming places’ visually (Urry, 1995)

[in this article] The performing family is brought into tourist studies, and it is shown that much tourist photography revolves around producing social relations rather than consuming places.
Drawing on John Urry’s Foucauldian-inspired notion of ‘the tourist gaze’ (1990, 1995, 2002), we introduce the ‘family gaze’ to capture how family photography is socially organized and systemized in family tourism.

Photography is not something that appears over and against reality, but forms part of the performances through which people work to establish realities (Crang, 1997: 362)
Photography is one of the unique modern mediums through which people produce life-narratives and lasting memories by performing photographic events actively and bodily.
Tourist photographs convey inherently personal stories and the distant analytical gaze has little access to their inner emotional universe. Instead we become systematic readers of their culturally – collective – inscribed conventions and meanings.


Popular photography’s identity is formed in the space between home and away: between extraordinary places and events and familial faces.
Social contructionists argue that people make sense of themselves and their relationships through narratives (Gergen, 1994; Shotter, 1993)
Tourist photography is one of the uniquely modern ways through which families produce life-narratives that are constructing them as families in a mobile world.
We may even propose that people require [tourist] adventures in order for satisfactory life stories to be constructed and maintained’ (Scheibe, 1986: 131)
Families partly travel in order to make photographs that can help them to construct pleasing family narratives; tourists reflexively stage and perform sights, objects and social relations for the camera to produce narratives and lasting memories of blissful family-life.
Living in an era of ‘pure relationships’ (Giddens, 1992) where the values and institutions that once legitimized and bonded the family biologically and culturally is losing power, ‘families’ are in constant need of performing acts and narratives that provide sense, stability and love to their family relations.


‘At any given moment the accepted report of an event is of greater importance than the event, for what we think about and act upon is the symbolic report and not the concrete event itself’ (Ivan cited in Chalfen, 1987: 79)
Through picturing practices tourists strive accumulating idealized memory-stories that make the fleeting tourist experience a lasting part of their personal and familial narrative.


Holiday images are thus never simple records of ‘real’ family life, but are shot through with desires and expectations of idealized family relations. Hence they reveal more about the culture of imaginative families and idealized holidays than the people and places represented.


[on portrayal of family members in tourist photos] Such strong emphasis on familial faces and bodies should be seen in relation to the astonishing low number of other ‘tourists’ and ‘locals’. It seems that other people are deliberately choreographed out of public, often crowded, places. Tourists’ eyes are keen to avoid other tourists: people desire ‘private’ photos.
When examining more closely the actual bodily ‘doings’ of the portrayed people we see that nearly half of them choreograph their bodies for the photographic event: other activities are put on hold and people present themselves as future memory through posing.

Gazing is not a fitted motif for tourist photography because it requires people to turn their back to the camera: the ‘family gaze’ is based around eye contact.


For many tourists, making ‘postcard images’ has little appeal because they do not convey personal experiences and stories.

[tourists] They are interested in making photographs that explicitly connote a holiday feeling. Being a recognised tourist sight, Hammerhus fits that role, but so do numerous other ‘stages’, even those less visually spectacular such as the place of residence. For such a family gaze, attractions have no special symbolic or aesthetic value attached to them: they are just one appropriate location out of many others.


Their [tourists] photographic practices are nonetheless governed by aesthetic considerations: they are searching for ‘beautiful spots’ and ‘nice views’ to frame family members and the attraction within. The aim here is to produce personalized postcards: to stage the family within the attraction’s socially constructed aura. To make a personal image that tells a unique story of an exceptional encounter between one’s family and a publicly acclaimed extraordinary attraction.


The content analysis showed that friends are commonly captured too: the ‘family gaze’ is not exclusively bound up with a traditional notion of the ‘family’, be it the nuclear or extended family. It pictures and produces friendships too.

When people sit for portraits they already imagine themselves as an idealized memory before the button has ever been pressed: they present themselves as a future image.

[in this image] Though not touching each other, their almost identical poses produce one social body that is ceremoniously displayed. Such dignified poses are endlessly performed in the collected images; it is the ‘natural’ way of displaying, and since people pose when faced by the camera, posing itself has become a ‘natural’ performance.


[on photographing with greater regard for the familial subjects than the location] This way of picturing renders sight-seeing sights insignificant; picturesque greatness and order turns into a misshapen and indiscriminate assortment of stones, benches, lawns, humans and so forth. At the very same time as undercutting Hammerhus’s romantic legacy, it contributes actively to the production of a new place-myth of joyful and playful family life. This collage exemplifies that tourist photographers not only consume and reproduce longstanding myths and postcard realities; they also inscribe places with fresh cultural meanings.


Particularly salient is the absence of so-called ‘post-tourist’ performances of irony, whether directed at Hammerhus or family photography. Seriousness typifies the lightness of tourist photography’s small world.


[…] photographic events are highly staged and performed in accordance with a small number of scripts – codes.

Tourist photography’s culture’s ‘small world’ of positive extraordinariness constantly produces invisibility and forgetting. Tourist images produce ‘calculated memory’: the way one would like to be remembered and remember places. They conceal even as they reveal.

While the ‘family gaze’ is scripted and enacted through conventional cultural codes, people value them for their inherently personal meanings and messages.

Tourists are telling travel narratives to and for themselves. The spectator of the photographic ‘family gaze’ is the family itself. Like the diary, these photographs are not to be seen by anyone other than the ones that participated in the ‘light-writing’ event. Thus, the family is the producer, performer and audience of snapshot photography.


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