A Multi-Dimensional and Collaborative Art Project about the emerging mass tourism on the Faroe Islands, Part 1.
Made in Collaboration with a Group of Local People.
This series studies phenomena within travel photography and mass tourism as well as the power of the social media, especially Instagram, as a shaper of world-views and narratives of the world, the creation of portrayals of people and their lands.
I have been visiting the Faroe Islands since 2008 and since then, been working with different art projects but also visiting friends, as this place has become important to me. I have gained some insight in the nation and its people, a deeper insight some tell me. During this time also a deeper sense of responsibility have grown inside me – that ponder critically on my own power as a photographer, the power that holding the camera gives me. And on how other fellow peers seem to wield this very same power. The pondering notices the ever growing stereotyping and exoticism applied especially in travel photography on Instagram. It seems almost impossible to avoid stereotypical imagery – the ever-growing mass of frenzied collectors exploiting the opportunities given. It feels impossible to make space for different views that are not made exotic, surreal, imaginary – or one-dimensional.
I have noticed that there has been a change within the past few years in how Faroe Islands are branded, marketed or narrated through visual imagery. The aim is to attract the traveller, the adventure explorer, the heroic travel photographer and the hipster, to “discover the undiscovered lands”. The invitation is sent out there. And the travellers do exactly what they are invited to do – and while doing so – claim and possess their discoveries as photograph-trophies (Sontag, 1971). In those the islands are portrayed as a remote wilderness, where here and there lie cute little villages with grass roof tops.
The travellers all come to the same spot, take almost the same photo, replicate and mimic the photos they have seen before. One focal point is the waterfall Múlafossur in Gásadalur, which is the most photographed place in the Faroe Islands. Just google "Faroe Islands" and it pops up for sure. The travellers portray majestic and sublime landscape sceneries that can be further used in marketing the lands to an ever growing mass of contemporary explorers. These travellers arrive to these lands to claim and possess the same sceneries, over and over again.
The heroic explorer traveller places one person in the picturesque landscape, if any. That person is the archetype of this contemporary, heroic explorer (the tourist, the brief visitor), who had this specific destination on their bucket list. The evidence can be published on Instagram, so it can be used for further marketing, to be fore-fronted in the feeds allover the world by this generic and stereotypical imagery. What is shown in the social media feeds are dictated by commercially built aggressive algorithms, designed to manipulate and change people's behaviour – it is more than selling something. These entwine and dictate a one-dimensional view of a country and its people that is hard, if not impossible, to penetrate, to give another view that is more multidimensional. This, of course, the local tourist industry utilise cleverly, some people get rich and benefit from the ever growing masses of tourists arriving to this small island nation – to take more photos. The aesthetics for this kind of (commercial) landscape and travel photography seem to derive from the romantic era landscape painting, in the spirit of David Kaspar Friedrich and his painting “The Wanderer above the Fog” (1818). The gaze of the tourist, as far his eyes can see, claims these unmarked territories, these "undiscovered lands" (or so they are let to believe...).
This series is a collage of different series of photos: "A Thousand Gásadalurs (With and Without the Hipster Tourists)" (2017), “The Generic Landscapes seen through Pink” (2018) and “The Yellow Raincoat” (2017). These photos entwine a repetitive visual aesthetics, that I have noticed emerging in the photo masses on the feeds of social media, foremost on Instagram. Most of the photos are made together with a group of local people where we investigate the emerging mass tourism on the Faroe Islands through dialogue and performative photographs. An ever-growing mass of travel photographers are depicting the Faroe Islands as a majestic and exotic place without almost any people, any contemporary architecture nor signs of contemporary life whatsoever. The cute villages are inhabited by some mysterious hobbit people in these mountainous islands. Amongst all the sheep, of course. Some puffins might wander about too. Many of these are published on Instagram (for example #faroeislands).
The performative photos, “The Yellow Raincoats”, are made in collaboration with some local people. The person is wearing a yellow raincoat, taking the spot as the tourist in the photo – they are symbolically taking back the power to show what the visitors ignore or do not choose to portray when they explore and discover the small island nation in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean.
The yellow rain coat is a stereotype, a repetitive aesthetics, you see "the wanderers over the fog" wearing, when they are gazing at the romanticised natural scenery, the landscapes they discover and collect into their photograph-trophies (Sontag, 1971) – this is done over and over again – in the same locations. The locals comment on how they see their land depicted by the visiting adventure photographers, the commercial travel photographers, the Insta-famous.
Marjun's locations are from our walk around Tórshavn and Urd's locations from a road trip we made in Oct 2017. Mariann's locations are from the village she lives in. Fróði's locations are from the village where he works. The project is a rhizome that is growing – there are many more dimensions emerging, some can be collected by the hashtags #tulogaf & #supernovatourist. This is part 1.
What all this is to become is still unknown. My concern is focused on how the mass tourism progress on my beloved Faroe Islands – and what its effect is on the people and their lands when the amount of tourists even grow. What changes? What is destroyed to accommodate these visitors who barely seem interested in anything else than making this generic and stereotypical imagery. Is there any tourism without this collecting and claiming by the masses of camera-equipped visitors who do not pay respect or care about the local people and their lands in their hunt for that photograph-trophy?
This investigation includes also a theoretical dimension, a philosophical pondering – an aim to write an article of sorts. For this future text and investigation I draw, for example, from the thoughts of Susan Sontag (1971), whose “On Photography” seem very relevant today, even more than ever. My quest is also guided by the thoughts by Grant Kester (2004) about ethical participatory arts practices as well as on Visual Culture studies, and further, on the thoughts by Nicholas Mirzoeff. The pondering on what sustainable tourism could be – as this “photographic world-view generated by a travelling mass of tourists with cameras” – a behaviour, that feel like an imperialism of sorts – an arrogance to take and exploit. The philosophical pondering is fuelled by personal experiences, on ethical struggles concerning photography as a medium as well as by the manyfold encounters with the local people and their land during the past 11 years. Many present day encounters dwell upon discussion topics relating to what appalling things the tourists did, again. These stories appear, you do not even have to ask. I do hope the same thing that is happening in Iceland, and elsewhere, will not happen in the Faroe Islands (or that it can be prevented).
This photo series belong to a larger collaborative art project about the emerging mass tourism on the Faroe Islands and is a work-in-progress. I have been visiting the Faroe Islands since 2008 and working together with people from the art and cultural fields in different long-term and interdisciplinary art projects. I consider Faroe Islands as one of my homes. I feel that I have a responsibility to avoid stereotyping, exoticism and exploitation – to be aware of my power as a narrator and an artist – and to share this concern.