What is Dark Tourism?
The phrase ‘dark tourism’ conjures up ideas and images of destinations associated with death, suffering, tragedy and the macabre. This ‘adjective+tourism’ is a form of niche tourism for small groups of like-minded people that travel to the same destination for a similar experience, generally recording and taking home images of the extra-ordinary places that they visit as souvenirs – a holiday snap with a difference, whether it be dark destinations such as Auschwitz or Chernobyl, the industrial ruins in former Soviet satellite territories, or local ossuaries and cemeteries. Photography for Barthes is an intrusion in the flow of modern society, it fixes and frames. In the case of dark tourists taking these still life ‘dark snaps’, the photography captures some of the images, ideologies and horrors that some would prefer to be lost forever. Wherein lies the beauty of the dark image? What is the attraction of the dark tourist attraction and, moreover, the disposition and practice of the dark tourist away from and upon return home? How are their images viewed socially and distributed over new social media? This project aims to explore the visual disposition of what sociologist Chris Rojek refers to as ‘black spot’ tourists, namely, how their aesthetics are constructed, practiced and popularised. It is a project about the meaning, capture and circulation of a dark semiotics and what that reveals about contemporary society.
Dark tourism is coming “into the light” as an interdisciplinary field of studies, one largely dominated by tourism studies. In anthropology, Jonathan Skinner recently collated work on the difficulty of representing dark journeys taken – literally Writings on the Dark Side of Travel. This examination of the representation of the dark is what I would like to take further but through the photographic medium. His collection builds upon the tourism studies writings of Lennon and Foley who coined the term ‘dark tourism’, Stone and Sharpley who propose a dark tourism continuum from light to dark, and Seaton’s proposal of a death tourism ‘thanatourism’. For all this interdisciplinary work, there has been little engagement – excepting Harrison’s textual engagement with Dark Trophies and Edensor’s work on industrial ruins – into the photography of the dark, in the trophy collection of the dark destination visited by the self-identifying dark tourist. Anthropological methods of deep participant observation – coupled with a focus upon the visual semiotics of the encounter, the frame as well as the picture – will give insight and understanding into this apparently curious pursuit.
Some of the more well known Dark Tourist sites include Chernobyl, Auschwitz, Ground Zero, Ossuaries, Crypts, Asylum, Haunted Buildings, Cemeteries etc but there are so many all over the world rich with history and stories of their own.
This blog has ultimately been created to document my travels to dark tourist sites between 2015 and 2018 and share photography reports on each destination, it is a journey that will take me to up to 30 different countries across the globe and I hope to compile a collection of over 200 sites, I hope you will enjoy witnessing through my camera this alternative darker side of travel. All will be shot using a Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 system.