Guatemala Yellow House

Guatemala yellow house w column_tif480
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One Essay Response

  1. susmita says:

    I analyze Rachel Tanur’s photograph titled ‘Guatemala Yellow House’ by taking the liberty to assume Tanur’s position as a ‘photographer-tourist’ in Guatemala, like mine at Nandi Hills. While the places themselves are unlike, our quest for an ‘authentic experience’ seen through the lens of a touristic setting can reveal how these places are seemingly connected. I base my analysis through a close reading of the place and the motivations behind picture-making based on concepts of the touristic gaze (Urry 1992), ‘center’(Cohen 1979), phenomenological modes of travel(Cohen 1979), Erving Goffman’s front-stage and back-stage and authentic experiences explained in Dean MacCannell’s Staged Authenticity (MacCannell 1973).

    At the outset, it is worth asking why a sacralizing touristic gaze (Urry 1992:173) would deem as hypervisible occurrence as this (a house) a visually extraordinary sign meant for keepsakes for Tanur? If a touristic experience was to be visually striking from otherwise mundane sights (Urry 1992:173), why would pristine and scenic wonders atop Nandi Hills or Tikal or Lake Atitlan not capture our imagination? If tourists were like religious pilgrims in search for authentic experiences (MacCannell 1973), what did our inner tourist-pilgrims find in these walls?

    I compare and connect Guatemala with both Nandi Hills and Bangalore focusing on the concept of the society’s ‘center’ which is the “charismatic nexus of its supreme, ultimate, moral values” (Cohen 1979:180), or in this case, the city. For me the tourist, my adherence to a ‘center’ was reinforced through a diversionary mode of travel to “elsewhere”, a contrived ‘back-stage’ which would make an alienating city-life bearable. But unhappy with the staged “lie”, I stray into a ‘touristic opening’, the ‘back-stage’ to the ‘touristic-front’ that not only revealed the truth about Nandi Hills, but it exposed the lie giving me an authentic experience of my own. In Tanur’s experience, one can only imagine how her quest for authenticity compelled her to take this picture. Known for its famous world heritage sites and captivating landscapes, this picture of a Guatemalan house could have been the ‘touristic front-stage’ that Tanur was after. Upon closer reading, Tanur’s moment of finding an authentic experience could have come from the structure in “ruin” beside the yellow house. The “decorated lie” of the touristic front-stage evident in the well-maintained middle-class house in old, colonial-Spanish style is contrasted with the dilapidated building next to it. This was possibly Tanur’s ‘touristic opening’ which accidentally exposed a truth about Guatemalan socio-cultural life. The abandoned two-storied structure in Tanur’s image (possibly an important building) may have promoted a city-life; an exemplary tale of coexistence between the old and older. However, the abandoned houses in my image typifies social turmoil caused by the new on the old, imparting a cautionary tale.

    As Cohen (1979) and MacCannell (1973) view that the ‘quest’ for center or an authentic experience relates to a continuum; either in different modes of experience sought (recreational, diversionary, experiential etc.) (Cohen 1979:183) or transiting through different stages from front to back (MacCannell 1973:598); the photographs and the content make evident that both Tanur and I realized our centers and authentic experiences the moment we figured out the lie contained within the decorated touristic space.

    Cohen, Erik
    1979 A Phenomenology of Tourist Experiences. Sociology 13(2): 179–201.
    MacCannell, Dean
    1973 Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings. American Journal of Sociology 79(3): 589–603.
    1992 The Tourist Gaze “Revisited.” American Behavioral Scientist 36(2): 172–186.