CAMERA, CAMERA is a stunning new documentary that shows Laos through the beauty and confusion of a traveler’s lens. The directorial debut of award-winning cinematographer Malcolm Murray, the film was written and features interviews by noted journalist and author Michael Meyer, and was produced by Peabody award-winning New York Times staff photographer Josh Haner. The film explores the implications of travel photography and traveling itself. People young and old arrive in Laos to discover and document a new world- both fragile and deceptively brutal. In ancient temples, in jungles, on rivers, in mountain villages, their flashes go off and moments are trapped forever. What does it mean to take a photograph in such a place? What do we wish to capture? And what do we find instead? Throughout CAMERA, CAMERA, Murray and Meyer recreate the experience of traveling. We see beautiful things, wonderful things, and horrible things – all strange and new. We see what the travelers see and discover what they don’t see as the plot moves deftly from the comical to the taboo, reveling in the experience of Laos, and lingering on things left unsaid. CAMERA, CAMERA is a documentary for anyone who has taken a photograph in a foreign country. The film quietly calls upon viewers to ponder the multifaceted and often ambiguous impacts of travel and photography on citizens of two worlds. Featuring music by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, James Blackwell, and Explosions in the Sky. Written by Malcolm Murray (writer/director plot summary on Internet Movie Database)
Malcolm Murray’s new documentary is getting some good reviews and I look forward to seeing it — go to the film’s website to see its softly disturbing trailer: Camera, Camera.
From Seth Mydans in the New York Times:
“Camera, Camera” captures one of the most disturbing examples I know of the way tourists can overwhelm their subjects. It is the scene of what once was a heart-stopping moment in the ancient town of Luang Prabang: the early morning procession of hundreds of barefoot monks in their bright orange robes, carrying begging bowls. (“Tourism Saves a Laotian City but Saps Its Buddhist Spirit,” April 15, 2008.)
As the film shows, this sacred ritual is now swarmed by scores of bustling tourists, some of whom lean in with cameras and flashes for closeups as the monks pad silently past. “Now we see the safari,” a local artist, Nithakhong Somsanith, told me bitterly. “They come in buses. They look at the monks the same as a monkey, a buffalo. It is theater. Now the monks have no space to meditate, no space for quiet.”
Toward the end of the film, the voice of an unseen, unnamed Australian traveler sums up the state of affairs. “I’m looking forward to getting away from the beaten path,” he says, “but I find everywhere I go, every time I change my plan and think I’m heading somewhere that might not be full of Westerners, I’m so, so wrong. It seems like there’s not much left that’s undiscovered.”
From the excellent blog site, Sociological Images:
Today many citizens of wealthy nations still yearn for “authentic” and “unique” travel experiences. It is somehow more prestigious to go where others do not. And human beings are still, often, the object of such tourism. This kind of travel, always ethically problematic, has become increasingly disruptive as fewer and fewer places are inaccessible and more and more people are able to afford to get there. For those humans identified as worthy of the tourist gaze, this may sometimes mean constant and overwhelming objectification.
Pathology may be a bit strong but there is something disturbing about the “touristic experience” — at least that practiced by Western tourists. The distorting effect of inundating a locale with the tourist gaze was brought home to me when I lived in Fes, Morocco. As my friend and fellow ex-pat David Amster said, “tourism corrupts,” meaning it corrupts every form of human relationship. That would be patently obvious to me when I visited the old city and quickly fell into a set of fairly rigid predetermined categories: mark, intruder, co-conspirator (once I became known), and, more rarely, a visitor offering a window on the world outside Fes. I felt this in Marrakech, Tangier and other Moroccan communities but no where was it more pronounced than in Fes which is so economically dependent on tourism and much of it in its most objectifying form: a stop on package bus tours of Morocco’s imperial cities. Still my most glaring experience of the dehumanizing effect of tourism directly involved the tourist gaze. In 2002, my wife and I visited the Alhamabra in Spain and saw hoards of European tourists quickly making the rounds, eyes glued to the viewfinders of their video cameras — objectifying not only the Alhambra but their own experience of it and THEMSELVES. AND NO I DO NOT HAVE ANY PHOTOS OF IT (BUT I WISH I DID).