Snapping the snappers: What does our obsession with documenting our holidays say about us?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

We all do it. Go on holiday, see the sights, and then take a picture to prove we were there. But what do all these identical pictorial momentos tell us about ourselves?One photographer set about finding out…

Back a bit, left a bit – the holiday snap is a minor art form, a work of skill and concentration. Well, you need to know which button to press. These days, our cameras do so much of the legwork that any teenager with an iPhone can create images of astonishing quality. Yet, no matter how many millions of pictures are created and uploaded to the internet daily, we never tire of taking them. Even when we see a landmark that has been snapped 1,000 times before, we still reach for the camerabag, wanting, for whatever reason, to create our own version. Perhaps it's just to prove we've been there.

Alan Powdrill, 45, is a professional photographer who became fascinated by watching other people take pictures. It all began on a trip to Rome two years ago, and soon became an obsession. "I started looking at the expressions of tourists in the Pantheon," he says. "I was interested in the poses they would make as they took their pictures. There's this mode of extreme concentration people slip into, when everything else is momentarily shut out. Wherever they are, no matter how crowded the place, people would get into this zone, all for the creation of their little slice of photographic art."

From then on, wherever he went, Powdrill would snap the snappers. He photographed tourists in Lanzarote, in Thailand and in London, and found that no matter where they are, people strike the same peculiar pose of intense concentration. The result, a collection of 300 images called Shooting Tourists, is at once comical and k touching. His pictures gently poke fun at the cliché of the happy-snappy holiday-maker, shifting our attention from the sights to the reactions of those who see them.

Many of his shots illustrate the lengths that tourists will go to for a picture. Like the woman in London who lay on the pavement to take a portrait of her bulldog, with Westminster Abbey as a background. Or the Japanese tourists bursting out of a red telephone box. His own favourite, he says, is of a nun at St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. "That was one of the first ones I took, that first weekend in Rome," he recalls. "There was a whole line of nuns waiting to kiss the foot [of the Pietà], and they were in heaven. I loved the light on it, and the glee on that nun's face."

Some of Powdrill's shots may look too good to be true, but all record real moments, snatched without their subjects' knowledge. "It was all completely covert, because obviously I wanted to capture people in their natural state," he explains. "None of the people in my pictures are aware of this project, and nine times out of 10, I was not noticed."

Not surprisingly, capturing tourists in the wild wasn't easy, and required much staking out of their terrain. "It was hard to get them on their own. I normally work in the studio, on pre-composed shots, so this was a bit of a departure. These pictures were all taken completely on the hoof, on a split decision, and many times I would miss the shot. It was going back to the real roots of photography, of pure photo-journalism, where it would be in the moment, the decisive moment, as Henri Cartier-Bresson used to say. You either get it or you don't." k

Powdrill was born in Nottingham but has lived in east London for 20 years. His father was a keen amateur photographer, though Powdrill himself was unaware of this until after he became a professional. "Perhaps it's genetic," he muses. His career came about in a somewhat unorthodox fashion. "I got into photography when my best friend found a credit card and bought me a camera," he explains. "I then did a City & Guilds course and one of my first jobs was in cruise-ship photography, where I learnt the fine art of very hard work and very hard partying".

Powdrill spent 18 months as a cruise-ship photographer, taking pictures of tourists not necessarily looking their finest. He would take up to 30 rolls every night, and post the pictures in a gallery for guests to buy. "It's a massive business, and it was great fun. I travelled all over the world and took so many pictures that I would dream about it at night."

No doubt those experiences triggered his interest in the tourist as subject. Perhaps they also gave him the sense of humour with which he treats his subjects. But some might see Shooting Tourists, with its cleverly punning title, as the work of a professional lampooning the clueless amateur. "That might be the case, but it wasn't intentional," he says. "Taking pictures has been the biggest passion of my life, so I can relate to their enthusiasm. Whether you're professional or amateur, holiday snaps are where it all began. I might take pictures for my work, but when I'm on holiday, I still take pictures like that."

For more: alanpowdrill.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair