Tourist Photography by Bruce Holland Rogers
"Good day!" said Donat Bobet when I opened my door to him. "A very good day indeed! Are you ready?"
"Ready for what?" I said. My only ambitions for the day were to wash my clothes, pay some bills, and perhaps take a stroll in the park to enjoy my Saturday.
"We live in a destination city," said Donat, "a city that people come to see. The weather is very fine. I have the necessary equipment..." I did not immediately know what the brown plastic cube in Donat's hands might be. It had a round little red window in the center of one side, and a fraying black strap. Only when he turned the cube did I see the tan knob, tan button, and the unmistakable lens. In English below the lens were the words Brownie Holiday Camera. "We are off to make some tourist photographs! Come! Come!"
Donat took me by the elbow and drew me out of my apartment. "Hold on a minute," I started to say, but he had already closed my door behind us. "Tourist photographs?"
"What shall it be?" said the poet. "The clock tower in the old port? Olympic Stadium? Notre Dame?" As we stepped outside, I wondered if I should go back for a sweater. But summer was almost upon us, and under this clear sky the city would grow warmer by the hour. "What do you think?" Donat continued. "The Biodome? The Botanical Gardens? Have you no opinion?"
"We aren't tourists," I told him. "We live here. I have seen those places already!"
"Seen them, yes. Is that all that photography is to you? Seeing?" said Donat. "Aha! The Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, yes?"
As we rode the Metro to Côte-de-Neiges, I looked at the camera. It must have been fifty years old. "I'm surprised you can still get film for that," I said.
Donat shrugged. "I like the shape," he said. "I like how it feels in my hands."
The walk from the station was uphill all the way, and I was glad to be out in the sun rather than cooped up with my laundry. As we approached the basilica from below, I stopped for a moment to consider the white stone walls and columns, the great arched window, the dome of green copper. "This would make a nice picture," I said, but Donat kept walking. Only when we were at the bottom of the steps did he begin to look through his view finder.
"Ah, this is irresistible," he said at last, but still did not press the shutter. Instead, he went up the steps, placing himself in the setting that he had just approved. "Now we wait," he said.
"For the tourists, naturally!"
We did not have to wait long. A coach pulled into the parking lot, disgorging passengers who clustered together waiting for a few words from their guide. Then some of them walked up the steps, past where Donat and I sat, on into the sanctuary. Others drifted this way and that in the parking lot, lifting cameras now and then, trying for the right angle, the most dramatic perspective. One by one, they came to the bottom of the steps and discovered the shot that Donat had discovered before. When they raised their cameras, Donat raised his. They pressed their shutter buttons. Donat's camera went click at the same time.
What the tourists made of this, I can't say. No one got angry, asked what Donat was up to, or seemed especially bothered. Some of them stopped after they had walked past us on the steps to look back from a distance. A few conferred. I imagine they were saying, "What's that fellow up to?" But none of them spoke to us.
"I think that's enough," said Donat, standing. As we rode the metro back to his neighborhood, he told me, "When one looks at a city, it is well to remember that the city gazes back." Later, in his apartment, Donat opened an old-fashioned photo album and said, "Now to add the new images!"
"But don't you first have to..." I started to say. Donat looked at me with a little smile that said, Film? A superfluous extravagance!
The black pages of the photo album bore white paper photo corners as if each page had once held six or eight images. Now, though, all that remained were the corners and, in silver ink, Donat’s writing. Tourist photo, rue de la Gauchetière. Tourist photo, Carré Phillips. Tourist photo, The Illuminated Crowd. Donat turned to a page that sported corners but no writing. Three times he wrote: "Tourist photo, Oratoire Saint-Joseph."
"There," he said, examining his work.
"Three?" I said. "You took more than that."
"Oh, yes, I know," he told me. "But photography is the art of selection." Looking at the black page, he frowned. "Selection, yes, and arrangement. I try to compose with care, yet look at what I've done!"
I looked, but I could see nothing wrong with what he had written. The silver letters were neat and well-ordered. Everything was spelled as it should be. I said so.
"In every image of these tourists, I have aimed the camera too low." He closed the album with a sigh. "Alas. I've cut off all their heads!"
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