Sunday, March 17, 2013

Washington, D.C.: A Tourist Taking Photos of Tourists Being Tourists

At the end of February, I made a two-plus day trip out and back to Washington, D.C. for meetings. I had a few hours scattered here and there that weren't totally programmed, so I took walks with my Panasonic LX-7. Over the years, I've spent quite a bit of time there with bigger and better cameras in tow. This time, I kept it simple and decided to focus on the tourists being tourists.

That would make me a tourist photographing tourists being tourists. It's like a hall of mirrors that never quite ends. If someone looks at this post, they will have added a layer of voyeurism that stops several steps short of actually taking a photo.

I've spent enough time in D.C. that I can navigate the streets on foot and the subway system without getting lost. I stand to the right and pass on the left. I have a favorite Asian restaurant (Rice), a favorite Vegetarian restaurant (Science Club), favorite walking routes and people watching zones and a favorite bookstore. I talk to people in D.C. daily and have dark suits that blend in. I don't really think of myself as being a tourist when I am there.

That is an illusion. My rambling is just another kind of tourism.

The people above might as well be me: lone street photographers out looking for something interesting to shoot. Were they in D.C. for work? Did they travel for pleasure and let the rest of the family hang out someplace warm? I personally hate being trapped in a hotel room and I am not a coffee house or sports bar kind of guy.

The truth is that I like wandering alone with my camera. I enter a flow state in which many hours pass until I notice that I am tired, thirsty and hungry. I love my family, but we get along better when they don't have me setting the pace with my meandering.

I'm aware of the paradox that I enjoy watching people interact at monuments more than I enjoy being with people interacting at monuments. This is a side effect of having spent hundreds of hours wandering and watching. It is nearly impossible for me to not frame images even when don't have a camera in hand. And so I watch and enjoy.

And sometimes I actually get around to reviewing my images and post them for the world to see. Ultimately, I've decided that other people seeing my photos really doesn't matter that much. I could try and compete with the flood of amazing and sometimes enhanced photographs floating around Flickr, Google+ Communities, DPReview, Instagram, etcetera; but ultimately I would judge my images as coming up short.

No matter. I experienced taking the photos and remember what it felt like (cold and windy with no warmth from the February sun) and a few souls have come along for the ride. If you have read this far, thanks for being one of them.


  1. Nice! The Observer posting observations on observing other observers. Perhaps I should take a screenshot of this post and post it as me observing you observe other observers.

    No, I think not. The universe might implode :D
    Nice pics, good theme. (:

  2. I lived in D.C. for 9 years - nice to see it again in such a friendly way. The tourists can get a bit overwhelming in the summertime, but it's always neat to see folks getting all excited about "their capital."

  3. I was thoroughly entertained by this post. Great to see pictures of tourists taking pictures!

    The Washington Monument is no doubt the most popular attraction to photograph. During my high school years in Alexandria VA, we visited DC whenever guests visited. Your post reminds me of a shot my father took of me standing in front of the Washington Monument (near the cherry blossoms) -- it looked like the obelisk was sticking up out of the top of my head.

    How original!

  4. well done. great idea for a post.


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