<<< o >>>tourist typography 28 comments + add yours

In Blackpool there are several thousand guest houses and hotels, most of which appear to be operating on fairly small budgets, and everywhere you go there are signs such as this: "free parking", "tea and coffee in every room", "some rooms en-suite", and so on. Most of the time I don't notice them anymore – their pervasiveness renders them almost invisible – but as soon as I saw this one I wanted to photograph it, mostly because it captures the feel of many of these signs: brash, primary colours, peeling paint, generic text, and so on ...

Anyway, I suspect that this isn't an ideal blog shot, and would be more suited to an extended project on this theme, but I thought I'd put it up anyway. Which I guess is an interesting topic of conversation in its own right: are there necessarily certain photographs, or types of photographs, that simply aren't suited to this medium? That said, if you don't like this one, I suspect you probably won't be reading this anyway – which I guess is an answer in its own right ;-)

shutter speed
shooting mode
exposure bias
metering mode
image quality
RAW converter
4.09pm on 17/2/06
Canon 20D
EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
aperture priority
C1 Pro
3x2 + fylde coast + urban
comment by ps at 07:51 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

no... i just don't buy it...

comment by djn1 at 07:58 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

ps: you don't buy what?

comment by Lee at 08:16 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

I like it, its different :)

comment by owen at 08:25 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

I'd like to see more stuff like this Dave - nothing wrong with your usual posts (of course) but there's nothing wrong with showing us some of the grittier, seedier, and worn down side to Blackpool.

comment by prasoon at 08:27 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

cool... nice colorful capture :D
what did the whole board read?

comment by thlayli at 08:27 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

for me, the photo doesn't really stand without the backstory.

comment by djn1 at 08:30 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

prasoon: I don't know, I'll go back and read it next time I'm there.

thayli: I guess that was my point about some images being suitable for blogs, others not. But you raise another interesting point; i.e. the extent to which a narrative can enhance a photograph. Often, with photoblogs, it seems like the key issue is the shot of the day – any context or story isn't often seen as irrelevant. Personally, I think this is a shame.

comment by Drunky at 08:30 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

The picture should tell us the story. But here we're getting to the hear the background from you. If you click the whole street and this sign stands out from the rest, I believe that would make a better impact.

comment by ps at 08:35 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

Well, this whole "tourist typography"... this scratched wall with coloured letters, I think there's a better way to show "tourist typography", because my imagination show me only the worst things when I look at this photo. Maybe my comment show only my misinterpretation, but that's the way I see it :-)

comment by Lee at 08:50 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

As a closeup it doesnt work for me, the first thig I see is "weekly" and I cant form a picture because I cant read much else. I dont know what the surroundings are like but Id imagine a photo with the full sign in shot with some sort of street background would be much better.

comment by Jon at 09:02 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

I like this image, but I think you are right it does have to form part of a project as on it’s own it is more appropriate in a graphic design blogg.

comment by Gary at 09:19 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

this works for me without the need of any back story, you can tell its urban signage, that's all I need; its just a nice strand of urban DNA, the frame is nicely filled, the diagonal line is pleasing, and the colors are smashing

comment by cj at 09:41 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

Just to keep "bob" happy :-)

I like this shot. I like the colours, the framing, the angle......the overall effect. I can imagine it on my wall.

The distilled essence of seaside England.

comment by David Green at 11:08 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

I love the fact that the beauty of this piece is derived from the fonts and colours despised by so many graphic artists. Comic sans and Times New Roman are fonts which every graphic designer (and anyone with an eye for aesthetics) is well advised to avoid - at all cost. Whilst you have managed to play with this notion and at the same time capture a moment so unique, transparent and immemorable, you have not failed to instill a moment of inane beauty with the joy of the familiar. Even though I'm living miles from Blackpool right now, seeing this picture takes me right back to where it all began.

Amazed, as ever. Keep up the good work.

comment by Andy Cogbill at 11:31 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006


Interestingly enough, I had a similiar discussion not too long ago with a fellow photographer friend of mine. It began with my observation that many of my photos get buried in my hard drive, never to see the light of day again, simply because when they were sized down for the web, the particular aspect that made them so appealing was lost. As a result, many of my photos became next to useless for a photoblogger such as myself.

The conversation moved toward how the medium of the photoblog has come to affect our photography -- indeed, the web imposes a number of requirements on a potential post. If, for instance, the work's necessary fine and/or nuanced detail is lost, or the effect of the super-wide-angle perspective is replaced by a simply unexciting frame where everything is just tiny and insignificant, the photoblogger is likely to leave said photo in his "to post" folder, preferring instead a nice zoomed shot that retains detail even when sized down to 600 pixels (or whatever).

Ideally a photo would take up all of the viewer's screen, which would help the experience approach that of viewing an actual photo in a museum or gallery. But the varying OSs, browsers, and monitors make this impossible, short of on-the-fly rendering of which very few servers are capable... not to mention the cost of such a proposition!

With all that said, I believe your post today reflects yet another shortcoming of the medium: Photos posted on a photoblog are to the viewer very similar to a single photo hung on the wall of an empty room: if the day's photo doesn't hold its own, both in aesthetics and in context, it will be immediately dismissed by the closing of the window. In this respect, the photoblog post is at an even increased disadvantage to the empty-room photo, in that it's simply one of many photoblogs and if the shot doesn't hold immediate interest, it will be dismissed instantly. At least if it were physically hanging on a wall, people would attempt to determine its worth, if for nothing else than to justify the reason they're standing there. Web users, though, are fickle beasts, and it's simply too easy to close a window.

But I digress. The bottom line here is that I feel the same as many of the others about this image: Without the backstory, it holds very little interest. In fact, if I didn't so value your self-commentary, I would probably have just closed the window instead of clicking the comments link, missing this discussion forever and being none-the-wiser. At times I, too, am a fickle web user.

But, for whatever reason, I did click "comments," and I really would like to hear how others are finding a solution to the context-less nature of the photoblog web post. Aside from diptychs and the like (which, on the web, render images even smaller, decreasing the value of detail all the more), how are photobloggers tailoring the medium of the photoblog to the "true" nature of photography? Or is photography itself changing to adapt to the photoblog? I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on this.

comment by djn1 at 11:56 PM (GMT) on 18 February, 2006

Andy: in this instance, I suspect that even tha backstory isn't enough. These signs are a part of the fabric of my life – not yours, and not the other viewers of chromasia – and as such I don't think that the appeal of this shot will be evident to many people at all.

On a general level, that does bother me – as you say, photoblogs are very much about the single photo in an empty room – and it's something I'd like to move away from, even if it is only every once in a while.

I suppose that the problem for many of us is that our creative outlet is our photoblog. We're not 'established' photographers with many exhibitions below our belt, nor are our photoblogs an adjunct to some other artistic outlet. This is it, and we make of it what we can.

So, like you, I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this, though I suspect that I'll need to revisit this discussion on the back of something visually more immediate than this shot: if only to get people to read the discussion in the first place ;-)

comment by mattp at 01:06 AM (GMT) on 19 February, 2006

I won't comment on this shot, but I will say this. Many, many of the most wonderful photographs ever taken would be greeted with nothing but a shrug if they were posted on the average blog. Take from that what you will, but if those photographers were relying on blog feedback to guide their decisions, the world would be an immesurably poorer place.

The blog is a great way of putting stuff "out there" but it would be disastrous if you let that dictate where you wanted your photography to go. You might as well ask The Sun to guide your political decisions! A blog is the toe in the water, but what you produce should be your own, and come from the heart. If it isn't, you're just a tart with a lens!

I love the fact that you give a taste of your work here, but I look forward to the gallery showing when we really get to see what floats your boat!


comment by Rachel at 04:42 AM (GMT) on 19 February, 2006

I really like this photo. The longer I looked at it, the more panicked I felt. It really does do something: the angle, the colors, the peeling paint and varying fonts make me feel as confused as any tourist to Blackpool might. And honestly, I think that the medium can be good for whatever you want it to be good for. It is your website, after all. That was not very eloquently written, so I hope you get the point.

comment by beilby at 06:48 AM (GMT) on 19 February, 2006

Kudos David - congrats on maintaining the standard for all the rest of us to follow. But if I could make 1 point - I would enjoy your site far more if you didn't use progressive JPEG. Super geeky point for sure, but IMHO for rich quality photos like yours, seeing the image first at simply crap quality, then at garbage quality, then at phone-camera quality, and finally at Chromasia quality, is a journey I just don't think enhances the destination. A scroll down at a speed dependant on your connection may be a bit common, but I feel it treats the picture better.

comment by Geoff at 07:52 AM (GMT) on 19 February, 2006

I think the discussion today is more interesting than the photo. Indeed, without the backstory, I don't think there's a whole lot there. I certainly didn't at first glance.

But then, I ALWAYS read the comments and try to get a feel for what the photo might be about, or what issues it brings up. My "blog" experience is never a quick visual fix, to close the window as soon as I have determined whether I like the shot. Particularly on a blog of this quality, I think the viewer needs to experience the picture/comments together to get a decent impression beyond the very immediate.

But now the photo is growing on me. Knowing simply that the photo is in Blackpool it says something by itself. There is almost a desperation coming from the sign, and the lack of upkeep speaks of its limited success. It's almost as if signs like this are what you do. They are everywhere, but no one really thinks they work terribly well, so their upkeep is not a financial priority. Or maybe they are not earning their keep and there simply isn't the money for their upkeep...

Ona graphic design note, they should be shot for mixing those fonts together :)

And I'm with beiby - progressive jpg doesn't do anything for the photos. I'd also consider sizing them up a little. I think the vast majority are now on 17 or 19" flat screens @ 1280 x 1024 and we have more desktop real estate than you are taking advantage of.

comment by Zee at 10:40 AM (GMT) on 19 February, 2006

Nice Shot! Check out the THE ROLLING STONES I photographed in Rio de Janeiro on my blog!

comment by Adrian Hudson at 11:59 AM (GMT) on 19 February, 2006

I'm all for the sizing up too. I can't remember when I last saw any computer with its screen set to less than 1280 x 1024.
Brilliant discussion today. Fantastic reading.

comment by Kev Rosie at 03:51 PM (GMT) on 19 February, 2006


Whilst I sympathise with Andy's and your thoughts, I think Geoff's comments hit the nail on the head, ie, the discussion this shot has provoked more than justifies the short-comings of photoblogs. Whilst a photoblog can seem like an empty-room photo which can easily be dismissed, it is, nonetheless, an empty-room photo which can be seen by thousands of people; each with their own perspective on it. Personally my interest in photography has undergone a renaissance since discovering your site and I put this down to the never-ending inspiration which comes from viewing 'empty-room' photographs such as this. Great stuff

comment by Carter Rose at 05:19 PM (GMT) on 19 February, 2006

hmm. its okay. postworthy if you like it for sure. But as a viewer...I dont find it particularly interesting.

comment by alan at 05:21 PM (GMT) on 19 February, 2006

Dave and all

I echo the sentiments about the discussion provoked by the posting and the initial commentary. I do like the image, maybe not love it, but definitely like it. The longer I look, the more I see... like the rusty nailhead at the base of the T.

I've just begun my own blog and have been struggling with some of the questions layed out in the commentary. Having just begun, the first struggle is the balance between the blog telling a story or the individual images. Not what would make someone bookmark my site, but why. Do they come for the images? Do they come for the collective? Does my site eventually fit in a certain genre of blogs? The questions go on and on.

Ultimately, as evidence by the first few images, I'm experimenting and struggling along to shoot and post ;-) I believe however my objective (although not well represented yet) is to challenge myself to capture the images I've seen for all these years on a daily basis, without a camera nearby and translate those into an image that matches the images I've visualized. I do sort of look at my site as the place where I'll see my own vision and style emerge.

At any rate, my thoughts. Warmest regards and many thanks for a fascinating discussion.

comment by djn1 at 08:18 PM (GMT) on 19 February, 2006

Thanks everyone, it's been an interesting discussion that I'm sure we'll return to again at some point. I guess that the best answer would be that we find some way to accomodate projects on our blogs in a way that's congruent with the 'single image in the empty room' mode of presentation, but for the moment at least, how we do that is beyond me.

comment by Beth at 07:30 PM (GMT) on 20 February, 2006

Perhaps photo blogs can be augmented by video and audio podcasts which show a series of photos that "go together" with optional voiceover by the artist to provide backstory, thoughts, ideas and questions. The advantage of photoblogs is that when you see the photo, you have access to the artists - in chromasia, primarily through the comments, on other photo blogs through comments or email. Museum mode on the iPod can enhance our museum experience of a photo, same idea with a slideshow on a blog, but having access to the living artist makes it better than a museum.

I like forming my own story to go with a photo before finding out what the artist's is. The blog world gives you an opportunity to have both stories.

comment by Ioannis at 10:07 AM (GMT) on 21 February, 2006

I have a lot of similar shots on my own blog. I think anything with an artistic flavour can be posted.

That said, I'd saturate this a bit more. I don't know, maybe I could be wrong because I haven't seen how it would look like...