How vacation photos have changed over the last 130 years


Originally published at:


“flatlay”? i thought (thanks to learning so from adam savage) that it was called “knolling” – or as i call it, obsessive organizing disorder. (haha)


In other words, with the reduction in cost and effort and materials to produce photographs, the perceived importance of only catching the most important things on camera is likewise reduced.

I experienced this in the transition from 35 mm to digital. I used to only take blurry, poorly framed shots of the things I considered artistic in high school. Later I took every damn digital photo five times to make sure I could pick the best one when I got a digital camera. Now with my phone and built in software, I just take automatically-adjusted pictures of my dog and cats, maybe filter them, and then post them to Facebook so my friends from high school can appreciate that my photography skills appear to have improved, but really only benefit from better technology.


My mother-in-law travels a lot and takes lots of pictures. But they’re never of her or her adventures particularly but of very basic tourist/landmark pictures. She liked to impose long lectures on her grandchildren about all this stuff. She showed them pictures of the Eiffel Tower like they were these precious gifts that she alone could offer – the kids were very patient but bored – when she lamented that she didn’t take a picture of the palace behind her (the name escapes me - above the fountains). When my son (politely) showed her google street view and spun it around, she was a little heartbroken that her photos just didn’t offer anything new.

Apparently her own grandparents had money in the Depression and still traveled and lorded those photos over people to be the center of attention. Alas, she took the wrong lesson.


I’ve seen people argue against street view for this reason. “If you can just pull it up on the computer, it’s not the same, but you’re stupid enough to think that it’s a good enough substitute for going there!”

Of course many of us will likely never visit everywhere we’d like to visit, so it’s a very privileged perspective that you could easily just go there instead of looking at it online. And the places I most enjoyed in my travels weren’t the tourist spots you’re more likely to find online.


Plus, they won’t let you use your camera in brothels.


They did that “drag you along into the picture” thing all the way back in the 1700s.


I find it odd that this video only dedicates 25 seconds of its 1m20s of photo-timeline related runtime for photos circa 1880-2000, and most of the remaining runlength is spent on photos circa 2000-2016. Everything is flashing by too quickly to really see what anything was or to think about how it changed.

Oh well, here’s the photograph I would have wanted to expose, had I been holidaymaking in the 1880s:


The 1.5Bn cameras that are everywhere, all the time, have effectively disproved the existence of aliens, bigfoot and Nessie.


Well of course they weren’t. You’re a traveller. We’re all just tourists by comparison.


Or even outside of them, in Amsterdam.

(I’ve got mixed feelings about the Red Light district… something for another thread.)


Timeline begins in 1880.

Timeline ends in 2016.

Midpoint is 2009.

Nonlinearity FTW!


Seen that first hand, it ain’t pretty.


Could be linear in relation to absolute number of photos taken, though.


My wife likes taking pics of our adult beverages. I like taking first person POV photos of my legs.


The 1.5Bn cameras that are everywhere, all the time, have effectively disproved the existence of aliens, bigfoot and Nessie.

Is that you, Melania?


I’m a bit torn on the subject of travel photos. I take litteraly thousands of them, trying to create photos that are interesting and/or attractive in their own right, yet often I find myself setting up my tripod next to other photographers, making me wonder why I bother. But we can say that about maker culture, too. There is something about making something yourself, even if you could just buy a good, or perhaps better, version.


I knew I’d seen it somewhere…


once they knock off god, we’ll be on the right track.


I take lots and lots of pictures, too. I just think it’s interesting (and a bit extreme in the particular case of my mother-in-law) that older generations really do still carry the legacy that photos from a trip abroad used to be a pretty novel thing. And I’m all for the pictures she takes of obscure stuff – it’s just that she wants to offer up the most basic tourist shots as though they are novel, but her grandchildren can access a photo of functionally every mile of every street in North America and Europe, and damned near most everywhere else, so one needs something different to get their attention.