Within the last decade backpacking has literally become a global youth movement. Every year millions of young people from first world countries travel the planet taking with them nothing more then their backpacks. They are hoping to find freedom, cultural exchanges and a lot of fun. It has become a tourist industry on its own that has developed its very own touristic infrastructure. In some places like Ko Pha-Ngan in Thailand, Arambol in Goa or Vang Vieng in Laos individual or alternative travel is no longer existing. It has been transfered into a different kind of packaged tour.”
-Jörg Brüggemann / Same Same But Different
Jörg Brüggemann‘s “Same Same But Different” tackles a subject I’ve never seen photographed before. Sure, Martin Parr’s covered tourism and others have covered the effects of travel in local communities, but this treatment of backpacking and its many idiosyncrasies feels like new ground. The viewer is presented with a world not in its natural state, but instead created, produced, for consumption by wealthy, overwhelmingly white travelers looking to experience the third world or The Orient. Phrases such as “third world” and “The Orient” seem particularly apt, both because of the baggage they entail and the sense of separation they impart. Truly, the travelers in these pictures are entirely out of place, and yet they’re surrounded by all the comforts of home. The “foreign” has been rendered familiar. A guest house in India might as well be one in Thailand or Laos; the experience remains the same.
I won’t lie and say these pictures don’t hit close to home. As an American transplanted to China, the scenes in Brüggemann’s essay are all too familiar. I’d hesitate to condemn the travelers as much as The Spinning Head, or perhaps even Brüggemann, but I understand the queasiness. Travel by itself isn’t necessarily suspect. If it were, there’d be moral concerns with leaving our apartments or houses. Confronting the unfamiliar is a necessary and vital component of daily life, and travel is an extension of that. But, the complete destruction of communities and traditions in order to cater to such a widespread phenomenon of travel as backpacking is deserving of criticism and investigation (especially as most backpackers espouse some variant of a wish for spiritual discovery when traipsing around foreign climes).
A great story confronting difficult questions.
(via Asim Rafiqui)
(And my bet is that the title comes from a particularly common piece of so-called “Tinglish,” which I’ve heard, despite having never been to Thailand.)