Tacky Tourists? Silly, creative, irreverent … hallmarks of good travel photos By JULIA ANN WEEKES NH Weekend Editor

A family strains to push an enormous bolder off its precarious perch on a mountain in Maine.

A man flees in terror as a T-Rex lunges for his finger in Florida. A boy with seemingly superhuman strength hefts a potato the size of a car in Canada.

HOLD ON: In an optical illusion re-created countless times over the centuries, a tourist attempts to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. “Ironically, Liz and her husband, Mikem were unfamiliar with local tacky customs in Pisa and were curious why so many of their fellow camera jockeys were posing in midair for no apparent reason,” curators said at the online photo gallery at tackytouristphotos.com. (COURTESY OF TACKYTOURISTPHOTOS.COM)

This is the brave, new world of vacation photography in the digital age. Showcasing the silly over the stoic, Darren Garnick of Amherst and Massachusetts residents Peter Doziell of Methuen and Ilya Mirman of Sudbury have created an online forum, tackytouristphotos.com, that enlists the public in poking fun at themselves — and making trip pix a whole lot more fun to share.

Gone are the days when dusty photo albums stored shot after shot of family members, friends and people whose names have been long forgotten doing that boring stand-in-front-of-a-landmark- and-say-cheese move.

“So many vacation photos look like the people are Photoshopped into a scene, with the same lifeless pose at every attraction,” Garnick said. “If you’re standing next to a ridiculous street sign, roll your eyes. If you’re next to a dinosaur, pretend to be terrified or run away like you are an extra in ‘Jurassic Park.’” Garnick, an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker and freelance writer, is taking that advice on the road, teaching people the dos and don’ts of travel photography. Next on his tour is a 7 p.m. presentation Tuesday, Feb.
28, at the Amherst Town Library, which this month is displaying a selection of photos from Garnick’s collection.

“I’m hoping that New Hampshire backpackers, globetrotters and roadtrippers dig through their own Facebook and scrapbook archives and bring some of their own funniest moments to share,” Garnick said.

And judging from submissions to tackytouristphotos.com, there are plenty of people who can’t resist a good photo-op. “Tacky” categories include museums, tourist attractions, businesses, politics, hats, cemeteries, amusement parks, signs, poses, characters, cleavage, statues, mascots, county fairs, beach scenes and factory tours as well as “tackless behavior.”

“Some tourist attractions actually hang signs mandating that we pose with their recommended scenic backdrops,” the site’s founders said. “We cannot resist posing with corny mascots, sign boards with holes for our heads, and wacky sculptures such as the World’s Biggest Sombrero.

Sometimes we’ll even pay 30 bucks to wear the dirty rags of a Civil War soldier or 1930s dancing girl. (C’mon, seriously, do you think those photo booths ever do laundry?) “We leave our homes to go far away and prowl around other people’s homes,” Garnick said.

“And we have to prove that we were there.“

For many of us, taking pictures is the reason to go on vacation.”

Though he admits he has fallen prey to a plain old boring smile in front of the camera from time to time, Garnick revels in a more irreverent approach. Decked out in a green prairie dress, a wig with braided ponytails and a fetching sun hat, Garnick gives a thumbs up in front of the inspiration for one published pose, a statue of Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edward Island.

“I’ve always been fascinated by cheesy roadside attractions and tourist traps — you know, the World’s Largest Lobster or the World’s Largest Ball of Twine,” he said. “As a kid, I was always asking my parents to pull over at these places. As an adult, they are causes for me to slam on the brakes.

“Whether I am 10 miles or 1,000 miles from home, I love the carefree feeling of being a tourist and the challenge of documenting every bizarre statue and street sign,” Garnick said. “I’ve always had these kind of photos in my family albums and the explosion of blogging really inspired me to connect with strangers and try to find the world’s funniest vacation pics.”

The best images reflect a bit of creativity — or at least a willingness to look goofy in public in the process. For example, there’s the photo of a tourist who appears to be wearing Paris’ Eiffel Tower as a dunce cap. He perfects the concept with a confounded expression, with his right hand raised as if scratching the “hat” with his forefinger in confusion.

Or the clever photo at the Red Rocks of Sedona, Ariz., in which a carefully posed photo offers the perspective that a figure in the background is poised playfully on the open palm of a person in the foreground.

“My best advice for taking an award-winning Tacky Tourist Photo is to break out of the mold of standing stiff as a board and try to interact with your environment,” Garnick said. “Let loose and take several different shots if you want one you’ll love.”

To qualify as truly “tacky,” a photo doesn’t need to be rude, though.

“There really is nothing tacky or distasteful about any of the pictures on our site,” Garnick said. “We’re redefining ‘tacky’ to mean funny or silly or kitschy. We’re huge fans of alliteration and ‘Funny Tourist Photos’ just doesn’t have the same magic ring to it (as Tacky Tourist Photos).

“Another important distinction is that there are tons of Photo of the Day sites out there that poke fun at the people in the pictures.

We don’t do that,” he said. “We’re laughing with tourists who are deliberately looking goofy in their submissions.”

In a shot taken at Dinosaur Land in Winchester, Va., a trio stages a mock battle with a giant praying mantis who appears to have toynapped one of the tourist’s pink stuffed bunny.

“Long term, we’d like to make a coffee table book and travel guide featuring the most amusing tourist photo ops and stories,” Garnick said. “Short term, we are seeking to connect with a museum, art gallery, resort or university that doesn’t take itself too seriously for an expanded ‘Tacky Tourist Photo’ exhibit.

“I could see myself hitting the lecture circuit on the college hospitality and hotel management scene, or perhaps even bring the show to cruise ships or travel agent conventions,” he added. “I also hope that more New Hampshire travel junkies open up their family vacation albums and think of us when they see something goofy on their next road trip.”

Garnick’s own travels over the years have made quite an impression on him — and others.

“His favorite moments include helping rescue a lost tree sloth in Costa Rica, giving PEZ dispenser gifts to tribal leaders in the South Pacific, and sprinting up the ‘Rocky Steps’ in Philadelphia without collapsing,” said Ruslyn Vear, head of reference and adult programming at the Amherst Town Library. “He is also a Boston Herald … columnist and a contributor to Slate.com and New Hampshire Magazine.”

1st Choice Concierge – www.1stChoiceConcierge.co.uk
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