This photo of a young Hmong girl in Chiang Mai, Thailand, has always given me mixed feelings. At first glance it seems like a gift to any travel photographer – the colourful traditional clothing, the curiously critical look of the subject, the exotic backdrop and setting, and, in truth, I took it without much thought, excited in the moment by the location and keen to capture it all as best as possible. It soon became quite clear, and really, should have been clear from the start, that these children are, rather sadly, paraded about for photographic opportunities in order to make a bit of money. By photographing her I felt complicit in all this and had to ask myself those age old questions about the impact of tourists and tourism, particularly on minority communities. Sure, it brings in dollars, but it’s obviously destructive and warps culture to the point that it becomes some commodified parody of itself.
When travelling, I’m often reminded of a line from Pulp’s Common People: “’Cos everybody hates a tourist, especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh.” It’s fair to say that I do take an interest in local concerns and don’t think it’s all such a laugh, but, whatever the case, “the chip stains and grease will come out in the bath” so to speak. Whether I’m helping or hindering people as a tourist, it will always be the case that shortly after arriving I’ll be moving on to the next place and, ultimately, returning home to the decadent cocoon that is Australia.