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By David Finkelstein | July 7, 2003

This video presents a series of tourists, posing for pictures in front of a huge US warship in San Francisco Bay. It is a wonderful exploration of the strange modern ritual of personal image-making, so different from the elaborate act of portrait painting in the pre-photographic era. We see travelers pausing for a moment, taking the time to create a visual message to their friends, their descendants, and their future selves, just to let them know what a wonderful trip they had (even if they didn’t). Some folks, utterly at ease with the camera, casually integrate the act of posing into their lives, laughing and enjoying themselves as they expertly set up and create great shots. Others bring their inner lives to a total halt as they stand, stiff as a board, in pathetically unconvincing poses of relaxed enjoyment.

The film is also filled with grim irony, as more than half of the tourists appear to be from Latin American and Asian countries which have been devastated by US military actions over the years, whether overt or covert. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that it is as if groups of Jews were posing cheerfully in front of Nazi warships, while the Nazis were still in power. But then again, naturally they look happy, since they have made it to the US, the one place in the world where you are safe from US foreign policy. (Or were until recently, but this video was made in 2000.) Perhaps these tourists’ look of safety and comfort is a pose in more than one sense.

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