So their eyes are growing hazy ‘cos they wanna turn it on, so their minds are soft and lazy. Well, hey, give ‘em what they want.
– Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs) in “Candy Everybody Wants”
Have you ever come across a photo in a magazine or on another website and thought, “Hey, that’s my photo!”?
Ha! That’s everyone’s photo.
While our photo is not exactly the same (that’s not the point), it does look awfully familiar. And this got me thinking.
Here’s the deal with this image. Almost every writer and traveler has a camera these days. A good chunk who visit Buenos Aires go to the San Telmo Sunday market, and when they do, they find this couple dancing tango in the streets. It all looks vaguely spontaneous, the scene quintessentially Argentine — both of which are debatable.
So many of us take the same photo, right down to the theatrical expression on the male tango dancer’s face. We check the LCD screen after the shutter release and the result delivers a sense of satisfaction: we’ve captured the essence of that place.
Or have we?
We know cliché when we see it. Our travel and photography experience has helped tune our ability to detect it. Having said that, we sometimes bank on it. These images are a valuable addition to our collection, particularly if we choose to write about Buenos Aires.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the image. It’s nice, the dancers are dramatic. But is it representative of Buenos Aires or Argentina’s tango scene? I’m not so sure about that. The tango aficionados we spoke to drew images of dark, smoky tango bars rather than wooden platforms in the middle of Sunday street fairs.
Perhaps these tango dancers represent the image most of us conjure up of Buenos Aires before visiting.
In any event, I can probably count dozens of other images that strike me as more representative of Buenos Aires than those dancers. But those — of delis, dog-walkers, cafés, tree-lined streets, and European airs — probably won’t be headlining tour brochures anytime soon.
Cliché or iconic? Where to draw the line?