The first photograph in this series (Figure 1) is that of a man dressed in a tutu on holiday in the Mallorcan resort of Magaluf, a place known for its boisterous and unruly nightlife. This image is one of the results of a small experimental photographic project that we undertook there a few years ago. In what follows in this essay we unravel the reasons why we chose to photograph people in Magaluf in this particular style.

Figure 1 

Ballet Magaluf. [Photograph: Ben Stringer, Jane McAllister. All rights reserved].

Because of its association with the idea of ‘Binge Britain’, Magaluf’s nightlife is subject to a particular kind of cultural scrutiny and bias. It frequently makes the headlines for its excessive drinking and lewd behaviour. It has been the subject of numerous TV shows with titles like Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents or Sun, Sex and A&E (Accident and Emergency). Shows like these combine concern and censoriousness with prurience. Such mainstream coverage of Magaluf sets up an assumed relationship between a seemingly stable and respectable authority (the viewer) and a seemingly out of control youth culture (the viewed). But behind the bold headlines, aspects of Magaluf’s lively nightlife deserve more expansive critical, and self-critical discussion. People’s role playing, sometimes expressed in fancy dress, and the desire to bond with others in lively crowd scenes seem to be worth thinking about as a response to wider social dynamics, given that we are in an era of maximum self-expression and anxiety.

Our idea was to produce high contrast black-and-white photographs that placed Magaluf’s night-time revellers in a more dramatic ‘theatrical’ Gothic or chiaroscuro light, in order to make people stand out as individuals in a way that connected with their extrovert dress and behaviour. This is different to images of people normally produced (on smartphones for example) among the washes of coloured fluorescent light and sparkling reflective surfaces that prevail there; with that kind of light people’s bodies get visually absorbed into a bright and complex background context (Figure 2). Thinking back, one could say this is street photography but with some influence from the kind of constructed portrait photography that has proliferated at about the same time as social media has enabled ordinary people to take greater control of their own public personas. As self-portrait artist/photographer Cindy Sherman put it; ‘… we’ve all chosen who we are in terms of how we want the world to see us.’ [3].

Figure 2 

Women on ‘The Hill’. [Photograph: Jane McAllister, Ben Stringer. All rights reserved].

Having said that, our idea for the contrast and dark shadows actually came from Palma, Mallorca’s historic capital city, which in recent decades has become a chic and urbane tourist destination rather than the run-down and tough port city that it used to be. The night-time light in Magaluf’s main street is very different to that of the old alleys, courtyards and plazas of Palma’s apparently more ‘cultured’ old town where unsurprisingly there is less neon and fluorescent light and more focused incandescent bulb light in it’s generally lower lit and more ‘sophisticated’ attractions. Put simply, we set out to photographically bring the moody atmosphere of Palma and its associations with a more ‘upmarket’ or bourgeoise kind of tourism to bear upon Magaluf’s ‘vulgar’ and ‘low rent’ main drag. We saw this as a possible way of visually transgressing and destabilising an artificially constructed social divide between two different tourist cultures. Is it possible to make Magaluf look sophisticated and artful? To do this required a degree of technical research on our part, as will be explained in brief.

Overall this paper aims to do several things:

  • – Explain the idea of a ‘spotlight’ in relation to a notion of the tourist as ‘performer’, to borrow geographer Tim Edensor’s sense of the word [4].
  • – Briefly outline the technical aspects of our photographic response to Magaluf’s light conditions and night-time culture.
  • – Discuss Mikhail Bakhtin’s ideas of the ‘carnivalesque’ in relation to Magaluf.
  • – Put forward a hypothesis about the different socio-spatial logics of Magaluf and Palma’s tourist cultures, as promoted by their respective tourist media forms, wherein Palma’s socio-spatial logic is seen as centrifugal and Magaluf’s as centripetal.
  • – Question assumptions about the kinds of people that are attracted to the different tourist cultures of Palma and Magaluf; are their demographics so different? Does taste any more indicate one’s social class, in the way that Pierre Bourdieu observed in the 1970’s [5]?

What follows is not intended as the result of rigorous sociological fieldwork. How or whether this kind of more speculative discussion and experimental photography constitutes academic research is also a question touched upon in the conclusion.

Picturesque Palma

Before even setting eyes on Magaluf, we had been developing a workshop for photography and drawing for architects in Palma based on the idea of the ‘glimpsed view’ in Palma’s lattice-like medieval urban fabric (Figure 3). Palma is conducive to this because its narrow lanes are flanked by tall, massive historic and undulating old stone walls which are punctuated by doorways and gateways that offer glimpses into interesting spaces beyond; hidden gardens, church interiors, and in particular, shady courtyards. Palma’s historic core is dominated by a courtyard building typology, a legacy of its Moorish roots.

Figure 3 

Translations from a glimpse through a Palma doorway to a plaster ‘souvenir’. [Photograph: Jane McAllister, Ben Stringer. All rights reserved].

In 1794, the English landscape theorist Uvedale Price described how the Picturesque, ‘by its intricacy, its partial concealments … excites that active curiosity which gives play to the mind’ [6: p. 272]. Appreciation of old Palma is conducive to something similar to this kind of Picturesque sensibility. Our chosen guidebook, the Time Out Guide to Majorca and Menorca, describes Palma thus; ‘[within its] pristine historic core … lies a clutch of compelling sights secreted among its (largely traffic free) twisting medieval streets’: and rather than aim for ‘any specific sights … in this medina-like maze’, it suggests instead that you ‘spend hour after hour wandering down narrow lanes and alleys, loitering in the squares, gazing at Renaissance mansions and peeking at imposing Baroque and Gothic churches.’ [7: p. 55]. The Time Out Guide also includes some photographs of people engaged in everyday activity in squares and markets. It is hard to tell if these people are local residents or tourists. The viewpoints of the pictures in the Time Out Guide seem to support an idea of blending discreetly into the local scenery at the same time as one is exploring. In general, as Tim Edensor puts it, ‘guide books are a kind of master-script for tourists which reduces disorientation and guides action’ [3: p. 75]. But, in this instance, with its use of words like ‘secreted’, ‘meander’, ‘peeking’ and ‘wandering’, the Time Out Guide encourages readers to roam and to construct relatively independent narratives in old Palma, therefore promoting a sense of a more ‘creative’ tourist there. In spirit this seems to lean toward the individualistic ‘reader’ of cities that Roland Barthes advocated in his essay on ‘Semiology and Urbanism’, whose idiosyncratic readings effectively play a role in the authorship of a ‘text’. As Barthes wrote: ‘He who moves about the city, e.g. the user of the city (what we all are), is a kind of reader who, following his obligations and his movements, appropriates fragments of the utterance in order to actualize them in secret. When we move about a city, we all are in the situation of the reader of the 100,000 million poems of Queneau, where one can find a different poem by changing a single line; unawares, we are somewhat like this avant-garde reader when we are in a city’ [8: p. 417].

The seductiveness of Palma’s layout and urban form is usually enhanced during the day by bright sun punctuating the shade of its tall narrow streets and courtyards, and brilliantly illuminating pieces of buildings (Figure 4). When we visited, this reminded us of the famous chiaroscuro painting style developed by the Italian artist, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Figure 5). As with Caravaggio’s paintings, the pleasure of exploring Palma seems partly to do with the highlighting and glimpsing of fragments: fragments to be completed by the imagination in the construction of one’s own narrative. At night, Palma’s lighting conditions also have an affinity with the kind of tourist gaze it attracts: it tends to have incandescent lights and candles in its bars and restaurants, drawing attention to individual interior spaces and their contents and occupants which punctuate the darkness (Figure 6). The act of taking photographs of Palma’s rather dark streetscapes entails long exposures and a tripod. What this tends to do is to foreground architecture, whereas people’s moving bodies are likely to become blurred and ghostly or disappear altogether.

Figure 4 

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Calling of St Matthew (1599–1600). [Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons].

Figure 5 

Palma courtyard. [Photograph: Ben Stringer, Jane McAllister. All rights reserved].

Figure 6 

Palma windows at night. [Photograph: Ben Stringer, Jane McAllister. All rights reserved].


On the other hand, the Time Out Guide gives short shrift to Mallorca’s popular beach resort of Magaluf, to which it devotes less than one page compared to Palma’s forty-page description. In its short reference to ‘lager-swilling Magaluf’, the guide calls it ‘a place to avoid … despite the clean-up a few years back, when the worst of the strip’s hotels were demolished, Magaluf retains a personality that is overbearing to the point of being offensive … its very notoriety has made it a ‘sight’ in its own right. You wouldn’t want to stay here, but it’s worth spending half an hour of your time observing the phenomenon of mass tourism up close’ [7: p. 95]. Magaluf is thus presented as a problem requiring critical judgement, and thereby an apparent social boundary is placed between the reader and the people that the guidebook refers to as ‘boozed up bucket-and-spaders’. There is no encouragement to roam amongst Magaluf’s slab blocks, swimming pools and ‘British’ cafes that serve curry, chips and beer.

Magaluf is full of exaggerated signs of Britishness; it comes across as a place virtually colonized by the British holidaymaker’s needs for home comforts, almost to the complete exclusion of the Mallorcan host culture. Union Jack flags abound, you can buy PG Tips in the mini-markets or have a full English breakfast and drink bitter in the ‘Trafalgar’ pub, and watch UK sports channels just about everywhere. For Hazel Andrews all these British signs and clichés compensate in the tourist’s experience for a lack of identity available at home [9]. Interestingly, however, a significant proportion of the people that we met when taking these pictures in Magaluf were not British. In fact, we met people holidaying there from all over Western and Eastern Europe, the USA, and even Asia (yet none from Mallorca or elsewhere in Spain). Those non-British people were not there to affirm or deny their own national identity or class, but to explore aspects of their own individuality, mainly through Magaluf’s wild rites of passage. For them, the abundant signs of Britishness are as unconnected to their own cultural roots as most of the fancy-dress costumes worn in Magaluf’s streets and bars on a Friday night.

In his influential book titled Distinction, published in 1979, Pierre Bourdieu ‘predisposes tastes to function as markers of class’ [5: p. 1]. At first glance, this would seem to accord with the perception that the tourists in Palma and Magaluf are separated by social class as much as they are by a few kilometres of Mallorcan coastline. But what we found there did not always conform to stereotypes or neat class divisions. There were university students in abundance, plenty of middle-aged professionals ‘slumming it’, as well as off-duty soldiers and many other people from different class backgrounds. So, our first impression was of a broad cross-section of society. We also perceived a different kind of creative spatial interaction in the ways that people adopted and acted out exaggerated personas in the street that did not match the docile image of lazy mass consumption presented by the Time Out Guide.

According to Zygmunt Bauman, we live in a ‘fluid’ capitalist system now, one whose cultural logic is far less clearly stratified than when Bourdieu studied the politics of taste in the 1960s and 70s [1: p. 1–17]. It is far clearer now than it was then that there is no shame for the ‘highbrow’ connoisseur who also wishes to enjoy the ‘vulgarities’ of ‘lowbrow’ culture. Bauman says:

‘… in liquid modern times, culture … is fashioned to fit individual freedom of choice and individual responsibility for that choice … [and] its function is to ensure that the choice should be and will always remain a necessary and unavoidable duty of life, while the responsibility for … choice and its consequences remains where it has been placed in the liquid modern human condition-on the shoulders of the individual, now appointed to the position of chief manager of ‘life politics’ and its sole executive.’ [1: p. 9]

Yet while this indicates a reduction in the strength of class as a social determinant generally, in Magaluf there is also a palpable collective spirit and a desire for camaraderie that runs alongside, or in tension with, this culture of the individual. This is evident in the almost cartoonish signs of British convention, in the teams of Vegas-era Elvis impersonators and Viking warriors, and the English football shirts and so on. Whereas Magaluf can be interpreted as a site for individual rites of passage, where normal codes of behaviour can be momentarily abandoned, it can also be viewed as a place where isolated individuals can momentarily gain a collective identity – firstly by being part of a hen or stag party with a common outfit, and then by becoming part of the larger crowds in Magaluf’s streets and clubs.

Guidebooks don’t really cater for the Magaluf holidaymaker. Instead it is by networking through websites like ‘Shaggaluf’ (now apparently taken down) and other dedicated chatrooms that people find out what is happening there and get to meet people even before their arrival. The pictures on ‘Shaggaluf’ are generally not about buildings or landscapes: instead they are about the people that go there and most often about groups of friends. The kind of pictures taken by tourists themselves, that one sees on line when one searches for Magaluf, show many animated group portraits of happy neon-lit faces spontaneously posing for the camera, but it is also the case that one has to scroll past many webpages containing salacious stories posted by newspapers before finding them. What normally comes across in tourists’ own pictures is extrovert camaraderie (presumably often alcohol enhanced) and playfulness in the way that people always face the camera directly. Other pictures focus on the chaos of dance-floor foam parties in clubs, where bodies merge into a foaming mass and where personal boundaries seem to disappear.

In Magaluf an entirely different socio-spatial dynamic exists for tourists, creating in turn a different kind of vernacular tourist creativity to the kind that operates in Palma. If in the latter, a centrifugal dynamic sends tourists off into discrete cinematic wanderings through the city’s alleyways and courtyards, then for Magaluf the movement is centripetal; a convergence, culminating in the wild goings-on in the main streets and bars there, and also in the giant BCM Club’s foam parties. In Magaluf, as Hazel Andrews has observed, the tourists’ bodies become the primary focus of the tourist gaze rather than historic buildings and spaces [9, 10], and a site like ‘The Hill’ takes on the logic of a carnival space [3]. It fuels the DIY theatricality of Magaluf’s streets, and it was this emphasis on the human body and the way that ordinary people turn themselves into ‘performers’ that we wanted to capture in our photographs.

Encountering effervescence?

We discovered Magaluf by accident. We only chose a hotel there because it was so cheap: the advert said that it was not too far from the historic centre of Palma, where we, two architecture lecturers from London, were supposed to be working. On our night of arrival, our good friends from Palma insisted on driving us back to our hotel. When we told them the address, they looked at us as if we were mad, and immediately began to explore alternatives for us. But it was too late, and so in the end they gave up and took us to Magaluf. How come we didn’t know about this place? Did we live in some kind of British middle-aged, middle-class bubble? Something was going on here, and we didn’t know what it was. To get to the hotel we had to drive up what is known as ‘The Hill’ (a steep street called Carrer de la Punta Balena), which is at the epicentre of Magaluf’s intense nightlife. It took us a long time to inch up this hill, through the midst of an extremely wild and crowded street-party, with hundreds of cavorting people all around our car. We could only sit and stare open-mouthed at the spectacle; a girl stepped into the glare of our lights to lift her skirt and wiggle her bare bottom at us. A couple of cross-dressed Osama Bin Ladens tottered by on high heels as a group of pink cowgirls laughed.

Our Mallorcan friends had never been to Magaluf and they found it really strange being in such a foreign place on their own island. For us it was strange seeing, in Mallorca, a phenomenon that was supposed to be so British, like us, but which we had no real understanding of either. We knew that Friday and Saturday nights in many British and continental European city centres can be quite wild, but this was something new and surprising to us.

In his study of a similar crescendo of wild behaviour that occurs amongst young Danish tourists in a Bulgarian nightlife resort called Sunny Beach, Sébastien Tutenges refers to Emile Durkheim’s ideas of ‘effervescence’ [11, 12]. Durkheim used the term to account for the collective intensity of some frenzied aboriginal ceremonies wherein participants become ‘… so far removed from their ordinary conditions of life, and they are so thoroughly conscious of it, that they feel that they must set themselves outside of, and above, their ordinary morals’ [12: p. 216]. The trouble for most Mallorcans is that Magaluf’s effervescence is accompanied by recklessness and bravado that has caused many tragic accidents, including numerous widely reported fatal falls from high-rise hotel balconies. Magaluf is a major contributor to the island’s economy. It is the biggest resort in the Calvia region of Mallorca, which as a whole receives 1.7 million visitors per year out of Mallorca’s total of 6 million tourists [9: p. 221]. The antics that take place in Magaluf nonetheless cause real offence in Mallorca and there is widespread concern about the damage being done to island’s reputation. In response, Spain’s Ministry of Tourism has for a while been investigating ways to change and diversify Magaluf’s style of tourism, mainly by encouraging more expensive upmarket hotels to move in [13]. They have also introduced strict local rules specifically aimed at Magaluf: ‘The rules prohibit defecating in public places, having sex in public, and being naked in public, as well as littering, tearing branches off trees and playing music above 65 decibels’ [14].

In comparison to the capital in Palma, and the rest of Majorca’s varied attractions, Magaluf receives a vast amount of media attention, especially in the UK, from where the highest proportion of Mallorca’s overseas tourists traditionally come (around 2.1 million British tourists in 2011) [9: p. 221]. An example of Magaluf’s popularity with TV crews who like to film Brits partying to excess whilst on holiday is the recent series Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, which consisted of horrified parents secretly following and spying on their children whilst the latter indulged in Magaluf’s partying. This series thus exploited a boundary between parental concern and the alcohol-fuelled rites of passage of British youngsters. Another show, Magaluf Weekender, followed the fortunes of groups of friends, with a particular interest in their sex lives. Other recently screened programmes filmed in Magaluf include Sun, Sea and A&E and also some episodes of Embarrasing Bodies, both of which focussed more on the health risks of excessive sun along with sex and booze, and on the interface between patients and doctors and nurses at the resort’s medical facilities. Another documentary, The Truth Behind Magaluf, shown in 2012, attempted to understand why young holidaymakers in Magaluf get into so much trouble and danger: it revealed the extent to which these people, often at an impressionable age, get coerced or manipulated into situations they might otherwise avoid, sometimes encouraged by package holiday reps who seem to regard their job as being to get everyone as wild and sexualised as possible (the role of the rep has also been studied by Andrews and Tutenges) [10, 11].

From Streetlight to Spotlight

On our first photographic foray to ‘The Hill’ in Magaluf we noticed that the spatial distinction between inside and outside of its bars is often blurred because of the pavement seating and verandas around. The buildings above first-floor level in this area almost disappear from one’s consciousness because the attention is so focussed upon all the fooling around in the street and the bars and shop interiors. Having said that, we noted that the street space is actually different to the bar and club interiors because it is public space and thus not so controlled by the reps, bouncers and DJs that dominate proceedings inside. It is also socially freer, and people seem to do things much more of their own accord there (it helps that people’s voices can be heard more out in the streets than inside the clubs). For us the street was the most interesting space in Magaluf precisely because people were creating an atmosphere by themselves, beyond the influence of those coercing tourists into sex or drinking games inside the bars and clubs. So our idea for the photographs was to try to highlight people’s attire and postures as they inhabited Magaluf’s streets. This however proved difficult as there is so much fluorescent and coloured light emanating from all the bars and shops, sparkling off every surface, often making the background as bright, or brighter, than the people’s bodies that we wanted to emphasise. Tourists hence seemed to get visually absorbed into a complex visual terrain of lights, signage and reflections [Figure 7]. Before our second photographic foray we therefore decided to try and work out how to take moody ‘chiaroscuro’ photographs of people on ‘The Hill’ in order to illuminate people’s bodies much more dramatically. We needed to work out what to do about the issue of the fluorescent lights.

Figure 7 

Bonkers’ porch at night. [Photograph: Ben Stringer, Jane McAllister. All rights reserved].

Our idea was to make photographs that somehow dimmed the background fluorescent light from the bars and shops and foregrounded people’s bodies instead. We also wanted to intensify the idea that the street had a more creative logic than most observers assume, because of the activities of dressing up and posing. This changing of the light of the clubs and shops in our minds also meant proposing an idea of a more independent user of city space. Not only that, but in our minds too was the idea that rethinking Magaluf in a chiaroscuro light would visually transgress the cultural boundaries that exist between the different kinds of tourist gaze that currently operate in Palma and Magaluf. In effect we wanted to import a little of the ‘tasteful’ atmosphere of Palma’s streets, and it’s more ‘sophisticated’ kind of tourist gaze, to what we found on ‘The Hill’.

After trying out various combinations of lenses and flashes, we eventually discovered that fluorescent lights usually do not give off very much infrared light, and also that human skin tends to be good at reflecting infrared light. So we had the idea of converting our camera to receive infrared light only. All regular digital SLR cameras come with filters that block infrared and ultra violet light. To convert a regular camera means removing the sensor’s infrared filter and replacing it with one that blocks visible light instead. Doing this allowed us to take control of the light (albeit invisible infrared light) in Magaluf and get closer to the impressions we were looking for; we were able to dramatically darken the background fluorescent light and instead illuminate people with the light from our own remote incandescent flash which gives off a usable amount of infrared light. One of the other consequences of using a localised light source is that not much of it reaches the background architecture, and so in our photographs the latter fades into darkness. What you see in some of these pictures is not what eyes normally see in real life, because our eyes, like normally adjusted cameras, are able to see beyond the thresholds of infrared light. Those dark backgrounds are, to the human eye, actually brightly lit and busy street scenes (Figures 1, 8 and 9). But in other ways we think that these images are accurate renditions of an isolated aspect of the social and individual experiences that unfold in the street on ‘The Hill’.

Figure 8 

Two Polish cowgirls in Magaluf. [Photograph: Ben Stringer, Jane McAllister. All rights reserved].

Figure 9 

Reclining Magaluf male. [Photograph: Jane McAllister, Ben Stringer. All rights reserved].

Photographic technologies have their own cultural histories, and the development of infrared photography is mixed up with covert military surveillance and night-time wildlife photography. The irony therefore of using this kind of photography in this situation references the way that Magaluf and its style of mass tourism is gazed upon as something remote and threatening to civilised culture. But unlike military or wildlife photography, our shots were far from covert or discreet: on the contrary, taking these pictures was a catalyst for meeting the people we portrayed, all of whom had different stories to tell, from their very different walks of life. Among those we met were the daughter of an American Catholic bishop, a group of middle-aged men from Hampshire dressed as Smurfs, and a couple of cowgirls from Poland on their night off from working in one of the clubs (Figure 8). Meeting people like them made us question why tourists in Palma are rendered as independent determinants of their own meanderings, whereas tourists in Magaluf are not.

It was the boundary between tasteful representations of tourists in Palma in guidebooks and loud, salacious ones of Magaluf on television that we particularly wanted to transgress, because it seems a very questionable division. To this end we imported to our images of Magaluf a kind of atmosphere that seduces the supposedly more cultured kind of tourist in the shadowy spaces of Palma. Caravaggio was an important reference, mainly because of the sense of corporeality in his painting that his use of chiaroscuro brings, but also because he and his followers often painted tavern scenes (Figure 4). Although our pictures are not what human eyes actually see, but rather what an infrared sensor might record, we saw in the process of making them a different kind of ‘reality’, a more ‘fluid’ one, to borrow Bauman’s term [1]. Using the same infrared camera in the streets of Palma at night produced a very different kind of picture, mainly because of the camera’s ability to record the incandescent lighting that prevails there (Figure 6). In contrast to the portraits in Magaluf, Palma at night became more of a ghostly stage with actors who become fainter or even disappeared as the architecture becomes strongly foregrounded, a setting for a different kind of tourist narrative, where the idea is to blend in. Again, this accords with our reading of the atomised role of the tourist in Palma.

Carnivalesque Magaluf?

In Rabelais and his World, Mikhail Bakhtin outlined a long history of carnivals that stretched back to ancient Roman Saturnalias [15]. He was more interested in the kind of carnival that people took part in, rather than officially sanctioned parades that were to be spectated upon (he developed these ideas in Stalinist Russia). While he contended that the carnival had waned during and since the Renaissance, as a result of authoritarian intervention, he also argued that its spirit was alive and manifested itself in, for example, the ribald literature of the French playwright, Rabelais. For Bakhtin the medieval carnival carried a political dimension, not because it agitated on behalf of a new political agenda, but because it liberated people momentarily ‘… from the prevailing point of view of the world, from conventions and established truths, from clichés, from all that is humdrum and universally accepted’ [15: p. 11]. It was a reminder of the constructed and artificial nature of social order and its ‘unfinalisability’. Is, therefore, the spirit of the carnival alive in Magaluf? It certainly has its moments, in our view, in the less scripted space of the city’s streets. In the clubs and bars, however, too much of the outlandish behaviour is scripted by coercive reps and DJs for them to live up to Bahktin’s definition of the carnival, and they do not carry the political edge he sought. This is one of the reasons why we wanted instead to try to make some portraits of people which put the dominant and controlled spaces of the bars and clubs into the shade, so as to foreground the tourists themselves and render them as protagonists of their own being and experience and playing with stereotype, rather than just as passive consumers.

In a recent essay, Sigrid Holmwood discusses the emergence of a genre of paintings of peasants in sixteenth-century Europe, and its coincidence with the rise of a new mercantile bourgeoisie [16]. In reference to Hans Sebald Beham’s woodcuts and engravings of peasants who are drinking, vomiting, defecating and engaging in heavy petting during a carnival, she says: ‘The peasant constructs the modern self by representing what the bourgeois subject is not – closer to nature, driven by bodily desires, gluttonous, overly sexualised and ultimately less rational’ [16: p. 77]. Although we are of course not talking about ‘peasants’ in Magaluf, it could be argued that contemporary representations of Magaluf follow a similar logic in presenting images of behaviour that requires discussion and judgment, and thus a better understanding of oneself on the part of the viewer. The ‘bourgeois subject’ or sense of self is understood for our purposes to be one that values self-determination, self-discipline and a discerning view of popular culture, it is one that traditionally stresses individuality as the means for setting oneself apart from the ‘masses’. Some of our photos thus visually emphasise the individuality of revellers in Magaluf as opposed to people merged into a crowded street scene, while other images instead emphasised the idea of a mass of bodies. The photos were also printed in black-and-white as a way of differentiating them from mainstream video or smartphone images that are so prevalent today. The thinking here was to interfere with some of the visual boundaries between the idea of the bourgeoise self and the mass culture represented by Magaluf.

The light in our pictures is akin to that of spotlight or footlight because the majority of it comes from a single source (a remote hand-held flashlight), in effect making ‘actors’ of the picture’s subjects. Bakhtin may have disapproved of this because he set the carnival in opposition to the idea of the theatre:

‘In fact, carnival does not know footlights, in the sense that it does not acknowledge any distinction between actors and spectators. Footlights would destroy a carnival, as the absence of footlights would destroy a theatrical performance. Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people. While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it. During carnival time life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom.’ [15: p. 7]

Alright, so in our case we were external spectators with cameras rather than carnival participants, as Bahktin’s logic calls for, but our photographs were not intended, by the act of illuminating revellers in a more theatrical kind of light, to undermine the carnivalesque aspects of Magaluf but rather to search for them.

Magaluf’s revellers take advantage of the distance from their home countries and also from Mallorca’s local communities. It is a place where they can behave outlandishly without being watched or heard by local parents, children and everyday workers needing a good night’s sleep. To that extent the peripherality of Magaluf with respect to Palma, and of Mallorca with respect to Britain and the homelands of other tourists, is utilised as a zone for personal exploration in a way that is similar to ‘alternative’ festivals that take place in isolated locations and which rarely engage with local people in any meaningful way. A major difference however, is in Magaluf’s far-from-alternative reinforcement of the homeland, or ‘centre,’ through the abundance of clichés of British national cultural symbols and its laddish, highly gendered stereotyped culture. It is a paradoxical place, therefore, because it simultaneously represents periphery and an exaggerated centre exported to Mallorca.

In the case of Magaluf’s British working-class symbols, it is possible to argue that these are markers of a space for a performance ‘rather than social categories made manifest’ [3: p. 59–60]. This is partly because many of those that go there are not in fact young white British working-class people. In the case of gender stereotyping, clearly a loud male heterosexual culture dominates, and there are no specifically gay bars in Magaluf as yet. The frequent acts of cross-dressing that take place serve to reinforce exaggerated boundaries of sexual difference. The idea of Magaluf as a place for sexual experimentation out of sight of locals can be criticised because Spain is well known to be, in the main, a generally LGBT+ friendly country – and so whilst there is a big emphasis on sex and the exposure of ‘tits and bums’ in Magaluf, the resort’s isolation from Mallorca’s host culture would not likely lead to more individual sexual experimentation in cases for example, where one’s orientation is not straight heterosexual. That there is a popular nudist beach in a quiet cove very close to Magaluf is indicative of the island’s openness and tolerance, and the fact that other major Spanish resorts such as Benidorm and Marbella are the locations for major Gay Pride events, whereas Magaluf is not, also indicate that Magaluf is less progressive and cosmopolitan than some of its competitors. In spite of this, we discerned a creative element to Magaluf’s wild goings on which deserved some more considered photographic attention than it usually receives.


What happens in Magaluf does not stay in Magaluf; its partying begins on social media platforms such as Facebook and other chat-rooms, and then carries on afterwards in more social and photo sharing sites. The summer’s nightly effervescence in Magaluf is a physical manifestation of a very sociable and networked society. People dress flamboyantly for the occasion and in so doing they are playing with symbolic outfits and dress codes, with irony and humour. This comes into its own on the streets around ‘The Hill’, where people are freer to represent themselves, just beyond the manipulations of the music, DJs and holiday reps inside the bars and clubs.

We decided for our photographs that the way to show the more playful side – and for us the more interesting side – of Magaluf’s night-time street life was to isolate people from the wash and sparkle of fluorescent light that pervades the place. By doing this we hoped to open up an aesthetic that opposed the stereotypical images of Magaluf, which usually portray its tourists only as drunken loutish consumers. Palma’s style of tourism is considered more desirable and more economically sustainable, as it doesn’t entirely disappear outside of the summer months as is the case with Magaluf. But it is clear that Palma is also seen generally as more culturally sustainable too, in that it represents the higher class of tourist that Mallorca wants to attract more of, which is more respectful of local society and culture. Magaluf represents the kind of tourist that Mallorcans would like to see much less of. But how different actually are these tourist groups? Are the people in Magaluf at night less creative than the cultured ‘readers’ seduced by the idea of a city like Palma that Roland Barthes wrote about? The revellers on ‘The Hill’ may not be the avant-garde explorers of streetscapes that Barthes had in mind, but instead they are representing themselves in their own spectacle. Not so much readers then, but perhaps they can be writers learning how to write a little bit of urbanity for themselves. And besides, quite a few of Palma’s cultured tourists will also be among the unruly ones in Magaluf, because the people heading to Magaluf nowadays are quite likely to want to see a bit of Palma and experience a bit of local Mallorcan life too, as well as to go raving.

As analysts of photography have long pointed out, taking photographs of ordinary people sets up relationships between the photographer, the photographed, the viewer of the photograph, the photographic apparatus, the place where the photograph was taken (physical attributes; light, space, form, and its cultural ones; history, popular meaning etc), and the place and contexts where the picture is viewed – including the relationships of these images with genres that it may, or may not, belong to. Making significant adjustments to any of these aspects or contexts can have repercussions for the others. In this case, although we have done something quite simple in adapting our camera and messing with the lighting of photographs, the resulting pictures are a point of convergence of different kinds of technical, cultural and creative thinking as well as momentary observation. We’ve tried to steer these pictures toward a kind of ‘art’ photography that is different to say, that of documentary, tabloid, travel guide or social media holiday photography, albeit recognising that our pictures also have all these genres within their gene pool.

If the various processes that led to these photographs and this reflective essay constitutes research, then what kind of research is it? By adopting Christopher Frayling’s outlines of research ‘for’, ‘into’ and ‘through’ art [17] – which he says were derived from the art critic Herbert Read – one could venture that the technical research and experimenting that we undertook to achieve these pictures counts as research for art, because we kind of knew what results we wanted. But prior to this, a fair degree of research into art was necessary to develop a critical position on the representations of Mallorca’s tourist cultures. Then the process of actually taking these photographs can be seen as research through art, because talking to the people we photographed and their part of the process, their dressing up, posing and explanations of why they were there, clarified and nuanced our understanding of the place and its people and how we thought about portraying them. Frayling’s divisions thus become blurred in the process of producing these photographs and this essay, as they would do in any form of practice-based work.