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Silly travel photos finding a Web home

With kitschy good humor, vacation photos on display

Darren Garnick dressed as Anne of Green Gables to visit the character’s statue on Prince Edward Island. Darren Garnick dressed as Anne of Green Gables to visit the character’s statue on Prince Edward Island.
By Taryn Plumb
Globe Correspondent / January 8, 2012
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Jumping amid the stoic-faced Easter Island heads. Wearing the Eiffel Tower like a dunce cap. Swallowing the Washington Monument or munching on the Golden Gate Bridge.

These are the irreverent, goofy, and often absurdly creative alternatives to the typical beaming-and-grouped-together-in-front-of-a-famous-landmark tourist shot that fills up so many family albums (either the digital kind or the sort you tuck away on a bookshelf). And now, they’re getting their art debut - the “art’’ part admittedly being up for interpretation - in area exhibits culled from the online homage to kitsch, tackytouristphotos.com, a submission-centric, locally founded website.

“A lot of people hate looking at other people’s vacation photos because they all start to look the same after a while,’’ said co-founder and “curator’’ Darren Garnick of Amherst, N.H. But “everyone enjoys looking at these.’’

And they’ll have even more opportunities to do so with Tacky Tourist Photos Live, as the traveling exhibit has been dubbed: Comprising more than a dozen images from both the international stuff of dream vacations and roadside pit stops, it was on display at the Tewksbury Public Library through yesterday, and will be again at the Amherst, N.H., Town Library Feb. 28 through March.

Garnick and co-founders Peter Koziell of Methuen and Ilya Mirman of Sudbury hope they’ll be the first of many displays at local museums and locations that, much like photo subjects, appreciate the schticky side of travel.

“We want to claim our rightful spot next to art photography,’’ Garnick, a 43-year-old documentary film producer and freelance journalist, said in all seriousness, noting a “snobbery’’ in both the photography world against snapshots, and in the travel world against tourists.

But the two-year-old website revels in the dirty “T’’ word, receiving about a dozen submissions a week from people - and of landmarks - around the world, and luring in about 400 unique visitors a day, what Garnick called “a steady trickle of people who think like us.’’

All told, the site has a gallery of a few hundred shots - but Garnick knows there are many more out there, languishing on sim cards or in predigital family photo albums.

Among the dozens of images, there tends to be a lot of jumping, heads stuck through cutouts, creative optical illusions - and, of course, a whole lot of hamming it up.

A trio of girls pretends to battle a giant praying mantis at Dinosaur Land in Virginia, a man sits gleefully in the sole of an enormous hot pink stiletto in Las Vegas, two US college girls pose, wearing military clothes and wielding military-grade weapons, with an Ecuadoran soldier.

Many others swarm guys and gals in costume (George Washington or Disney princesses), interact with wax figures (one college girl pretends to flash a grimacing Larry King), thrust their heads through all manner of cut-outs, don silly hats from souvenir carts, and pose in a variety of kooky and suggestive ways with statues and roadside monuments.

In Egypt, people use distance to create illusions that they’re kissing the Great Sphinx of Giza or cupping the tips of pyramids, while in Italy, the popular thing to do is “hold up’’ the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

“Many of them are very clever. A lot of people put some real thought into it,’’ said Noelle Boc, children’s librarian at the Tewksbury Public Library, noting that the images are inspiring and make her rethink her own photo ops. “It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s inspiring, it’s humor, it’s people willing to poke fun at themselves.’’

And she’s got one up on the site, too: Eyes closed, kissing a fish statue at a fountain in City Square Park in Charlestown.

Garnick has several of his own campy submissions as well, taken during family road trips. In one of his most notorious, he’s unabashedly dressed as Anne of Green Gables beside her namesake statue on Prince Edward Island (a quirky practice done by many at the monument to the redheaded orphan character created by Lucy Maud Montgomery).

And the affinity for the tacky is a family trait: His 9-year-old son Ari has “held up’’ a giant spud statue at the Prince Edward Island Potato Museum, and the father and son have also done the cursory run up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps a la Rocky Balboa.

Ultimately, “we like to think of the site as a global photo album, where people’s goofiness will live on forever,’’ said Garnick.

And the concept is simple: As he explained, it’s about getting a friend or family member to react to, or interact with, a landmark - rather than just snapping a postcard-like shot of the site itself.

But it takes a little playing along - and not getting too self-conscious. The subjects “have to be in mindset of letting themselves go, having fun with the pose, regardless of how goofy it might look.’’

For Koziell - who’s gotten pictures of his family in front of a play-actor on a horse in Poland, and sticking their faces through Mona Lisa and Hawaiian fire dancer cut-outs - it’s about letting go of the “stand straight, look good, be in front of the monument’’ orders during family trips as a kid. “It allows my inner child to come out and do something fun,’’ he said.

And in the end, “you’ve got nothing to lose by trying,’’ said the 38-year-old senior project manager at Award Productions, a North Billerica-based media company. “You can hit delete if you’re not happy with it. Get your standard shot, stand in front of Big Ben or the Grand Canyon. But don’t be afraid to also get that goofy shot.’’

Want to check them out yourself? Visit tackytouristphotos.com.

Taryn Plumb can be reached at tarynplumb1@gmail.com.

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