By Victoria Craw

It's a request the residents of West London never thought they would have to make.

Taped to a wall outside Grenfell Tower is a polite sign asking visitors to "please be aware what you see is the site of our great loss."

"Please act with respect if you need to take a photograph ... please hold our loss in your mind. (Please no selfies!)"

Advertisement
A note posted on a wall near Grenfell Tower one month on from the tragedy pleads with visitors not to take selfies near the scene. Photo / Getty Images
A note posted on a wall near Grenfell Tower one month on from the tragedy pleads with visitors not to take selfies near the scene. Photo / Getty Images

The typed note comes in response to a rise in visitors at the scene, which authorities are still combing for the remains of victims, after some put in on their London "to do" list alongside other attractions in the city.

"The Grenfell tower is already becoming a new tourist draw," Lies Verlinden wrote on a Facebook page for Dark Tourism condemning attempts to compare the tragedy with a 9/11 conspiracy theory.

Twelve days after the devastating fire and while the tower block remains a crime scene, a notice posted by the local community urges visitors to stop taking photos. Photo / Getty Images
Twelve days after the devastating fire and while the tower block remains a crime scene, a notice posted by the local community urges visitors to stop taking photos. Photo / Getty Images

"Friends of mine are visiting London and it was on their to do list. Dark tourism is clearly very powerful!" she said.

It follows other signs posted by locals pleading visitors to "let us grieve in peace" and reminding them the area was a "tragedy not a tourist attraction".

While it's no comfort to those who lost family and friends in the blaze, the trend has become as ubiquitous as social media hashtags in the aftermath of disaster, prompting new questions about the morality of post-tragedy selfies.

The rise of so-called "grief tourists" has been clocked around the world, from London's terror attacks to Hong Kong, New York and Hamburg and as locals swept up their smashed shop fronts in the aftermath of violent protests at the G20.

Tourist poses for a picture outside Grenfell Tower in London which some people have reportedly put on their 'to do' list in London. Photo / Getty Images
Tourist poses for a picture outside Grenfell Tower in London which some people have reportedly put on their 'to do' list in London. Photo / Getty Images

In April following a massive earthquake in the Italian town of Amarice that killed 300, mayor Sergio Pirozzi pleaded "don't come to Amatrice to take selfies by the rubble."

"This morning I surprised and chased away some people who were photographing themselves by the ruins," he said.

THE DYSTOPIAN DRAWCARD

Dark Tourism expert Dr. Peter Hohenhaus runs one of the biggest guides to more than 800 sites of death and destruction around the world. He said "practically everyone" is a dark tourist to varying degrees in the catch-all term that includes sites as diverse as the 9/11 memorial, the Berlin Wall, Auschwitz and Chernobyl.

But while sites like Grenfell might have a "spooky" appeal, he said the recent trend towards disaster selfies are "bad taste" that should be rightly condemned.

Sites such as Chernobyl in Ukraine are popular as a potential dystopian view of the world if climate change or politics took a dark turn, one dark tourism expert said. Photo / AP
Sites such as Chernobyl in Ukraine are popular as a potential dystopian view of the world if climate change or politics took a dark turn, one dark tourism expert said. Photo / AP

"There is this golden rule in DT of 'not going back too soon' - but the question is: when is too soon and from when is it OK to visit? It's a delicate matter," he told news.com.au. "I find selfie-taking pretty obnoxious in itself, anywhere, but at sites of tragedy (be it recent or historically tragic) it is most definitely not just bad taste, it's absolutely abhorrent."

"However, I also understand that a sight as dramatic as the burnt-out Grenfell Tower does have a grim attraction and some people may want to see it with their own eyes - if I lived in London I might have wanted to go and see it too (I'm actually quite undecided on that).

"However, one should make an effort to try and do so discreetly and more importantly: respectfully. Selfie-taking at such a site is disrespectful to the max and hence totally despicable. Just no! But again: don't blame dark tourism, blame the current selfie culture - it's everywhere, unfortunately."

'I'M NOT A DEMON'

The murky morality of those seen snapping pictures at famous sites prompted Cardiff-based film graduate Chris Lloyd to investigate the subject after he notice how people were demonised online.

"I thought what's the difference between me and them?" the 33-year-old said. "People having pictures at Auschwitz - I've been there myself and I'm that person but I'm not a demon. These people have been demonised on the internet."

"It's just like proof I've been there. Everyone really wants to be part of something. Everyone wants to be attached to something."

Passer-by pauses to take a selfie with children of the charred and blackened tower block which remains a crime scene. Photo / Getty Images
Passer-by pauses to take a selfie with children of the charred and blackened tower block which remains a crime scene. Photo / Getty Images

For Dr Philip Stone - the executive director of the UK's Institute for Dark Tourism Research - to say those taking selfies at tragic sites are "defunct of morality" is not telling the full story.

"A lot of the moral commentary revolves around whether Selfies are selfish and the ethics of taking pictures in the immediate aftermath of tragedy," he said.

"What remains to be seen, of course, is whether dark tourism selfies communicate emotion and awareness of the surroundings. Or whether they simply facilitate online conversations where the tourist detach themselves from reality and test out and perform different versions of themselves."