A vacation without a Kodak is a vacation wasted.
We travel, we see a monument, we take a picture. Framing sites of mass tourism in our viewfinders, we create photographic souvenirs that are integral to the touristic experience. (Vionnet, 2014)
I bounced around for a while between the possible photographers to explore for this exercise. In the end I decided to look further at the work of Corinne Vionnet, partly because it was least familiar to me and partly because it was unlike any work I have attempted to date.
Vionnet, a French/Swiss photographer, based in Vevey Switzerland, in some ways happened upon the work that later formed ‘Photo Opportunities.’ In 2005 on a trip to Pisa she noticed that she and her boyfriend were taking pictures of the famous tower from similar viewpoints. Looking around her she noticed the activity of other tourists wondered how many of their photographs would also resemble each other.
She initially collected online images of the tower, and then expanded her search to other well-known sites of tourism. The body of work now comprises 50 of the most iconic landmarks.
I looked at all these images and wondered if we were all trying to reproduce an image we already knew. I thought, how much does a certain image – through films, advertisements, postcards and the Internet – influence our gaze? Are we trying to produce an image of an image? (Newman, 2011)
To this list of influences I would also add painting, and reviews certainly refer to her work as Impressionistic. The multiple overlays (in some cases over 100 images of a particular site) reminded me of the works of Monet and Pissarro in London. Their ethereal quality giving them a softness that seems to share more in common with painting than what might be expected of a tourist photograph.
The role of photography in tourism is well researched and documented from Sontag’s notion of the ‘trophy’ photograph (Sontag, 1979: 177) to Said’s ‘imaginative geographies.’ (Said, 1979: 49) The Kodak advert shows how as a corporation it was part of constructing a culture in the west that made the photograph synonymous with a vacation. Vionnet has clearly picked up on the inherent desire to capture our visits, and now in the age of social media to share them widely.
What is remarkable about Vionnet’s findings is the consistency in online iterations of the travellers’ gaze. It makes one wonder, how do we determine the optimum spot to photograph landmarks? Maybe we stand at the gateway to the Taj Mahal to render its architectural façade in perfect symmetry…
Perhaps we instinctively choose how to photograph known monuments as we are socially conditioned to take pictures we have seen before. (Vionnet, 2016)
I am particularly struck by Vionnet talking of the series as being a collaborative creation, the combination of multiple, yet similar perspectives. I am also reminded of Edensor’s ethnographic research at the Taj Mahal in which he proposes ‘tourism involves both the collection of archetypal quotidian cultural signs of otherness (Culler, 1981), and the journey to gaze upon extraordinary places.’ As well as capturing the archetypal image it would also appear that tourists also have a desire to do so in contemplative solitude and that the presence of other tourists doing likewise is a source of irritation.
Echoing the colonial convention that scenes were best depicted without ‘natives’ cluttering up the picture, many package tourists expressed surprise and disappointment, bemoaning the hordes that spoil the serenity of scene and clutter the romantic vista. (Edensor, 2008: 179)
What is interesting about Vionnet’s images is that much of the extraneous noise of other tourists is blended away to ghostly remnants, leaving the site itself to remain prominent and recognisable.
References and citations:
Edensor, T. (2008). Tourists at the Taj: Performance and meaning at a symbolic site: Routledge.
Newman, C. (2011). Looks familiar: Corinne Vionnet at Arles photography festival Retrieved 2nd October 2017, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/8607995/Looks-familiar-Corinne-Vionnet-at-Arles-photography-festival.html
Said, E. (1979). Orientalism. 1978. New York: Vintage, 199.
Sontag, S. (1979). On Photography. London: Penguin.
Vionnet, C. (2014). Photo Opportunities Statement. Retrieved 2nd October 2017, from http://www.corinnevionnet.com/-photo-opportunities-text.html
Vionnet, C. (2016). Photo Opportunities. Retrieved 2nd October 2017, from https://www.lensculture.com/articles/corinne-vionnet-photo-opportunities