Photo Opportunities, Corinne Vionnet, 2005-2013
Please do not use the essays hereunder without authorizations from their authors. Thank you.
by Madeline Yale
For most, to sightsee is to photograph. Embarking on treasure hunts to tourist destinations renowned for monuments of grandeur, we pursue the extraordinary. Framing sites of mass tourism in our viewfinders, we create photographic souvenirs that are integral to the touristic experience. These products, coined “photograph-trophies”i by Susan Sontag, separate our leisurely pleasures from the real everyday experiences of work and life, validating that we had fun on vacation and were in exotic locales where exists the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, or Niagara Falls.
Conducting online keyword searches for monuments, Swiss/French artist Corinne Vionnet culled thousands of tourists’ snapshots for her series Photo Opportunities. Working with around a hundred of photographs of a single monument, the artist weaves together small sections of the appropriated images to create each layered, ethereal structure. Famed landmarks appear to float gently in a dream-like haze of blue sky. Each construction espouses the "touristic gaze"i, its distorted visual referent functions as a device for memory transport by funneling many experiences into one familiar locale.
What is remarkable about Vionnet’s findings is the consistency in online iterations of the travelers’ 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, or we stand where we can frame all four American presidents in equal scale at Mount Rushmore. Perhaps we instinctively choose how to photograph known monuments as we are socially conditioned to take pictures we have seen before – images popularized through film, television, postcards, and the Internet.
Not so long ago, people would often organize their tourist snapshots into travelogues. Today, the travelogue is less likely to be a tangible album found in our homes than it is an online directory of digital images. When placed in the public realm, the travel souvenirs become anonymous products of tourism, searchable by the keywords ascribed to them by their makers. These meeting points, as Vionnet describes the sourced snapshots, may be inspiration for your next photo opportunity.
Madeline Yale is an independent curator and writer based in London and Dubai, where she is conducting research on the emerging photography community in the Middle East. Previously she served as the executive director and curator for the Houston Center for Photography and manager of the Evans Gallery/ Photographic Estate of Todd Webb.
i Sontag, S. 1977. On Photography. New York: Picador, p. 9.
ii Urry, J. 2002. The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies London: Sage.
British Journal of Photography
"Photo Opportunities", by Simon Bainbridges
“We travel, we see a monument, and we take a picture. But we are millions who travel, millions who see this monument, and millions who takes the same picture,” writes Lydie LeGléhuir in her text for Corinne Vionnet’s series, Photo Opportunities.
The Swiss photographer became fascinated with the phenomena while on a weekend trip to Pisa with her husband, stunned by how many tourists willingly took up the same vantage point too capture the Leaning Tower, “Back home, I looked on the internet at all these collections of snapshots of famous landmarks I could find following online keyswords searches”, she says. “I wondered if we were trying to reproduce the image that we already know. How much does the image - through films, advertisements, postcards, the internet - influence our gaze? Are we trying to reproduce the image of an image?”
Taking her lead from statistics revealing the most popular tourist destinations, and comparing them to travel agency brochures to find images that have come to symbolise these places, she began creating montages made up of other people’s snapshots.
“Each image contains about a hundred images taken from photo-hosting websites. They are brought together in transparency layers, and only a segment of the image that I find important is used as a meeting point for all pictures of the place,” she explains. “It takes me around a week to make the final composition.”
Of course, tourists have been taking photos like this since the Box Brownie went on sale, but the way we use and consume these images has changed radically. While once we would have made prints and created a physical album from our travel photos - without ever thinking about the millions of facsimile photos in other people’s albums - they’re now more likely to be posted on Facebook or Flickr.
“When placed in the public realm,” writes curator Madeline Yale, “the travel souvenirs become anonymous products of tourism, searchable by the keywords ascribed to them by their makers. These meeting points, as Vionnet describes the sourced snapshots, may be inspiration for your next photo opportunity.”
This is Vionnet’s first series using vernacular imagery, but it fits with her previous works, which tended to focus on social issues concerning the landscape, such as the interaction between man and nature in the magnificent scenery close to where she lives. She is one of a growing number of photographers whose work addresses the theme of digital culture, less interested in digital capture or manipulation than in how images are disseminated online, and how that might affect our behaviour. “I swing between worry and fascination,” she says.
Photographs, experiences and memories
by David Crouch
In Corinne Vionnet`s artistic reworking of photographs taken by others there is a fascinating, tantalising merging, mingling and commingling of feelings of iconic places. Each of these sites is a landmark, the sights worth seeing; in german, die Sehenswurdigkeiten. Rather than brash, upfront, stereotypical in-your-face images, these are something very different. They linger in and as memory; as we look at them we reflect, try to make something out. Images seen from a railway carriage or car; flicked over in a magazine, or flickered in front of us on a television screen. Yet these images are something different again. Each image makes distinctive, subtle but insistent interplay with us, with our memories, desires, hopes and feelings.
Each image is taken from an original available on photo share websites. What for me makes Corinne`s series `Photo Opportunities` so resonant, so vibrant, is in the uncertainty even in major, world-recognition sites. The images can be read as either fast, glanced at in a whirlwind of movement, of mobility, hastening from place to place. Or as a hesitancy. As blurred images taken by tourists, the photographs also semi-detach the images from any one experience: they merge, but lose no sight of their deeper feeling and meaning for those who took them. But her kind of art presents these personal memories into a wider, and deeper, memory: shared, collective, continually being available and reworked. They are not her photographs; they become her photographs.
For me photographs do not dominate experiences; they flow together; mingle and merge, fall apart; memories become remembered in fragments and so on. Memories and expectations, desires slip between moments of `being there`, feeling and becoming engaged; of memory, stories, and visual imagery we might have seen. In being a tourist, however, the space, the site, becomes `ours` for our selves; the experience becomes our own. We make it so as we engage it. Rather than dull consumers, we are active, whoever we are, in making places, spaces, in making tourism, with a little help from others, the media and business. The picture, the photograph, individuals, tourists may take may be a mirror of others`. But it is also theirs; their own; `mine`. Where I was, then, with...
Lurking between myth and memory are visual notes, or excitements and provocations, of places, sites and events that we have visited when we become tourists. Our myths and memories are personal, shared, as well as implanted through popular media and its projection to us of the, or a, character of those places. It is often forgotten that visiting somewhere, we are most likely already to have visited somewhere else. We have memory of visiting, even as a child; we have probably also glanced at something on television, in film, a brochure, that happens to connect in some way with a place we have visited- or is similar to it, either in its character or because it is a much-visited site that might have been stereotyped in stories, or, for example, visual culture, perhaps in photography.
The books called `501` and `1001 places/countries/cities/islands/natural wonders-to-visit` set up their own cultural play with us, with our thoughts, desires: where to go that might be considered, or proffered to be, great; that is rated great, and so on. There is a feeling of making great sites popular; a dimension of shared, contemporary culture and cultural reference: where we can identify our lives with; with others who in imagination on commercial promotion of in living have also been there or wants to go. We can be sceptical on the power of visual and other material to shape our lives and expectations.
These kinds of popular books and images rerun the popularisation of stories about adventure and journeys that span over more than two centuries: the Grand Tour of the eighteenth and nineteenth century being as a particular European version of tourism-in-culture: a particular currency amongst a class of people. In a middle-distance history sit the photographies of Kodak and Disney Corporation`s portfolio of place to go and to photograph; and the experience of being in a great place when actually it is a model down-in-size at Disney World. Are these what places are for us, just someone else`s sights made only visual, for us to see? And when we get there we take the photograph we have already seen somewhere before?
Therefore my suggestion on what is at work here is as follows. We can be affected by the image, usually but not always visual, that someone else has already taken and that we have seen. People are not so thoughtless, passive, servile, so easily led. Rather than photographs providing a template, they can provide a reference, a reference to a memory or something we wish was in our memory, like a longing, or provocation amongst others. They can enrich the mixture in which we place our own experience. They share mindspace with stories, with sounds, with friends who have shared with us of these same places and other similar ones they have, or want to visit- and why they want to do so. Particular sites become merged, blurred trophies; in our lives they do not stand out as in the pages of the `1001` books. They blur amongst much bigger experiences. Our photographs are personal and shared reminders, and come alongside the making of myths in a popular visual culture of our own, sharing experience of `being there`, in vivo. Shared popular visual culture includes friends` photographs and stories, postcards we have received and sent; narratives that background their pictures.
Ideas emerging around `being a tourist` energise the way we think about photographs. I disdain the word tourism as it tends to reduce the whole experience to being a zombie, corporate management, manipulation. Being a tourist involves all the senses in interplay; thought and memory merging with the momentary feelings of touch, our feet getting to know somewhere as much as our two eyes. Being a tourist merges with being ourselves, and is less about escape from everyday life than a mix of adventure, the feeling going-further that we may desire, and holding on to our identity so we do not lose ourselves. These positions are less poles apart but mixture that resonates with who we feel we are. Sites we visit become changed in our experience of being there, and its follow-on of memory when we get back `home`. But being there may be what it feels to be at home; to belong. Being a tourist is as much of belonging as escaping; it can be a chance to reflect on our lives for a moment; but we always carry that life in us. And there is also always the possibility in being a tourist, in making our journeys, that we find new life and feelings emerge; we can, even only for a while, become something, someone else.
David Crouch, 2009
Professor of Cultural Geography, University of Derby; edited books include Vsiual Culture and Tourism Berg 2003, The Media and the Tourist Imagination Routledge 2005. Member of Research Assessment Exercise UK 2008 highest graded 4* Team: `Culture, Communications and Media Studies` University of Derby. author of research papers n tourism, visual
culture, landscape, space, leisure; contributor to exhibition catalogues and popular works; author to People of the Hills, with professional photographer Richard Grassick, Amber Films- Side Gallery 1999; producer
BBC2 Film 1994. Exhibiting artist. particular contributions include: Flirting with space; in Seductions of Tourism, ed. Carolyn Cartier and Alan Lew; Routledge 2005
by Lydie Le Glehuir
We travel, we see a monument, and we take a picture. But, we are millions who travel, millions who see this monument, and millions who take the same picture.
Following a simple search on the web, Corinne Vionnet looked at this collection of snapshots, almost identical images produced by these “we” anonymous and unidentified, making her choice on statistical major tourist places. By collecting, then bringing together the successive layers of around hundred “photo souvenirs”, she brings forward the symbolic value or identity of a city or a country that these monuments have acquired with time, and underlying style of manipulation on the viewer. Why always take the same picture if not to interact with what already exists? The picture gives the proof of “I was there too, here, where everyone comes on a given day”. To be true, the picture shall be perfectly similar to the one belonging to the collective memory.
Corinne Vionnet’s work is therefore a compilation of snapshots in both senses. That is to say that the result is located in the antipodes of the conventional coolness of the photo souvenirs.
The picture swings between the drawing and the etching. The monumental silhouettes develop into sketches, and then become fragile and dimmer. Presences of watermarks haunt the décor, which disappears in the mist. Finally, the concentration of all those photographs on one subject cannot speak of the object itself but of the time. The passing time, like those curious shadows, which belong to the domain of vagueness, and the eternity congealed into matter transformed into symbol.
The power of conjunction, the one of the image with the one of the viewer shine in the uncertain outline of those monuments. The image’s strength comes from the subject but the viewer’s strength comes from that insignificant photograph, a thousand times repeated and united in a single one. Therefore, from the multitude of pictures, Corinne Vionnet created THE representation, unique for each and every one of those monuments, repre-sentation, which includes all the times, which haunts those places. The tourist’s lemmings therefore become the conscientious visitors of their littleness, passing guests with floating shades which seem simply say “I was here” a way to be present next to those giant stones as long as they last.
On voyage, on voit un monument, on prend une photo. Mais on est des milliers à voyager, des milliers à voir ce monument, des milliers à prendre la même photo.
A la suite d’une simple recherche sur le web, Corinne Vionnet s’est penchée sur ce cumul de clichés presque identiques produit par ce “on”, anonyme et indéfini, en portant son choix sur les lieux touristiques statistiquement majeurs. En collectant, puis rassemblant par couches successives environ une centaine de ces photos souvenirs, elle met en avant la valeur de symbole voire d’identité pour une ville ou un pays que ces monuments ont acquis avec le temps, tout en soulignant une forme de “manipulation” du regard. Car pourquoi faire toujours la même photo sinon pour correspondre involontairement à ce qui existe déjà ? La photo donne la preuve du “J’étais là aussi, là où tout le monde vient un jour”. Et pour être vraie l’image doit être parfaitement semblable à celle appartenant à la mémoire collective.
Le travail de Corinne Vionnet est donc une compilation de clichés, dans les deux sens du terme, dont le résultat est aux antipodes de la froideur conventionnelle des photos souvenirs.
L’image hésite entre le dessin et la gravure à l’eau forte. Les silhouettes monumentales prennent des allures d’esquisses, se fragilisent et s’estompent, et des présences en filigranes hantent le décor qui s’évanouit dans la brume. Finalement la concentration de toutes ces photos sur un seul sujet ne parle plus de l’objet même mais du temps : de celui qui passe, comme ces ombres curieuses qui appartiennent au domaine du vague, et de l’éternel, figé dans la matière transformée en symbole.
Une conjonction de force, celle de l’image et celle du regard, rayonne dans le contour incertain de ces monuments. La force de l’image vient du sujet mais la force du regard vient de ces photos anodines mille fois répétées réunies en une seule. Ainsi de la multitude photographique Corinne Vionnet a fait naître LA représentation, unique pour chacun de ces monuments, représentation qui inclut tous les temps qui hantent ces lieux. Les touristes moutonnant deviennent ainsi des visiteurs conscients de leur petitesse, hôtes de passage dont les ombres flottantes semblent dire tout simplement “J’étais là”, ce qui est une manière d’être présents aux pieds de ces géants de pierres aussi longtemps qu’ils dureront.