The eiffel tower(s)
photographs and text by
When I was in middle school, my English teacher emphasized the fact that "the Eiffel Tower" must be capitalized and accompanied with a definite article, the, in English grammar. The reason for this is that there is only one Eiffel Tower in the world, in Paris, France.
However, as I traveled to many countries in Asia, I realized this grammatical law might not be true in the contemporary era. I found numerous eiffel towers: in Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand.
Of course, they are replicas of the real one in Paris. However, in my photographs, they just seemed like multiple representations of the same tower — although the representation of the real does not share the aura of the fake. This thought lingered in my mind, and thus I decided to undertake a project, "The eiffel tower(s)".
My project has two sides. First, I wanted to see what the public perceives when I juxtapose photographs of the real tower with those of the fake. In each diptych, I showed a clear difference between the original and the replica. Yet I represented them in an identical style and manner, in order to minimize the distinction between the two.
As the human cognitive process works in steps of icon, index, and symbol, the public would perceive both as slightly different representations of the real Eiffel Tower, a monument to glorious 19th century France. However, before they see my work, they have to remind themselves
that human cognition does not always provide the right answer in an instant.
Secondly, I wanted to discuss the issue of originality. When photography was born in 1839, many thinkers saw photographic images as much more direct and realistic than paintings. Thus, they assumed, photography did not allow either imagination or idealization. The genre
of photography, they believed, was just
an outcome of technical development, providing vivid representations of the
world without any artistic intention. The fact that it could be reproduced, especially, pushed this newly invented medium outside the boundaries of art.
In the contemporary era, as concepts such as the destruction of aura, the complex relationship of icon, index, and symbol, and imaginative reality and illusion emerged, photography slowly gained status. Closely observing the contemporary theories, I realized there is a common denominator amongst these various thoughts, which is the issue of originality.
Does photography itself have originality? What is the original of a photographed object? Does a replica of the real Eiffel Tower have any originality in and of itself? If so, do the photographs of the real Eiffel Tower have originality? Or, is it just a representation of the simple present? In contrast, can we claim the originality of photographs of the Eiffel Tower replicas? Or, are these simply fakes?
My project, "The eiffel tower(s)", would not answer all the questions that I posed above. However, I concluded that while any eiffel tower may claim originality for the sake of its existence, they are all simply objets du désir, resulting from the fanatic illusion of the past.
— Han Sungpil, March 2009
Editor's note: You can read the orignal version of this essay, in Korean,
here in Lens Culture.