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” 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 the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, or Niagara Falls exist.
Conducting online keyword searches for monuments, Swiss/French artist Corinne Vionnet culled thousands of tourists’ snapshots for her series Photo Opportunities. Working with a hundred 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", 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.