Project 6: The artist as archivist

Exercise 2.2

“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. Conducting keyword searches of famed monuments in photo sharing web sites, Swiss /French artist Corinne Vionnet culled thousands of tourists’ snapshots for her series Photo Opportunities. Weaving together numerous photographic perspectives and experiences, the artist builds her own impressionistic interpretations – ethereal structures which float gently in a dream-like haze of blue sky.” — Vionnet (no date)

For this exercise I was asked to “write 500 words…on a piece of work by one contemporary artist-photographer who uses the archive as source material”.

The artist-photographer that I chose was Corinne Vionnet and her series Photo Opportunities.

Photo Opportunities is a portfolio of 50 images of some of the world’s most significant cultural landmarks (Newman, 2011).  Each image is a composite of upwards of 100 tourist snapshots, found online by the artist on publicly accessible archives.  Vionnet searched for and collected the snapshots, then layered them together in digital photo-processing software using a transparency effect (Jones, 2013).  Apparently, each of Vionnet’s images take about a week to produce (Newman, 2011).  The resulting impressionistic images are just beautiful though.  They have an ethereal, dream-like softness, that seems reminiscent of old oil paintings.

The reason that I chose Vionnet’s series for this exercise was firstly, because the images are so beautiful that they have stayed in my mind since I first saw them, and secondly, because they resonate with me as a viewer.  I have stood at many of Vionnet’s touristic viewpoints (e.g., the Colosseum in Rome, the Eifel Tower in Paris, Tainanmen Square in Beijing and Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow) and taken many of the same snapshots.  As such, Vionnet’s questions about collective memory, shared experiences, souvenirs and the influence of images (Jones, 2013) are all things that I find intriguing.

What is it that inspires us to take photographic souvenirs?  Or as Susan Sontag called them “photograph-trophies” (Yale, 2016).  How is it, that so many of us, when seeing a cultural landmark for the first time, come away with virtually the same pictures?  Is it simply an issue of logistics; is there one easy place to stand, where you can fit the whole spectacle into your viewfinder?  Or are we all influenced by the images that we have seen before (in travel brochures, as postcards or on the internet)?  Do we subconsciously attempt to recreate that which is familiar?

Vionnet’s photo series also addresses the move away from physical photo albums and towards digital/online repositories and photo-sharing sites.  With the advent of social media, our photographs are now more visible than ever before.  What was once hidden away in dusty family photo albums shown only to a select few family and friends, is suddenly available to the world at large.  Consequently, personal memories become a part of our collective experience, and our photo-souvenirs, influence someone else’s future.

References

Jones, G. (2013) Corinne Vionnet and the Democratic Snapshot [online]. Available at: http://www.inthein-between.com/corinne-vionnet-and-the-democratic-snapshot/. Accessed on 12/09/2016.

Newman, C. (2011) Looks familiar: Corinne Vionnet at Arles photography festival [online]. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/8607995/Looks-familiar-Corinne-Vionnet-at-Arles-photography-festival.html. Accessed on : 12/09/2016.

Vionnet, C. (no date) Photo Opportunities [online]. Available at: http://www.corinnevionnet.com/-photo-opportunities.html. Accessed on 12/09/2016.

Yale, M. (2016) Photo Opportunities [online]. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/corinne-vionnet-photo-opportunities#slide-1. Accessed on 12/09/2016.

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