Say Cheese…And Goodbye to Holiday Snaps as We Know Them
I recently ordered some prints. I was happy when they arrived in the post, but was also left feeling rather underwhelmed – there were no surprises, I had seen them all multiple times on a computer screen and knew exactly what to expect. Gone are the days, I thought wistfully, of excitedly tearing open a pack of newly developed photos, the roller-coaster of emotion with its highs (reliving that happy holiday or family moment) and lows (discovering your thumb encroaching on the lens in most shots).
A new exhibition at the Centre National de l’Audiovisuel, in Luxembourg, engages with this shift in the way we perceive and consume photographic imagery. “I Was Here”, explores the themes of travel, tourism and nostalgia in photography and is timed to coincide with a conference, “Tourists and Nomads. Amateur Images of Migration”, which will take place at the center from April 22-24.
The exhibition includes archive photographs, from private sources and official tourism bureaus. It also includes the work of three contemporary artists: Joachim Schmid, Erik Kessels and Robert Sclotter who use found images and archive material to explore visual codes in photography.
Photography and travel have long been associated. Since the early days of nineteenth century expeditions to Egypt, photography has been used as a way of documenting new discoveries. Place plays an important role and many photographers rely on the stories, landscapes and otherness of foreign climes as inspiration, from the mighty Henri Cartier-Bresson, co-founder of Magnum Photos, to the ubiquitous Sebastião Salgado and Yann Arthus-Bertrand.
But “I Was Here” is less interested in “travel” and more concerned with “tourism” which has quite different connotations. There is something nostalgic about tourism, something reminiscent of school outings, sandy sandwiches and grandparents eating ice cream.
This is not lost on contemporary British photographer Martin Parr (also an avid ephemera collector and editor of “Boring Postcards” and “Boring postcards USA”). Known for his love of the British seaside and its quaint customs, Parr delights in the common or garden tourist. His series “Small World” humorously captures tourists in well-trodden destinations: with the Egyptian Sphinx, in front of the Parthenon and in the Wild West, for example. My favorite shows people pretending to hold up the leaning tower of Pisa, posing for their friends’ holiday snaps. There is something at once ridiculous and touching about Parr’s subjects.
Nostalgia seems really to be the driving force behind “I Was Here”. In his series “in almost every picture”, Erik Kessels presents the same, unidentified woman posing in various holiday locations. There is an element of voyeurism as we don’t know the stories behind the pictures, so they cannot be completely sentimental. But we still recognize the visual signifiers: crackly-edged borders and color-faded images of vacations are instinctively evocative. Kessels also capitalizes on the unexpected and unplanned with “strangers in my photo album”, in which manipulated images highlight those mysterious figures that appear in photo albums; and “wonder” which celebrates the strange effects caused by accidents in the photo-making process.
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