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Shooting the Optimum Spot
February 21, 2011 7:10 PM   Subscribe

Corinne Vionnet sifted through online searches of the world's most recognizable tourist attractions in order to carefully layer 100's of photos of each on top of one anther until she created her desired result. Her site contains a few smaller ones which aren't available in the blog post, as well as some more information on the project.
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.
posted by gman (41 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Beautiful. The shadows of the people in the photos reinforce the relative permanence of these places in our psyche, even as we come and go...
posted by kaibutsu at 7:19 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


For me, at a first, very quick viewing, the windmill in Holland, and Mount Fuji "work" the best. They remind me of impressionist paintings, perhaps because of the subject, as they're the sorts of things you'd see in impressionist paintings. The Eiffel tower is probably a distant 3rd, in how well it works for me. The rest just sort of seem like what they are -- a bunch of different photos of the same thing blended together. But that's just how they struck me, and, why should you care what I think? You shouldn't. (Why am I even typing this?)
posted by smcameron at 7:22 PM on February 21, 2011


Corinne Vionnet sifted through online searches of the world's most recognizable tourist attractions in order to carefully layer 100's of photos of each on top of one anther until she created her desired result.
...
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 she was 1) sorting through so quickly that she only caught the more similar of images, or 2) she actively picked the more similar photos? I'd like to see the source photos, because that would better serve to answer the question "why do people take the same photos?"

Regardless of the "how", the resulting images are very keen.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:31 PM on February 21, 2011


The smoke in the WTC picture resonates.
posted by unliteral at 7:38 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


filthy light thief: "Maybe she was 1) sorting through so quickly that she only caught the more similar of images, or 2) she actively picked the more similar photos? I'd like to see the source photos, because that would better serve to answer the question "why do people take the same photos?""

Q: Can you tell me about the process of producing the series? How did you collect the images and how did you process them?

A: The idea took some time. I had the motivation and the material, but I didn’t yet know how to express what I wanted with this multitude of similar images. I am cautious about manipulating images. I also wanted this work to have a link to classic painting and etching, as they too have contributed to our knowledge of landscape and monuments.
For each place, I collected between 200 and 300 similar images, first through search engines and then on photo-sharing websites. The search was based on single keywords for the monument name and/or location. From there, I used about a hundred of photos with transparent effects to obtain this final result. For each image, only a part of the monument is chosen to link the hundred of images – usually a segment that I find important or where there is the greatest similarity amongst the photographs. Taking the example of the Forbidden City in Beijing, the portrait of Mao is used as a meeting point for all the photographs. As for the rest of the image: come what may!
posted by gman at 7:42 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


The cloud effects are really beautiful.
posted by NoraReed at 7:50 PM on February 21, 2011


Wow, this is really beautiful!
posted by lhc67 at 7:56 PM on February 21, 2011


And? That nonpro photographers can pick the best angle is a somehow a revelation? Her results are underwhelming.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:01 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's as if tourists don't visit a place so much as they visit the spot from which the iconic image of the place was taken. What makes it even more weird is that vacation photos are often shared with friends and family - why take a picture of something that everyone has seen a hundred times already?

The first essay says it validates that we had fun on vacation, but how? The photo reproduces not just the iconic image, but also the gaze of the photographer, as if it announces "I witnessed this scene first-hand from the ultimate vantage point!" The iconic scene is a space of fantasy that transcends the ordinary world, and as tourists, we stage our presence in that scene for the gaze of the audience back home. We know we had fun on vacation when the staging is successful, it captures their imagination and they really believe we were there. It's often quite disappointing to see the Eiffel Tower in person, like going to the Hollywood backlot where your favorite TV show is filmed - once you see how the illusion is constructed, it's not as convincing. And this means the actual Eiffel Tower is a fake of itself, it's only real when it's properly staged, lit and shot.
posted by AlsoMike at 8:13 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I find these both beautiful and interesting. I think to try to read too much 'meaning' into them or the constituent parts misses the point. Step back and enjoy the impressionistic images of travel iconography.
posted by meinvt at 8:18 PM on February 21, 2011


"Step back and enjoy the impressionistic images of travel iconography."
I'd rather see the originals, with the families, than some miracle of Photoshop. i wonder how the photographers feel, having vacation photos reduced to being someone else's foddr?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:25 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


And? That nonpro photographers can pick the best angle is a somehow a revelation? Her results are underwhelming.

IMO, the angles are not usually the best, just the easiest. Sometimes they are the best. But look at the Google Image search for Niagra Falls. The cityscape which towers behind the falls in her multilayered image makes for an image of the Falls which may be the easiest to capture - I haven't been there since I was a kid, so I don't know - but certainly is not an image which captures the natural beauty of the Falls. Perhaps it is an honest snapshot of the Falls, depending on your aesthetic, but it is not one which highlights the natural beauty of the place. I don't even remember a city being there fifty years ago! The drama of all that falling water will be burned into my memory forever, though.

Incidentally, this is the strangest image of Niagra Falls from GoogleImaging...a century ago...
posted by kozad at 8:41 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is wonderful.
posted by -t at 8:51 PM on February 21, 2011


gman - thanks for the additional info - I looked through the linked sites to find some "how," but missed it.

I think the essays try to bring too much meaning to the result. For me, a more interesting study would be in trying to re-locate the original photographers, something like this broad-view map, but just for the selected set of 100 photos in each of these compositions. Look at the setting, realizing how much (or little) option there is in getting the "right shot" of monuments. But that's me.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:10 PM on February 21, 2011


To me, presenting not just images of landmarks but massively multiple simultaneous superimposed viewings of extremely similar images of those landmarks is both very very clever and, with the way it has been done, far more effective than one might guess it would be. The reactions are also interesting.
posted by motty at 9:22 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Truly gorgeous, but the homer in me wishes she'd done one in Chicago.
posted by me3dia at 9:54 PM on February 21, 2011


This would be interesting to do with photos taken at those Disneyland "take a photo here" photo spots—little kids their mouse-earred hats and tube socks blending into each other...
posted by blueberry at 9:58 PM on February 21, 2011


I wonder how much work this would take to automate. Search via GPS coordinates on Flickr, cluster the photos using something like imgSeek, then do a resize and overlay.
posted by benzenedream at 10:11 PM on February 21, 2011


blueberry: "This would be interesting to do with photos taken at those Disneyland "take a photo here" photo spots..."

Heh, funny, we were just at Disneyland yesterday, and when we passed one of those markers my buddy (who has worked at the park part time for over 20 years) mentioned how he's seen so many people take a picture OF THE SIGN that says "Kodak Picture Spot".
posted by yiftach at 10:15 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


To my eye and mind, the Kabaa made the most sense in this medium. The Kabaa represents solidity across time. The sea of people who come is always both different, and the same. It is as much about that sea of people as it is about the the structure in the center, or even, more about the people (I always remember Malcolm X's words about his Hadj).
posted by Goofyy at 10:50 PM on February 21, 2011


I don't think that this project is really a commentary on "oh look, even schmucks can take this picture!"

This whole project really struck a chord for me because I've taken so many of those photos myself. The permanence of the landmarks and the ephemeral people and things around them are, in my opinion, very beautiful.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:00 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd rather see the originals, with the families, than some miracle of Photoshop. i wonder how the photographers feel, having vacation photos reduced to being someone else's foddr?

How did this harm the originals?
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:01 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Smudgy Taj Mahal! Smudgy Stonehenge! Smudgy windmill!
posted by threeants at 11:52 PM on February 21, 2011


Reminds me of Jason Salavon's work.

Examples:
Every Playboy Centerfold, The Decades
The Late Night Triad
The Top Grossing Film of All Time, 1 x 1
posted by bpm140 at 11:55 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I knew this reminded me of something! Don Delillo's "No one sees the barn" passage in White Noise, which David Foster Wallace quoted in one of his essays.

Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides – pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.
“No one sees the barn,” he said finally.
A long silence followed.
“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”
He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.
“We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.”
There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.
“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. This literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism.”
Another silence ensued.
“They are taking pictures of taking pictures,” he said.
He did not speak for a while. We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film.
“What was the barn like before it was photographed?” he said. “What did it look like, how was it different from the other barns, how was it similar to other barns? We can’t answer these questions because we’ve read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We can’t get outside the aura. We’re part of the aura. We’re here, we’re now”
He seemed immensely pleased by this.

posted by mono blanco at 12:00 AM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was most taken with the Mecca image. The sheer number of people who have traveled there... and you could see their ghosts. It was really touching. Great post.
posted by Night_owl at 12:06 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


wonderful
posted by arnicae at 12:23 AM on February 22, 2011


Here's a few more that weren't on any of the other pages.
posted by arnicae at 12:45 AM on February 22, 2011


There are easier ways to get a blurry shot of famous sites. Being a lousy photographer with a bad case of Parkinson's would be one.

Nah, I'm at least 3/4 joking. Some of these are quite pretty.
posted by Decani at 2:38 AM on February 22, 2011


It's a visual phenomenology: a place constantly recalled similarly by different eyes and generations. Fantastic project! I just love it.
posted by montaigneisright at 3:41 AM on February 22, 2011


I was secretly hoping for the Greenwich meridian - as the last time I was there I saw fights break out as people jumped the queue to get a quick snap along the line.
posted by Molesome at 3:46 AM on February 22, 2011


To my eye and mind, the Kabaa made the most sense in this medium.

I agree. To me it represented the focus of so many eyes, which I imagine is what it's like over the centuries people have been doing the hajj.
posted by bluefly at 3:54 AM on February 22, 2011


I didn't really like these, but you have to admire the effort in creating them.
posted by tommasz at 4:52 AM on February 22, 2011


This is what the world looks like to those monuments.
posted by DU at 5:14 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Truly gorgeous, but the homer in me wishes she'd done one in Chicago." - me3dia

Well... here are some compilations of photos done in a slightly different manner which put Chicago in Synthetic Focus

I've done a lot of experiments, enjoy.
posted by MikeWarot at 5:38 AM on February 22, 2011


beautiful stuff. thanks for posting...
posted by peterkins at 5:42 AM on February 22, 2011


why take a picture of something that everyone has seen a hundred times already?

The most photographed building in Eastern Canada is a prime example of this. To be sure, it is a striking fixture in a pretty coastal town but in my experience (having worked in tourism in Nova Scotia) it is not distinguished in any way other than that people recognize it from photographs, so they take a photo, which they show other people, who will then recognize it from photos and take a photo, and so the whole durned human comedy keep perpetuatin' itself down the ages. It is the tourism equivalent of perpetual motion.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:50 AM on February 22, 2011


I think something similar was posted here before, as I recall an image of the Eiffel Tower that was fuzzy in a similar way. I like these, with their spirit images of tourists, and their soft edges. When I travel, I take pictures of things that aren't easily found elsewhere, and/or that mark a spot in time. I always know I can find a picture of the major tourist attraction, generally a much better picture than mine. A friend that I often travel with always take the tourist shots, because they're more meaningful to her than the ones taken by someone else. Digital photos are cheap, therefore plentiful. With the sheer volume of photographs of any popular site, it takes imagination to find a new way to see something.
posted by theora55 at 6:51 AM on February 22, 2011


Microsoft's Photosynth does a similar thing. And it's automatic?
posted by anthill at 9:22 AM on February 22, 2011


MikeWarot: Well... here are some compilations of photos done in a slightly different manner which put Chicago in Synthetic Focus

That's exactly what I thought of when I saw the pictures, especially the Forbidden City one where the picture of Mao is so clearly focused on.
posted by JiBB at 11:15 AM on February 22, 2011


I loved this series so much, although some are astonishing and some are merely nice. I asked the gallery that represents her and prints are available for $1500. The prints are small, unfortunately, (30x40 cm, so about 11x15 inches) and each location has a limited edition of eight prints.
posted by kate blank at 8:45 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


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