Many (most?) touristic activities are cultural compulsions. You do certain thing because that’s what one does when going to wherever it might be you went, not necessarily because you want to. Or maybe you think you want to. After all, wouldn’t it be great to go to New York City and see Times Square? Actually, can you even go to New York and not go to Times Square? What will your friends and neighbours say if you tell them you didn’t go? Everybody goes to Times Square! Of course, part of the ritual is to take a photograph. After all, you need proof that you were there. Or maybe proof isn’t the right word. In any case, the activity of going to Time Square inevitably involves taking a photo - and the same is true for all other such locations, whether it’s the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin or whatever else. (more)
If I was to get my inner theorist out, I’d argue that taking a photograph at any of those spots isn’t photography. Strictly speaking, it is - there is, after all, a camera involved, and you probably take lots of photos. Most of these photos will never get looked at again once they’re on your computer or Facebook account. What really is happening, and that is my point, is that the taking of photographs is the validation of your trip to any of those places - much like a conductor on a train has to validate your ticket by punching a hole through it: these photographs are like the holes in your ticket. In other words, going to any tourist attraction is mostly an empty gesture, which would be incomplete without the photograph that you take there.
From a photography point of view there is absolutely no actual point in taking a photograph in any of the tourist spots. Even if you feel you have to see Times Square, why take a photo? There are thousands and thousands of photographs of Times Square online. To be precise, Google informs me that there are “about 7,320,000 results” results when you search for “Times Square” images. Of course, you could have a photo taken that shows you in Times Square - but what purpose does that serve? You know you were there, so do you really need proof?
As a consequence of tourists taking such photos just like in the Times Square case, there are literally millions of identical photographs of tourist destinations to be found online. So Corinne Vionnet decided to digitally superimpose images found online and create collective photographs of well-known tourist destinations. The resulting images have now been published as Photo Opportunities. The source photographs have been layered in a smart way, to have that which is being photographed stand out, and the rest is noise.
Picking up an earlier thread, I think that the only relevant images of any of these tourist destinations are Vionnet’s. Unlike the millions of individual ones, pretty much none of which are being looked at and which, as I outlined above, were taken for ritualistic reasons, the combined images form some sort of touristic mass consciousness. Or maybe it would be apt to compare these images to the images of vast clouds of birds - each bird is completely irrelevant, but the pattern resulting from the flight of so many of them generates a beautiful superstructure (watch this).
Photo Opportunities, images by Corinne Vionnet, essay by Madeline Yale, 80 pages, Kehrer, 2011