Review: Sight-_Seeing


Book Reviews, Photobooks


We don’t take photography by tourists seriously, because they’re not serious about photography. We don’t take photography by tourist information centers seriously, because they’re too serious about the photography looking a certain way. In other words, tourism and photography just don’t gel. Or so the story goes. But maybe that’s wrong. How would we find out? Well, we could simply look at a lot of tourist photographs and brochures produced for tourists. Or we could grab a bunch of serious (aka non-tourist) photographers and tell them to go to the same place to take photographs. The former is simple (and not all that original any longer), the latter is more fun. In a nutshell, that is the idea behind Sight-_Seeing, for which there also is a microsite. (more)

Unfortunately, Sight-_Seeing is a German language affair. But what we could do is what we do most of the time anyway: Skip all the text and look at the pictures. Would we be missing much? I’d love to say “yes,” but the actual answer is more along the lines of “not really.”

Michael Danner, Dominik Gigler, Monika Höfler, Verena Kathrein, Jörg Koopmann, Andrew Phelps, and Matthias Ziegler went to Tyrol to take photographs. Tyrol, that’s incredibly picturesque landscapes featuring mountains and lakes, bored adolescents, incredibly healthy looking individuals wearing folkloristic dress, and mass tourism. The seven photographer ended up taking images across the full spectrum, ranging from what look like high-production value snapshots - kind of what a tourist who has a high-end camera and knows how to use it would produce - to picturesque landscapes to portraits to what for a lack of a better description we could call “fine art photographs.”

What is truly amazing is how well everything fits together. Just like photography in general would - if we hadn’t subdivided into all the various categories we love dealing with (usually dismissing, btw, the by far largest bits, snapshots and tourist photographs). There is some overlap, where two, three or even four of the photographers work in the same place, which makes things even more interesting. In other words, Sight-_Seeing might be a document dealing with tourism and its depiction, but it also investigates photography itself - showing that the differences between photographers might be more important than whatever style or type of photograph they might be producing. In the book, this point is brought home by the way the photographs are organized, using such categories as “faces” or “street scenes.” Occasionally, the design might be a tad too clever (images extend across pages in the signatures, which are then cut into pieces by other pages), but that’s just a minor issue.

So if you get a chance have a peek at Sight-_Seeing. The photography, the depiction of one very touristy place, seen through the eyes of seven photographers, makes the book a pretty cool object for a shelf dedicated to photobooks.

Sight-_Seeing, photography by Michael Danner, Dominik Gigler, Monika Höfler, Verena Kathrein, Jörg Koopmann, Andrew Phelps, and Matthias Ziegler, (German language only) essays by Gero Günther, Walter Klier, and Wolfgang Scheppe, 192 pages, Hatje-Cantz, 2011