Review: Sight-_Seeing 2


Book Reviews, Photobooks


One of the best things about photography is that 99.99% of all photographers refuse to understand what photo theorists (and that remaining 0.01%: professional photographers) tell them. Photography is supposed to be dead or over, in any case in a bad state, and nobody believes photographs any longer. We all mistrust images. The only problem is that the 99.99% have somehow not received the memo yet: They continue taking photographs as if there were no problem, as if photography worked just fine, did its purpose just fine! How is this possible?

Then again, maybe the 0.01% have it all wrong (disclaimer: I’m obviously a member of them; also, the actual fraction of photo professionals might be even smaller, but you get the idea). Maybe it’s the 99.99% who are the reality-based community, with the rest of us behaving like that George W. Bush aid who said “we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too”. Given that most people seem utterly unfazed by photography’s (supposed) failures, taking millions of photographs every single day, we might as well entertain that possibility.

Nowhere is this gap between professionals and the rest (usually not-so-lovingly referred to as “amateurs”) more apparent then when it comes to people being on vacation, being engaged in that curious activity of “sightseeing”. Sightseeing is one of the oddest things you can do, in that you usually do it purposefully, in a dedicated, usually planned-out manner, with intent - to amuse yourself (in other words, it’s like a relaxation exercise where you stand in front of a mirror, screaming at the top of your voice at yourself to relax). Photography always plays a crucial part, because sightseeing without photography makes little sense. To be engaged in sightseeing means to be engaged in photographing.

Sight-_Seeing 2 (no really, that’s the way it’s spelled) is the second photobook of its kinds investigating this process, showcasing the work of a group of photographers working in the same place (Tyrol). Just like in the previous book, the result is nothing but amazing. I find myself endlessly fascinated by the slightly different photographic approaches to the landscapes and scenes, and I can’t stop smiling about the fact that professional photographers make such lousy sightseeing photographs. By which I mean that the photographs are not lousy at all, quite on the contrary. But they don’t look like sightseeing photographs. Or maybe they look like what photographers think sightseeing photographs should (might?) look like. I don’t know.

But none of that really matters too much, because the end result is so engaging. The book is designed very smartly and elegantly (talk about contemporary photobook design!), and the photographs, in part through the way they’re organized, manage to do what pages and pages of theoretical writing so far have failed to achieve: Make us understand photography in ways that is not completely detached from the images in question. Wonderful.

The answer to why you would take a picture of something when sightseeing is (and can only be): To take a picture of it.

Sight-_Seeing 2; photographs by Hansi Herbig, Verena Kathrein, Jörg Koopmann, Regina Recht, Sebastian Schels, Alexander Ziegler; (German language only) texts by Gero Günther, Wolfgang Scheppe, Raoul Schrott; 192 pages, Hatje Cantz, 2012