Sight Sacralization: (Re)framing Switzerland by Simon Roberts

In the words of the artist Simon Roberts:

When the wealthy English set off on their European Grand Tours in the 1800s, they expected that Switzerland would inspire them with vistas of sublime grandeur. The landscape’s untamed romanticism was a crucial component of Switzerland’s national identity and cultural prestige.

Today, the Swiss landscape often resembles a theater set, where tourists are transported to officially designated areas of natural beauty to gaze upon epic views from the safety of stage-managed viewpoints, a process referred to as “sight sacralization” (MacCannell, 1989, p. 43–45). A place is named, then framed and elevated, before being enshrined, mechanically reproduced and finally socially reproduced across a variety of media. Tourists are both performers and spectators, part of the circle of representation in which “all we see is seen through the kaleidoscope of all that we have seen before” (Grundberg, 1999, p. 16).

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These large-format tableaux photographs are taken of viewing platforms at some of the most photographed places in Switzerland. The locations were sourced using the online mapping software Sightsmap, which creates popularity heatmaps based on crowdsourcing geo-tagged photographs uploaded to the Internet. There is also an added element of augmented data within several of my photographs: embedded information ranging from videos of tourists taking selfies to a stream of images taken from the same locations within the last twenty-four hours.

Together, these photographs explore how we use, manipulate, remember, and experience tourist sites. The series considers tourists’ creation and interpretation of their own photographs, both at the time of taking them and afterwards. The work raises questions relating to aesthetics, performance, and individual and collective identities within our “culture of instantaneity” (Tomlinson, 2007, p. 74).

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This series was commissioned by Fotostiftung Schweiz and Musée de l’Elysée.

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