Corrine Vionnet is cited on page 20 of the course notes as an example of an artist who uses digital layering techniques in their practice. The Info/Bio section of her website describes her as “a pioneer in the exploration and re-purposing of web-based imagery. Her work includes extensive archival research, photographic image making, the appropriation of crowd-sourced material, and collage.”
The Danziger Gallery website hails Vionnet and her series ‘Photo Opportunities’ as innovating the approach of appropriating images off the internet – something that is now a common strategy for artists. Vionnet carried out an online search for vernacular images of tourist landmarks around the world before layering these together as a composite. She discovered most of the images conformed to conventions of viewpoint that suggested there was an optimum spot to view the landmarks being recorded. The conclusion that Vionnet reached was that the images were influenced by a ‘tourist gaze’ – a desire to ‘collect’ evidence that the visitor has experienced famous landmarks on their journey and influenced by the constructed reality of leisure and mass tourism. (Something that Susan Sontag described as “photograph-trophies” in ‘On Photography’.) There is also a comment about how the ability to share our images online are aligned with mass tourism. In an interview, Vionnet says this:
“Photo Opportunities’ tries to speak about our collective memory and the influence of image through film, advertisements, postcards, the internet, etc. It attempts to raise questions about our motivations to make a photograph and our tourist experience. It tries to speak about our image consumption and how ubiquitous images actually are.” (Jones, 2013)
Aesthetically, the images are quite beautiful and have been described as impressionistic – a label Vionnet dismisses as not being her concern. However, the beauty of the images acts as a way to unlock the conceptual nature of Vionnet’s approach and for the audience to question the nature of mass imagery.
I have previously written about the concept of the ‘tourist gaze’ here.
“ME. Here Now’ shows the opposite side of ‘Photo Opportunities’. By holding their smartphone in front of their face as they photograph, the people in this series are literally obscuring their real life experience. The images are black and white and enlarged to such a size that individual pixels can be made out which is a reminder of the digital process itself and a comment on the omnipotence of surveillance cameras as the aesthetic is reminiscent of grainy nature of this type of imagery.
For this work Vionnet presents a slideshow of 94 images found on the internet which refer to ‘Impression Sunrise’ by Claude Monet. The immediate surprise about this piece is how different these images are – the compositions are identical but the detail and colour are wildly different. The series questions whether putting an artwork online creates a new work, and, whether any of these representations come close to how the painting looks in real life. One of the successes of the internet is its democratising effect – artworks, like those of Monet, are immediately accessible through a quick search. By focussing on how different this one particular image can appear, Vionnet seems to call the validity of this and question Benjamins notion that the aura of work of art is destroyed through mechanical reproduction – it could be argued that the aura of an artwork is actually increased by being reproduced.
This series carries on themes present in ‘Photo Opportunities’ but is much more challenging aesthetically. The images feature tourist beach scenes that have been recreated on plain, blue material through perforations. As in the earlier series the scenes here are recognisable tourist scenes, however, rather than being of famous landmarks they gain recognition because of their generic nature. The series embodies “an idea of memory revealed by subtraction, but not nostalgia” according to Michèle Galéa in her essay on Vionnet’s website – a description that I find appealing. She goes on to describe the works as “palimpsests” and “landscapes seen as cliches of visual and cultural objects.” The website also points out that the nature of the work is that it is difficult to reproduce online, the installation view does give a better example of how it may look. As a viewer, I am struck by the fact that these images are both instantly recognisable and abstract.
Gabriel Umstätter describes ‘Total Flag’ like this on Vionnet’s website:
“Total Flag charts the metamorphoses a picture of the American flag goes through when reproduced over and over again. First it was displayed on a screen, which was photographed with a digital camera and then shown on the same screen again, then photographed again, and so on until it lost absolutely all its features.”
The concept for this series is at once brilliantly simple and open to multiple readings and depth. The degradation of the image of the flag that occurs through the continued rephotographing, and eventually abstracts the image completely, is a comment on the nature of the reproduction of images and the relationship between photography and reality. The choice of an American Flag is also provocative – this is a symbol that is simultaneously revered and reviled, destruction of the flag is seen by many Americans as the ultimate act of treason, and those in opposition to American Imperialism destroy the flag as an act of protest. Here, Vionnet deconstructs the iconography of the flag in a abstract way that leaves the original untouched and only exists as a digital image – a process that ultimately questions the validity of photography as a representation of the real.
Jones, G.E. (2013) Photo Opportunities: An interview with artist Corrinne Vionnet. PetaPixel. Available at: https://petapixel.com/2013/10/23/photo-opportunities-interview-artist-corinne-vionnet/ [accessed 15th February 2019]
Yale, M. (N.D.) Photo Opportunities. Lens Culture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/corinne-vionnet-photo-opportunities [accessed 25th February 2019]