Pursuit of the Picturesque…

Certain acquaintances have made painting pilgrimages to Tuscany. These have involved month-long sojourns in small villages and hill-towns where daily activities of “plein-air” painting are interspersed with leisurely long lunches and prolonged wine-soaked dinners.  They return home to suburbia, laden down with numerous picturesque paintings and also with a plethora of photographic references which can be used to churn out yet more pictures.

A friend had travelled to Russia – St. Petersburg, Moscow, Novosibirsk, and came back with many pictures of the Soviet Wedding-Cake architecture of Moscow, and of the ornate Imperial architecture of St. Petersburg.  She expressed huge frustration about how the locals discouraged her from making photographs which might broadcast negative impressions of their homeland. They were insistent on what was worthy of being photographed, and frequently interrupted her efforts to take images of subjects of a non-picturesque nature.

My daughter-in-law’s mother and friend visited here last summer.  They had come from the Scotland, bearing their cameras.  They wanted photographs of the main gate in China-town, of the groomed exotic nature of the Sun Yat Sen Garden, of the view seen from the gondola as they rode up the mountain in Whistler – a panorama of peaks diminishing into hazy distance. While walking near the river, they may have noted small tugs nosing floating logs into booms, or the occasional log-handler jumping from log to log, but an image like this they did not deem worthy of photographing. They did not note the peculiar beauty of the sulphur hills by the waterfront, it did not fit their idea of the picturesque.

It seems to me that many people traverse the globe, ceaselessly and persistently, seeking the unique, different, exotic and memorable views that are already plentifully available in their own little corner of the world – if they bothered to look and consider with fresh eyes.

4 Responses to “Pursuit of the Picturesque…”

  1. Deborah Barlow Says:

    Part of the appeal of travel for many people is the chance to look at life with fresh eyes. What we see every day cannot hold the aura of the exotic, the unexpected, the exceptional. But how right you are. Looking is not seeing, and never will be.

  2. James Steerforth Says:

    Part of it is certainly to do as the or outdo the Joneses and the fact that a lot of people need to have it on authority that something is beautiful; they wouldn’t see it themselves.

    But your post also made me remember that art travel has given us some great works, e.g. the North Africa trip Macke and Klee undertook in the early 20th century.

  3. suburbanlife Says:

    Deborah – you are so right – looking is not seeing. However there is a lot that goes unremarked in our lives, that when considered from a certain point of view, is novel, exceptional and exotic and truly unexpected.

    James – you are right – Klee did make some wonderful imagery based on his observations from his travels – colour, construction – but his work leaves a viewer to construct the experience he may have had – doesn’t provide a blow by blow account.

  4. lookingforbeauty Says:

    It depends totally on the eyes of the beholder, n’est pas? If one is looking for tourist traps, one sees (and photographs) tourist traps.
    There is beauty in rusting equipment, in dilapidated doorways, manhole covers, street construction equipment, back alleys, if you only go looking for it. An old, wizened face has more character than a vapid,”beautiful” and anorixic teenager. You need a bit more imagination to enjoy these uncommon sources of beauty.
    Now if you are looking for beauty in tourist places,it’s commonly known and there is always someone to tell you where to go!

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