Photographing the people who gather around famous monuments

All images from the series Volte-Face © Oliver Curtis, courtesy Dewi-Lewis

On visiting the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo in 2012, Oliver Curtis turned and looked back in the direction he had come from. What he saw fascinated him. He has since made a point of turning his back on some of world's most photographed monuments and historic sites, looking at their counter-views and forgotten faces.

Taken over a period of four years, the eventual series, titled Volte-Face, is an invitation to turn around and see a new aspect of the over-photographed sites of the world – to gaze elsewhere, to favour the incidental over the monumental.

Much of what is seen when one turns away can seem mundane, the antithesis of the famous construction. But these landscapes are in every sense over-looked, emitting a quiet but portentuous sense of history, employing a subtextual narrative – how we should understand the significance of the place on its surroundings.

It is easy to forget that these attractions are also places of work, staffed by janitors, security guards, cleaners and office guards, who have a lack of awe born from daily exposure. Yet despite the landmarks not being present, the images are still suffused with their aura.

Oliver Curtis studied film and television at the LCP and has balanced work in stills and the moving image ever since. A renowned cinematographer, he has shot feature films including Clare Kilner’s The Wedding Date and Joanna Hogg’s Unrelated.

Curtis says: “I found myself looking back in the direction I had arrived from, with the pyramid behind me. Under a veil of smog lay the city of Giza. Immediately in front of me the sand of the desert was adorned with an assortment of human detritus; litter, pieces of rusted metal, a large rubber washer and a torn hessian sack.

“Then, in the mid-distance I saw a newly constructed golf course, its fairways an intense green under the late morning sun. This visual sandwich of contrasting colour, texture and form was intriguing not least because of the oddness of my position; standing at one of the great wonders of the world facing the ‘wrong’ way.”

Exhibition at Royal Geographical Society, London SW7 2AR, from Saturday 10th September to Friday 30th September 2016.


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