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Peter Benz
Peter Benz

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The Photo-Opportunity: Building Identity at a Snap

Conference Presentation at Young Bauhaus Research Colloquium 2016

Already in her classic essay In Plato’s Cave (1973) Susan Sontag defines picture taking as the ultimate outcome of tourism. With today’s wide spread availability of digital cameras, camera-equipped mobile phones, and other photo-devices, even more people regularly produce a continuous stream of photos of the places they are at. A new dimension to Sontag’s equation was added in the last decade through online image distribution opportunities, in particular of social networks and photo-sharing platforms. Taking a picture, and posting it on the internet proves one’s presence at a location; the more spectacular the picture, the more ubiquitous the location, the more prestigious to have been there.

Increasingly this everyday practice is shaping the perception of cities. Ever since the opening of the Guggenheim-Museum in Bilbao in 1997 and the subsequent visual determination of the city – if not the entire region – by an onslaught of slightly varying views of the same building, urban managers all over the world have been trying to purposefully re-create this effect by commissioning ever more extravagant buildings as a means of branding their cities. Largely un-noticed the perception of this so-called “iconic architecture” is very much influenced by the availability of adequate photo-opportunities that allow convenient, yet nonetheless spectacular images to be taken und subsequently disseminated in large numbers via social media platforms by tourists and other visitors. Taking Hong Kong as a starting point and case study the proposed paper looks at the background, nature and workings of such urban photo-opportunities, and comes to the conclusion that potentially the photo-opportunity may even work – in terms of shaping the perception of a city – without any especially iconic building at all.

Peter Benz. ‘The Photo-Opportunity: Building Identity at a Snap.’ Presentation at the Young Bauhaus Research Colloquium. Bauhaus-University Weimar. 26–27 October 2016.

You may download the full paper here.

The presentation at Young Bauhaus Research Colloquium 2016 was a follow up to my previous publication in Common Journal.