rembrandtplein

There’s a statue in Amsterdam’s Rembrantplein that is quite popular with tourists. At any point during the day, there will be hundreds of people surrounding the statue, examining and taking photos with it.

The statue is a three dimensional representation of Rembrandt’s famous painting The Nightwatch, and consisting of several statues, a brigade of men in 18th century Dutch dress, charging assertively toward an unseen battle in the west. The statues are life-size, and situated not on a podium, but directly on the square. Their even level with the ground invites passersby to touch, explore and pose with the statues, interacting with them in a way not typical of most other more podiumed statues. Undoubtedly thousands of photos of the statue are taken every day.

rembrandtplein 2

You are familiar with sites like the Rembrandtplein statues. Amsterdam has another: the iamsterdam sign. If you haven’t seen it in person, you’ve surely seen it on Facebook. The Eiffel Tower and Champ de Mars, the Brooklyn Bridge, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia — there are sites in the world that are overwhelmingly documented by visitors snapping incessant pictures of themselves in front of well known structures and places.

iamsterdam signWhen you visit such a site, and listen hard enough, you can hear the crackling of the photographs as they’re being taken. There’s also a distinct whoosh. This is the sound of the thousands of photos being uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.

When I visit these sites, I become cynical. I wonder: “why are these people taking these photos, when there have literally been hundreds of thousands of photos in the same place taken before (indeed hundreds being taken as-we-speak)? I don’t need a photo of the Eiffel Tower – I can search for one on Google Images. I can find one in a friend’s ‘Paris’ Facebook album.”

After my cynicism cools, I think about how these photos are a kind of claiming. The photographers are marking their visit, their presence at a famous landmark in another city by creating their own digital copy of it. It’s an assertion of aura and authenticity in the era of the mass-reproduced image (indeed, the era of no-image (where are the photos on google images located?)). A person’s photo at a landmark stands for their experience: this is their photo, taken because of the experience of traveling and being there at a specific time, and not just something they found on the internet and meaningless.

And, more in the case of the Rembrandtplein statue and the iamsterdam sign, less for the Eiffel Tower, my cynicism softens even more and I can see the creativity in taking photos of these overly-photographed places and structures.

No two photos the Rembrandtplein statues or iamsterdam sign are the same. They invite interactivity, and playful, creative photo composition. You can make a dramatic gesture creating a theatrical scene with one of the Rembrandtplein statues, and you can find your name or a funny phrase in the iamsterdam sign. These are post-modern landmarks – they purposefully invite multiple interpretations and interactions – and are quite excellent examples of urban design, inviting people to reconsider their space, the city, the order of things.

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