Archives for posts with tag: aura


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.

I love the colours of Amsterdam. The 17th century structures along the city’s canals are made from materials that are deep maroon, red and rich purply black.

Amsterdam Colours imagined

I put the above colour field together to simply represent the lovely palette of this city.

Amsterdam Colour Field Real

The second graphic represents the “real” colours of Amsterdam, and was made using digital photographs of the city and Adobe Illustrator’s eye-dropper tool. The eye-dropper lets you select colours from digital images and use them to colour other objects in your project.

Screen shot 2013-02-16 at 6.12.43 PM

(The second graphic, the real colours of Amsterdam, are much more dull. Maybe it’s because my camera wasn’t able to capture the scene well, or maybe it’s because reality is a lot more vibrant when imagined.)

I like the eye-dropper tool. It is the digital equivalent of the photo-mechanic process that gave analog photographs so much aura. As they are essentially traces of light that entered a camera when it was pointed at a particular time and space, analog photographs are fundamentally connected to their subject matter. The presence of the photographed, the aura of the moment when it was captured, can be felt.

Digital photographs have lost their aura: they are less fundamentally connected to their subject matter. The digital process of visually recording space is complicated, obscuring the connection between the photographer, the camera and the photographed. Also, the mass- reproducibility of a digital image makes it seem far less connected to its subject. If not printed, where does a digital photograph exist?

After these thoughts is a good opportunity to reconsider the second colour field, the one of the “real” colours of Amsterdam. Can you feel its aura?