Culture vs. Collection

A photo from Karl von Westerholt’s “The Travels of Captain Brass”

There’s a series of travel photographs by Karl von Westerholt that are the size of trading cards. The focal point of each is a monument, building or some other easily referenced cultural landmark. According to ArtDaily.org, the collection “parodies those globetrotting tourists who travel the world with their photographs like collectors and believe they have understood life in foreign parts.”

I saw the photographs at the Berlinische Galerie Museum of Modern Art when I traveled to Europe this late summer. It was my first trip abroad and the gallery had an exhibit on travel photography (“Faraway Focus”), ranging in ideas and formats that included mundane travel shots that no one takes but are key parts of the trip (at the airport, hotel blahs, etc.) and Europeans’ takes on traveling through America in different eras.

The von Westerholt shots caught my eye in particular, though; this idea of capturing the travel icons and showcasing them as though currency. They’re proof of your cultural prowess, the thing that you brought home and can now flaunt at will. Even a post on how Americans travel by The Telegraph seemed aware of this, pointing to where we like to travel: “Is it famous? Americans are there. You won’t find many of them toottling around Puglia or or Slovakia. They quest for not for the hidden gem, but for the best.” (Perhaps in our defense, the article went on to note that we do receive less vacation time than Europeans—legally, we’re not mandated any, but the average is 10 for U.S. employees—so maybe we can’t be blamed for using our limited time on bee-lining it to the Parthenon, snapping a pic, and moving the hell on). 

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