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Exercise 3.2 – Postcard Views

At first, I collected a small number of cards when coming to Edinburgh for appointments, but found that the number of different cards available was limited, possibly due to the fact that fewer cards are being sent. I resorted instead to using a collection of about 100 postcards of Edinburgh I purchased through eBay. I sorted these into select piles where the postcard presented a certain view or theme. Quickly it became clear that certain visual ‘tropes are in use when presenting a tourists eye view of Edinburgh. The main ones being;

  • Edinburgh Castle
  • The Military Tattoo
  • Old town/Royal Mile
  • Holyrood Palace
  • New Town
  • Princes Street
  • Scott Monument/North British Hotel
  • Arthurs Seat
  • Calton Hill

In some cases, a scene from a card would encompass three or more tropes at the same time. They reinforced some already known ‘standard’ views that most people take into account when visiting Edinburgh and which are overlooked by the locals.

Discarding the subject-specific cards and only examining the landscape images presented in the cards; we are offered a view of a homogenous city spiraling around the twin heights of the Castle and Arthurs Seat looking inwards over the Old Town and the New Town. The city presented in these images, either by day or by night, is of picture-perfect days of the city. By day covered with a golden blanket of light, buildings and surrounding greenery are bathed in summer glory, even the shadows are thin, weak, blue blobs on the scene, cast by the massive protrusion of castle or high building. By night the city glows in bright phosphorus and arc lights while the practically cloudless sky deepens into an orange-red sunset. The city is presented without its populace or its visitors, a wide expanse of old and new ready for exploration. Viewers looking at the card are presented with a model scale view of the city, all the landmarks squeezed into one scene. The tourist industry view of a city rolling along ready to welcome them to the sights and show them around, no binmen or street sweepers here.

This idealised view is pushed upon visitors whether it be the tartan chocolate box view of Scotland with its heather and its bagpipe players on every corner, or the newer “Harry Potter” themed kitsch being thrown up in every empty shop. Like Faye Godwin suggests there is a polarisation between those living and working in the city and those who come to enjoy it for its leisure and culture. This can easily be seen in the protests arriving at the city planner office as citizens of the city try to prevent the destruction of the city’s history so that more hotels and student apartments can be built. (SaveLeithwalk.org)  One particular example is the ongoing court case where an apartment owner living in America is trying to prevent the city form stopping her letting the apartment all year round as an AirBnB apartment which is causing strife with the locals living around what they describe as a ‘party flat’ (Evening News, Aug 2018). The profusion of high rents has pushed most of the city centre out of reach of the locals who struggle to cover the rising costs.

The reality of the city is far from the images presented on these cards; windy, cold, wet, gray and damp. Dirty buildings covered with dust and exhaust fumes, crowded streets as people hurry from one destination to another. My memories of the city change, from a small boy in wonderment of the Scott monument and the quiet of Princes Street gardens, to the noise and glare of a Ferris wheel towering over the Scott monument and the New Town below. Crowded streets of the New Town and the Old Town strewn with rubbish, closes stacked high with bins and refuse bags. The pavements filled with hen and stag parties are they wander from pub to pub before funneling into nightclubs.

The city is more than just four streets, a collection of close together pubs and some tartan history. It reaches from the edge of the Forth almost all the way into the Pentlands, areas with little or no visiting tourists, places where landscape, city, and history have melded together only to be seen perhaps by the ‘gentleman stroller’.

Can a location well known to you, still be seen through the eyes of a tourist? Yes, quite easily. It is normal when living or working in a location that you invariably take the same route back and forth every day. Only when roads are closed or building work being done do you take notice of some differences. However, like the gentlemen strollers, if you take a different route, go down a lane you normally pass, go left instead of right or even just look up at the buildings around as you pass and you will find things that you have failed to notice because they have become blasé. When this happens you return to the same state as a tourist, looking at the landscape with new eyes, seeing for the first time.

Considering Graham Clarkes comments, I would suggest that the maker of landscape images is not always the outsider or the tourist. Nowadays a lot of tourist photography is based around the selfie, the individual or group inserting themselves into the scene both for memory and for proof or validation of their visit. In this case, the photographer is no longer capturing the spectacle for its own sake, but purely inserting themselves in the image for pleasure.

From personal experience, it is not only a number of visits to a location but also using local knowledge to obtain a different view and know when the light or weather conditions will be suitable for photographing. When visiting a location for the first time, I personally do not photograph. Instead, I look around, up and down and take in the scene. I look at it with tourist’s eyes, seeing the beauty and take pleasure in the sights. I then sit and think about what I have seen and whether or not it is a suitable subject; sometimes I return and photograph anyway, adding to my collection of private images but at other times, repeated visits are done to look in every direction to see what I believe should be captured with the scene and what I want to present in the final image.

References

The Guardian – Martin Parr – Parrworld. (2009). The Guardian – Martin Parr – Parrworld. [Online Video]. 12 November 2009. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_NCLuo-iKA. [Accessed: 18 September 2018].

Council plans crackdown on Airbnb in Edinburgh – Edinburgh Evening News. 2018. Council plans crackdown on Airbnb in Edinburgh – Edinburgh Evening News. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/politics/council-plans-crackdown-on-airbnb-in-edinburgh-1-4409990. [Accessed 26 September 2018].

The Scottish Sun. 2018. California woman banned from renting out Edinburgh flat on Airbnb launches legal appeal amid fury over ‘party flats’. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/3101491/nicola-golden-edinburgh-airbnb-banappeal-party-flat/. [Accessed 26 September 2018].

Neighbour’s gripe with Airbnb flat owner ‘5000 miles away’ from Edinburgh sparks probe – Edinburgh Evening News. 2018. Neighbour’s gripe with Airbnb flat owner ‘5000 miles away’ from Edinburgh sparks probe – Edinburgh Evening News. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/neighbour-s-gripe-with-airbnb-flat-owner-5000-miles-away-from-edinburgh-sparks-probe-1-4789074. [Accessed 26 September 2018].

Edinburgh rents rise 40 per cent in seven years – Edinburgh Evening News. 2018. Edinburgh rents rise 40 per cent in seven years – Edinburgh Evening News. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/business/edinburgh-rents-rise-40-per-cent-in-seven-years-1-4576176. [Accessed 26 September 2018].

Edinburgh set for new US-style rent control powers. 2018. Edinburgh set for new US-style rent control powers. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.djalexander.co.uk/news/587/edinburgh-set-for-new-usstyle-rent-control-powers. [Accessed 26 September 2018].

Save Leith walk – Please help us stop the demolition. 2018. Save Leith walk – Please help us stop the demolition. [ONLINE] Available at: http://saveleithwalk.org/. [Accessed 26 September 2018].