Silhouettes, lookouts, and a few regular photos to boot

Since I arrived in Lyon a couple of months ago, I have picked up my old “Place in Silhouette” project that I began a few years ago while I was in a drawing class at Sarah Lawrence College. (You can see the two compositions I made at SLC here and here as well as the one I did in Hobart, Tasmania.) The idea of the project is to create a landscape of a place by (photographically) capturing its relevant or recurring (or just plain interesting) shapes, making silhouettes of those shapes (in a very low-tech laborious fashion in Photoshop – using none other than the “Legacy” Brightness/Contrast tool), and then compositing those shapes together to create a landscape that is abstract but hopefully still captures some essence of the original place.

So, I have been spending some time walking around Lyon on my own trying to gather as many shapes as I can before I have to leave. One part of the city that I have decided to possibly feature is the Fourvière Lookout. On the North side of the Basilica at the top of Fourvière Hill, there is a large lookout area that provides one of the best sweeping views of Lyon. Everyone who visits the Cathedral invariably makes their way outside to look down and usually take a few photos of the city below. (I would love to do a study of how many pictures are taken from that spot over the course of a single day, and I would love even more to somehow gather everyone’s digital images – perhaps over the course of a week – and composite them together to create an extremely detailed panorama of the city… Maybe someday, when wireless camera/computer communication is a bit easier and more ubiquitous.)

Ever since my “Art, Natural Environment and Technology” course at the University Tasmania, I have had a fascination with that sort of ‘scenic overlook’. I might also call such spots ‘visual sinkholes’. I don’t necessarily mean to convey scorn with that term; I just find it interesting how fascinated people are by wide views from high vantage points. Perhaps it is just because that scene is rare in our visual lives, or maybe it is something more intricately primal or psychological. In any case, I enjoy watching the mobs of people lean over the stone barrier. I wonder how much they are really in awe of the view, and how much they are just doing what people are expected to do and looking at what people are supposed to want to look at. (I also wonder how much time people will actually spend looking at the wide angle photo they take from that vantage point. My guess is that it will be forgotten fairly quickly…) I don’t mean to sound like a visual elitist, pitying the poor masses. I just cannot shake the feeling that a lot of inner dialogues at that spot are somewhere along the lines of, “Hmm… Pretty. Oh, there is that thing we saw. We really are high up… How long should we stand here?”

Well, somewhere in the midst of my self-satisfied chuckling, I noticed that the silhouette of such groups of people at the lookout could be compelling, so I decided to start capturing people (sneakily and stealthily, and hopefully not too creepily) as they gazed on. I’ve made it back to do so three times in the last week so far, and I’m excited about the potential.

Group silhouette at Fourviere Lookout (Nov 1, 2010)

Group silhouette at Fourviere Lookout captured on November 1, 2010.

While I have been scouring Lyon for shapes and repeatedly walking up and down Fourvière Hill (or funicularing up and down when I am lazy in a hurry), I have taken a few general photos as well. Visiting the lookout so often is a good excuse to regularly duck into the Basilica (which continues to my photographic nemesis) and stop by other nearby spots as well, such as the Cimetière de Loyasse. There is no shortage of photographic material in Lyon!

Lyon, France (Oct 29, 2010)
Lyon, France (Oct 29, 2010)
Lyon, France (Oct 29, 2010)
Lyon, France (Oct 29, 2010)
Lyon, France (Nov 1, 2010)
Lyon, France (Nov 1, 2010)
Lyon, France (Nov 1, 2010)
Lyon, France (Nov 1, 2010)
Lyon, France (Nov 1, 2010)
Lyon, France (Nov 1, 2010)
Lyon, France (Nov 1, 2010)
Lyon, France (Nov 1, 2010)
Lyon, France (Nov 1, 2010)
Lyon, France (Nov 1, 2010)

Photos taken in Lyon, France between October 29 and November 1, 2010.

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4 Responses to “Silhouettes, lookouts, and a few regular photos to boot”

  1. Catie says:

    I really like scenic overlooks because I like anything that puts the little things in perspective. I think you’re right that we rarely get a chance to see something from that perspective- of really really high up. I feel like I’m usually sitting on the bottom of something, looking around me at the details. But, at a scenic overlook, everything that I normally see right next to me is lost- even humans are lost, in a way, as they become tiny little ants below you. I feel like I walk around spending my time interacting with the objects and people around me, so it’s nice sometimes to take a few steps back (or up) and just look at the grand picture, and let yourself take it in as a whole. You can do the same thing with any object too I think.

    That being said, I agree that it rarely results in a good photograph. But on the other hand, I guess I could say that I like maps for the same reasons that I like scenic over looks.

    Also, I love the photo of the cross and the clouds. It looks like you’re looking down into the sky somehow.

  2. Tom Bretl says:

    I especially like the stone cross against the cloudy sky.

  3. Dan Bretl says:

    Thanks for the comments! I’m glad I left the image of the stone cross in this album. I’m also glad I wasn’t kicked out of the cemetery for taking pictures before I grabbed that one. They weren’t too keen on my large camera… I had to keep the lens cap on after a few shots.

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