Look Behind You: The View Across The Street From The World’s Most Famous Monuments

A conversation with the photographer who likes to point his camera the wrong way

Mao Mausoleum, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

If you’ve ever visited a monument or checked out a famous artwork in a museum, you probably lined up with a bunch of tourists and snapped a photo of it. For his ongoing project Volte-face, photographer Oliver Curtis does almost the same thing—but he’s facing what most people would consider to be the wrong way.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Curtis is, as he tells GOOD, interested in the scenery that is “ignored.” The project began when he took a trip to Egypt and visited the Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu). As with nearly anyone who visits a great monument, Curtis felt upon first encounter that he had seen it before. And, in fact, he had—on postcards and posters, in television documentaries, and so on.

Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico

“I found myself intrigued as much by the surrounding landscape as by the pyramid itself,” Curtis says. “I was particularly struck by the appearance of a brand-new golf course sandwiched between the rubbish-strewn sand of the desert beneath my feet and the smoggy suburbs of Giza in the distance… There was a dialogue between what I was seeing and the monument behind me,” he says.

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

So he took photographs of the environment around the Pyramid of Giza. He did the same thing at the neighboring Pyramid of Khafre, and again and again at every monument he visited thereafter. “It seemed to raise many interesting questions, and by giving the title of the monument to my about-face image, I could draw on the viewer’s knowledge and familiarity with the landmark and all it stands for.”

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

For Curtis, each location featured in the Volte-face series seems to offer up some type of narrative, theme, or connection with the history of a place. And despite the great distances between monuments, and without any obvious historical connections, Curtis was surprised by how much every landscape had in common.

White House, Washington D.C., USA

“Environmental misuse and neglect is often present, unsurprisingly so, since these are locations where all the attention is focused on a particular focal point or totem,” explains Curtis. “However, there were other connections, too. I was surprised by how often a face could be discerned within the landscape, with architectural features somehow arranged to return my gaze.”

Mona Lisa, Louvre, Paris, France

The most challenging aspect of the process for Curtis was to set aside any preconceived notions he had about a particular place, so that he could be receptive to whatever he found upon arrival. Despite the fact that the photographs are taken from his perspective, Curtis feels that it is important for viewers to make their own personal interpretations of these images. This, he says, will depend on the viewer’s personal knowledge of a place and the historical associations he or she might make.

Lenin's Tomb, Moscow, Russia

“The images often reflect my own mood at the time of taking, but that doesn’t mean that a viewer couldn’t also see something different in the landscape,” Curtis says. “I hope the compositions are interesting enough that they stimulate a number of associations. More than that, I hope that they encourage a fresh perspective on the most over-photographed places we visit.”

Buckingham Palace, London, UK

“[Hopefully] viewers of the project take away the idea that they don’t need to look as directed,” he muses. “And that there are many things in an otherwise familiar landscape that deserve our attention and tell us something more about the world we live in.”

Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, Israel

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK

'Arbeit macht frei' Gates, Auschwitz, Oświęcim, Poland

Great Wall of China, Mutianyu, China

NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less

Climate change means our future is uncertain, but in the meantime, it's telling us a lot about our past. The Earth's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, but as the ice dwindles, ancient artifacts are being uncovered. The Secrets of the Ice project has been surveying the glaciers on Norway's highest mountains in Oppland since 2011. They have found a slew of treasures, frozen in time and ice, making glacier archeologists, as Lars Pilø, co-director of Secrets of the Ice, put it when talking to CNN, the "unlikely beneficiaries of global warming."

Instead of digging, glacier archeologists survey the areas of melting ice, seeing which artifacts have been revealed by the thaw. "It's a very different world from regular archaeological sites," Pilø told National Geographic. "It's really rewarding work.

Keep Reading Show less

When former Pittsburgh Steelers' center Mike Webster committed suicide in 2002, his death began to raise awareness of the brain damage experienced by NFL football players. A 2017 study found that 99% of deceased NFL players had a degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Only one out of 111 former football players had no sign of CTE. It turns out, some of the risks of traumatic brain injury experienced by heavily padded adults playing at a professional level also exist for kids with developing brains playing at a recreational level. The dangers might not be as intense as what the adults go through, but it can have some major life-long consequences.

A new PSA put out by the Concussion Legacy Foundation raises awareness of the dangers of tackle football on developing brains, comparing it to smoking. "Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger. You wouldn't let me smoke. When should I start tackling?" a child's voice can be heard saying in the PSA as a mother lights up a cigarette for her young son.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted about some favorable economic numbers, claiming that annual household income is up, unemployment is low, and housing prices are high.

Now, just imagine how much better those numbers would be if the country wasn't mired in an economy-killing trade war with China, bleeding out trillion-dollar-a-year debts, and didn't suffer from chaotic leadership in the Oval Office?

At the end of tweet, came an odd sentence, "Impeach the Pres."

Keep Reading Show less

October is domestic violence awareness month and when most people think of domestic violence, they imagine mostly female victims. However, abuse of men happens as well – in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. But some are taking it upon themselves to change all that.

Keep Reading Show less