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


He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

Keep Reading Show less
via Imgur

Every few years there's something that goes mega viral because people can't decide what it is.

There was the famous "is it blue and black, or white and gold" dress?

There was the audio recording that said either "yanny" or "Laurel."

Keep Reading Show less

Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape www.youtube.com

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

Keep Reading Show less
Creative Commons

National Tell a Joke Day dates back to 1944 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was having a meeting with Vice-President, Henry Wallace. The two men were tired and depressed due to the stress caused by leading a country through world war.

During a lull in the meeting, Wallace said, "Frank, to cheer you up I have a joke I'd like to share."

"Let's have it, Henry," Roosevelt replied while ashing his cigarette.

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" Wallace asked. "Not sure," Roosevelt replied.

"To get to the other side," Wallace responded.

Roosevelt laughed so hard that the bourbon he was drinking sprayed out of his nose and onto the floor of the oval office.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Coal mining is on the decline, leaving many coal miners in West Virginia without jobs. The Mine Safety and Health Administration says there are about 55,000 positions, and just 13,000 of those jobs are in West Virginia. The dwindling amount of work is leaving some struggling to make a living, but the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective is giving those coal miners a way to find new jobs and make a supplemental income as coal mining diminishes.

The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective trains coal miners and other low-income residents in mining communities to keep bees. Some coal miners are getting retrained to work in the tech industry, however beekeeping allows coal miners to continue to work in a job that requires a similar skill set. "The older folks want to get back to work, but mining is never going to be like it was in the '60s and '70s, and there is nothing to fall back on, no other big industries here, so all of these folks need retraining," former coal miner James Scyphers told NPR. "Beekeeping is hands-on work, like mining, and requires on-the-job training. You need a good work ethic for both."

Keep Reading Show less