Oliver Curtis’s ‘Volte-Face’ Photo Series
Congratulations, you’ve used those netball skills to dodge, hustle (elbows out of course) and jostle your way to the front of the melee around the Mona Lisa for that all important snap. Otherwise how else will everyone know that you’ve stamped it off your landmark bingo? Or maybe you’ve climbed the 220 steps, huffing, puffing and muttering, to Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro and are trying to get the perfect selfie? Now, take a minute to look around and see the fool taking a photo the wrong way. That fool, kind sir, is you. The man snapping in the opposite direction to the throng of people is photographer Oliver Curtis and his series ‘Volte-face’ should come with a warning that you’ll slap your forehead and yell to the photographic gods, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Oliver Curtis travels to the most famous of famous landmarks, swivels on his heels and shoots the opposite view. The effect is as intriguing a juxtaposition as a squirrel in a tuxedo. The familiar becomes surprisingly inconspicuous and obscure in this guessing game of where in the world is Carmen Oliver Curtis?
Curtis has travelled to 44 countries for ‘Volte-face’ but the first in the series, and what set the falling dominoes in action, was a trip to Egypt. “The idea came to me whilst visiting the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt,” says Curtis. “I had been working in Cairo and had a free day, so took the opportunity to visit the famed necropolis. On arriving at the Great Pyramid of Khafre, I decided to walk around the base to see it from all angles. As I returned to my starting point, my back to the Pyramid and facing out to the suburbs of Giza, I was struck by the incongruous sight of a brand new golf course sandwiched between the waste-strewn sand of the desert and the smog-layered city beyond.”
While all the images in the series are strikingly different and Curtis had no constants, working with different locations and light – ranging from the moody haze of India to the gallery lights of the Louvre – the photos are united by a common aim: to bring a new perspective to an oversaturated place. “My attitude to them is one of curiosity. I am simply trying to provide a new perspective on sites that have been over-photographed to the point at which a new image of them serves no function, or contributes no more to our understanding of a place.”
For someone so well travelled, Curtis says his childhood was far from collecting fridge magnets from far-flung places. “As a child, my parents would take me to obscure areas of the countryside in Britain and Ireland,” says the London-based photographer. “I don’t recall ever being taken to any well-known tourist sites or landmarks. I guess that attitude has left an impression.”
He’s since racked up an impressive number of stamps in his passport but for Curtis some hold a little more magic. He has favourites but interestingly his prized photo in the series and most memorable trip are not one and the same. “I am particularly pleased with the image taken at Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro,” says Curtis. “Unusually, the about-face photo reveals a landscape arguably more interesting and beautiful than the statue behind me. It reveals the monument to be a place of work, of labour, and also one of repose and contemplation. These are often qualities we don’t think about when travelling.”
His favourite location has been Rapa Nui (Easter Island). One of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, it is famous for its 887 monumental head statues carved between 1250 and 1500CE that have their own emoji and have starred in Night at the Museum and Super Mario Brothers games. “Like any tourist, I’m thrilled to see any monument of world renown, but I suppose I was most excited to get to Rapa Nui to see the wonderful Moai heads. The ‘Volte-face’ image was taken at sunrise at Tongariki, probably the most famous site on the island.”
For the moment he’s popping his passport in the drawer and planning to work on a subject closer to home, which continues the theme of seeing the unusual in the everyday. “I suppose I am more interested in that which is absent than that which is present and visible,” says Curtis.
Lead image: Taj Mahal, Agra, India.