Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cherries, the Eiffel Tower and thoughts on perspective

Every city has its iconic structure (or structures). Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Seattle has the Space Needle and no trip to Washington D.C. is complete without seeing the Washington Monument, among others. As a tourist, one is compelled to go and stare in awe of said structures, forced to take photos and comment on the sheer size of _______.

Yet from the ground, the Eiffel Tower looks essentially the same in real life as it does on a postcard except for the addition of hordes of fellow tourists, security guards and dirty pavement. I want to see it from the utmost top, looking down. Or laying on the ground, looking up. Few people get that experience, few postcards capture it for mass-market inundation. It would be new, a fresh sight.

In Minneapolis, we don't have any famous structures jutting into the sky but we do have the cherry and the spoon. This seems suitably Midwestern, a style favoring enigmatic representations of daily life over grandiose gestures. Officially named "Spoonbridge and Cherry," the sculpture is one of the most photographed sites in the city. Yet nearly all of the photos show the same perspective: the long side view of the spoon with the cherry perched jauntily at its tip. The truly original pose so as to be picking or eating the cherry, or perhaps even wielding the handle of the spoon.

I've lived in Minneapolis for over four years now and for four years I resisted the draw of the spoon and cherry. "Have you been to the Sculpture Gardens?" people ask. No. "You've never seen the cherry and the spoon?" Well, yes, I have. It's on every visitor's guide to Minneapolis and hundreds of postcards.

Then last Thursday I found myself with a guest, a sunny morning and the Sculpture Gardens a block away from her departure point. And there we were, standing before the cherry and the spoon.

From the side it looked (as I thought it would) just like the postcards. Yet postcards never show the view as seen above, with the handle inviting you to walk right up over the water. Rather than a simple object of contemplation, the cherry now seems only seconds from consumption.

Why is this view second-rate?

Why don't more people take pictures laying on the ground beneath the Eiffel Tower?

Why do we accept the standard view as the one we should admire?

By only noticing, photographing, writing about the socially accepted norms we perpetuate those norms. Yet there are more sides to every structure, more perspectives on every culture. Standing where everyone else stands does not guarantee an authentic experience of reality -it just means you've been lost in a crowd.

R: Why are you photographing broken electrical panels?
B: Why not?
The broken glass and wires made as much sense as anything else in the Sculpture Garden so I kept the photo.

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