Rome: Art, tourism and really seeing what you’re looking at…

Rome is a city overrun with riches. So much so, that it is tempting as a visitor to arrive with a giant list of things to see and tick off a list. To ‘do’ the city. I hate that phrase. ‘Doing’ a place, as though it can be summarised in a few frantic days of dashing around, never to be re-visited. We’re all a bit guilty of it, and I certainly arrived in Rome armed with a list of things I wanted to see in my time there.

However, I also wanted to see and experience the rest of the city. Which meant taking time to slow down and really watch it unfold before me, instead of charging from one ‘must-see’ place to another, without appreciating those little things that make a place really interesting. The wisteria on the honey-coloured houses. The coffee bars where local folk lined up for their espresso, with me alongside, using one of my three sentences of Italian to order my jolt of caffeine. The little gelato stores, with a rainbow of flavour combinations that were open until 1am. These things were as exciting to me as the Renaissance masterpieces, and given that religious art often leaves me cold, sometimes they were more exciting.

See how exhausted I look after the Vatican museum and  St Peter’s Basilica…

With all the new technologies available to us, not only are people tempted into rushing from place to place on their trip, but often, they are looking at everything through the artificial eye of a camera lens. I distinctly remember being in New York in September of 2006 and being on a boat that went out past the Statue of Liberty. Surrounded by other tourists, I sat towards the centre of the boat in my waterproof as we approached the (smaller than I was expecting, but nonetheless iconic) statue. Watching the other people around me, I realised that no-one was really looking at it. Everyone had some kind of camera pointed at it. They all took a few shots (or filmed a piece of video) and then turned away. No-one had really seen the statue with their own eyes!

Are we so used to seeing images of the world that upon being presented with the real thing, it no longer holds any true fascination? I mean, if people are not willing to slow down and really see the thing that they’ve come all this way to see, what is the point in travelling to see it in the first place? Purely to capture an image to share on Facebook? It doesn’t seem like a very happy way to experience things to me.

In Rome, there is a very famous statue, Pietà, by Michelangelo, of Jesus being held by Mary. The original is in St Peter’s Basilica, covered by glass. There is also an authorised copy in the Vatican Museum, which whilst being as beautiful, was made in the Twentieth Century. During my visit, I wandered over to the copy and read the inscription below, as did a few other people. We then realised we were being tutted at, by someone who came up to the sculpture in a huge rush, took a photo and then moved on. Without reading the inscription. During my visit, I noticed the same person doing that same thing all the way through the Museum. Going up to an exhibit, taking a photo and then moving on, without taking any time to really see what they were photographing. Now, it may not matter. The copy of the sculpture is as beautiful as the original, and not behind glass. They say it would take twelve years to get around the Vatican museums if you looked at each exhibit for a minute, and perhaps she was just keen to get around as fast as possible. However, I do wonder how well she will recall the things she photographed; if she even realised she hadn’t photographed the original piece of sculpture; what answers she might give if asked questions about the artworks. Overall, how fond her memories about that particular trip will be.

I took very few photos. Like I said, religious art leaves me a bit cold and the riches of the Vatican City were sometimes a bit overwhelming, even when I put to one side any feelings I might have about the wealth of the Church. I need to really love a painting or artwork before taking a photo of it, rather than merely capturing it to ‘tick a box’ in my travel history. I did take a photo of one painting I really and truly loved in Rome, but that will be the subject of another of my Rome posts…

3 Comments to “Rome: Art, tourism and really seeing what you’re looking at…”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Liz.

    As you’ll see when I next write a blog post, I’ve taken quite a lot of photographs lately, but I do try to remember that I’m there to see and experience what I’m taking photos of. To be fair, I think that the reason for taking photos is a defining factor as well… if I’m taking an ‘I woz ‘ere’ type of thing, it’s a bit naff; but if I’m trying to capture something from an unexpected angle or something more ‘arty’ then that’s /seeing/ it more, almost.

    Yesterday I did one of my 40 challenge things (falconry) and I wondered whether it would have been better in the days before digital cameras, as everyone was snapping away (including me!) However, as my friend Jo pointed out, no-one seemed to be missing out on the experience by doing so. Certainly everyone seemed to be there for the birds of prey, rather than just being on the far end of a camera.

    With that in mind, I clearly remember seeing a family in Newcastle a few years ago. They were obviously on holiday, and the father was videoing the experience; and I mean all of it. He was recording the family walking along the street; not even recording “the sights”. I felt like saying to him that he was on holiday too, and that he didn’t have to video the family the whole time!

    • Hi! Yes – I think we all do it, don’t we? As long as it’s adding to someone’s experience, whatever that may be, then it’s a lovely way to capture a memory. It’s just that I wonder if we’ve reached the point where the photo has replaced the memory or experience. I know we all do it, almost to the point where there is a blurring of the real and virtual worlds. Each to their own obviously, but it made me feel a bit sad.

      Congratulations on the falconry! That’s amazing. I’m going to head over to your blog now for a read. x

  2. You are absolutelly right about photos even becouse comparing with 20 years ago now with the digital cameras on internet you can find everthing you want.

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