In the early 17th century, young men graduating from Britain’s most prestigious universities – Oxford and Cambridge did not attend college until the 20th century – began the habit of taking a “year or two gap” to travel around Europe, especially the Mediterranean countries, looking for Western cultural roots. The so-called Grand Tour served as a sort of “final course” for British royals, who coincidentally spent time and energy gathering souvenirs of their trip, especially the paintings and sculptures they sent back to England to decorate their stately home.
Rich Americans imitated their British “cousins” in the 18th and 19th centuries. One only needs to visit James Henry Hammond’s exhibition estate on Beech Island to see some of the booty he brought home as a result of the Grand Tour he, his wife and son Harry undertook in 1836. During the trip, Hammond acquired several paintings and at least 30 carvings. , mostly describe the important places visited by the three, especially in Italy.
Some of today’s cultural tourists may continue to commemorate their European holidays with works of art; but most are more inclined to commemorate their adventures with photos and perhaps share them with others via social media.
Determining which countries are most photographed in the 21st century is a matter of debate. However, there is no doubt about which country has topped the ranking according to Instagram users. This is Italy. In the last year when records were tabulated by American photo and video sharing services, there were more than 20 million tagged images of major sites in Venice, Rome and Pisa.
All of this information serves as an introduction to this week’s topic, the current show at USC Aiken’s Etherredge Center Gallery. Entitled “La Nostra Passeggiata: Reimagining the Grand Tour,” the exhibition showcases 25 black-and-white photographs, each taken by Christopher Luhar-Trice en route to the Italian peninsula.
Trice, a professor at the University of North Florida, regularly pastors students on annual trips to Italy sponsored by the UNF Department of Art and Design. We have to assume that accompanying students enjoying the opportunity to study abroad will happily take pictures when they meet familiar tourist attractions in Italy and that the same photos are likely to be shared on Instagram with family and friends in home.
In the course of this annual study, Trice also points his smartphone, which he calls an “electronic sketchbook,” at the interesting sights around him; However, in the case of the work featured in the current show, the digital files produced by the photographer have been printed on high-quality paper, museum velin cloth, using inkjet pigments.
Soft focus is also the order of the day, giving each image an antique look reminiscent of the work of late 19th century masters. Most of the photos in the current show read like images stored through the memory cloud. So many of the most recognizable tourist sites were captured by Trice’s camera, but renderings of somewhat obscure places like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Umberto I Galleria in Naples provide photographic images of timeless quality.
My favorite work in this show presents ancient sculptures in an unusual perspective. These include “In Remembrance of Daria,” which focuses on what appears to be the Fonseca Statue in the Capitoline Museum, an image of a Roman beauty from the second century AD, her hairdo notorious for its tall, curved curly-shaped crown. In Luhar-Trice’s renderings, the eyes of the female figure seem to have rolled back into her head as if in reaction to the outside world as glimpsed through the window to her left (and possibly the stream of tourists pointing their cameras at her).
Equally interesting is “Good Luck Seizes the Day”, in which another sculpted head, in this background, apparently, through the magic of the previous sorting, reaches out towards the audience with a severed hand. “Carpe diem” indeed.
Luhar-Trice’s photographic reorganization of the Grand Tour will be shown at the Etherredge Center until May 7. For more information, visit usca.edu/etherredge-center.