From monument to landscape and back again
Bruno Notteboom, Du monument au paysage et retour : la photographie dans le Bulletin du Touring Club de Belgique au xxe siècle
L’article examine comment les publications belges liées au tourisme, notamment le Bulletin du Touring Club de Belgique, ont répercuté les différents discours sur le monument, la ville et le paysage. Au début du xxe siècle, les défenseurs du tourisme ont tenté de représenter la ville de plus en plus comme un paysage à éprouver par le mouvement, plutôt qu’une succession de monuments singuliers. Néanmoins, le Bulletin a anticipé sur cette nouvelle expérience de la ville beaucoup plus par le texte que par la photographie. L’hypothèse de cet article est que le manque d’intérêt pour un renouveau du langage photographique indique que le Bulletin et ses lecteurs avaient choisi de ne pas rompre les conventions du système iconographique établi du tourisme.
The paper examines how discourses on the monument, the city and the landscape were reflected in Belgian tourist publications, especially in the Bulletin du Touring Club de Belgique. In the early twentieth century, tourism increasingly tried to represent the city as a landscape that should be experienced through movement, rather than as a succession of single monuments. However, the Bulletin anticipates this new experience of the city far more in the text than in the photography. We argue that the lack of interest in a renewal of the photographic language indicates that the Bulletin and its readers chose not to break the conventions of the established iconographic system of tourism.
tourism, photography, landscape, urban lanscape, city, monument, Belgium
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1The radical transformation of the Belgian territory as a result of the industrialization, the expansion of road and railroad networks and the tentacular growth of the cities gave cause to fierce reactions in the early twentieth century. In 1912 a Section des Sites was added to the Commission Royale des Monuments. As the object of preservation was enlarged from isolated monuments to sites, discourses on preservation, urbanism and tourism became intertwined. In this article, we will examine how discourses on the monument, the city and the landscape were reflected in Belgian tourist publications, especially in the Bulletin du Touring Club de Belgique.
2We will argue that, parallel to the ‘‘monumentalization’’ of the landscape, tourism increasingly tried to represent the city as a landscape that should be experienced through movement, rather than as a succession of single monuments. We will examine the attempts of the photography in the Bulletin to anticipate new ways of experiencing the city.
3The close ties between tourism, photography and visual culture in general has been subject to elaborate research1. The iconography of the Bulletin can hardly be called avant-garde from the point of view of the history of photography. However, as the images illustrate, adjust or even contradict what is written in the articles, they should be read as a sub-text that reveals some underlying motives of the official tourist discourse.
4The Touring Club was founded in 1895 as the first official tourist organization in Belgium. Its Bulletin guided its members through city and landscape by means of excursions that were outlined by road maps and photographs. Often these articles were no more than the repetition of stereotypes. The Alps and their Belgian counterpart the Ardennes, as well as the Belgian cities and monuments, were already very well-known by the turn of the century. A large part of the early photographic images used in tourism imitated the iconography of engravings in nineteenth-century tourist guides2.
5Tourism, the creation of national identity and the mass reproduction of images went hand in hand. Cities were reduced to a limited number of canonical images of sites and monuments that were indefatigably distributed. These sites largely remained the same throughout the twentieth century : the quay of the river Scheldt in Antwerp, the Grand Place in Brussels, the three towers of Ghent, the castle of Bouillon, etc. Monuments became emblems representing a whole city on the size of a stamp and a country on a series of stamps.
6Patriotism had always been a central argument in the protection of monuments : the Commission Royale des Monuments was established in 1835, only five years after the foundation of the Belgian state. In their discussions on the extension of the Commission des Monuments with a section of Sites, the patriotic purpose of the protection of landscapes was central. Le visage aimé de la patrie became the standard expression for the landscape3. Nevertheless, the quest for landscape preservation found its origin in a multitude of – often contradictory – discourses. Reactions on the infringement of the natural landscape had originated in artistic circles during the nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century, scientists, politicians and even industrialists joined their ranks, arguing in favor of nature preservation for scientific and even economic reasons4. In several articles the Bulletin explicitly considered tourism as an industry, for which the beauty of the landscape is an essential ‘‘raw material’’5. It has often been described how tourism on the one hand makes use of an almost industrial machinery of railway, road and communication networks, mass media, etc., while it continuously rejects modernity on the other hand6. However, it is worth noting that the Bulletin mainly reacted to ‘crimes against nature’ that had a clear and direct impact on a pristine landscape, such as flood-control dams, quarries and a limited number of railroads7. Heavy industry as such was never questioned ; on the contrary, it was praised as an achievement of which the nation can be proud. This selective blindness of certain parts of nature conservation is symptomatic for the attitude of the Bulletin and its readers. Of course, in the early twentieth century the class that had the means to travel owed its prosperity to the country’s industrialization.
« Picturesque stamps », W.H. Wolff, « Les timbres postes pittoresques. Voyages en Belgique » © Bulletin officiel du Touring Club de Belgique, 1936, p. 92-94.
7After the royal arrest of 1912, it was not until 1931 that the actual law on landscape preservation was voted. As can be derived from the parliamentary discussions and discussions in the Commission Royal des Monuments, the ‘‘picturesqueness’’ of a site would play an important role in whether it was worth preserving or not. It lies beyond the subject of this paper to describe the array of meanings that the term ‘‘picturesque’’ took on in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries since it was developed in eighteenth-century garden theory, but one connotation of the picturesque in this context is ‘‘worth taking a picture of’’. Landscapes were added to the series of canonical images of Belgium. An emblematic example is the case of the cascade of Coo. The site figured in the tourist iconography as a symbol of pristine natural beauty from the 19th century onwards. In 1924 the Touring Club contributed a substantial financial donation in order to allow the Belgian state to acquire the site and its surroundings8. The lay-out of the site followed the sight : the esplanade in front of the cascade allows each tourist to reproduce the endlessly published view of the cascade9. An interesting detail in the story of the cascade is that the funds were initially raised by the Touring Club to erect a nationalist monument in Brussels : from this perspective the cascade literally took over the role of a classical urban monument.
The Cascade of Coo © Cover, Bulletin officiel du Touring Club de Belgique, 1928, nr 4.
8The protection of sites can be situated in a process of gradual expansion of the object of protection from the monument to the landscape in the course of the nineteenth century. But it would be incorrect to describe this process solely in terms of a quantitative expansion. It involved a re-thinking of the approach of the monument and the city itself. The Royal Arrest did not only expand the advisory role of the Commission to landscape matters, but also ‘‘sur les avant-projets et projets concernant des travaux de voirie qui, dans les villes ou ailleurs, touchent directement à des questions d’esthétique.’’10 The arguments that were brought forward to promote the establishment of the Section des Sites demonstrate that the idea of protection of sites is embedded in the discourse on L’esthétique urbaine and ideas on urbanism of Camillo Sitte, Joseph Stübben and the former mayor of Brussels Charles Buls amongst others11.
9The personalities and organizations around Buls illustrate how ideas on nature preservation on the one hand, and urban aesthetics on the other, are often developed within the same group of people : a network of diverse personalities such as politicians, artists, urbanists, writers and scientists that were related to the Commission, the Touring Club and/or organizations for nature preservation. Buls was, for example, member of the Ligue des Amis de la Forêt de Soigne, together with botanist Jean Massart, socialist politician Emile Vandervelde, landscape architect and urbanist Louis Van der Swaelmen, painter Edmond Picard and Jean d’Ardenne, who was a fervent promoter of the Ardennes and regular author in the Bulletin. Buls’ ideas on an ‘‘organic’’ development of the city that were developed in L’Esthétique des villes in 1894 and the social aims of Buls’ movement l’œuvre de l’art public blended well with Van der Swaelmen’s ideas on natural forestry and with the research on biological and social darwinism developed by Massart and Vandervelde12. Therefore, a pressure group as the Ligue can be considered as a think-tank for new ideas on nature, city and society in general, developing a discourse that goes far beyond mere patriotism.
10Discourses about nature thus ‘‘returned’’ to the city and found their way to popular publications such as the Bulletin du Touring Club. Buls himself published numerous articles on tourism, nature preservation and urban aesthetics in the Bulletin. Out of the multitude of ideas that was developed, the Bulletin filtered what fitted in the tourist discourse : the stress was rather on the regenerating power of nature – an idea that could be linked to the ‘‘cult’’ of forests and savage nature that was prominent in Europe at the end of the century – rather than on the more leftist social darwinist part of the discourse. Buls’ ideas on city aesthetics also found their way to the Bulletin in a rather reduced version. In L’Esthétique des villes, Buls promoted a fusion of aesthetic and functional concerns of the modern city. Although the model of organic growth was a starting point, he explicitly reacted against a sheer historical approach :
Qu’on ne nous range donc pas parmi les admirateurs intransigeants du passé qui, amants exclusifs du pittoresque, regrettent le voûtement de la Senne et les masures infectes qui laissaient suinter la fièvre dans un cours d’eau immonde13.
11The Bulletin didn’t focus on the explicit social agenda of the work of Buls and l’œuvre de l’art public, but rather involved him in articles on the defense of picturesque sites. However, even in a reduced version, these new urban models were related to a discourse that tried to move the tourist experience of the city away from a succession of sites-as-postcards to a more direct, genuine relationship between the subject and its environment, that can only be experienced by gradually moving through the city instead of looking at it from a panorama or in a tourist guide. This more ‘‘organic’’ relationship between the tourist and the city bore much resemblance with the experience of nature that is promoted in the Bulletin :
Voulez-vous bien voir une région pittoresque ? Faites comme Jean-Jacques Rousseau, voyagez le plus possible à pied. « On part, dit-il, à son moment, on s’arrête à sa volonté, on fait tant et si peu d’exercice qu’on veut. On se détourne à droite, à gauche ; on examine tout ce qui nous flatte ; on s’arrête à tous les points de vue. Aperçois-je une rivière, je la côtoie ; un bois touffu, je vais sous son ombre ; une carrière, j’examine les minéraux. Partout où je me plais, j’y reste. […] »14
12Buls’ scenography of the city was to a large extent based on a similar experience from the point of view of the pedestrian who wanders through the city. The re-integration of monuments in the urban fabric played an important role in the relationship between the city and the pedestrian. In L’Esthétique des villes, Buls had already reacted against the nineteenth century strategy of isolating monuments. In the Bulletin he now returned to the question of the placing of monuments :
Pourquoi plaçons-nous les statues au milieu de nos places publiques et non en dehors des endroits où la circulation est active ?15
13In a report of the 1903 meeting of the Société nationale pour la protection des sites, Buls proposed to send all officials a handbook with the basic rules of urban and rural aesthetics (esthétique urbaine et champêtre) – obviously Buls referred to his own L’Esthétique des villes. The Bulletin thus promoted the distribution of Buls’ ideas on urbanism.
14The example of Buls shows how descriptions of the city and landscape in tourist publications can – implicitly or explicitly – be related to urban models, and that these models are in their turn related to the way the tourist moves trough the city or the landscape. In the Bulletin we can distinguish three modes of travel, each relating to a distinct discourse on city and landscape.
Section de Bruxelles à Malines, © Alphonse Wauters, Atlas pittoresque des chemins de fer de la Belgique, Brussels, 1840, n.p., coll. University Library.
15A first mode of travel is railway travel. In order to represent train journeys, the Bulletin used the iconographic strategies of nineteenth century railway travel guides. A typical example of such a guide was the Atlas pittoresque des chemins de fer de la Belgique, written by Alphonse Wauters and edited by Vandermaelen in 1840. The guide defined itself as
une notice historique et statistique sur les chemins de fer, ainsi que la description de tous les lieux qu’ils traversent sous le rapport de la géographie physique et politique, de l’histoire, de la statistique, du commerce, de l’industrie, etc.16
16The maps of the different railway sections presented the journey as a succession of isolated monuments : churches, windmills, farms,… The twentieth-century photographic reports of train itineraries in the Bulletin did not evolve much in comparison with these nineteenth-century predecessors. Train journeys were depicted as a succession of still views of a train moving through city and landscape, as seen from the outside. The sensation of fast movement, which modern art would seize as the essence of modernity, did not find its way to the Bulletin.
17The railway was essentially a nineteenth-century phenomenon. The massive infrastructure works to accommodate the railways were intimately related to haussmannian urbanism. The system of boulevards that connected railway stations with squares, monuments and monumental buildings, created a succession of isolated monuments : in this urban scenography one moved from one monument to another. In contrast to Sitte and Buls, Haussmanian urbanists did not use the landscape metaphor. Hausmanianism was aimed at creating a unity instead of a diversity : a well-organized, surveyable trajectory from monument to monument17. Wolfgang Schivelbusch points at the similarity between Haussmannisation and railroad infrastructure :
Hausmann approached Paris as a railroad engineer approaches any terrain through which a line has to be laid.18
18Haussmann’s boulevards do not only structure space, they structure the gaze as well :
For the first time in a major city people could see well into the distance and indeed see where they were going and where they had come from.19
19The railway entailed what Schivelbusch calls panoramic perception : velocity as well as the glass window of the train separates the traveler of the landscape he was part of before train travel. However, the iconography related to railway travel was not determined by speed and movement : the Bulletin did not show what was perceived from the train, only what could be visited once one stepped out of the railway station : historical centers and monuments. Also bridges, railway stations or water towers, serving as icons of modernity and portrayed as such in modernist photography, are in the Bulletin depicted in nineteenth-century documentary fashion, in the same way as a church, a statue or a museum would be portrayed. It was symptomatic for the discourse of the travel guides that the opposition between the historicity of the points of interest’s description on the one hand, and the modernity of the mode of transport on the other, did not seem to be noticed or was hardly considered as an incongruence.20
Article on the Belgian railways. Left : the railwail station of Bruges. Right : two water towers © Maurice Heins, « Nos chemins de fer, postes, télégraphes et téléphones », Bulletin officiel du Touring Club de Belgique, 1908, p. 389-392.
20Railway travel thus inevitably seemed to imply a mode of representation that continued to depict stereotyped views of – mostly isolated – monuments in a nineteenth-century fashion, which drew upon a tourist practice of ‘collecting places’.21
21A second mode of travel was provided by what can be considered as an essentially twentieth-century technology : the automobile. The Touring Club started as an organization for cyclists and train travelers, but soon focused equally on the interests of the automobile. Strikingly, this new mode of transport did not give cause to a new iconographic strategy, although an endless stream of promotional articles on the automobile and some caricatures revealed a clear fascination for the automobile’s speed.22
22Analogous to what Benjamin describes on mechanical reproduction, Marc Desportes observes how the automobile destroyed the aura of monuments and sites, because the experience of approaching them is individualized and less of a mise-en-scène in comparison with train travel.23 In fact, the Bulletin was aimed at maintaining that aura by continuing to use a nineteenth-century iconographic system : a series of isolated monuments and views, rather than the experience of movement through city and landscapes. In the twentieth century, not only the car made the tourist independent of the railroad track, but technical innovations of the photographic equipment (a decrease in size and weight of photographic equipment) also made photographers much more mobile. The democratization of the equipment allowed an individualization of image making. Tourists became less restricted to postcards or collections edited by photographers and numerous amateur photography clubs were set up. In light of this individualization of both travel and image making, it is even more striking how the iconography in the Bulletin was tenacious to its static and stereotypical iconography.
23Only when a radically new mode of transport, the airplane, was introduced in the Bulletin, was a new point of view introduced as well. Two articles from the thirties ‘‘La perpendiculaire du paysage’’ (1932) and ‘‘Tourisme aérien. De Bruxelles à Amsterdam en survolant les Champs de fleurs’’ (1936) explictly discussed the impact of air travel on the perception of city and landscape. The author expected that the new and unusual viewpoint would alter the notion of landscape derived from painting and would prelude a new aesthetics :
Mais elle est l’exaltation de cette ligne droite et de cet ordre sévère dont l’architecture moderne fait ses dieux. Et c’est bien en cela que le paysage découvert par le touriste aérien sert et nourrit l’esthétique du siècle.24
Caricature on automobile travel © E.S. « L’Histoire de l’automobile par images », Bulletin officiel du Touring Club de Belgique, 1910, p. 574-576.
24Although this aerial photography indeed enhanced new and more dynamic compositions, what was photographed from the air remained the same : the abbey of Maredsous, the cathedral of Antwerp, Dutch mills, etc. Although modernist artistic photography developed simultaneously in Belgium, it only trickled in very slowly in the Bulletin. From the thirties onwards, the Bulletin’s lay-out and some of its photos were influenced by modernist photography : the covers became full page, some monuments were photographed from unusual angles, but all in all the tourist iconography in the Bulletin remained conservative. Both subject and photographic language were rarely modern at the same time. Subjects that were typical for modernist photography (railroads, factories, bridges,…) were documented in a static documentary fashion, or conversely, modernist camera standpoints were used for historical monuments.
Air Travel © Albert Bouckaert, « Tourisme aérien. De Bruxelles à Amsterdam en survolant les Champs de fleurs », Bulletin officiel du Touring Club de Belgique, 1936, p. 184-186.
25A third mode of travel is travel on foot. We have sketched how the perception from the point of view of the pedestrian played an essential role in Buls’ urban scenographyand how the Bulletin promoted an exploration of city and countryside on foot to restore the relationship between the subject and its environment. Readers of the Bulletin were increasingly urged to the leave the beaten track of the well-known tourist places, to observe local customs, to contemplate in untouched nature, and so on. The Bulletin started to reflect a search for authenticity and authentic places, which would become a driving force in twentieth-century tourist discourse.25 In some passages the Bulletin recommended the reader to put the tourist guide aside and to break away from stereotyped conventional behavior. In this perspective, the quest for an authentic tourist experience can be read as a reaction to the codification of the tourist experience, but, as was the case with automobile travel, this new discourse was not accompanied by a new iconography in the Bulletin.
Views of the City of Namur. (« La Citadelle de Namur ») © Cover, Bulletin officiel du Touring Club de Belgique,1905, p. 260-261.
26We have tried to demonstrate how the experience of the urban landscape offered in the Bulletin’s photography, often didn’t coincide with the discourse in the text. The images continued to show postcard-like (urban) landscapes that implied a distance between the tourist and the sight, created by topographical features (views from a hill, from across a river,…) or a by infrastructure that allowed a mise-en-scène (a vista, an elevated promenade, a panorama,…). The city was staged as an image and as an overview of its main monuments.
View from the Saint-Rombaudt cathedral in Malines. (Cover, Bulletin officiel du Touring Club de Belgique, 1933, nr 2)
27The city that was promoted in most of the text, and especially in texts on an ‘authentic’ tourist experience, was based on a resolution of this distance : as described above, the Bulletin urged the reader to put the tourist guides aside, to take part in the hustle and bustle of the city, to stroll along picturesque markets, etc. In contrast to the photography that followed a strategy of isolation of monuments and views, related to a haussmannian overview, the text promoted the experience of the flâneur, the city dweller that loses himself in corporal sensations. This idea of corporality could also be found in Buls’ experience of the city as an organic unity, which is promoted in the Bulletin.
28Buls’ model of the city can be read as an attempt to restore the unity between the subject and its environment that was scattered by modernity26. Analogously, the quest for authenticity in the Bulletin’s texts tried to close the gap between the tourist and the site ; a gap that had been created by its own iconography. One can wonder why the Bulletin didn’t use images that reflected mobility and a subjective viewer. After all, in the artistic photography of the twenties and thirties this kind of photography was quite current. Perhaps this can be explained by the social environment of the Bulletin’s readers : in the early twentieth century, most tourists still belonged to a wealthy bourgeoisie. The photographic iconography and the image industry that produced them were not the place of experiments that questioned existing orders. Tourism, like photography, fulfilled a function of social confirmation, for example in amateur photography clubs. The iconography of city and landscape only started to change after tourism became more democratized, and other tourist practices, such as camping and youth movements developed.
The Broel-Towers in Courtrai © Award-winning photograph of Victor Stouffs in the 1905 photography contest of the Bulletin officiel du Touring Club de Belgique (original print from the topographical collection of the university Library, Ghent University).
29The struggle of the Bulletin with its own iconographic conventions was exemplified in the photography contests that were organized from the early twentieth century onwards. The contests of 1903, 1904 and 1905 reflected a search of tourist imagery to escape from itself : they were organized in order to create new images for their series of photo books Le Panorama de la Belgique. The jury recommended the readers not to repeat the well-known images of isolated monuments, and instead to focus on urban landscapes or parts of the country that had never been shown before.
Il s’agit de diriger l’attention, d’abord, vers ce qui fait la beauté du sol, – non pas tant cette beauté classée, renommée, qui s’impose, se manifeste par un certain nombre d’objets déterminés, signalés à toutes les admirations et à tous les respects, que la beauté intime, éparse, capricieusement et discrètement distribuée et que l’œil de l’artiste sait discerner, va chercher dans les moindres recoins, fait ressortir comme le mineur extrait l’or du minerai qui le recèle27.
30Of course this search for new subjects – or new ways to show old subjects - took part in the search for novelties that was characteristic for the tourist economy itself. But it also reflected a quest for a more intimate relationship with the city and the landscape. Buls’ ideas on urban and rural aesthetics were promoted together with the activities of the Société nationale pour la protection des sites et des monuments, which co-organized the photography contests.
31We have argued that the debate on the preservation of sites was accompanied by a notion of the city as an ‘urban landscape’, in the sense of an experienced space rather than a succession of isolated monuments. We have also demonstrated that this experience is promoted in the text, but not mirrored in the iconography. The photos made by Victor Stouffs, the winner of the 1905 photography contest, reflected, as an exception, a search for a new representation of the monument and the city. His images showed parts of monuments and sites and their reflection in the water (terrace houses in Bruges, the Buda bridge in Kortrijk, etc.). The unusual framing avoided a stereotyped image of the monument and suggested an intimate relationship between the subject and the city that tourism desperately sought to restore. He didn’t show the classical monument of the postcard, but the day-dream of a pedestrian lingering by the water : a fragmented reality. It is symptomatic that an image of a monument that resisted the codes of the contemporary tourist iconographic system was not only rare but also came from outside the tourist circuit : in fact, Stouffs was a semi-professional photographer who published in an artistic context.
32These kinds of experiments were not repeated in the Bulletin, and eventually the photography contests stopped because of a lack of interest, which is an indication that the readers themselves chose not to break the conventions of the existing iconographic system.
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Bruno NOTTEBOOM, « From monument to landscape and back again », Strates [En ligne], 13 | 2007, mis en ligne le 05 novembre 2008, Consulté le 13 février 2016. URL : http://strates.revues.org/5673Haut de page
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