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Tourism Creates and Exploits an Image of the City

The tourist is an inseparable part of the historic city centre. Without the city centre, there is no tourist, and in that centre are the city's monuments. Monuments are there to be seen, but with what eye must one look at these exotic remains? Forming an image offers solutions. This is how you must look. This is what you must feel.

The tourist follows a trajectory from outside to inside the city. In Bruges, initially, this usually took place by boat, on the 'barge' from the Katelijnepoort. Later it was by train, from the Zand: a crucial shift of emphasis. For the tourist, who arrived extra muros, the monument was the beacon that called him in. The monument was his objective, gave his course its direction - a centripetal movement. This was crucial to the strategy of the city's tourist image. It was always from outside to inside, always aimed towards a monument (albeit incidentally noted that the urban movement of the city itself was in fact that the centre was moving out, outside the walls, with its back to the monuments). Even with the monument as his objective, the tourist still needed a guide. This explains the guide in all its forms: as a book, as a person, as city maps for tourists, the 'subtitles' posted in the city itself, and of course, the images. Traditionally printed photographic images can be considered in this function, as guides, in a dual motion of selection and synthesis. The most important are affiliated with just a few monuments - a resume version of the city: reduced, convenient, easily referred to, unequivocal.

Initially, it was the (slow) traveller who dominated. He was well-to-do, and in the true sense of the word, an amateur: someone who travelled to educate himself and build character. It was only at the end of the century that that other profile of the tourist began - swift, staying only briefly, in search of a 'moment of contact' (the 'I-was-here' of the picture postcard that he purchased there, and later, one's own travel photographs). Inside the city, the tourist moreover met professionalized guides (united and accredited by the guide associations) for tours along predetermined routes. However this may be, the real urban development of the city - crucial for its inhabitants and their livelihoods - physically threatened the city centre and brought it into a relative perspective. The guide preferred to be silent on this matter, for the tourist was not interested in the everyday life of the city, only in its utopian specificity. People visited Bruges because and only in as far as it was not interchangeable with other cities, not because it was ultimately a city like all other cities, undergoing the same global modernization.

The images of the city - in the lithographs as well as the photographs - made this same choice: the historic city centre was its exclusive subject. In the case of photography, this seems somewhat surprising, because one might presume an intimate bond between the modernization of the city and the modernization of the image. But the photograph in fact reinforced the view onto the past, not that to the future. The difference between this and the metropolis itself was that there, in the real city, the spectacle of the modernization itself was at the forefront.

The tone of this retrospective city image is 'picturesque'. This was patently true in lithography, but it was also continued in photography. The picturesque is a narrative description, in which a patrimony is dramatically enunciated and focalizeed for strong identification. It was such density as this that the travelling 'amateur' sought. This new lithographic tradition stood far removed from eighteenth-century views, with their wide, multiple panoramas of cities, and resolutely chose accentuated vantage points that made the monument a personality and the observer a participating reader-observer. Photography further advanced this tradition, if with improbable means. The picturesque remained a very literary visual form, almost impossible to translate into the language of detached photographic exposure. Nonetheless, the lithography firms were important producers and sellers of photographic prints. For their makers and their public, the distinction between a print filled with atmosphere and Stimmung and a photograph without people, with high contrast between light and dark, was far less conspicuous than it is for us. The photographer effortlessly took over the visual forms of lithographic tradition.

At the end of the century, the printed card was developed for the tourists. It recycled, reworked and transformed the cities' older photographic patrimony. Old, resold archives and new pictures were now intermingled. The rectangular format of the printed card was not that of the original photograph, and its coloration and text further violated the original images. It is an interesting but impure form. The objective was to give the tourist proof in hand that he had been somewhere, and this had to be efficiently achieved in a single image. A petrifaction of motifs and visual forms was virtually unavoidable. The printed card was a reworking of an emblemization of standard monuments, which now became iconographic blueprints with less and less plastic density and progressively less historical significance. The printed card produced a handful of logos that spoke the language of the day tourist and his greatly reduced ambition of having 'been' there.

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