tourist photography snapshooters thomas consilvio

Snapshooters – Thomas Consilvio

books, sightseers

One of the interesting things about working on a long term project – like Sightseers – is that you get a chance to do some due diligence and see who else has approached the subject matter, how they’ve dealt with it and what their focus was.

I’ve located a few photographers who’ve approached the subject of tourism in general and a smaller number who’ve examined the phenomenon of tourists and their photography.

I saw a less than flattering review of Thomas Consilvio’s work on Blake Andrew’s blog and was intrigued enough to do a little digging. Consilvio was best known for being Garry Winogrand’s printer. He was the man entrusted to develop, proof and print the massive archive of un-processed film that Winogrand left behind. Here’s an interesting type written (!) press release from MOMA in 1988 on the subject.

In the 70’s Consilvio shot and published a short book featuring people taking tourist photos and he called it Snapshooters. It’s hard to find out much more about him or the book. It contains approximately 40 black and white pictures that were shot, as far as I can tell in the USA and in Italy, Rome specifically. There are no captions, dates, locations or even an introduction to the book. It was published in 1973 by A Mouse Press, Boston and cost $4.95. I paid £30 plus postage for it.

All the shots featuring people, who I presume are tourists, taking snapshots of friends and family, in front of tourist sites or tourist locations. In the book Consilvio works through some of the problems that confront a photographer attempting to capture other people taking photographs: do you try and include the photographer and their subject, or just one or the other; do you try and include the location they are posing in front of; and do you place them in a wider composition that includes other people or groups of people.

_DSF5497Some of the shots are visual puns, like this one where he riffs off the perennial problem of a trees or lam-posts sprouting out the top of people’s head.













He also captures the moments just before or after the shot was taken and bearing in mind this is decades before the digital camera and their screens, he’s even got a shot of a group gathered a round a developing polaroid, eager to see the picture.

_DSF5501Others, like the image above with the men in cowboy hats and flag poles, rely on a strong sense of visual rhythm to give the shot power and to force us to wonder what the photographer focusing on.

_DSF5502 In the shot above, taken I’d guess in Rome, he creates a moment of almost cinematic drama, as a smartly suited man, half hidden by the wall takes a shot as two other men seem to pause in confrontation.

Blake Andrews gave the book a pretty poor review “the material here is tired and uninspiring, and the most unfortunate irony is that the printing is lousy. A book for the Winogrand completists maybe. Others should steer clear.”

And whilst it is ironic that the reproduction is pretty inky and flat, I think it’s worth a look, for the clothes and cameras alone.


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