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Photographing The Tourist Hordes Of Italy

Oleg Tolstoy went to Florence to capture the iPhone-wielding crowds that flock to Italian cities.

In cities all over Italy, floods of tourists pour in each year, threatening the preservation of increasingly worn historic sites and public squares. Deregulation of the housing market, coupled with the rise of Airbnb, have made the country’s already-popular tourist destinations even more so: according to the Wall Street Journal, 52 million tourists visited Italy in 2016, up nearly 30% since 2000.

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Among the most trampled of Italian cities is Florence, where the Piazza del Duomo draws unrelenting crowds of visitors to see the city’s enormous 7th century cathedral. It’s that site where London-based photographer Oleg Tolstoy decided to post up during a recent trip to Florence in mid-June. Through his viewfinder, he captured the hordes of tourists experiencing the city through their own viewfinders—or iPhone screens, more accurately—and compiled them in a series entitled The Tourist Trap.

[Photo: Oleg Tolstoy/@olegtolstoy
Tolstoy’s images will be familiar to anyone who has lived in a tourist city, or who has been a tourist herself. His subjects are clad in sensible walking shoes, dorky hats, and sunglasses, cameras and lanyards draped around their necks. Many of them gape and gawk, and who can blame them: the duomo in Florence is not only huge and old, but also impressively decadent, with a brick dome and neo-gothic façade. Inevitably, everyone in Tolstoy’s photos is trying to document it with a phone.

[Photo: Oleg Tolstoy/@olegtolstoy
Fresh from a wedding in Tuscany, Tolstoy spent four or five days in the Piazza from 9a.m. to 4p.m., documenting and tourist-gazing, before heading back to London. He returned to Florence for a second week shortly thereafter to try to complete the series. His close-up, over-saturated images do wonders to capture the over-crowded feeling of being a tourist among tourists in a tourist-laden city.

Lately, Italy in particular has been overwhelmed by visitors—and that goes double for cities like Florence and Rome, where the urban landscape is made up of so many beautiful UNESCO sites. Mayors in several Italian cities have attempted to lessen the foot traffic and potential damage to historic town squares and public areas with bans and regulations. In a country where tourism accounts for 11.8% of the gross domestic product, the industry is wearing down historic sites and driving out the locals. Tolstoy’s images show this in vivid, claustrophobic detail.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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