I’m discovering that one of the perks of writing this blog is getting emails from readers (thanks, and keep them coming!); and I also enjoy the occasional freebies I get in the mail, too. For instance, I’ve gotten two advance copies of books about Italy to review on this blog. One of them is quite long and I haven’t started it yet (I’ll write about it when I do), but the other is mostly photographs, so I’m already done with it and here’s my review.
Tutta Roma is a book of photographs of Rome (of course) by Martin Parr, who is a British photographer. In 2006, the Rome International Festival of Photography asked Mr. Parr to “create a comprehensive guide of the eternal city,” which is what this book is. It is a guide in that it has maps of Rome (really excellent ones, actually) and information about the main sights (written in Italian and English by Italian art historian and journalist Ivana della Portella), and it’s thoughtfully encased in a plastic cover – at least mine is – to keep it from getting completely ruined by sloppy gelato eaters.
But this little book is not simply a look at one of the world’s most famous cities – it’s a look at how visitors make the city what it is. Most of the photographs are not of the sights themselves, but rather what’s going on around them. We’ve all seen pictures of the Colosseum, the Vatican and the Roman Forum countless times. We know what all of those things look like. Sure, I can still appreciate a nicely made photograph of the Pantheon, but I’m much more intrigued by something I haven’t seen before. What Mr. Parr has done with the photographs in Tutta Roma is he’s forced us to look at more than just the “sight” but at its surroundings, and that includes the tourists.
The photographs are really interesting – you’ll see a blurry Colosseum behind a ball cap that says “ROMA” in big letters on the back. A “gladiator” in full (plastic?) costume near the Forum talks on his cell phone. There’s a blurry St. Peter’s behind a small man-made pyramid of Coke Light and Fanta bottles. A man who we assume is with a large tour group is weighed down by the number of cameras he’s holding, taking pictures of the group one at a time. But is this really a book for visitors to Italy’s capital?
From the books’ introduction:
Tourists in Rome are walking graffiti. They scar the face of a city supposed to be sublime. … What could be more irreverant thatn tourists? Just look at them, with their cameras and cokes and caps and maps: anything but sublime. But then look – and think – again. If you really open your eyes, isn’t what you are seeing also a collective rite? … Perhaps modern Rome still links heaven and earth – with tourists as part of the process.
Now, that first line is hardly going to sell many books to tourists, is it? But of course this book isn’t really designed for tourists. It might purport to be a guide to Rome, but it’s not. It’s a look at today’s Rome, and how this ancient city continues to not only cope with the influx of tourists every year but somehow also make them part of the scenery as well.
The Bottom Line – While this isn’t the book I’d recommend for your trip planning purposes, it’s a very interesting look at Rome (and at tourism) for anyone who loves The Eternal City.
Photographs: Martin Parr
Check out some of the other Italy-related books I’ve read and reviewed, too.
Full Disclosure & Whatnot: Just so y’know, the publisher sent me a copy of this book for review purposes.