michael hughes’s blog

The making of… Pisa and the Lollipop

Posted in The making of... by michaelhughes on February 15, 2009


12.04.2000 Pisa, Italy. View of the Leaning Tower obscured by rainbow lollipop

12.04.2000 Pisa, Italy. View of the Leaning Tower obscured by rainbow lollipop















You can now buy this photo for just €1,00 at;



It is probably the most famous tower in the world and one of the Souvenir classics; the leaning tower of Pisa. Begun in 1173 and finished 177 years later, the tower is actually built like a banana; the builders compensating the angle over the years to try to keep it upright. Engineering work during the nineties strengthened the tower and slowly pulled it back to the angle it had had in 1838. In 2001 it was reopened to the public. 

Eight hundred and twenty-seven later, in Easter 2000, my family and I were travelling through Pisa on the way down to Tuscany. After Loreley, New York and Berlin, Pisa was the next Souvenir on the list. A friend of mine, Heinz Krimmer, who runs and owns an agency for funny photos had given me a resin table-lamp in the form of the tower to take to Italy out of his collection of strange objects. I was pretty pleased with the lamp because already a serious problem was beginning to manifest itself; the necessity to find interesting objects to replace the originals in the photos I was collecting. 

Generally speaking, postcards are the main Souvenir which people take home or send. Apparently John P. Charlton of Philadelphia patented the postcard in 1861, selling the rights to a certain H. L. Lipton. Nine years later the Europeans followed suit. The US Post held the rights to pre-stamped cards until 1901, prohibiting companies from calling their cards “Postcards” thereby forcing them to use the name; “Souvenir Cards”. The “divided back” card – the form we know today with the left side being used for the message and the right for the address, first came into use in the US in 1907. In 1910 who else but the French would invent the erotic postcard? Photography and the postcard are interdependent and mark the beginning of popular culture where the mechanical reproduction of the representation of something becomes arguably more important than the thing itself. This underlying fact is what enables my Souvenir series to have meaning and be enjoyed by so many people. Availability and ownership of cheap industrially-produced copies of things for a new mass audience had a profound effect on the world. Travel which had been the privilege of the upper and middle classes became accessible to the emerging popular culture. The new fame of the landmark, made possible by mechanical reproduction no doubt fuelled the desire to travel. Associating ones’ self to a famous place or thing by buying its image, thereby proving that one had travelled to see it, confirmed the meaningfulness of ones’ own life. A bit of the glory rubbed off.  On the other side, the replacement of a famous landmark with a cheap imitation implicitly pokes fun at the landmark for having been reduced to a mere sign at the same time as it makes fun of the tawdry imitation. the advent of mass-photography has made the camera into the souvenir-machine per se, as evidenced by the phenomenon of individuals pretending to hold up the tower while being photographed by friends, a sport which I also witnessed at the pyramids in Egypt where people would pretend to hold them in their hand from the vantage point of the parking place to the west of the site. Since then the cameras in mobile phones have made the practice even more popular, I have heard of swarms of tourists with glowing mobile phones held aloft catching a fuzzy view of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.

The western Capitalist societies have diversified their products in every aspect of daily life, so too with souvenirs. Representations in the form of commodities have taken new forms to pluck the tourist’s money form their pockets. Around any tourist site and throughout any town, a collection of kiosks and shops ply their trade. Despite the quantity of shops and goods on offer, the actual choice is severely limited. It was the realisation of this which had led me to pack the resin lamp as an example of a quality example of Souvenir representation as I did not expect to find anything in Pisa to match my expectations. At the same time it was the expression of my self-made pressure to produce interesting photographs for the collection.

Consequently, I was experimenting with the resin lamp in front of the tower and having a great deal of trouble making the photograph work. It was my first confrontation with the transparency problem; if the resin copy entirely covered the tower of Pisa the photo made no sense. We are only familiar with the tower itself and not with the plaza where it stands. I remember feeling surprised when I saw the tower for the first time after parking the car, asking myself if this was the actual tower and not a copy put up in a place suitable for tourists, similar to the statue of David in Florence. The medieval structure of the town in which the tower stands was unusual for me and forced me to rethink what role it had played as it was being built. Marion (my wife) had been hunting the stalls at the edge of the plaza while I was photographing and came rushing over to me with something in her hand. She triumphantly presented me with the rainbow lollipop, wrapped in cellophane. Immediately it was obvious that this was the real thing and I immediately packed the lamp into a carrier bag. The first shots with the lollipop are with the cellophane still on, it seemed to me that giving the tower a sanitary wrapping was a kind of comment in its self. I tilted the frame of the camera to give the impression that the tower was straight as a further little joke. The nice thing about kids is that they are always a source of inspiration and the simple putting two and two together of my daughter (aged six at the time) and the lollipop was a tiny step which was to influence many of the Souvenirs in the future. My hand (a finger) is barely visible in the photo, in fact this picture has less of my hand than in any other, and is only there to help my daughter Lea hold the lollipop precisely in place. The transparency problem was resolved by allowing the real tower to appear around the outline of the lollipop. The grey tinged with mauve, overcast skies helps pick up the colour saturation in the lolli and is a welcome change from the ubiquitous blue skies so loved of picture editors the world over. I was trying to compose a picture which would look like an accident, which would have spoiled the series had I succeeded. The idea formed then of trying to integrate passers-by into the composition as if they were interacting with the object that I was holding, which can be seen in Abbey Road, the telephone kiosk, the policeman’s helmet, etc.

We then went off to eat a fantastic cheese risotto where the last piece of the puzzle fell into place; I decided that in future the rule must be to look for and find a souvenir at the place itself. Bringing objects seemed to me to be too calculating and unproductive, one must be prepared to be open to the situation, even at the risk of finding nothing.


You can now buy this photo for just €1,00 at

flickr index: 84,070, 175 faves, 40 comments



3 Responses

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  1. hellaOAKLAND said, on March 16, 2009 at 11:18 am

    wow, thanks for the history lesson! who knew that they were onces called souvenir cards! =)

    (I only made it half way. short attention span).

  2. Jennifer said, on May 28, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    This is one of my favorite Souvenirs! Love it!!!

  3. starvillanueva said, on August 10, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Nicely photographed!

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