I spoke with Tom Souzer recently after we asked him to capture photographs of the Bunker Projects board at work. Our conversation was about his process and experience as a photographer working predominantly in and with Downtown Pittsburgh as environment and subject.
Reese McArdle: Tom, what compels you to shoot?
Tom Souzer: I think there are a few things that compel me to shoot. The main one is to document what's around me whether it be a strange moment or a fleeting scene. I enjoy the hunt of looking for the next photo as well.
R: How do you recognize your subject, when do you know to point your camera and capture?
T: I guess the short answer is when it feels right but I guess I'm looking for some type of feeling in what I'm shooting. Whether it be a moment between a group of people, a facial expression, some type of funny, strange, or exciting scene happening in the street, I love it. It’s an addictive habit.
R: Do you know Saul Leiter?
T: I do know him, I don't know a ton of his work or have any of his books. But what I've seen I really enjoy.
R: You know he's a Pittsburgh guy? I think he's gonna he's gonna have another moment once people discover that. People in this town go crazy for people from this town.
T: Have you seen the Elliot Erwitt book of Pittsburgh?
R: Oh they're totally fantastic, yeah
T: They're so great. He just wandered all over the city. I love it. His book “Pittsburgh 1950” is incredible.
R: He catches the city at a certain point of transition and now we're at another point of transition. And you're on those same streets capturing similar scenes 70 years later. How is the city changing now?
T: It’s changed a lot. I've been here eight years now - and it seems like everything's changed. The people are different. They’re not as old. It’s a younger crowd downtown during the day and I guess to add to that some of people that are left aren't always in the best circumstances. It also seems like a lot of businesses are moving out and fancier places are moving in. I mean there's still like the OG Pittsburghers, the Yinzers and whatnot but there are less and less of them I think as time goes on. I hope Pittsburgh doesn’t lose its identity.
R: So, with your subject being people in and interacting with the urban environment I imagine you're well tuned to feel changes in people's behavior be it from seasons changing or from global pandemic... what's going on, what are you seeing?
T: People are even more to themselves than normal. There's more tension when taking photos downtown as of right now because a lot of the people left down there are sadly in a rough situation. There aren’t a whole lot of people either. I was downtown today and it was like a ghost town. I mean I made a few pictures but I think it’ll change how I do things. Social distancing and getting close to people doesn’t mix real well so I switched to a longer lens for the time being. I’ve been focusing more on signs about the pandemic, people wearing masks, photographing from the car and just in general things I wouldn’t normally look for.