Topic: Italy (9 posts) Page 1 of 2


I sometimes feel as though I've spent my whole adult life photographing in Italy.

Of course, that's not true, but over many many trips to photograph and to teach in the summers, Italy has been a base, a foundation of creative output for me since very early days. I don't know the whole country, having never been to the south, but north of Rome, I know well, with many pictures the result. Viterbo, Duino near Trieste, Venice,  Luca, and northern Italy? Feel like home.

These were places I was teaching summer semesters abroad for various schools, until I created a program in Venice with Holly Smith Pedlosky for Northeastern University to teach a Summer 1 photography course in 2007. I stopped after 3 years but the prgram continued for the next 10.

Much of my time photographing in Italy was spent working in black and white with the  8 x 10 camera. This was mostly in the 90's:

Those summers I taught 5 days a week with Friday afternoon crits.That meant  I had the weekends free. I'd load up the 8 x 10 and off I'd go in some tiny Italian rental car, free to roam, to look and to photograph.

Often I'd have a teaching assistant along with me or a student or two, but many times it was just going off on my own. Each evening I would unload the exposed film in a closet or dark room into empty film boxes. These I would bring back to the States with me at the end of my time in Europe and begin to develop the film. 4 sheets at a time in 11 x 14-inch trays in total darkness, day in and day out. There were years where it would take me 4 or 5 months just to develop the film. 

I've written this before but I didn't really think much about how difficult all this was, how labor intensive, expensive and heavy the gear was. It was the way I made my pictures, simple enough. If I wanted to photograph something, well, out came the big camera.

Next up, in Italy 2 we'll take a look at the early 2000's when I started photographing digitally, leaving the 8 x 10 behind.

Topics: Italy,Black and White,Foreign

Permalink | Posted January 16, 2018


In 2003 I went to Venice, Italy to scout it out as a possible location for teaching photography in the summers for Northeastern, where I ran the Photo Program. My idea was to combine forces with Holly Smith Pedlosky to teach photography for a summer semester for the school. Holly had gone to Venice frequently ever since her honeymoon when she was younger so she knew Venice very well. She also had been teaching workshops for many summers in Venice and, on alternating years, in Varenna, a village on the edge of Lake Como. Sadly, Holly died in 2012 of cancer (obituary here). Holly and I spent a week or so that summer traipsing around Venice, speaking to locals about how it all might happen: working on where we would house students, where we would teach, what we would teach, where we would house the faculty, the various logistics involved and so on. Little did I know that upon my return to Boston there would be a nightmare of bureaucracy and obstacles thrown up by Northeastern in the process of trying to make it all happen. Suffice it to say it took two more years of sitting in meetings with amazingly inept people, filling out forms and explaining the concept to pull it off. Argh! It gets my blood boiling just to think about it now. I was successful, though, and ran the course in Venice for three years myself. In fact, it is still running every summer.

That summer in 2003 I wasn't only there to plan a future study abroad program, I wanted to photograph. One of the areas that caught my eye was at the arsenal, (arsenale in Italian). Arsenale is a vaporetto stop (water taxi) and is the walled fortification where the military was housed to defend Venice throughout much of its long history.

But my interest was along the back side outside the walls of the Arsenale where it was, frankly, a mess. To get there I had to get off the vaporetto at an obscure stop on the other side of the island that really led to nowhere. There were some overrun gardens nestled up against the arsenal's walls. I might have had to cross a fence to get access. One of the advantages of increased age is that I can't remember.

What I loved about this place was that it was what the locals created away from the crowds of tourists. Venice is finite, an island in a lagoon with way too many people all the time. It is a sort of bizarre Disneyworld in that it is a place that is in existence to present itself to hordes of tourists from all over the world. And to get their money. But on the outside of the back side of Arsenale locals had a few tables, grew a few vegetables and escaped from the relentlessness of thousands upon thousands of people tromping through their city like in a siege. This place was an escape.

As I began to photograph it seemed odd but I was on familiar ground for I had made a series of pictures in a manner much like this many years before. The project was called Solothurn and was from a small town in Switzerland where the series unfolded in a sort of jigsaw puzzle of sequenced pictures. My series Arsenale is like that.

You can see that here everything is the same but different from frame to frame. I wrote a little about this way of working, referring to the Solothurn portfolio, made in 1983:

Solothurn CH to be precise. Having gone to a European photo festival in the town I set out with the Hasselblad SWC and several rolls of film down the back side of these row houses on a mid afternoon mid week in mid summer. Bang! These things so interconnected and intertwined as I walked down the street, something frame left was showing up in the next one, frame right. Like a jigsaw puzzle, the challenge was to see that, search, find the connection, the thing in its new location, and move on. This was a new way of working, of course. I’d never connected pictures to pictures this way before and this one hit me hard. There are also several frames where I push the lens right into something, more than I’d done before. It was this series that showed me how good the SWC was close in.
Let’s not forget that this is very early series days and this is maybe the third one I’d done (I started making tightly sequenced series work in 1981). It was a big period of learning for me as I was now in the work, so to speak. Not trying to get to the work, not hoping to be in the work, not wishing for anything except another shoot as good as the last shoot. “In the work” means I am in the project and consumed with it. Story of my life, really.

So there I was on the backside of the wall of Arsenale in Venice, Italy, making these pictures, sliding along to place something that had been on the left now in the center and/or perhaps next on the right

with the wall the glue that held the pictures together and made them compre-hensible.

So here, twenty years after I'd made the Solothurn pictures I was  back in this process in front of this wonderful and complex place and knowing I had a way, a method, a strategy by which I could make pictures. You get that, I am sure. That there needs to be a framework around which you hang your pictures, some sort of logic or process by which you work.  At least in this manner, this way of tightly sequencing the work to strive for a whole. 

I can't really go through all of them here as the post will be too long but will place them all on the site on the gallery page soon so you can see the full set.

At any rate, the project moves on in its incremental way and arrives here

to one of those "aha" moments, this rule breaker, this foundation shaking picture which is, all modesty aside, simply gorgeous with its structure, softness, its breaking away from the back wall to establish itself as no longer dependent upon the wall for visual support. It is a core picture in the series, one that many of the other pictures pivot around and one that hits close to home for me emotionally.

And, of course, it goes very well with this:

where things have really gotten a little out of control, growth-wise. The series concludes with a little more logic, a little restoring of things to a sort or normalcy. I am not usually a cynic and this series, made in 2003, came back around to the wall again and also to some of the tools used in keeping a garden.

I will finish soon, I promise, but bear with me for one more point. While I have discussed this way of working, this sliding down something to form a whole through composite parts (not so dissimilar to what what I did with Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz, in the current show at 555 Gallery up until Oct 17 of my Monsters work which I really hope you go see) there is another concept at play in Arsenale. Is the seminal picture of the concrete pyramid made as it was found as I moved along the back wall, in essence there as if come upon as a surprise? Or are the other pictures made to hover around the pyramid because it was known and made first? To bring you into this one core image? Is this one picture made by calculation for perceived effect or by intuition in an emotional response? There are two different motivations as possibilities at work here and there would be two different results, I believe. For the record my process in making the Arsenale photographs was the former, for I didn't know the pyramid existed until after I'd made the earlier images in the series. So, yes, I came upon the pyramid. I love that, that the artist has made discoveries just as you do as you look at the work, picture after picture. That's in there, I believe. The joy or amazement in discovering an exceptional something in front of me and all it takes is the quality of my practice and the smarts to know it is exceptional. Finally, it is a contextual thing. No way would the pyramid photograph have any interest or relevance if the other sequence hadn't preceded it. Igor Stravinsky's melody and harmony make little sense and have little impact unless there is dissonance and stridency before them.

I find it ironic that the series of photographs of Arsenale is about the outside and back of the structure and this blog has been about the inside of the series.

We are done with Arsenale and its meaning and implication. What this is, of course, is explication. The explanation of the meaning of something. In large part it is what this blog is for. In the case of my work, to bring you into it and to help you understand it better and clearer, at least from this one person's perspective. Good work? Bad work? Can't really say, I just can relate it to you as I worked it, saw it then and see it now through the perspective of many years distance.

Care to respond? Feel free. As always, easy. Email me here

Topics: Italy,Black and White,Foreign,Vintage

Permalink | Posted October 2, 2015


I don't know about you but I tend to be a little skeptical when it comes to miracles. I don't think of myself as being a tried and true cynic but some healthy perspective on things seems good to me and when confronted with a "true" miracle I tend to be wary.

But I can't really tell you what's going on here:

These two guys were sitting there in the central piazza in Torino, Italy a couple of weeks ago. There was no visible support and no guy wires. They were stoic, with no changing expressions on their faces and no acknowledgement of anyone passing by. All I can think of, since the fabric covered their arms, was that there was a steel armature and structure that ran down the yellow one's arm up the pole and down the red guy's arm to a seat. John and I discussed this, the possibility that the yellow man's hand was fake, as the weak link in this display seemed to be his hand.

Presumably they sit there, hour after hour, like statues, proof that miracles do exist and that with true faith and belief in God's higher powers, anything can happen.

I am not so sure.

Topics: Italy,Foreign,Digital,Color

Permalink | Posted November 25, 2014

Day 6 & 7 From Italy

We've moved up to the Alps, way up. My hosts have a place in a region called Stroppo in a tiny village called Morinesio about 5000 feet up in the Italian Alps close to the French border.

We drove for 1 1/2 hours from Alba, stopping along the way for the best bread, the best meat, the best cheeses, the best dessert and drove up and up to a hamlet on the side of the mountain that has a population of about 30, when they're all here, as many come here just for vacation. This below taken from the balcony of the house:

I don't know about you but the view from my condo in Cambridge isn't quite like that.

John and I went out to photograph and drove up the valley until we couldn't go anymore. As we headed north there was snow on the ground and in the late fall the trees were golden.

The region is popular for hiking, cross country skiing and mountain biking. The locals grow potatoes, wild boar is hunted and, of course, it is visually stunning. 

The valley has an untouched quality to it. The locals have worked hard to preserve it and keep snowmobiliers out and are actively resisting a developer who wants to bring in a downhill ski area. 

Actually, John and Donna's house is for sale. This site will give you details: Stroppo.  Right now, I am sitting at the large dining room table as I write this.  This is quite simply a wonderful home and an extraordinary place to live.

John and I are headed off to Noli today, along the coast of the Mediterranean, to spend a couple of days. From there we'll take an overnight to get back up to Paris for Paris Photo.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Italy,Foreign,Digital

Permalink | Posted November 9, 2014

New Old: Forti Dei Marmi, Italy 2012

Odd to be posting new pictures made almost two years ago but I have spent the last week or so resurrecting this now older work into prints and I am very excited about them.

Forti Dei Marmi

That is a link to the full series but I will give you a few here too:

I think of these as being indulgent as they are so filled with the love of color... but I am getting ahead of myself.

In the fall of 2012, still enjoying the newness of being retired, a friend and I made a trip to Italy to stay with close friends who were having a delayed honeymoon in a small house in the hills in Voldottavo, about 20 minutes from Lucca in central Italy. Would I work? Would I make pictures? Could I pull that off in the middle of vacationing, being a tourist, shopping, eating, drinking copious amounts of wine, laughing a lot and overall having a great time? As I packed up my full kit in Cambridge prior to leaving, which includes several lenses, tripod, laptop computer and hard drives, I thought I would soon find out.

How do we resolve this? This desire to go someplace wonderful and then deal with the conflict of the fact that if it is so wonderful, we have this desire and need to make pictures? Luckily for me, I had in my traveling friend, Marybeth, someone who understands this need and is amazingly helpful in letting me go do what I need to do. Without her these pictures would not have been made. Marybeth isn't an artist, but she sure gets my need to make pictures and I am everlastingly grateful for that.

I made four bodies of work while there:

Luna Park



and now printed, Forti Dei Marmi. You tell me? How'd I do?

The deal we struck, Marybeth and I, was that we would go if I could get back to Trieste where I'd shot the stands of trees three years earlier about 30 minutes west of the city near Palmanova. I'd made a series of pictures there in 2009 (Trees, 2009) and I very much wanted to be there again with a camera to make a series  in color.

So, here I was in Forti Dei Marmi, an Italian seaside resort, which was very trendy, posh and managed, with my friends shopping as it was market day and me wandering around, camera in hand, looking for pictures to make. I found myself down by the beach. As so often happens, pictures began to unfold and reveal themselves to me as I walked about. First it seemed to be about the sand and how it is always manicured at "paid" beaches in Italy. Yes, there are public and paid beaches in Italy. The paid ones are always made perfect at the start of each day with tractors dragging along behind them a rake that disappears the previous day's foot prints. So, I worked with that for a while. The sand was flat and rich in middle tan/gray, contrasting with the changing rooms in bright bright colors.

So, from the sand there are one or two transitionals, pictures I make to help get me from one idea to another in a series.

"It was one of those days where if you stood out there looking at the meeting of the water and the sky, if you just let your senses relax and take in this light, this color, this sound, you could, yes, it true, you could feel like you were able to see forever and be at peace with yourself."

I wrote that in the evening after we were back at our hillside home, sitting outside under the trellis at the table where we were about to have a wonderful meal. 

From there we move on to these, printed as pairs:

A South African ambles by, carrying his "designer" handbags, as my fiend Gail watches him. These guys are all over Italy and hang out at the touristy areas. It's fun to watch them run for cover as the local police patrol and chase them away, only to see them resurface again as soon as the cops are gone. This was a brief look at reality in the middle of a place that was like a dream.

The pictures move on then to a Pantone wheel of colors, the changing rooms paid beach goers rent to put on their swim suits in the summer:

Then the series ends, abruptly, as the statement's been been made, the analogies are in place, the "comparisons and contrasts" are finished and the pictures need to stop.

For me, Forti Dei Marmi was good, very very good, short but sweet.  It took me almost two years to get to it, but with it being 8 degrees outside as I write this on December 31st in Cambridge, MA it feels great to put my mind back to a perfect, and warm, day in Italy. 

Hope you enjoy it.

Topics: Italy,Color,Digital,New Work

Permalink | Posted December 31, 2013