Category Archives: Italy

Dawn along the Tiber River

My friend and I woke in the darkness before the first light of dawn in our hotel near the Spanish Steps in Rome. We grabbed our cameras and tripods, donned our headlamps, and walked west to the Tiber River, which was swollen with autumn rains. The river itself ran sluggish and muddy in its broad channel between two steep embankments. A stair led down to the river bank, and a pedestrian path followed the river. As we walked towards the Vatican and central Rome, I noticed homeless camps beneath the bridges with the kind of makeshift shelters that you find in all the major cities of the world in places where poor people can escape notice for a night. 

Ponte Sant'Angelo © Harold Davis

Ponte Sant’Angelo © Harold Davis

We stopped by the Ponte Sant’Angelo, originally built by the Emperor Hadrian in 134 A.D., to photograph the first light of dawn. This is a location in the heart of the ancient Roman Empire, and near to the core citadel of the Roman Catholic faith, but if you look carefully you can see the incursions of the modern world—the reflections of the lights of an Apple Store in the muddy waters of the Tiber River.

Also posted in Digital Night

Study in Contrasts

It’s little more than a hour drive from the sleek architectural statements of Milan’s skyscrapers to the picturesque shores of Lake Como. 

Cloud, CityLife, Milano © Harold Davis

Cloud, CityLife, Milano © Harold Davis

 

Villa Cipressi, Varenna © Harold Davis

Villa Cipressi, Varenna © Harold Davis

Tuscan Road

Wandering the fields and byways of southern Tuscany, I came across this tree-lined road, and settled in for a photography session, enjoying the action of the high-flying clouds. I processed the image to look intentionally anachronistic, essentially like a kind of illustration rather than a photo.

Tuscan Road © Harold Davis

Tuscan Road © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome

City on the Hill

I find when I am traveling that misadventures often bring unexpected photographic dividends. A case in point: getting stuck in a muddy field in my rental car in Tuscany got me into position as the sun was setting to make this image of a classic ancient hill town, Pienza. Somehow, a bright city on the hill persists as the metaphor for the shining society we could have, if we were a little nicer and tried for it a bit harder.

Pienza, Tuscany © Harold Davis

Pienza, Tuscany © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

First a kingdom, then a republic, and finally an empire—for a thousand years the pax Romana held. Today the glory that was Rome amounts to a curiosity, ruins of an ancient civilization presented for the amusement of the tour bus set, the coliseum and Roman forum embedded in the surrounding modern city. Sic transit gloria mundi [“Thus passes the glory of the world”]. Any parallels to modern times are, of course, entirely coincidental.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (Color) © Harold Davis

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (Color) © Harold Davis

To make this photo, on a rainy day in Rome my companion and I took the elevator to the top of the Victor Emanuel II Memorial. The building commemorates the father of modern Italy, and houses a museum of the Risorgimento, but is essentially bombastic in architectural design, having been variously described as a giant “typewriter” and (most appropriately) a huge wedding cake.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (Black & White) © Harold Davis

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (Black & White) © Harold Davis

With my camera on my tripod, I captured several sequences of the rain-soaked city and the clearing storm. Then the attendant rushed up to me, and very vehemently told me I couldn’t use my tripod. Fortunately, this image sequence (six exposures 1/4 of a second to 1/640 of a second at f/8 and ISO 64) was already “in the can.”

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (simulated Albumen print) © Harold Davis

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (simulated Albumen print) © Harold Davis

Abbazia di Sant’Antimo

Nestled in a valley in the Tuscan Hills, the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo—Abbey of Saint Anthony—dates originally from the eighth century. If you arrive at the right time, you can hear the monks chanting—but mostly this is a peaceful and silent place. Back in the day, the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo was a secular powerhouse as well as a religious community, and owned farms and churches from here to Siena. But all things must pass, the material world is vanity, and today other than when there is chanting, the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo is notable for the quietness of its pristine location.

Abbazia di Sant'Antimo © Harold Davis

Abbazia di Sant’Antimo © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape

Romantic Landscapes

There’s nothing I like better than to capture romantic landscapes. Of course, any landscape can be romantic in the right light, and almost any landscape can be grim in harsh light. Still, when I am in the heart of the mountains, my thoughts turn towards romantic imagery—and the same when there is a sweetly pictaresque tower or two, or maybe an ancient castle rampart.

Towers of San Gimignano © Harold Davis

Towers of San Gimignano © Harold Davis

Fundamentally, this is an anti-post-modern aesthetic on my part. Maybe this is catchier as “post-post-modern” imagery (abbreviated as “post-squared modern”). In other words, I like the lushness of imagery that shows us a world that is partially fantasy. A world that takes a certain kind of eye to see, and the very real skills of a post-squared modern digital artist to capture without overdoing it. I am aware of the possibilities of irony, but prefer the policies of optimism.

Dolomite View © Harold Davis

Dolomite View © Harold Davis

About the images: (Top) With sunset coming on in a light rain, I hurried to find a high vantage point in the fabulous towered confection of San Gimignano, Italy. From the little tower on the Rocca I had a great view across to the towers, and to the rain passing in the sunset. (Above) View east from the mountains above Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. (Below) This sunset view of Castelo Marvao in Portugal reminds me of the feeling in the San Gimignano image at the beginning of this story.

Castelo Marvao © Harold Davis

Castelo Marvao © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape, Photography, Portugal

Hotel Room with a View

I like to photograph from my hotel room, and I make a point of requesting rooms with a view. Sometimes this works. There’s nothing particularly characteristic of Milan, Italy in these views from my hotel balcony in central Milan at the NH Milano President (basically a middle of the road business hotel), but it was fun photographing car light trails with the stationary trolley at night (bottom image), and when the rain made it too wet to go outside with the camera and tripod, the impressionistic iPhone image of Milan in the rain (upper image) was easy to make without getting too cold and wet!

Rainy Night © Harold Davis

Rainy Night © Harold Davis

Some other hotel rooms with a view: Positano Morning; Window in Bourges; Room with a View.

Via Verziere, Milan © Harold Davis

Via Verziere, Milan © Harold Davis

Also posted in Digital Night, iPhone

Morning Blue

The special characteristics of light at sunset—first the “golden hour,” followed by the “blue hour”—are well known to all serious landscape photographers. Indeed, the quality of the light and the emotional resonance of the views of this good earth as sunset commences, and for a while post-sunset, is clear to all romantic observers of every persuasion.

Morning Blue © Harold Davis

Morning Blue © Harold Davis

What is less well-known is that sunrise duplicates the same wonderful sequence, but in reverse. So shortly after dawn there is a blue period, followed by a time of golden lighting, and then daytime commences. For astronomical reasons, morning blues and golden hues tend to be shorter in duration than those in the evening—but they are no less potent and emotionally heart warming.

Click here for a related image, Dawn on Lake Como, and here for workshop opportunities to explore different and exotic sunrises and sunsets with your camera and me!

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Bramante Stairs

The Bramante Stairs is a double helix staircase, meaning it consists of two independent helical stairs in the same vertical space, allowing one person to ascend and another to descend, without ever meeting if they choose different helices. This spectacular staircase is found when leaving the Vatican Museum—the day I visited one of the helical stairs was closed to traffic, and the other was pretty busy.

Bramante Stairs (Looking Up) © Harold Davis

Bramante Stairs (Looking Up) © Harold Davis

Bramante Stair (Looking Down) © Harold Davis

Bramante Stairs (Looking Down) © Harold Davis

Related story: Sistine Chapel Ceiling.

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography

Tuscan Field

This field has been plowed. It is autumn, and the land is bare, waiting in lengthy passivity for the new crops of spring to begin to show. The patterns in the furrows as rendered by the reflected light from sky and clouds make an austere composition, possibly with more depth than is apparent on the initial glance.

Tuscan Field © Harold Davis

Tuscan Field © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography

View from a San Gimignano Tower

I’ve just got home and am recovering from a 26-hour day of travel, and the nine hours of jet lag between the Bay area and Italy. That said, it was a great trip, and I am anticipating much fun as I begin to process my images from Italy. This one is another view from high up a San Gimignano tower as a storm gathered.

View from a San Gimignano Tower © Harold Davis

View from a San Gimignano Tower © Harold Davis

Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Visiting the Vatican Museum is an affair of moving with and through crowds. Most are in densely packed “schools of fish” (in tour groups). Others lumber slowly, couples or small family groups, perhaps with a grandparent and a toddler with stroller in tow.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling © Harold Davis

Sistine Chapel Ceiling © Harold Davis

My friend remarked that the Sistine Chapel—packed wall-to-wall with people—seemed more like a Turkish Bath than a holy place of worship. As I snaked my way through the packed masses and towards the Uscita, I held my camera flat on the top of my head, and snapped the image you see.

Also posted in Photography

Il Campo, Siena

Il Campo is the central square in Siena, Italy—famous for its horse races, as a hang-out spot, and as a demonstration of the civic power of the historic republic of Siena. I visited Il Campo many years ago when I was a college kid to hang out, and not much has changed in all the intervening years. The surrounding restaurants and shops are louder and glitzier, and the crowds larger and more prosperous, but of course the architecture doesn’t change.

Il Campo, Siena © Harold Davis

Il Campo, Siena © Harold Davis

Speaking of architecture, I climbed the campanile tower above Il Campo to make this photo, all 330 stairs, no tripod or camera bag allowed. My fisheye lens was in my pocket, and when I reached the top and caught my breath I switched it on the camera, and held it out as over the brink as I could to make the image.

Clerestory Window

This large clerestory window in the Duomo in Trento, Italy struck me as quite like a mandala with bright, overcast light shining through. I underexposed the image to emphasize the effect. The only possibly discordant element is the small eagle, perhaps Hapsburg, in the center of the piece.

Clerestory Window © Harold Davis

Clerestory Window © Harold Davis