Sunset Shining On The Basilica San Marco, Venice, Italy
Haven’t you seen enough sunrise and sunset photographs?
I think photographers are looking the wrong way when they photograph the sky filled with vividly-colored clouds or a bright orange (smoggy) glowing sky. Besides, how many of these do we need?
To me taking a photo of the rising or setting sun is like looking directly into the beam of a flashlight instead of seeing what the flashlight is shining on. The light source is not the interesting part of the scene.
With landscape and street photography you don’t control what is highlighted by the sun (or even street lighting), but it is interesting to move with the changing light and show how things change.
The early morning and late afternoon light are a photographer’s natural tools. They provide interesting shadows that highlight features. The color of the light shifts as it passes through the lower atmosphere. These are well-established rules of thumb.
That low-angle sun spotlights features that are washed out at mid-day. The orange light of a sunset reflects off of landscapes and buildings. I try to keep sunsets and sunrises behind me to see what is highlighted by them.
That is certainly not an innovative idea. But whenever I see another sunrise or sunset photo I wonder what the scene behind the photographer looked like.
This photograph of the Basilica San Marco in Venice, Italy glows with the low-angle light of a setting sun. The sun reflects strongly off of the metallic ornamentation. I know that the sun lowering over the Grand Canal behind me might have been photogenic also, but it just seemed like taking a picture of a light bulb. There are times when I am drawn to backlit scenes, but the elements in the foreground are the main reason on those occasions.
This photograph of the Basilica San Marco will be one of the photos in an exhibition in Libation (on the Plaza) in Arcata, California during April, 2011. The exhibition is called: A Sunny Day in Venice.
Over the quiet rhythmic splashing of waves against the buildings you can hear accordion music and someone singing. You have walked away from the crowds and found a narrow dead end alley where you can watch the boats go by in the canal.
The old doors of the homes nearby have opened onto this alley for centuries. They are massive, sturdy doors but worn. Behind these utilitarian entrances lie refuges against the constant crowds. Refuges with history and commanding views over the waterways and piazzas.
You entered this surreal artistic creation called Venice from a water taxi. As you stepped off the boat the crowd surged toward the iconic buildings and views. But there were some who escaped down small side alleys along the narrow channels.
You have no plan. You just want to walk and see where you end up. The small pocket map shows some of the main features but is short on details. You know the direction to the main sites but you stay a block or two away and skirt around them.
You walk past small shops and outdoor cafés. The alleys become more narrow and sometimes you end up in a small courtyard surrounded by ancient three story buildings. The paint has faded to odd shades of pink, orange, magenta, brown, and yellow. In places where stucco has fallen away the bricks and mortar show through.
There are no cars. At times the alleys are crowded with other tourists. You cross many channels each with its own distinctive bridge.
Turning down another little alley you reach a major channel. To your left is a small landing at the back of a hotel. The hotel staff are loading suitcases and packs onto a boat. Guests are checking out and will be taken back to the parking structures north of town. Another boat is tied up there and workers are unloading boxes of produce and other restaurant supplies. The front of the hotel faces a large piazza where only pedestrians enter. Access is by boat.
You walk on, still avoiding the crowds as much as possible. Over another bridge and down a deserted alley you find a boatyard. A large black gondola has been pulled onto land for repairs. The family lives above the shop. Bright orange flowers hang down from the balcony.
In the distance you hear bells. They may be at Saint Mark’s Basilica or the Campanile or one of the other cathedrals. The sound echoes off of the stone walls. But you don’t heed the call.
You are looking for art.
A long walk and a gathering crowd lead you over the Ponte de l’Accademia bridge over the Grand Canal to the Accademia Gallery. Massive and incredible paintings from the 14th to the 18th century are a rich feast but tend toward heavy and dark religious themes. The paintings are impressive and unforgettable. But you want variety. You find your way further to the east looking for the Guggenheim Collection of 20th century art. But when you arrive the wrought iron gate is closed. Closed Tuesday!
You cross back over the bridge and look for a late lunch. You are getting tired. There are cafés down almost every alley. But it needs to be the right one. One with good outside tables and an interesting location with a good view. Not too fancy. Finally you spot the right table that was just vacated. A long leisurely meal of tuna panini with red wine is just right. The day is advancing and the sun is lowering over the Grand Canal. The tide is out and it is finally time to face the main tourist sites around Piazza San Marco.
It is the right time. The light is golden and the buildings and statues reflect the colors. The white marble glows. The piazza is still wet from the high tide. The low sun is like a spotlight on the gold ornamentation and statuary that decorate Saint Mark’s Basilica. The Campanile and the clock tower hold the last light above the piazza. The air is cooling and the crowds are thinning. This is a time to savor.
The gondoliers stand ready for the twilight tours. As the light fades you have an espresso and a small dessert-the only way to find a bathroom. But when you walk outside into the dusk, the scene is still impressive. You wait at the dock for the water taxi. It becomes dark as you motor up the Grand Canal. You have glimpses into restaurants, homes, hotels, and cathedrals as you pass by. Their lights reveal the occupants and reflect across the water.
It has been a long day. A day filled with images, sounds, and smells. Your photographs show the scenes, but the voices, the songs, the accordions, the gulls, the laboring engines of the water taxis, the garlic, the vino rosso, and the feelings of walking through Venice without a plan-those are only memories. But they are only one day and one set of memories. Venice is worth another trip. Each trip will be a different slice of Venice.
This morning I read advice that blogs should be less than 500 words because attention spans are shrinking toward very short text messages and tweets.
I don’t agree with this simplistic conclusion. People seem to have time for reality TV shows and the stream of superficial nonsense that passes for news.
For example, the average American watches over 35 hours of TV per week. I know averages are problematic. Still, that is several hours per day per person! That is a choice, not an attention span issue.
Sometimes we want a brief update with immediacy, but other times we want to spend a few minutes and think a little.
This blog is for people who like to let their imagination travel while reading. Each posting is an illustrated short story. The photograph and words are the guides to another place and time. Some are longer than others. I do not apologize.
I do try to create a place for you to go to for two or three minutes. The more vivid I make the description, the easier it is for you to go there. Most of these postings are less than 500 words. Sometimes it takes a few more words to fill in the sounds, smells, and feelings. Parsimony is the goal.
This photograph was taken at an outdoor café in Venice, Italy. I know it is not a raven. But it still triggered this posting.
Follow this link if you want to read Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, The Raven.
The poem is 1,125 words and 6,299 characters and was written in 1845. It lacks immediacy and exceeds the tweet limit, but probably still worth a couple minutes. Choices.
After a difficult lesson the accordion player left the music hall. He loaded his trusty accordion into the back seat of his car and drove toward home. Along the way he decided to stop at the store. As he finished shopping he was stricken with panic when he remembered that he had forgotten to lock his car. He rushed out only to have his worst fears confirmed. Now there were TWO accordions in the back seat!
Accordions, like Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect.
Accordions are rare in modern popular music in many countries. But they anchor the sound of many acoustic folk music traditions. I love to listen to Parisian café music and eastern European traditional music filled with accordions or concertinas. The music is simple, clean, and honest. It fills my mind with images.
I remember a jovial accordion player in the middle of Pont Neuf in Paris. I can still hear the easy flowing melodies and cheerful greeting. I am sure that he had played that tune thousands of times for thousands of tourists, but it still sounded pure and fun.
To me, accordions are happy and unpretentious instruments. They seem to say, “You may think that I am not cool, but I am going to play this beautiful melody anyway. Relax, smile, and enjoy it. Set aside your cynicism for a few moments and enjoy life!”
Wandering the streets with an accordion, fiddle, guitar, flute etc. is a hard gig. The sound that you enjoy is the jingle of Euros in your case or hat.
When I took this photograph I was just finishing a long lunch at an outside café in Venice. I was tired from a long frantic morning of photographing while the light lasted. The tuna panini and vino rosso had really hit the spot. I was chatting with fellow travelers at the next table. In the distance I could hear accordion music. The accordionist worked his way down the narrow cobblestone street toward us. He played nearby and then politely held his hat out for donations.
When he reached us I told him that we really couldn’t hear him very well. He smiled and played a lilting song just for me. What’s a photographer to do? I took pictures and enjoyed every note! It was a kind gesture that was appreciated and rewarded with a solid jingle in the hat.
Live music creates vivid memories. I can still hear a beautiful large choir inside the cathedral in Geneva and the fiddle player playing for tips outside the train station in Geneva. I can hear organ grinders, flute players echoing off of old buildings, a guitar ensemble by the beach in Puerto Vallarta, an impromptu flamenco guitarist and singer in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, and shrill horns and drums pushing through narrow alleys in Fez, Morocco. The most memorable music is the live acoustic music played outside for your entertainment. It makes the day a celebration. It is worth a few coins in the hat!
High art. Not high-brow art, just HIGH art. I am working on an exhibit of photographs of art in high places such as steeples, towers, minarets, domes, and building ornamentation.
The exhibit will be in Moonrise Herbs in Arcata, California in November, 2010.
This exhibit is the result of telephoto explorations of artwork in Spain, Morocco, and Italy. It will include photographs of steeples and minarets, which are remarkably similar to one another. But it will also highlight sculpture and other ornamental details high on towers and buildings.
The question is: Why did they put such great artwork so far off of the ground?
The only way that most people will ever appreciate this work is by looking through binoculars, telescopes, or telephoto lenses. That is unfortunate because the detail and skill shown in this artwork is remarkable.
I will post some of these photos on this blog as I work my way through photographs from my recent excursion.
This first example is in Venice, Italy on a tower high above Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square). It is near Saint Mark’s Basilica. This entire piazza is crammed with high art. The buildings are enormous and densely decorated with sculpture. The roofs bristle with statues and weird ornamentations.
The tile background behind the lion sculpture is a rich blue color that still matches the sky, visible on the sides of the tower, on a beautiful sunny day in Venice. When I look closely at this photo I can see that there is netting stretched over the lion. It must be there to keep pigeons off of the sculpture. The lion is holding a book sculpture. I would not have been able to read the script on the book standing in the piazza. Can you read it? Probably not on this small version. In Latin it says, “Peace unto you Mark my evangelist”. When this is printed and framed it is very legible.