Italy 2007

Italy 2007
Inkjet prints 18x18" 18x24”

The photographs you will see here are the fruits of a two week tour of Italy that my wife Gloria and I took in October, 2007.  We had both just retired; it was our first trip out of the country.

We saw so much in those two weeks, it was quite amazing, but it often felt like everything was flashing by like a blur.  I had no intention of making art photos.  I just wanted to enjoy the travel experience and bring home some visual memories.  I couldn’t imagine working on the two projects I had recently started in Milwaukee while traveling in Italy.  I really wanted to simply relax and enjoy my first experience of foreign travel.

While in Venice I opted to take an afternoon off to just wander on my own rather than be with our group.  Our guide mentioned something about the Guggenheim to me.  I had completely forgotten about there being a Guggenheim museum in Venice, and so as I wandered around Venice . . . the museum gradually became a destination I would seek out, and find.

Medardo Rosso at the Guggenheim, Venice
A tremendous surprise - a gift, actually - awaited me at the Guggenheim. They were presenting a large solo exhibition of an artist I had never heard of, entitled Rosso, The Transient Form.  Medardo Rosso (1858-1928) was a great Italian impressionist sculptor; and a very inventive experimental photographer as well - he made fascinating interpretive photographs of his own work.  I just couldn’t believe how hauntingly powerful the work and the installation was. And just as surprising, and exciting to me was how similar his work was to the two projects I was working on at that time!

Below are three of Rosso's own photographs of his sculpted heads. Click on the image for a closer look at the three images.

Most of Rosso’s major sculptural heads were presented in their own little rooms; each head was floating either inside of or on top of a glass case, lit dramatically with spotlights - including shadows - just as Rosso would have wanted his work presented.   The surrounding space was dark gray or black.  

Below is an installation shot from the show.

I floated, as if a state of suspension, from one exhibited piece to the next.  It was a very strange experience . . . at times I felt as if I were moving through the interior space of one of my own photographs!  

It seemed I had been destined to see this exhibition (it never came to the United States).  Seeing Rosso's work both affirmed and encouraged me in the two projects that were already in process when we left for Italy: visit the Portraits project and the Faint Photographs project (both are very impressionistic).  

Italy, Blurred sculptural Portrait, Homage to Medardo Rosso 18x18" inkjet print

Italy, Blurred scultural Portrait, Homage to Medardo Rosso 18x18" inkjet print

It was an exhilarating experience, visiting the Guggenheim and seeing the Rosso exhibition - in Venice no less!   It fanned the smoldering creative fires in me. I began experiencing Italy more as an artist than as a tourist. My awareness of the world shifted; my seeing became charged with a new sense of urgency and excitement. I must say, it was much easier being a tourist.

Seeing intensely, seeing photographically, is for me a more fulfilling way to move through the world, though sometimes I feel I loose something in the process. As an artist one tends to see outward things inwardly, that is, perception is filtered through intuitive processes and (for me) through the photographic medium: everything seen becomes a potential photograph. In this mind set something of the outer world must be sacrificed. The question could be raised, then: What really is being seen? After visiting the Guggenheim it was difficult for me to find a balance between seeing Italy as an artist and seeing Italy as a tourist.

Morandi, 1962 Still Life click on image to enlarge

Giorgio Morandi, Bologna
My trip to Italy was blessed by yet another great artist. Our tour itinerary included a brief stop in Bologna.  Though the stop did not include the Morandi Museum, it was always my intention to visit the museum if at all possible.  Bologna is famous for its food, and it's the city in which the great Italian artist Gorgio Morandi (1890-1964) had lived, taught and painted most of his life.  

In my opinion, Morandi is one of the greatest painters ever.  And he spent his whole life painting bottles, teapots, little boxes - still life arrangements of small things in his small Bologna studio.  I love his watercolors and drawings perhaps even more than his oil paintings.  He also did some wonderful landscape work, but whatever he painted, his most interesting work always bordered on the abstract, his images shimmering on the edge of dissolving into pure form and light and space.  His paintings were not about his subject matter.

That place - of being on the edge of abstraction, on the edge of dissolution into pure form - is where I am happiest in my own newer work, too. There was an especially interesting, small room in the museum dedicated to Morandi's small drawings and watercolors, pieces that had never made it into publication, perhaps because they were too small, too obscure, too faint, too minimal, too abstract . . . the very things that I loved about those works.  (please visit my 2013 Morandi inspired project Still Life.)

Italy, Florence (drain holes in marble steps) Homage to Morandi 18x24" inkjet print

Seeing so much of Morandi’s actual work in his own home town, in a museum dedicated to his work, was more touching and stimulating than I could have imagined. That experience, along with having seen Rosso's work at the Guggenheim, fully awakened me from the tourist stupor I had at first fallen into. By the time I got back home, I had accumulated a huge collection of pictures made in Italy. So . . . What to do with them?

Two Sets of Photographs
There are, of course, two sets of photographs from Italy: the original digital files, the "snapshots" that I made on the trip - most of which had been made only with the intention to document, to serve as memories of places visited, moments experienced, etc. Then there are the fine art transformations of some of those same files, perhaps images made at a deeper level of intuition, I don't know, which initiated in me a desire to make at times elaborate Photoshop adjustments. The transformed version of the original images (the ones you are seeing here) came after considerable contemplation and editing of all my images, and integrating my feelings, memories and ideas about my experience in Italy.

The original digital files are, to me, something like a sculptor's block of marble.  They’re raw material to work with, and there is usually a sense that within some of those images there is a possibility for images of another order; images not seeable but which can be drawn out of the material and articulated in some new pictorial form.

The 35 or so images in the Italy 2007 project constitute a body of work in its own right, of course. But I have also added a few of the Italy images to some of my other existing and ongoing projects, including Portraits, Faint Photographs, and Windswept Landscapes.

Most of the Italy photographs are blurred and faint-toned black & white images; there are a few color images as well.  For this web page I have placed the work in thematic groups according to place names, subject types and pictorial genres.

We arrived at Pompeii late in the day and were told we had maybe an hour and a half to walk around with our guide. The area closed at dusk. As the light kept gradually fading, my urge to see and embrace that amazing place increased in urgency.  It is a very large place; I felt as if I could have spent a week there and still not have been satisfied with having seen it and photographed it.  Still, sometimes a limited time to work in a situation can intensify and sharpen one's creative process. Truly speaking, I'm certain that noting is ever really lost in the creative process.

Anyway, how does one photograph, in 90 minutes, an ancient city that had been buried under 35 meters of volcanic ash in six hours time from the erupting nearby Mt. Vesuvius in the year AD 79!?  There were lots of stone walls, empty spaces, stone roads, a few buildings, and some architectural details.  The time kept speeding by; the light was becoming faint; everything began dissolving into a gray blur.

Italy, Pompeii, panoramic view 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Pompeii, dark building 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Pompeii, looking through a passage way 18x24" inkjet print

  Italy, Pompeii, looking inside a small dwelling space 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Pompeii, (homage to Giorgio Morandi) 18x24" inkjet print

I had expected to see lots of castings of the ancient residents who had been buried by the downpour of volcanic ash, but I soon learned that except for one figure that was left in Pompeii for visitors to see, all of the others had been taken to another museum in Naples.  

Italy, Pompeii portrait (negative print ) 18x18" inkjet print

Experts now think the cause of death of the people caught in this natural disaster was not suffocation from the fallen ash, but rather the extreme heat -  250 degrees Centigrade.  During the excavations, negative space cavities of the disintegrated bodies were found in the deep volcanic rock.  These negative spaces were then cast and used as molds to form the figurative shapes of the bodies that we now see on display in museums.  

The Pompeii photographs were the first Italy images I wanted to work on when I returned home.  Somehow Pompeii became for me a powerful metaphor for Italy. This place was not the romantic image we generally hold of that magical land.  Pompeii was more like a shell. The blurry streaks you see in many of my Italy images became emblematic not only of the fall of molten ash upon Pompeii and its people; it also became for me emblematic of the fall of what could have been an even greater civilization if not for the greed, and abuse of power of Rome's political and Church leaders.  

On the other hand, seen in a more positive light, the streaks could also be thought of as the transforming presence of wind, often a metaphor for spirit, or divine breath that has the numinous power to cleanse and purify. After we returned from Italy, we moved to Canandaigua, NY. There I continued work on The Departing Landscape project, especially the faint photographs and the blur images. We lived on the edge of a meadow and experienced very strong winds at times. I created a new project of "wind" images. To see that work visit Windswept Landscapes.

Portraits, Figures, Angels
We saw wonderful sculptural heads and full length figures of saints, popes & angels in the many churches and museums we visited.  If there is an aggressive, horrific dark look to many of my images (and of course there is) I think it's in part because I heard so many stories from our guides about Italy's darker moments in history that involved corruption, greed, and abuse of power in the political and the religious spheres.    

This is nothing new. When we got back in the US I would continue to hear these kinds of stories every day in the news . . . At least most of my images of angels were allowed to maintain their peaceful magical presence.

Homage: I have always admired the blurred images that Fredrick Sommers made many years ago of sculptural figures, though I remember his images as being more heroic or transcendent than most of mine.  

Italy, Sculpture (man holding a dead man) 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Church sculpture, bandaged head 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Church sculpture, Head of a Pope 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, sculpture (Homage to Medardo Rosso), Head of a Politician 18x24" inkjet

Italy, sculpture, Head of a Politician 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Church sculpture, Angel 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, sculpture of a seated Pope 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Church Death Mask of a saint 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Vatican sculpture, young boy 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Church sculpture, Angel 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Church sculpture, Angel 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Church sculpture, Madonna 18x24" inkjet print

The Colosseum in Rome
This is an amazing space.  A dark and yet at the same time wonderful place, but where too many horrible things happened.  There was a heavy presence that seemed resonate in the stone walls of the Colosseum - no doubt ancient remembrances of all that had occurred there. Perhaps the stones continue to absorb all that is happening even today in Italy.

Italy, Colosseum Columns 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Colosseum entrance 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Colosseum, marble portrait 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Colosseum Columns & shadowy figures 18x24" inkjet print

Of course marble and other kinds of stone columns were to be seen everywhere in Italy.  I love the fluted columns, the way they catch the light and hold their forms despite my blurring of the images.  

There is a set of three column images (see the one immediately above, and the two immediately below) that are very similar in look but different in quality according to place and type of column: one image was made in the Colosseum (the dark scary image above); the image below, with luminous fluted columns, was made in Pompeii; the third image with the elegant, smooth organ pipe columns, was made in the Vatican.  In each image, though, you will notice dark, shadowy, ghost-like human presences.  I suppose they are tourists . . . but a poet who wrote these words: The center of stones need our prayers may have been thinking of all those lost souls in Italy that are trying to find their way.

Italy, Pompeii columns and shadowy figures 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Vatican columns and shadowy figures 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Assisi columns 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Column & base 18x24" inkjet print

The Cypress Tree
Cypress trees are seen scattered all over the Italian landscape. Columns remind me of Cypress trees which are especially plentiful in graveyards . . . for different reasons.  Our guide told us that in Italy the Cypress tree is a symbol for death.  One of the reasons they are planted in graveyards is that they point the way to Heaven.

Italy, Assisi Cypress tree 18x24" inkjet print


Italy, Assisi, figures and trees 18x24" inkjet print
Italy, Assisi landscape 18x24" inkjet print

Italy, Sorento, figures, trees, fence, the Mediterranean Sea 18x24" inkjet print

Related Projects

Still Life: Photographs inspired by Giorgio Morandi

Portraits, Faces, Figures

Windswept Landscapes and Memorials

Faint Photographs

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.