Tag Archives: Nikon d810
After exploring and photographing the Parthenon, I wandered around the Acropolis. It was easy to become lost in thought there, imagining Athens in the time of the philosophers. Eventually I made my way to the Areopagus, a large outcropping of rock to the west of the Acropolis. It was a rock with a dark history, as it was once the site of trials for those accused of homicide.
That wasn’t the only significance of the Areopagus. It is believed to be the site of a famous meeting between Alexander the Great and the philosopher Diogenes. Alexander, whose personal tutor was Aristotle, was as much a student of philosophy as a general. The brash young commander, who had already met and won the praise of many of Greece’s most influential philosophers, was dismayed that Diogenes had not yet come to meet him and chose to go to the philosopher himself. He found Diogenes on the Areopagus, reclining in the sun. Eager to win the philosopher’s respect, Alexander asked Diogenes if he wanted anything; the philosopher’s simple reply was “Stand out of my light.” Rather than feel insulted by the philosopher’s indifference, Alexander was impressed by his haughtiness.
I think of this meeting as I wander the Areopagus and set up my tripod to photograph the Acropolis from the other side. Looking over this grand city from this vantage point, I can imagine Diogenes with the sun on his face, speaking imperviously to Alexander. Athens can do that; it’s a city that inspires a feeling of grandeur. Lounging atop the Areopagus in the sun, I can imagine it must have been easy for the philosopher to speak indifferently to the man who conquered most of the known world by the time he was in his mid-twenties. I take my shots, and with a setting sun in my face, I feel a bit like a philosopher myself.
Visiting Greece was a dream — what traveler hasn’t imagined walking along ancient streets in the shadows of Olympian Gods? When I planned the trip to Greece, Athens was the first stop on my itinerary; I could hardly wait to see one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the birthplace of democracy and philosophy.
The first to visit and shoot in this grand city was the Acropolis and Parthenon. Athens is a city of stark contrasts, where the distant past seems to live alongside a very modern metropolis. I wanted to see Athens the way the ancient Greeks would have seen it; I wanted to approach the Parthenon, that beautiful temple to their patron, Athena, with the same sense of wonder and pride they must have felt.
I found what I think must be the best view of the Acropolis at the top of Philopappos Hill. The hill is in the center of Athens, but from here, the modern city of cars and busloads of tourists somehow manages to disappear. I walked among olive trees in the footsteps of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and at the top of the hill, I was rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Acropolis at dawn. Seeing the Acropolis from this vantage point, with modernity temporarily suspended, I think I felt something of what the ancients must have felt here…
Although I love to photograph the Alps — it’s a stunningly beautiful place — it can be frustrating because finding the perfect view is difficult. It can be harder than you might imagine to capture that kind of natural majesty.
As soon as we arrived at Selva Val Gardena, I began exploring the village’s hiking trails to find the best view of the city and the mountains. This was a family vacation, but I couldn’t resist photographing the village.
This is one of my favorite spots in Selva Val Gardena — it’s a place where the ski slopes and the road seem to converge, forming a dramatic angle in the photograph. There is energy in this photograph that I like — the dynamic convergence of the two roads, as well as the three cliffs in the background that overlook the slopes. There’s the suggestion of something menacing about those cliffs, perhaps a warning of the mountain and its dangers.
Once again, I found a spot overlooking the village and set up my tripod. Even though the snow on the slopes was artificial and the cliffs gave a somewhat sinister cast to the scene, I liked it nonetheless — an Alpine village in the early hours of evening.
For the past several years, my family and I have spent the first two weeks of the New Year skiing in various locations in Europe. This year, we chose the Italian Dolomites, famous among skiiers for its Sella Ronda region. We chose a ski resort in the village of Selva Val Gardena, one of the three villages that make up the valley known as Val Gardena.
This year, however, was different. For the first time that I can remember, there was no snow. There was artificial snow on the slopes, to be sure, (and the skiing was great) but the surrounding mountains were strangely snowless. Selva Val Gardena wasn’t any less lovely for lack of snow; it could be a picture postcard of an Alpine village. But there was nothing to indicate that this was ski resort in January — lovely as it was, it might just as easily have been the middle of summer.
But as I had no control over the weather and I didn’t want to waste an opportunity for a great shot, I managed to slip away and get some fine sunrise and sunset shots. Even without snow, I found Selva Val Gardena to be an enchanting place.
After photographing the Two Towers, I was tempted to make the climb up Asinelli, the taller of the two. It’s a long, vertiginous climb, but I knew the views of Bologna would be magnificent, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Getting to the top of Asinelli wasn’t the easiest of tasks — it’s a steep, narrow staircase that wasn’t designed with modern photographers and their equipment in mind. But once I finally reached the top and set up my small tripod (specially purchased for such occasions), I looked out from the tower and was rewarded with a breathtaking view of Bologna’s tiled roofs.
Just to my right I could see the Piazza Maggiore, the orderly little square square surrounded by much of the city’s history. Take steps in any direction in the Piazza Maggiore and the medieval city comes to life — the Basilica of San Petronio, the Palazzo dei Banchi, and the Palazzo d’Accursio all occupy exalted spots on this historic square.
But what most interested me was the spot in the distance — the Bolognese Hill, which is home to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca. Technically, the hill sits on the outskirts of the city, on top of Karaulhaya Mountain. Inside the sanctuary rests the Madonna of San Luca, an icon of the Virgin Mary that is believed to have been painted by the apostle Luke. The icon was brought to Bologna from Constantinople in 1194 and placed on the hill, known as La Guardia.
As a framed the photograph, I found myself awestruck by the history of this place — before me, the tiled city and its towers, once a hub of medieval commerce, and beyond, the towering Bolognese Hill and its apostle-painted treasure.
Beyond the city’s towers, I entered Bologna’s winding medieval streets. Following one of these winding streets, I came to the Piazza Santo Stefano, an unusual little piazza that isn’t a piazza at all, merely a gradual widening of the street.
It’s an unusual and picturesque part of Bologna. The piazza is not, properly speaking, a square: the Via Santo Stefano gradually widens into an odd bit of geometry that is the piazza. The area has been known for centuries as ‘le Sette Chiese,’ or the Seven Churches, in honor of the imposing structures surrounding the piazza.
Nowadays, there aren’t seven churches; there are four: the Church of the Crucifix, the Holy Sepulchre, San Vitale and Agricola. The churches were built and remodeled at different times, and over the years, they came to be connected, almost as if they are growing out of one another. The result is a labyrinth that begins with the entrance to the Church of the Crucifix, the largest of the four. The faithful — or the merely curious — could spend hours wandering from one ecclesiastical wonder to the next.
I wanted to photograph the piazza, but because of its place as one of the most historic (and popular) places in the city, it was almost always full of visitors. I waited until evening, when I hoped to have it mostly to myself. As I set up my tripod on the piazza’s ancient cobblestones, my mind wandered to the generations of faithful who have walked those stones. I captured the historic piazza in the low light of evening, thinking of faith and its mysteries.
A short walk from the Two Towers is the Palazzo della Mercanzia, a striking building noteworthy for its two Gothic arches. Built in the fourteenth century when Bologna was a wealthy commercial center, the Palazzo was constructed to be a base for those governing trade in the city. The building still houses the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
It’s a building with an interesting history. The sides of the building are watched over by statues of four saints — the city’s protectors, as well as statues of St. Peter and St. Anthony of Padua. But under the watchful eyes of saints, the city’s business disputes were settled, and businessmen found to be unscrupulous were tied to a center pillar and publicly shamed.
In keeping with Bologna’s image as a city of epicurean delights, the Palazzo is now home to perhaps the most valuable of the city’s treasures: Bologna’s prized “official” recipes for Bolognese ragu, tortellini, and mortadella.
I made the short walk over from the Two Towers as early morning sunlight was breaking over the piazza. I had the area to myself and focused on the Palazzo, guarded by saints and repository of sacred recipes.
I made my way toward the Dolomites but decided to stop for a couple of days in the medieval city of Bologna. It’s a difficult city to get a feel for — it’s at once the rarefied city of scribes and scholars and a thoroughly modern, technologically advanced metropolis. What drew me in, however, was the city’s medieval center, the winding, terra cotta heart of the city.
Much of Bologna was destroyed during World War II, but the historic part of the city survived. This part of the city, built when Bologna was at the peak of its power and wealth, was once dotted with towers. In fact, one of Bologna’s many affectionate nicknames is “la turrita,” or the “city of many towers.” There were once hundreds of towers in the city; some were built for defensive purposes and many others built by powerful families, continually attempting to one-up each other.
Most of the towers long ago crumbled into history. But among the ones that still stand, perhaps the most well-known are Asinelli and Garisenda, the city’s “Two Towers.” They’re not as famous as their counterpart in Pisa, but perhaps more interesting: Asinelli is taller and Garisenda has more of a lean. Echoing their long history — they’re also older than the Leaning Tower of Pisa — is an inscription on one of Garisenda’s slopes from Dante’s Divine Comedy that mentions that exact tower.
The Two Towers are so tall and so intimately positioned with one another that it was difficult to capture them together in a shot. I used a panoramic technique to get them both in the frame as the sun rose over Bologna. They seem to me to be two old, time-tested friends: the sturdy and solid Asinelli and the whimsical, free-spirited Garisenda, eternally looking askance at the old city.
Though I had already spent some time in Zaragoza and had photographed the Basilica of our Lady of the Pillar, when I found myself in the area again, on the return trip from San Sebastian to Barcelona, I couldn’t resist stopping. Zaragoza is a beautiful, historic city, and the basilica never failed to enchant.
So once again, I set up my tripod on the banks of the Ebro River. It was early evening, and clouds were beginning to settle over the city; a storm was coming and I could smell rain in the air. I hoped that I’d be able to get a good shot before it started to rain.
As it happened, I was lucky. The weather began to change more quickly than I anticipated, with deep purple and indigo clouds settling in low over the basilica. As I rushed to get the shot, lightning began to illuminate the sky over Zaragoza, providing a dramatic backdrop for the basilica. It seemed that lightning flashed every few seconds, and it was hard to catch it in a shot — it’s more elusive than I would have imagined. I managed to catch a brilliant flash of lightning in just a couple of shots, but they were beautiful — a bit of nature’s drama in a violet sky over Zaragoza.
A bit later, after photographing the Biblioteca Municipal, I walked further out along the beach.
I wanted a panoramic view of the city, one which would encompass the Old City, the port, and Monte Urgull, the hill which dominates San Sebastian. Given its height and its location, the hill was used for many years for the city’s defense. Since 1950, however, Monte Urgull is most well-known for its 12 metre long statue of Jesus at its crown.
By the time I found a spot which would allow me to capture everything I wanted in one shot, blue hour was waning and the first hints of morning’s golden hour were breaking through the horizon. Against the soft hues of the beach and sky, the brilliant green of the hill was striking. As the sun rose higher, the clouds began to glow a golden pink, and the sculpture of Jesus seemed illuminated from within. Centered within the panorama, it made an imposing image.
From this vantage point, it wasn’t difficult to see why San Sebastian is one of the Basque region’s most loved cities. The city is a mixture of old and new, sacred and secular, man-made beauty juxtaposed against nature’s handiwork. And for a few moments on an early morning, I was lucky enough to capture all of it one shot.