Category Archives: City

Budapest Parliament in the Evening, Hungary

My work as a photographer often leads me to some of the world’s most beautiful places, both natural and manmade. While the natural world is frequently breathtaking in its beauty, I find myself no less awestruck by the work of human hands and our small attempts to leave something of ourselves behind.

Budapest Parliament and Danube River Embankment in the Evening, Budapest, Hungary
July 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 92mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 161 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

When I’m fortunate enough to photograph some of the world’s most beautiful buildings, I often allow my mind to wander and I frequently find myself thinking that structures are far more than brick and mortar. They’re reflections of the human spirit, the spirit of a designer who possesses a vision and, in the case of national buildings, the spirit of a people. They’re a reflection of the way a nation sees itself.

Budapest is easily one of the most striking cities in Europe, a jewel perched along the banks of the Danube. On my first night in the city, I took a walk along this storied river, and was instantly charmed by Budapest and its architecture. In the blue light of an early evening, with the lights of the city reflected in the Danube, Budapest is especially beautiful.

But what I was most drawn to was its Parliament building. It’s a striking, neo-Gothic structure and the tallest building in the city. Overlooking the south bank of the river, it’s impossible to miss. As majestic as the building’s exterior is, its interior is equally impressive.

The building was inaugurated in 1896, to honor the nation’s sovereignty on the thousandth anniversary of its founding. It’s a structure worthy of a thousandth anniversary. Designed by the great Hungarian architect Imre Steindl, the construction involved almost 100,000 people. In the seventeen years it took to complete the building, nearly half a million gemstones were used. Think about it: almost half a million gemstones. The Parliament was the crowning achievement of Steindl’s career, but the master architect went blind before the grand building was completed.

As I prepared for the shot, these are the things I thought of. I thought of a nation’s pride reflected in its Parliament and the brilliant man who designed it, unable to see his masterpiece completed. These are the stories that buildings would tell if they had the ability.

Tagged , , , |

Rovinj in the Evening, Croatia

Visitors to Rovinj are often struck by its resemblance to Venice, its neighbor almost directly across the Adriatic Sea. The only thing that seems to distinguish “Little Venice” from its namesake is the absence of canals and busloads of tourists.

Rovinj Skyline in the Evening, Istria, Croatia
July 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 24mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 320 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

The similarity is not a coincidence. Rovinj, once controlled by both the Byzantines and the Franks, was regular victim of pirate attacks. Across the Adriatic, Venice eyed the city, which was then an island, as a possible outpost for their maritime empire. In 1283, Rovinj swore its allegiance to Venice in return for protection.

This arrangement between Rovinj and Venice was never an altogether happy one. Though Rovinj was part of the Venetian republic from 1283 to 1797, its citizens were never fully accepted by the Venetians, who viewed them as inferior. In time, residents of Rovinj came to resent Venetian rule, even as they prospered courtesy of Venice’s protection.

Nowadays, however, Rovinj is a Croatian city and the tensions with Venice are long-forgotten. Twenty-first century visitors to the city are the real beneficiaries of that long-ago relationship. Walking the streets of Rovinj, one sees the winged lion — the symbol of Venice — virtually everywhere. And the city’s most recognizable structure — the Church of St. Euphemia — is built in the Venetian Baroque style and was constructed as a twin to Venice’s own Campanile of St. Mark.

As I position my camera to capture the city, I don’t think of faded empires or animosities between cities. I only marvel at the beautiful hybrid created by the fusion of cultures in Rovinj.

Tagged , , , |

Salzburg in the Evening, Austria

Artists often have complicated relationships with their birthplaces. James Joyce was conflicted in his feelings about Dublin and left the city, although he could never entirely cut the chords that bound him to it. William Faulkner was a keen-eyed critic of life in Mississippi, but seemed unable to write about any other place. Following their deaths, both men were embraced by the birthplaces that they could never quite reconcile themselves to.

Aerial View of Salzburg in the Evening, Austria
July 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 66mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 25 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

And then there is Salzburg. It’s a lovely city, nestled between hills, tailor-made for a photographer’s work. It is also the birthplace of Mozart, an artist intimately associated with the place of his birth. If you ask most people what they know of Salzburg, most will tell you it was the home of the composer. Walking through the city’s ancient streets today, I almost expect to see Mozart when I round a corner. The city is permeated with his presence.

Tourists come to Salzburg by the busload to see the small apartment where Mozart was born and the larger residence — both now museums — that the family moved into when Mozart was a teenager. Salzburg, understandably, has commercialized its connection to the composer. But Mozart, especially in his youth, couldn’t wait to leave the city and felt stifled within its confines. He chafed in his role as court musician to the Archbishop and even as young man knew that he was meant for bigger things.

Walking through the streets of Salzburg on a cloudy early evening, I think of the weight of history and place. I think of the ambitions of a young man who wanted to escape the city of his birth but who has been embraced as a cherished native son. As I frame my shot of his birthplace, I wonder what the composer would think of the museums that occupy his former homes and the tourists arriving there daily. Perhaps he’s made his peace with Salzburg, I think as I photograph the city in the blue slivers of early evening.

Tagged , , , |

Saint Mary Basilica in the Morning, Krakow

As I often do, I set up my tripod in the early hours of morning outside Saint Mary Basilica. Located in a busy pedestrianized area, there were almost always people strolling in front of the basilica, and I wanted to capture it with no people. I wanted the focus solely on the building, one of the city’s most beautiful.

Panorama of Saint Mary Basilica in the Morning, Krakow, Poland
July 2017, panorama from 3 vertical images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 21mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 2.5 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

I found a place to sit to try to wait out the last of previous night’s bar-goers. As I waited, my mind wandered to the city and its history. Krakow survived World War intact, so it isn’t hard to be distracted by the city’s long history. The Saint Mary Basilica, built nearly a thousand years ago, has stood witness to much of that history.

The basilica was first constructed in the 1200s. Following the destruction of that church, the basilica was constructed under Casimir III, known as Casimir the Great. Under Casimir, the building was completely rebuilt between 1355 and 1365. There were later additions and changes, but the heart of the basilica was constructed under Casimir’s reign.

There are plenty of rulers who earn the appellation “great.” In most cases, the title is earned in warfare; “greatness” is often conferred in direct proportion to a ruler’s prowess on the battlefield. In Casimir’s case, however, the title was bestowed in an acknowledgement of his many peacetime accomplishments. Casimir inherited a badly weakened kingdom and rebuilt it, strengthening the economy and reorganizing the legal system. He built castles throughout the kingdom and founded the University of Krakow, in addition to rebuilding the basilica. Remarkably, for his time, Casimir ensured the rights of Jews and encouraged persecuted Jews throughout Europe to settle in Poland as “people of the king.” As a result of Casimir’s policies, Poland had one of Europe’s largest Jewish populations until World War II.

As the night’s last revelers made their way home and I readied my camera for the shot, I thought of legacies. I thought of the actions of a good man — a great man — and the long reach of history.

Tagged , , , |

Abandoned House in Kolmanskop, Namibia

For a fine art photographer, shooting a place like Kolmanskop is a bit of a challenge. I’m accustomed to photographing some of the world’s most beautiful destinations — whether natural or manmade. In those instances, nature, or perhaps the deft hand of a builder, has done a great deal of the work; my role is to capture the spirit of the place. Through lighting and composition, I try to express some of the wonder that the world inspires in me.

Abandoned House Full of Sand in the Ghost Town of Kolmanskop, Namibia
May 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 35mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 8 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

But Kolmanskop is, after all, the ruins of a town. It’s famous not for its stunning natural beauty or its striking architecture, but for its desolation. People come to Kolmanskop to experience what the world would be like when civilization ends and there’s no one left to keep the elements at bay. It’s a fascinating place, but I wondered how I could photograph houses filled with sand in a way that made them beautiful.

I’d read about people who are enthralled with abandonment; abandoned homes, hospitals, and factories have become oddly popular tourist destinations, not unlike Kolmanskop. People are fascinated by the lives that seem simply to have stopped, with no explanation. Occasionally, the odd possession — a woman’s purse or a child’s toy — is left behind and gives the place an especially poignant feel.

What I realized at Kolmanskop is that there is a beauty there. The abandoned mining town and other such places remind us of our transitory existence, our smallness in the grand scale of time. In the left-behind, everyday objects — a single piece of silverware, a chipped saucer — I couldn’t help but feel something of the extraordinary significance of ordinary lives.

I spent the day in Kolmanskop, wandering through the remains of this once wealthy town. I watched the light change and the shadows grow. And I found that even in this forsaken place, in its peeling paint and cracked windows, there was indeed a sad and baleful beauty.

Also posted in Interior Tagged , , , , |

In the Ghost Town of Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop was once one of the wealthiest towns in the world. Diamonds were so plentiful that they could be picked up off of the ground, even at night, when they twinkled in the moonlight. German miners came and built a town on the edge of the Namib Desert, and there, on the rough edge of civilization, they had virtually every luxury their diamond fortunes could buy.

Abandoned House Full of Sand in the Ghost Town of Kolmanskop, Namibia
May 2017, panorama from 3 vertical images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 2.5 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

The history of Kolmanskop began in 1908 when a railway worker, sweeping dirt and debris from the tracks, found unusual stones. He had unwittingly stumbled upon one of the richest diamond deposits in the world.

The town that became Kolmanskop grew at a frenetic pace. Diamond hunters descended on the area, and, buffeted against the wind and sand, set to work on all fours, picking diamonds out of the sand and putting them in jam jars. They coaxed a town of the desert, and because it was essentially a German town, it had German-looking houses, a school, a gymnasium, and a pub.

But this wasn’t an ordinary German town. Kolmanskop was wealthy — in 1912 alone, one million carats of diamonds were found there. The town had fresh water brought in by rail and electricity at a time when many towns in Germany didn’t have it. There was a swimming pool, a butcher, a hospital, and a grand entertainment hall whose acoustics —even today — are remarkable. The mining families of Kolmanskop imported champagne from France. And every day, someone was paid to sweep the streets clear of the sand that blew in overnight.

But as quickly as Kolmanskop’s diamond boom began, it ended. By World War I, the area’s diamond deposits were depleted, and another, larger deposit was discovered near the Orange River. The families who once made their homes in Kolmanskop picked up and moved south, leaving homes and possessions behind. The last residents left the town in 1956.

And then the desert began to reclaim Kolmanskop. Without a human presence to keep the desert at bay, the sand began to overtake the once grand homes, filling the parlors, dining rooms, and bedrooms where families once lived. Paint and wallpaper were worn away by sand and by time.

To walk among the empty town today is to be reminded that we humans are small, powerless creatures. We build our homes, we live our lives and do what we will. But ultimately, time and nature will have their way with these things, leaving scant traces of our small existence.

Also posted in Interior Tagged , , , , |

Saint Theodore Church in the Evening, Santorini

There’s something to be said for the people who chose to settle on Santorini, for the faith and the mettle of people who perch their most important town on the vertiginous edge of a cliff. People come to Santorini for its spectacular, made-for-a-postcard views of blue-domed churches at sunset. But they don’t often give a lot of thought to the island’s inhabitants.

Saint Theodore Church in the Evening, Fira, Santorini, Greece
February 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 34mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 6 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

It was my last day in Santorini. I’d climbed the steep passageways, wandered through its churches, and captured more than a few of the island’s famous sunsets. It wasn’t yet the high season, but the island was still crowded with tourists and I found myself wanting to spend the time I had left in relative solitude. Santorini and its history had given me much to think about.

You can’t look at Santorini without understanding something of its history — Santorini is, after all, merely the remains of a larger island destroyed in a massive volcanic eruption in roughly 1500 B.C. The modern-day towns seem to hang so near to the edge of the caldera formed by the eruption that a good breeze might blow them away. Santorini’s 1,600 residents exist on a spot 260 meters above the sea. It takes a certain kind of people to live in such an environment.

They weren’t people who were easily broken by their environment. Later, long after the volcano did its work, the residents of Santorini, faced with an unforgiving natural world and raiders from the Middle East, they dug homes into Santorini’s rough-hewn surface. Known as yposkafos, which means “dug into the rock”, many of these homes still exist on Santorini, a testament to the hardiness of its people.

The rock dwellings weren’t the only structures that Santorinians built for protection. Invoking their faith and the protection of God, they built churches by the dozens. By some estimates, there are 600 churches on Santorini, because for many years, individual families built them to ensure God’s protection over their husbands and fathers who made their living on the sea.

On my last day in Santorini, I entered one of these churches — the famous blue-domed Saint Theodore. My plan was to take a few last photos of Fira and its sunsets, and walking through its winding streets, I happened to come upon this view — the magnificent Saint Theodore Church in early evening sunlight. The view was all the more special because I knew my time in Santorini was coming to an end, and like all visitors to the island, I was completely charmed by the place.

As it happened, I didn’t capture one of Fira’s vivid sunsets that day. But what I did capture was all of the essential elements of Santorini in one image — its pastel-hued architecture against black, volcanic cliffs and the deep blue of the sea. And there’s something here, I hope, of the strength and faith of its residents. As for that last sunset – now I have a good reason to go back.

Tagged , , , |

Oia Village in the Morning, Santorini

The next morning, I awoke early. I wanted to photograph Oia in the soft light of early morning. Its sunsets may be spectacular, but Santorini is no less beautiful by sunrise.

Oia Village in the Morning, Santorini, Greece
February 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 48mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/20 second, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

Walking along the winding streets and staircases of Oia with most of the village still asleep, I let my mind drift to Santorini’s history. So much of Oia is new — the necessary result of rebuilding after the 1956 volcanic eruption — that it was sometimes easy for me to forget that I was walking in the footsteps of one of the oldest civilizations in Europe.

The people who originally called the island home were the Minoans, an enigmatic people whose culture is, after many centuries, still something of a mystery. They wrote in a language that has never been fully deciphered; much of what is known about the Minoans comes from others, after the fact. Even today, the Minoans are a shadowy, mysterious people, with much of their history lost to the passage of time.

But what we do know about these early inhabitants of the Aegean islands suggests that the Minoans were a highly advanced people. Their palaces, particularly the palace at Knossos on the island of Crete, was not only aesthetically impressive, but was a technological marvel, complete with flush toilets.

The ancient historian Thucydides referred to the Minoans as a thalassocracy, or an empire of the sea. Protected as they were by the sea, the Minoans were virtually invulnerable; their palaces, even the grand one at Knossos, were not fortified. Their dominance of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas was so complete that they viewed their world as unassailable. Hundreds of years after Egyptian society peaked, the Minoans looked out over impossibly blue seas and saw a world that was theirs alone.

But unlike the Egyptians, the Minoans did not shut themselves off from the world. They were vibrant, dynamic people, as seafarers tend to be, who traded their textiles and metalwork in Cyprus, Syria, Anatolia, and Lebanon. Evidence of their artwork can be found in the Nile Delta.

But at the height of their power, the Minoans vanished. Without any obvious threats, one of the most powerful ancient civilizations simply disappeared from the historical record, leaving historians and archaeologists (and the occasional photographer) to puzzle over their demise for centuries.

For a while that morning, I had Oia to myself. The sun was just beginning to make itself known, and the tourists, likely still sleeping off the wine of the night before, were not yet out and about. I watched the sun rise over that beautiful island and pondered its ancient mysteries. It’s easy to become lost in the past in a place like Santorini.

Tagged , , , |

Spectacular Sunset in Oia, Santorini

By the time I got around to photographing one of Santorini’s famed sunsets, I was thoroughly captivated by this small sliver of volcanic island. Everything about Santorini was enchanting — I was so charmed by the island that even after climbing flight after flight of narrow, cobbled stairs, I only wanted to see more.

Windmill in Oia Village in the Evening, Santorini, Greece
February 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 24mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/3 second, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

I spent days exploring and photographing Oia’s blue-domed churches and its windmills, and marveling at the view over the deep blue of the Aegean. I photographed its iconic chalk-white churches and homes, made all the more striking against the blue of the sea and sky. But I hadn’t yet captured one of the island’s sunsets.

Everyone knows Santorini for its famed blue and white churches, but it’s equally famous for its sunsets, so much so that crowds of tourists gather at certain points on the island for the best views. Oia, in particular, is regarded as one of best places on the island to watch the sun go down. In summer, which is the high tourist season in Santorini — finding a spot to oneself is all but impossible.

I was there in the shoulder season, and still Oia was crowded with tourists who had the same objective as I did — to see those spectacular sunsets. The windmills were a popular spot for sunset viewing, as was Oia Castle. I’ll admit that I went hoping to catch a few dreamy, golden hour moments to myself, and was disappointed to find that dozens of other people had the same idea.

After lugging my tripod and cameras up Oia’s maze of stairs, I found a great view and got set up to capture the sunset. Plenty of other people had the same idea, but I knew they could be edited out of the photo if necessary. As the sun began to set over the Aegean, the crowds were momentarily hushed as they and I looked in awe at the one of the most breathtaking sunsets I’d ever seen.

But then I happened to glance to my side — at Oia itself, and I realized that one of the most spectacular sights was in the other direction. As incredible as the sunset was, it left Oia’s whitewashed buildings glazed in a glowing, pastel light, and I thought the village had never looked lovelier. And while the crowds of tourists were mesmerized by the sea view, for a few moments, I had that watercolor-hued image to myself.

Tagged , , , |

Oia Churches at Sunset, Santorini

To walk the winding streets of Oia was to be continually reminded of the beauty that sometimes comes from tragedy. The island of Santorini is famous for its blue-domed churches, and there’s no denying their charm. The image of chalk-white churches and their blue domes against a clear blue sky is perhaps the quintessential postcard image from Santorini. But as with the island itself, there’s an element of the tragic behind the island’s iconic churches.

White Churches of Oia Village at Sunset, Santorini, Greece
February 2017, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 35mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

Perched high on a caldera cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea, Oia was once a village of fishermen, and the lives of fishermen were filled with dangers and uncertainty. The sea that provided for your family could turn deadly; there were no guarantees.

And so the people of Oia did what people have always done in times of distress: they prayed. To keep their husbands, fathers, and sons safe at sea, the families of Oia — the wealthy ones, at least built churches. Year after year, one family after another built churches, many of them named for the saints that the fishermen looked to for protection. The lucky fishermen who returned safely brought all manner of treasure — religious icons, crystal chandeliers — and as a result, the churches of Santorini often house remarkable valuables. Most of Santorini’s churches are still owned by the families who built them; they’ve simply been passed down through the years.

Like the fishermen who made their living in the Aegean and were keenly attuned to its dangers, to live in Santorini is to live with an understanding that the sea is violent, unpredictable. Many of the tourists who come to Oia and take their postcard-worthy photographs of the town’s sugar cube white buildings are unaware that in the not-so-distant past, Oia was nearly wiped from the earth, and that one of the only things keeping the town alive today are the tourists themselves.

On July 9, 1956, a massive earthquake struck Santorini. It lasted only twelve minutes, but in that time, much of the ancient villages of Oia and Fira were destroyed. More than thirty lives were lost, and almost ninety percent of Santorini’s buildings were damaged or destroyed. Much of the local population moved elsewhere, and villages like the ones now famous for their blue-domed churches were in danger of disappearing. Oia and the surrounding towns didn’t really begin to recover from the earthquake until the 1970s, when they began to look to tourism as their lifeline.

Here in Oia, so much of its beauty comes from the tragedies of its past. The faithful uttered fervent prayers and built churches to stave off disaster. In the wake of another, later disaster—the earthquake—the town was rebuilt and its churches were refurbished, painted in their trademark blues and whites. As the sun sets over Oia, I think of the incredible beauty of this place and the fragility of life.

Tagged , , , |