Seeing Italy Through A Lens

We were standing outside the Uffizi Gallery, home to one of the largest and most impressive art collections in the world. I had just realized that I would neither be able to photograph inside the museum, nor even keep the backpack holding my equipment with me, and we were engaged in debating whether to trek back to our hotel to leave everything there or risk checking it at the coat/bag check in the museum. As I watched other travellers, equipment-free travellers, slide past us and into the gallery to soak in Botticelli and Lippi, I was struck again by the tension I often feel between my ability to capture the experience through my photography and simply be fully present in the experience itself.

I should clarify that this tension exists most for me when I’m traveling or engaged in experiences that are (a) personal, and (b) shared. Obviously, when I’m traveling in my capacity as a photographer, the priority is clear…I’m there to photograph, first and foremost. Likewise, when I’m traveling alone, I can adjust my approach to accommodate the time and focus required to both process my personal experience as well as photograph it in a compelling way.

But what about when Justin and I have saved our pennies for a trip that is for us? How much attention do I divert from our conversation to composing a shot? How much of our schedule should be determined by getting to a certain vantage point over the city during the golden hours? How much equipment do we bring, knowing that at best we will have to lug it around with us all day, and at worst we risk it having to be checked or even being stolen? Is it okay to simply take some snapshots of us having fun, or does every image need to be “blog-worthy”?

I honestly am not totally sure where that balance lies.

Here’s the thing. I love taking photos. I love it. It’s why I’m not making a six-figure salary as an attorney- I chose to make photography my full-time work instead. So the lines are blurry. If I were an attorney and Justin and I headed to Italy, I would likely not feel any compulsion to carry my briefs around Florence with me or lament their absence while staring in awe at the David.

But photography isn’t a 9-5 sort of job. It requires constant practice and education for me to feel  confident in my ability to capture not only what something looks like in a pleasing way, but the feel of the moment, the story I’m trying to tell. I’ve spent hours and hours focusing this attention and  practice on how to tell the story of love and weddings, but the story of a city, of a landscape, of travel…these are newer to me and come with new challenges.  And, of course, photography has a meaningful place in my personal life. Each year I promise myself, with incrementally increasing levels of success, that I will give as much energy and effort to capturing the story of our life as I do the lives of others. Sometimes that means snapshots with my iphone for an Instagram feed I refuse to take too seriously, sometimes that means lugging 20 pounds of camera equipment around on our travels. And sometimes, when amazed at the light streaming across the David, wrapping around each perfect curve, lending its illumination to the power of a masterpiece, I want to drink it in, unencumbered, in huge, noisy, gulps.

And when I’ve drunk my fill, I want to wield that light the way Michelangelo wielded his chisel. To use it not just to pause my own moment of rapture, but to somehow share it with anyone, everyone, whose life might be richer for it. And therein lies the rub.

I know I’m not supposed to say this {especially not on my, umm, photography blog}, but sometimes my own experience is richer for not putting a lens between me and the moments that knock the wind out of me. I think of all the weddings over the last several years where I see more and more people watching the first dance on the screen of the phones they’ve erected between themselves and the moment that is happening mere feet before them, and I know that I don’t want to witness my life through glass. I’m reminded of this little video that made its way around social media recently.

But sometimes it’s possible to have it both ways. The gift of photography is that it allows me to notice, really notice, the way the light filters through snowy trees, or how a coffee mug and half-eaten bagel on a plate can tell a story in still life. It adds color and shadow and light and detail to my life whether I actually shoot the images or not, and for that I am deeply grateful. Sometimes I leave the camera in my bag and make eye contact with Justin instead, reaching for his hand and basking in the unity of our shared moment. Sometimes I pull it out and the intersection of experience and capture bursts my heart wide open.

I don’t know what the balance is. With each bit of travel and each hike and each moment where the sunlight pours through the kitchen window and onto my yellow tea kettle, I will continue to use my judgment and keep searching for it.

In the meantime, here are few images from Italy…some are snapshots, some are photographs, and there are others that will only ever live in my cherished memories of a long weekend getaway that Justin and I once made to the magical city of Florence…
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-005The famous Santa Maria del Fiore and its Duomo
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-010Climbing Brunelleschi’s dome!
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-016On the way down, we were able to get up close and personal with the dome’s interior fresco, a rendering of The Last Judgment by several artists including Vasari, Zuccari, and Cresti.
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-021We began day two with breakfast at the Mercato Centrale
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-023We ate our breakfast on the steps of the Basilica di San Lorenzo before wandering it’s galleried courtyard…
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-026Justin snuck this shot of me scribbling notes in my journal!
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-029From the top of the Campanile! I know everyone gets this shot, but it’s easy to see why!
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-033The Baptistry of Saint John…I fell in love with the amazing detail!
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-036We spent more than 20 min alone with Michelangelo’s unfinished Bandini Pieta (also called The Deposition) at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo…it was absolutely astonishing.
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-040Ghiberti’s famous bronze Gates of Paradise. They are even more exquisite in real life, if you can believe it!
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-044Santa Croce …
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-046We were surprised by a rainstorm that stopped as quickly as it began, and left this treat behind for us!
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-047The view from Piazzale Michelangelo
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-049From San Miniato al Monte (maybe my favorite cathedral on the trip…I found it so powerful)…
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-052We walked back down to Piazzale Michelangelo after San Miniato to catch the sunset over Florence!
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-053Santa Croce & Santa Maria del Fiore…
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-055The Ponte Vecchio…
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-060In hopes of catching the sunrise over Florence, we headed out in the wee hours on day three, but alas, the rain had other plans! I actually ended up in love with the shine of wet cobblestones and the rich color of saturated surfaces! And I always love the early mornings in a new place…there is something so intimate about being in a city as it wakes and begins its day.
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-061We had the Piazzale Michelangelo completely to ourselves!
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-065The Ponte Vecchio is a fascinating place….both when it’s teeming with tourists and glowing jewelry shops, as well as when the shops are closed up with their wooden shutters!
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-068We spent the day looking at art {where photography was prohibited}, but made it back to San Miniato for the evening Gregorian chant mass…beautiful.
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-069Our last morning in Florence…
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-070…and then onto Milan! The cathedral in Milan was full of scaffolding and equipment, and there were many places that were off limits unless you bought extra tickets, but it is a fascinating place nonetheless…the preserved remains of archbishops, gothic architecture, a sculpture of St. Bartholomew from 1562 that bears a certain resemblance to Lord Voldemort, saintly relics from centuries past…seriously fascinating. As our time was limited, we opted not to go up to the rooftop, but I would love to get up there if we ever returned when less construction/maintenance was underway!
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-078We wandered up Via Orefici to the Castello Sforzesco. The ancient castle is home to an amazing number of well-done museums, and we didn’t even scratch the surface before we reached closing time!
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-080We had another opportunity to spend an incredible amount of time alone with Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pieta…it’s extremely humbling to stand alone with work of this magnitude.

Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-085Our final gelato of the trip…
Travel_Photogragher_Florence_Milan_Italy-086…and a few roasted chestnuts to wrap up the day!

{My apologies for the late delivery on this post! Thanks so much for being patient!}

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  • JLFebruary 26, 2014 - 10:46 pm

    Great photos, I just got back from a trip through Italy (including Florence) – your pictures do it justice. Photography Tips / GalleryReplyCancel

  • AliFebruary 25, 2014 - 11:09 pm

    Great photos! Thanks for not leaving the camera at home, so the rest of us “back home” could share a little piece of Italy! Justin looks European in his page-boy hat… he fits right in! And you both look genuinely happy! Cant wait to hear all about it next time we catch up!ReplyCancel

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