Travel photography

Professional Travel Photography – Italy 2012 – Naples

Professional Travel Photography – Italy – 2012


“Lost to a world in which I crave no part, I sit alone and commune with my heart. Pleased with my little corner of earth, glad to have come, not sorry to depart”.

— DH Lawrence

2012 brought along a new Travel Photography opportunity for me to return to Italy. I vowed never to photograph Italy in July again, but Naples and the Amalfi Coast was just something I could not pass up on. Last year, Florence and the Cinque Terra, was sizzling and made my Professional Travel Photography more like a burden. It is unbearably hot, over crowded and especially whilst carrying photography equipment without an Assistant. Yet there is something so special about Italy, that I claim, if there is such a thing as having a previous life, then I must have been Italian! I love the country, life style, food, history, culture, architecture and her people. André Gide said, “Ravello is closer to the sky than to the shore”. I would like to customize this quote so that it reads, “Italy is closer to heaven than it is to the shore”.

When I knew I would be photographing Naples and the Amalfi Coast this year again as a Professional Travel Photographer, it was an automatic decision to take on the journey. After last year's errors I was more prepared in 2012. Travel lighter, take less equipment and make the lenses work for you rather than having too many lenses that I would not need. Professional Travel Photography is all about clever usage of your equipment, and I am glad I experienced last year in order to learn for this year.

Many said that Naples is not nearly as popular as the North of Italy including Venice, Florence, Bergamo and Milan. Many tourists stay away from Naples due to the poverty. What excited me about Naples was that Italy intensifies the further south you go. Naples is Italy in the extreme! Yes this is what I looked forward to, the true typical Napolitano style…it’s best known as the birthplace of pizza and Sophia Loren, and it’s worst being the home of the Camorra, Naples’ family of organized crime. The poverty in the Spanish Quarter and old city of Naples is virtually unbearable…but I went through it and enjoyed it. It was fascinating. It provided for fascinating Professional Travel Photography.

2, 500 years ago, Neapolis (New City) was a thriving Greek commercial center, and today it remains southern Italy’s leading City offering a fascinating collection of museums, churches, eclectic architecture, Castles and a mesmerizing underground city that was build and used during the world wars as refuge for the woman and children. Truly fascinating to see and photograph…truly spine tingling and emotional to experience. Walking through its colorful Old Town including the Spanish Quarter was mind blowing and such a happy as well as sad experience. At night the street people with all their possessions they have left with them, sleep on the pavements, on park benches, and building entrances. Some had three dogs and children in prams, some alone, but it opened my eyes to what we have and what is precious to us…and why we are so lucky. People living in the Spanish Quarter live like termites in a mound all on top of each other, in such a tiny space. This is low living (basso) at it’s most classic. “Families generally do it in the road”. This is the cliché of life in Naples, as shown in so many movies. The Spanish Quarter is Naples at its rawest, poorest, and most characteristic. Local shopkeepers tug at their lower eyelids warning you to be careful. Yet, it was so colorful, friendly and one of my best experiences that whilst I was downing another Birra Peroni at a sidewalk pizzeria, a young couple advised me to spend an evening with the locals at a typical Neapolitan Restauranté called Da Nennella to experience the true life of the Napolitans. A seismic explosion of typical joy, culture, fun, food and music rolled into a very noisy production that has to be experienced to be enjoyed. Scintillating Professional Travel Photography at its best!

With more than one million people Naples has no open parks and spaces which makes its position as Europe’s most densely populated city very evident. It was comical watching the police try to enforce traffic sanity in Italy’s grittiest, most polluted and most crime-ridden city. Wherever I went, stopped, ate, drank, photographed, people would say to me in a hushed way, “specsiale attenzione photographica”…”pay special attention to your camera equipment”. It was quite nerve racking especially in the densely populated areas but I never experienced one incident of crime while I was there, lucky, or just oblivious to the beauty, I would not have known unless I was directly involved. What I did notice about Naples and that was very evident, is that most of its people are far more accommodating and friendly than the locals in Florence or the Cinque Terra. It’s as if they are going out of their way to make you welcome due to the stigma attached to Naples. They want you to come to Naples, whereas in Florence, I felt as a tourist and travel photographer as if I was invading their space and I wasn’t welcome. Naples truly surprised me as an avid professional travel photographer with its impressive knack for surviving, living, eating, and raising children in the streets with good humor and decency. What I did was to overcome the fear of being run down by speeding vespers and being ripped off by Napolitano street urchins long enough to stop and talk to the local people, ask them if I could photograph them, shared a smile and a joke about their football team and then I felt like I belonged there. It was inspiring.

The pulse of Italy throbs in Naples. Just like Cairo, Mumbai or Pataya, it’s atrocious and captivating at the same time, it’s the closest thing to what I truly enjoy in “professional travel photography” that I have experienced and that you will find in Western Europe. Yet I still felt that this “boxed-in” “tangled mess of a city", overshadowed by the ominous Mount Vesuvius, still somehow manages to breathe, laugh, and sing – with a charming and captivating Italian accent that I truly loved and I wanted so much to be a professional travel photographer in Naples, and for the three days i was there, it was totally unbelieveable and worth it.

So it was with utter awe I said goodbye to Naples, a living medieval city where couples artfully make love on Vespers surrounded by more fights, poverty and smiles per cobblestone than anywhere else in Italy, and headed for the Amalfi Coast where I would be stationed at the beautiful San’Angela, a suburb of Sorrento so I could continue on my journey of professional travel photographer.

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Travel photography in Italy – Florence/Firenze – Day 1

Travel photography – DAY 1 in FLORENCE – Florentia/Firenze

Travel photography - ItalyAfter a combined 12-hour flight including a quick stop over in Frankfort I arrived in Florence to searing heat & having just left Johannesburg of freezing temperatures, this was a mind blow! Not only the heat, but also Italy & the Northern Hemisphere are in the middle of their summer so it was heaving with tourists from all over the world.

I read a stat on the flight that Italy has become the most visited country in Europe…what was I in for? If I had had my own way I would never have gone in July, but beggars can’t be choosers!

During the short taxi trip to the Hotel Pendini that is situated on the Piazza della Repubblica, I took in the architecture & I was astounded at the pastel colors of Florence down town. The long, high & narrow alleyways. It is “old”, “ancient” & really “historic”. The drivers are maniacs. They speed up narrow alleyways as if there are no other vehicles on the road. Scary indeed.

Before long I had checked in to the stunning Hotel Pendini & was off on foot to many of the sites that had to be photographed. Whilst making my way to the famous Piazza del Duomo (the most famous of Florence) I noticed along with many tourists how many Gelateria’s there are on each block…this is amazing ice cream! Bravo Italia!   This really is a travel photography dream.   Take a look at some of the other travel photography examples from the Italy trip.

It was sensational to take in the architecture & how astonishing these buildings are after centuries. Taking the best angles & lines of the Duomo complex, which included the admirable “Giotto’s Bell Tower”, the “Baptistery” (with its golden bronze doors), the famous “Porta del Paradiso” & finally the “Cathedral” with its magnificent “Brunelleschi’s Dome” which can be seen for miles all around Firenze!

travel photography - ItalyThe next tourist attraction to capture was the Uffizi Gallery, which has the world’s eldest museum where one can see famous paintings by Renaissance painters such as Leonardo, Giotto, Michelangelo, Botticelli & Raffaello. The Uffizi Gallery represents a stage where many of Florence’s current artists can be seen chalking up portraits of tourists & there are many street performers to admire as well.

On route I also took in Piazza Signoria, which has some of the most breath taking statues I have ever seen. It is a great pity that the most famous of all, the Statue of David was not open to the public due to cleaning…who cleans a statue in the middle of your tourist season? Evidently the Italians!

The famous Ponte Vecchio with all its famous gold smith shops was a hive of activity. It was virtually impossible to move in the area so a decision was taken to move on to the stunning Piazzale Michelangelo where the most scintillating panoramas can be taken of Florence. It was an eventful walk to get to the top as the square overlooks the city. I witnessed & photographed the city with an amazing sunset. What transpired was that I had not given much thought to the fact that sunset in Europe at this time of the year was at about 21h00!!! So having got there at about 18h00 I had more than enough time to suck on a few of the local “Moretti” Birra…66cl of the stuff. “Uno Grande birra perfavore”. This is one great beer!

Once the sunset had come & gone and all the images needed had been captured it was off back to the City to take in some night photography & of course my first real Italian supper. Yay! The next day we were all off to the next part of the journey, which was taking a train trip across the country from Tuscany to the Ligurian region & Cinque Terre.  Looking forward to more travel photography tomorrow.

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Travel photography – Italy – Day 2/3

Cinque Terre (The 5 Lands)– La Spezia, Riomaggiore, Manarola & Corniglia.

Ian Cooper Photography-Travel Photographer-ItalyOn of the finest places to enjoy travel photography.  On leaving Florence, I realized one thing about the Italians, & that was their transport system! Mostly clean, mostly fast, sometimes cheap but never ever on time!

Once on board the speed train to La Spezia in the Laguria region it was also apparent how we in South Africa lack a great public transport system. The Italians have train, bus, boats; taxis for everyone & most of them are relatively cheap. Don’t expect hiring a car to be reasonable…remember that we are paying close to R10 for 1 Euro!!! The equivalent B class car here in SA with unlimited mileage will cost R245 per day…in Italy for an inferior Fiat cost R800 per day!

Anyway, off to Cinque Terre a remote chunk of the Italian Riviera, which is traffic free, lowbrow, under appreciated & there is not a museum in sight. In fact each of the 5 villages has no more than a railway station, bus stop, an ATM & 20 Gelateria’s! Honestly besides pretty little architecture, famous forts & churches, Cinque Terre boasts sun, sea, sand, wine & pure unadulterated Italy. Here you will also find callused locals, sunburned travelers, no Vespas & many happy relaxed tourists. Besides centuries of history, each village prospers & fishing, seafood, castles, grapes, wine, churches, artists & boats are very evident.

Riomaggiore is the largest & oldest in the region. Looking from the top of the hillside at the village the buildings & homes look like a fascinating tangle of pastel homes leaning on each other like drunken sailors. The blue sea, the grey reefs & the rocky coast, the green terraces covered with vineyards & olive groves create an explosion of color. It was evident in almost exaggerated fashion I noticed the typical architecture embroidered with a myriad of lanes, stairways, little alleyways & covered passageways. Riomaggiore is captivating & has amazingly evocative landscapes that are almost wild yet peaceful & charming. Above the village the old Genovese castle dominates the landscape & was build in the 15th century. There are two sides to Riomaggiore: the fishing village & the peasant’s village, which faces the mountain. Obviously the fishing village faces the sea! Picturesque Riomaggiore is also enhanced by the presence of Montenero, a very ancient sanctuary & church, which along with the castle, date back to the 14th & 15th centuries.

A twenty-minute walk along the rugged coastline takes you to the next village, which is Manarola. Along the way is the lovely and interesting “Love’s Trail” (Via Dell’Amore), where thousands of couples have “locked” their love for each other by placing & locking a padlock on the railings, fences, gates, rock secures & doors.

Manarola is a charming village, which is perched on a sheer rocky spur some 70 m above the sea on one of the most breath taking parts of the coastline of Cinque Terre. Its typical tall houses huddle together adding a bright touch to the narrow alleys & steps with their vivid pastel colors. A few vestiges of the town’s old castle can be spotted among the houses. The castle, testimony to the rule of the Fieschi family was destroyed in 1276 by the Genovese. An enchanting village where I found some of the friendliest locals & also offered some of the most beautiful & unforgettable views of Cinque Terre.

Corniglia was the next stop. Corniglia is 105 meters above sea level & the only village in Cinque Tree that is not on the sea. But it has the same spectacular sea views on the one side & terraces covered with dense vineyards on the other as the other villages have. This village is more famously known than its neighbors as it is richer in history & also is famous for its own wine, the Vernaccia. Getting to the top of the village from the station is more than an average effort. A path zigzags approximately 400 stairs to the town. Once you reach the top there is a congratulatory sign welcoming you to the village & reminding you of the steep climb! This, with all my photography gear nearly killed me! Whilst dining on a local dish, gulping on a local Moretti beer, I witnessed some locals obviously upset by something & managed to get some truly magnificent portraiture, the type of emotional portraiture that captures the true Italian ways.

Once I had captured some sensational shots it was back to Manarola to get some night photography. This time I new sunset was at about 21h00!

Pondering on the train on my way back to La Spezia I was already thinking ahead to tomorrow which was going to take us into the countryside, a whole new look at Italy.

ITALY – DAY 4 & 5.

Varese Ligure – Ligure Region – Portovenere.

What I wanted to capture from going inland to the mountainous region of Liguria, were the true Old Italian faces, the old farmhouses & rolling hillsides of vineyards & olive groves. Imagine being in a Castle or someone’s home who’s families have lived there for generations & there is Mamma making her very own home made pasta while the men are outside, drinking wine & sitting in the shade talking wildly about football or life in general.

On route I noticed how practically every Italian village or settlement is build on top of a rock, mountaintop or hillside! On top of that (excuse the pun) every village, town or settlement has a church, a fortress & castle that seem to be the most expansive building in the area! Huge buildings, gothic in style, steeples almost reaching the clouds & dead silence! There seems nothing going on…maybe it was an early siesta, but until we reached Varese Lagure, the countryside was almost dead! Beautiful, colorful, serene, peaceful…but almost asleep!

Varese Ligure is a very small pretty inland summer town & was for centuries, an important market town & stopping place on the route north to Parma. After the decline in the traffic across the mountains in the 19th Century, the town acquired the rural role it still has today. Agriculture is the main trade in this region. Varese Ligure was a possession of the Fieschi family, who obtained it in fief from Emperor Frederick 1 in 1161. They build the rather splendid 15th Century castle. This stands prominently in a piazza in the centre of town.

It was here between the multi colored facades, arches & porticoes that we found a lovely restaurant & met Igna Gabriele Depeietri. He & his family own & run the restaurant called “I Fieschi” & they cooked a stunning meal that was region appropriate.

The local diner who sat next to us enjoying his meal provided some great images of which he was not aware I was taking. They are hilarious yet so typical. These are the typical portraits that I was after. Walking around Varese Ligure like many a tourist I take in the medieval stronghold in the main square, the winding alleyways, the burbling river and its stone bridges, and the circular borgo of ancient houses with freshly painted & renovated facades. But that´s not the main reason why I came here. The most interesting monument to visit in Varese Ligure is the ancient castle, which is now a private property. The castle has a large tower that dates back to 1435. The turret mast was built forty years later. The castle can only be admired from outside the walls since it is not open to visitors. Damn! I would have loved to have gone inside & taken some images but then again there were going to be other Castles to admire and photograph.

The next day it was off to capture two castles. Castello Compiano & Castello di Bardi.

The Castle of Bardi is a very important building, for the position, the architecture & its history. It is the second fortress for extension in Europe, build, as the legend says, over the skeleton of the last Annibale´s elephant. In ancient Bardi the lords of this place were the Landi´s family. Photographing this giant building I saw the fashion of the middle age, in one of the greatest & most important castles of Italy. One of the most antique parts of the fortress is the ´mastio´, dating back to the 1200´s, originally adapted for habitation & then transformed into a prison. Under the care of the Landi, the castle was transformed from a military fortress to a noble dwelling, through the realization of elegant apartments, frescoes, gardens, fountains & a big library. Voices tell the story that the fortress has always been inhabited by a group of nice ghosts. Not even is the horrid chamber of torture missing, where the hangman´s axe has been left in full view. Furthermore, recently an antique manuscript has been found, which is proof of the existence of buried treasure in the castle.

Mid day we arrived back in La Spezia & I witnessed the unfriendly side of an Italian car rental staff member. We arrived an hour later than supposed to & the lady refused point blank to help us even if she was sitting behind her desk. She was very rude & lucky for me I can’t speak Italian otherwise I think I may have been deported if I gave her what I really wanted to tell her!

Once the dust had settled it was time to head for one of the most exciting villages on the Italian Riviera, Portovenere, which is picture perfect & has such famous history. It is like a flower on the cliffs, lashed by the wind & waves or rather, a pearl set in the crown of a wonderful panorama. At the top of the village there rises the mighty tower of the old citadel, which like a giant, keeps a firm grip on the walls, reinforced by turrets & bastions, which embrace the whole of the front of the village. Walking through the village I met Giuseppe the sailor who had some crazy good stories to tell me about life! Thanks Giuseppe! Portovenere is a village of fisherman & bold sailors, jutting out-wards into the sea & locked in the grip of its old & crumbling walls, reinforced by its towers, standing high on the cliffs scorched by the sun & echoing with the storms! A photographic gem! It is a small world of seafaring tales, rich in history & beauty. This landscape thus becomes such a marvelous & characteristic picture that it is hardly surprising that the ancients dedicated it to Venus, the goddess of love & beauty, who arose from the foam of the sea…so legend has it! The two main tourist attractions are St Peter’s church build of black dolomite limestone with veining’s of Portoro marble & was first erected in 1256-77 & the ancient Upper Portovenere castle believed to have been build in the 12th century.

Vernazza & Montorosso Al Mare

Cinque Terre – Vernazza and Monterosso Al Mare

I left the last two villages on the Cinque Terre until last. It was far more important to get Portovenere done properly rather than run out of time& not have amazing images from there at all.

The first stop was Vernazza. A stunning little village & community formed towards the year 1000 around the chapel. Vernazza is the only village on the Cinque Terre to have a harbor; this is known to have been in use in antiquity. The port has made Vernazza the richest village in the area while the combination of the surroundings & architectural grace also make it one of the prettiest in my opinion. In ancient times in order to combat the assaults by the Saracen pirates who were punishing the Ligurian coast, Castle Doria was build. It was build around the 11th century on the rocky spur that dominates the village. All that remains of this old base is the fort & the ruins of some of the towers. Proud of their Vernazzan heritage, the town’s 500 residents like to brag: “Vernazza is locally owned. Portofino (a nearby commercial village) has sold out.” Families are tight & go back centuries; several generations stay together. There is much leisure time here for the locals & they call it “vita pigra di Vernazza”…the lazy life of Vernazza.

The last village was Monterosso Al Mare which comprises of the Old & New villages. Unfortunately as time sped away I couldn’t get to the Old town, but nonetheless I was more captivated by the New village & especially the statue of the Giant (Il Gigante), which was carved out of concrete & set into the cliff face over looking the sea. A few decades ago a violent storm hit the coastline & the Giant lost a few of his limbs. The locals have left him that way, as they believe that even a “broken man” can protect their coastline & bless the fishermen & people with sea food! It is an amazing piece of sculpturing & dominates the area. Monterosso is the largest village in Cinque Terre & the most popular with tourists. This village has very few cars & loads of hotels, rentable beach umbrellas, crowds & a thriving nightlife. Monterosso is the only village to have been build on flat land. Unfortunately due to the amount of tourists in this town a decision was made to get back to the beautiful Portovenere to take images at night of the village’s harbor, St Pietro’s Church from as high up as the old upper castle & to also enjoy the last dinner before heading back to Florence in the morning.

Italy Final days

Back to Florence

Arriving back in Florence I had a few ideas left of what I really wanted to do. Part of my assignment besides some final early morning shots of the Piazza del Duomo was to capture loads of street scenes & people entertaining tourists & locals alike with street entertainment.

There were buskers, singers, painters, human statues, musicians all displaying very different acts. On walking around the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Piazza del Duomo) I came across the typical Italian old man playing a violin. His face had all the expressions I was looking for. Old, weather-beaten, yet so full of emotion & expressions. Further on as I made my way to the Galleria degli Uffizi for the last time I also came across a pair of human statues. Unfortunately the female was in bright sunshine however I made it count in my favor but the shot would have been so much better if she was in the shade! Can’t win them all!

It was time to catch my bus to take the most anticipated & exciting journey I had been so looking forward to in Tuscany. The bus was taking us into the mountains of Tuscany to see & experience the growing & making of one of Italy’s most famous wines, Chianti.

The bus headed off towards the landscaped hills of Tuscany characterized by pretty picturesque villages, vineyards & gentle hills. What was noticeable here compared to Cinque Terre, was that these hills were much greener than those in the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre. Different climates, different soil, different landscapes and different wine altogether.

Part of my main levels of excitement was because we were ending off the tour at a famous old Castle, which still makes wine after all these centuries. Castello del Trebbio could be seen from a few kilometers away on the winding road and what a sight it made. Towering above all the foliage, vineyards & olive groves was this massive breathtaking panorama above the Chianti Rufina.

Once the bus had stopped the first person I laid eyes on was Mario! As I stepped off the bus his arm was fully extended with a massive smile right across his face. Mario is nearly as old as the Castle (just joking). He is the Castles gamekeeper & has served at the castle since 1952. He is also their caretaker & still goes there every day to open up the commercial parts of the Castle, delivering breakfasts & to greet everyone. He has also been a very loyal employee to the Austrian-Italian family who has lived in the Castle since 1968. There are oil paintings of Mario in some of the main dining & lounge rooms, which is testament to his loyalty to Castello Del Trebbio & the family. He lived here by himself, maintaining all the grounds & helping the farmers with the vineyards while the Castle sat vacant from 1953 – 1968 under its previous ownership. Mario, in effect, comes with the castle. According to his previous contract, as is tradition, the gamekeeper is not permitted to get married because his sole focus must be on the property. When Anna’s family bought the castle in 1968, Mario petitioned for a new contract, & the family broke tradition & permitted him to get married. Two weeks later he & his girlfriend were married, & nine months after that he became a father. Mario is now 84 years old, & still wears his uniform to the castle, where he works (although technically retired) seven days a week, as he always has; you can find him easily – he’s dressed in a green felt hat with a pheasant feather, matching green overalls and handmade leather boots with handmade half-chaps overtop. He gets around without any help, although he speaks in a very soft whisper. He lives for the castle, the family, the tourists & clients who stay at the castle & he also told me that his only other highlight during the year after tourist season is the annual plucking of a new feather for his hat. Bravo Mario, a wonderful man!

Part of wanting to visit this Castle is that the owners have opened it up to the public & staying at this ancient Castle in the charming area of the Florentine Hills & the Chianto Rufina offers relaxation, peace & a wide variety of activities including wine tours, Tuscan cooking classes, ceramics & painting classes, trekking & mountain biking & lastly to offer the Castle as a Wedding venue. The ancient farmhouses around the Castle have been renovated in different sizes to afford every comfort for the guests & include swimming pools & all the main stylish services expected.

Castello del Trebbio is all about magic & enchantment surrounded by an uncontaminated Tuscan landscape that offers unique natural, historical and gastronomical treasures. The Castle of Trebbio, build in 1184 by the Pazzi family, rises on a hill, surrounded by olive groves & vineyards. It is surrounded by 350 hectares of estate (54 hectares vineyards, 10.000 olive trees) & is bordered by native forest. Once owned by the Pazzi family, it was the scene of the attempted murder of the Medici brothers in 1478. The Castle was given to the Medici family who changed it from a fortress into a villa for the bishop of Fiesole. Anna & her Austrian-Italian family bought the estate in 1968 & have restored & kept the Castle to its respecting architecture & furthermore they live in the Castle. The Castle has its own private chapel. The Pazzi coat of arms was sculpted by Donatello & can be seen in the courtyard of the Castle. The shoot was concluded with a visit to the old Castle’s wine cellars where the wine is aged in massive vats & the oil is stored. There are many ancient bottles of wine under the Castle in its cellars of which no one knows their age. Furthermore I noticed the large steel rings in the ceiling to which prisoners were obviously tethered. A truly mesmerizing, creepy thought and feeling indeed.

In conclusion, I also enjoyed a full wine tasting of their famous wines accompanied by typical Italian snacks such as ciabatta, bruschetta & crostini’s & some sensational biscotti’s made with almonds. There is also a restaurant called the La Sosta del Gusto, which is part of the farm & located in an old wine cellar so the atmosphere is intimate & very classy. Private cooking classes can be experienced with Arianna especially since she usually has the men rolling out the homemade pasta. Alberto is in charge of tourism activities, wedding planning, co-coordinating & wine tours & he was a very interesting & informative host.

It was an exhilarating experience to have visited this memorable Castle and I honestly hope to be there again one day in the future.
And so it was once again time to head for the airport and fly back home leaving behind the heat and beauty of lovely Italy to the freezing temperatures of sunny South Africa.

Join me on Face Book to seem more of these images and others from the rest of my journey from Italy:

Travel photography – Greece

Travel photography – Egypt

Travel photography – Dubai

Travel photography – Cologne, Uraguay