Suspect Photography

words and images from david george brommer

Tag: cortona

The Tuscan Neighbor

GiostinosPortrait

Giustino of Cortona

We have a neighbor in Italy, his name is Giustino. He is a venerable character now, but spent his formative years as a farmer and real estate man in Cortona. Since I have known him (about 15 years), he has always been old, but very steady and strong. His property hooks around ours and for years he has toiled in a labor of love tending the olive and fig trees as well as a vast tomato garden. He keeps the land immaculate and I have always admired the techniques and skill he employs. The story is told he bought the house and land for a relative, but they didn’t want it, so he kept it as a pet project of sorts. Driving his little Fiat from Cortona to Terontola in the early mornings to work the land, Giustino would be at it as I woke up almost every morning. Giustino is a sweet man to speak with even though I can barely understand him. I greet him each day with a bellowing, “Boun Giorno Senor!” across the rosemary bushes. He smokes a cigarette every half hour on the mark as he works and his voice is a gravely tuscan accented Italian. He speaks with a smile, the edges of his lips up turned, bright eyes deep-set into a face that has worked under the sun for all its years. In Italian, they would say he is, he isn“persona gentile”. I truly grew to love the man over the years.

This year when we arrived the first thing i noticed was his ill-kept garden. Where Giustino tilled the land and pruned the fig trees, carefully arranging the cut boughs around the trunks, weeds had overtaken. The tomato vines were strewn across the ground, not staked and were yielding poorly. I barely recognized the land, as i had never seen it return to nature but only under the sure hand of Giustino. I feared the worst, for it was obvious that finally the years had prevailed on my neighbor and the land would be wild with out his steady efforts.

underolives

Working under the Olive tree’s shade

Then eleven days into the trip, as I woke up and walked out to the gardens I heard a familiar sound, the “Tick, Tick, Tick” staccato of Giustino working the land with a till! Was it phantasm or phantom of Giustino’s soul spirit bound to the earth? I hurried over and spied him behind the fig tree, clearing the ground beneath it. I ran back into the house and grabbed my trusty Sony RX10 mk 2 and positioned myself so as to be hidden and make exposures while observing my suddenly alive and kicking neighbor. He paused for a moment and rummaged through his jacket pockets to procure a pack of cigarettes, then sat down on his ramshackle well and took a smoke break. I silently laughed and was reassured. Time and the reaper be damned, Giustino lives!

smokebreak

Taking a smoke break at the well

It turns out earlier in the year, Giustino got into a car accident and hurt himself direly while totaling the Fiat. His family won’t let him get a new car and Giustino is subject to the whims of neices and nephews providing rides down to Terontola from Cortona. We spoke, and he is ok now, but was bedridden for several months. He is disappointed he can’t continue as he had, but regardless, keeps his back bent into the work when he can. He lamented how embarrassed he was to have his field look as it did when we arrived. Steady and with dedication over the next two weeks Giustino secured his daybreak rides down and miraculously for one so frail, he cleared the land, trimmed, cut and organized the excess boughs and brought the field to garden status.

On our last night’s aperativo in Cortona, we ran into Giustino sitting with his friends at an outside bar. It took him a moment to recognize us in the shadowy street but when he did, his eyes lit up and that chiseled smile warmed us, and somehow deep inside, I know next year’s summer will bring us together again. Long live Giustino!

walkingtheline

Done for the day.

 

A final note about these images for the gear heads our there. All images shot with a Sony RX10mk2 jpg right out of the camera with the monochrome picture mode applied.  My NIK Silver Efx is now out of date with the latest Photoshop CC2018, so my normal digital B&W workflow was upset. Instead of doing the update, I did an ever so slight edit to darken corners and minor curves adjustment in Photoshop. The image quality out of the Sony RX10 continues to amaze me. I have raved about this camera in earlier posts and really think it’s just a solid performer that is capable of wonderful image making in the hands of a proficient photographer.  I included in each picture’s description the camera settings.

Next blog post will be my summer drone work of Italy.

~David

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Fujifilm XF 18-135 3.5 ~ 5.6 OIS WR Lens Under a Tuscan Sun Review

Zoomed all the way in, Castle Fiorintino. The sun was setting and it really worked. I had to pull over for this one.

Zoomed all the way in, Castle Fiorintino. The sun was setting and it really worked. I had to pull over for this one.

The Tuscan summer vacation always leads me to a mini photo project using specific gear. In the past years the cameras have been diverse such as the Instant Italy summer, using only Fujifilm Instax cameras. Other times I had the pleasure of weeks resorting only to Deardorrfs and Hassalblads, Nikon rangefinder and toy cameras and of course the summer of water color not using a camera at all. This year since a Tuscan darkroom is available after setting one up last year, I knew I’d grab a film camera and using periscope (the social media livecast software), it was decided that the Zeiss Icon 535 medium format would be employed. But I did want a digital, and after the past year of using the cream of Sony’s crop of cameras I was distraught on what to use.

The light in the kitchen is always perfect. Processed in Snapseed.

The light in the kitchen is always perfect. Processed in Snapseed.

On my shelf, gathering dust was my trusty Fujifilm XPro1. I was down to only two lenses, the 18 and the 35. Why was a layer of dust on it? Well for one, this past year as I said I had been using what I would call, Ultra Modern Digitals, in particular the Sony RX series and a few short weeks ago, the brandy new Sony A7rII. Scroll back on this blog to see the many posts about these cameras.

18mm range and nice and wide. Processed in Snapseed.

18mm range and nice and wide. Processed in Snapseed.

Handling the XPro1 was a joy as it always has been. With its viewfinder allowing the option of analog or digital, the classic rangefinder look, the fit and finish and of course, the solid click of the shutter I resolved that I would bring that. But I must say, I know those two lenses inside and out, just like I know Cortona and the local country side, and I needed a new lens to inspire the exploration with the Xpro1.

Cortona and heavily processed in Snapseed.

Cortona and heavily processed in Snapseed.

So I reached out to my Fujifilm connection and long time friend and photo confidant, Brandon. He replied to my text contritely saying, “or be so not Dave and do a crazy zoom 18-135”. Sometime over a year ago, Fujifilm unveiled a “super zoom” that was weather proof and a slight departure from the old school primes that preceded it. For one, it is an image stabilized lens, and secondly the aperture ring while being where you would expect it, near the lens mount, is electronic. It’s not a small lens, and on the camera takes the compact Mirrorless and makes it DSLR size. The aperture is a variable f3.5 at 18mm and at 135mm is a slow f5.6. I figured the best way to deal with the slower zoom was to keep the stabilizer on and reset my auto iso settings. Jumping into the menu I selected 200 to 6400 auto with a min shutter speed of a 1/5th of a second (taking into account the stablizer).

Amazing I was able to catch focus, that's what 3 years with this camera does to you. Wide open and zoomed in, processed in Snapseed.

Amazing I was able to catch focus, that’s what 3 years with this camera does to you. Wide open and zoomed in, processed in Snapseed.

Brandon explained the weather proofing as ingenious. The back of the lens has air conduits built into it for intake and exhaust. This keeps dust inside the lens or pushed out of the lens, and not on the sensor. A fear of long zooms is the vacuum they create as they are zoomed. Fujifilm engineers figured a work around this inherent problem and I had no issues what so ever with dust contamination on the sensor.

Around 80 mm and wide open.

Around 80 mm and wide open.

I enjoy using the lens. It’s a big beast for sure, but by strapping the camera on backwards to my shoulder, the lens tucks nicely into the nook between my but and flank. How about performance? The images will speak for themselves. I found the images tack sharp from edge to edge. Shooting wide open on the wider focal lengths makes for a lack luster bokeh, but certainly at the tele settings on close up subjects, the bokeh improves. It’s no 35 f1.4 for sure, but the flexibility of the zoom overrules that objection quite nicely. Don’t buy this lens for sweet out of focus blurry for and back grounds, buy it to pull in distant details- of which it will do very nicely.

Winter is Coming.

Winter is Coming.

Those steps are special to me, in 2003 that was Barbara and I walking down them freshly married.

Those steps are special to me, in 2003 that was Barbara and I walking down them freshly married.

Also Fujifilm is now offering a line of filters. They are made of metal (not brass) and feature glass Fujifilm Super EBC coated optics. They are not thick and burly B&W filters, but inexpensive and well matched to the system. I would match them to any lens purchase I will make in the future. The threads are perfectly suited for the other lenses in the line up.

Fujifilm Branded Filters for the perfect fit. Shot with iphone 6

Fujifilm Branded Filters for the perfect fit. Shot with iphone 6

A crazy zoom, OK I like it!

~David

Performance
Focal Length 18 – 135mm
Comparable 35mm Focal Length: 27 – 206 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/3.5 – 5.6
Camera Mount Type Fujifilm X mount
Format Compatibility APS-C
Angle of View 76.5° – 12°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.48′ (45 cm)
Magnification 0.27x
Elements/Groups 16/12
Diaphragm Blades 7, Rounded
Features
Image Stabilization Yes
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front:67 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.98 x 3.85″ (75.7 x 97.8 mm)
Weight 1.08 lb (490 g)

The Old Tuscan Farmer and Every Picture Matters Lesson

The Old Tuscan Farmer in the Cortona market

The Old Tuscan Farmer in the Cortona market

On Saturday mornings in Cortona the market comes to the squares. It’s where we buy our produce, and Barbara’s family has been shopping there for seemingly forever. We have a favorite farmer, and when I met him, he was old. Italian countryside old, which means he looks older than he is due to that famous Tuscan sun. Plus farmers always age harder than regular folk do. His stall was attended by his extremely nice wife (equally as old, but very sturdy), and who I think is his daughter in law, along with his son and a few others who might be family but might be farm hands helping to bring the crop to the market. For as long as I have been coming to Cortona, this has been the same. They are very nice, and the old farmer is jolly and congenial, he always has a firm handshake and a grand smile. For the life of me, I have a problem understanding older Italians and we would go back and forth talking and I never really knew what he was saying or if he understood me, but I grew to like him immensely, he became part of what I love about Cortona.

Two years ago he stopped working the main part of the stall, and broke off to the side setting up next to a wall, sitting mostly, and selling herbs in little pots. No more the heavy melons and sacks of tomatoes, this aspect of the business was now delegated to his wife and the kids. His hands would be always wrapped around a cane, and it was understood he was letting the next generation take over and he would just be in charge of a much smaller crop. When asked how he was feeling, he shook his head and said he was fine, but age was taking its toll on the old farmer, and his pride wouldn’t let him stay home, complain, nor stop what he had been doing his whole life. When I was working on my Instant Italy project (shooting Fujifilm Instax photos exclusively) I took a fine photograph of the old farmer and tried to give it to him but he didn’t comprehend an instant photo so I slipped it in his top pocket as the image was developing. I shot a second photograph of him, the one I would keep, but didn’t come out well. Pointing a camera at the old farmer produced a random result because he didn’t keep still and was always in conversation with who ever would be near him. The next year, I came with the Fuji X-Pro 1 and had decided that I would shoot the people I knew, but I would do it unobtrusively and I would focus on thier hands frequently.

I was eager to be shooting him, and as Barbara and mom selected produce I chatted him up and photographed his hands wrapped around his now ever present cane. I made one exposure, that’s all. I didn’t want to be intrusive as he was now engrossed in another conversation. We saw him a few more times that year on following Saturdays but I had my image.

This year we trotted through the market to buy our produce. I looked forward greatly to seeing the old farmer and being in the presence of his smile and hearing his undecipherable Italian. When we turned the corner the herbs where there, in little black plastic pots but he was nowhere to be seen. His wife upon seeing Barbara and mom greeted us, and mom and Barbara had an exchange with her. They asked where he was and I was hoping for another story of what I had already gotten and inkling about. The farmer’s wife looked down, and said something I of course couldn’t follow. Barbara turned slowly to me and lamented, “he’s gone” with a long face confirming what I had already suspected. He had passed 4 months ago, and further details were absent. I hoped it was an easy passing, and I walked away sadly, feeling empty, like a little part of my summer was forever gone, and then I thought about the photo of his hands. Holding on to his cane, and perhaps a grip onto this world for his last year here. The old farmer will live on in my memories and in that photograph, as well as the Fujifilm Instax photo. I don’t have the latter, but I hope his family found it in his belongings and it’s sitting on a hearth in the farmhouse.

Photography is powerful, it can make a man immortal or conjure the emotions of a past moment. As I lamented the passing of my nameless old farmer I knew I would treasure that image for all time. When I made the image I was thinking of how I could elaborate on my style and work that I shoot in Tuscany. When I edited the image I was unimpressed and not too excited about the photograph I had made. Now, with his passing the condition has changed dramatically, the importance of the image magnified.

Never ever take an exposure for granted. What is drab can become brilliant, what is mundane exceptional. Photographs like wine can into something far more important and relevant than what you thought during the 1/60th of a second it took to expose.

Every picture matters.

Image made with Fujifilm XPro1 and 35mm 1.4  shot in film sim B&W Mode 1:1 format. Processed in Snapseed.

Two Day Workshop in Cortona, Italy August 23rd and 24th at Cortona On The Move Photo Festival

Doors of Tuscany Shot with Lensbaby

Doors of Tuscany Shot with Lensbaby

Cortona is a photogenic medieval hilltop city located in the south of Tuscany that is a photographers paradise. So much in fact, that three years ago a group of enterprising young photographers created the Cortona On The Move Photo Festival to showcase photography themed around travel and movement. The festival features exhibits, talks, portfolio reviews, contests, and workshops spread out through the winding alleyways and squares. The exhibits are in old hospitals, wince cellars, churches and other antique locations. Visitors get a map and while exploring the city, get to view a seriously curated assemblage of todays top contemporary photography as it relates to travel and the concept non-static photography.

presskit

For over a decade I have been visiting this corner of the world (I was married to Barbara in Cortona in 2003 as matter of fact, we are celebrating our TEN year anniversary-I love you Barbara <3) and photographing with different techniques. The location is enchanting, and with the festival firmly routed in the city, all the more interesting.

Cortona view of the Vale shot with Fujifilm Instax

Cortona view of the Vale shot with Fujifilm Instax

This year, I proposed a two day workshop to help photographers view this city with an eye for advanced composition. If you are looking into a trip this summer, you simply can’t go wrong with COTM and a visit to Tuscany. Here are the details for the workshop:

Detail of rear of Church 8x10 Camera 14" Kodak Ektar Lens

Detail of rear of Church 8×10 Camera 14″ Kodak Ektar Lens

COMPOSITION IN CORTONA: BEYOND THE RULE OF THIRDS

Digital cameras can practically do it all, but what they can’t do is adjust for good composition, a fundamental quality of a great image.  Ironically, the technological wonders of the digital era have  made some of us blind to seeing photographs as art, and although the latest digital cameras may be able to perform in almost any light, if you can’t “see” the shot, then you won’t capture a memorable image.

Cortona on the Move festival will host American photographer David Brommer for a special two part seminar. The first part, an afternoon lecture and slide show of Brommer’s popular, “Better Photographic Composition – Beyond the Rule of Thirds” program where Brommer will cover the basics of composition and then go further into more complicated compositional elements. Directly following this presentation will be a review of students work. The class will resume the next morning for a photo walk in Cortona where you will get to put what you just learned to practice.

This seminar is ideally suited for those with a basic understanding of photography but wish to advance their skills by learning compositional fundamentals and techniques that will dramatically improve their images.
MATERIALS: Attendees may bring up to 5 of their best images for review on a USB thumb drive for the Friday session. For the photo walk on Saturday, attendees are recommended to bring a Digital SLR with wide to normal angle lenses, a fully charged battery and memory cards. Tripods are not recommended as this is a photo walk, however comfortable sneakers are a must. We will be covering a lot of ground on old cobblestoned streets.

 DATES: August 23rd 4 pm to 7 pm  (class room session) and August 24th 7 am to 10 am (Cortona photo walk)

COST: 125€

The organization of the Festival will help the participants to find affordable accommodations.

To enroll, make a bank transfer to:

Associazione Culturale ONTHEMOVE
Banca Credito Cooperativo
Iban: IT 66 N 084 8925 4010 0000 0361 220

Info: workshop@cortonaonthemove.com

I will conduct the class primarily in English, however a translator will be on site. I hope to see some of my American friends, or make new acquaintances in Cortona.

~David

Finding Photographic Style In Italy

Vespa rider in Milan

Achieving photographic style and understanding the traits that make imagery posses its own distinguishable idiom that resonates with the photographers voice is a daunting and difficult artistic undertaking. As each devotee explores photography and builds their visual vocabulary inevitably certain photographers will rise to the top. Highly crafted and odd works by Joel Peter Witkin, Perfect landscapes of Ansel Adams, snippets of time expertly caught by Bresson, they all share their own unique photographic style that differentiates and identifies the photographer to the photograph. There are many more of course, but those three come to mind as evoking strong, and yet vastly different styles. I’ll invite you later to watch a two hour lecture where I delve deeply into the anatomy of photographic style but this moment I want  to show off an exercise if you will, a self assignment that I give myself every summer for the past decade.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo bucolic, Florence

Every year my wife Barbara and I spend our vacation in Tuscany. We have this wonderful home that was Barbara’s grandmothers and has been in her family ever since. The back room is used as a dark room, and there is even a “camera ready room” for coating cyanotypes, loading film holders, and organizing gear for shoots. This photo “mini” project starts in Milan, and then migrates to a small village below Cortona. For a decade now I have spent weeks of my summer in this bucolic medieval countryside and the narrow streets of hill top towns.  I have shot sun flowers (warning: an August trip is a bit late for sun flowers, if you are into shooting them, then I suggest a early July visit), cipressi trees, castles, farm houses, and graveyards. In many ways it’s a photographic paradise and the hordes of tourists with all manner of cameras will surely stop and shoot these unique characteristics.

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo or The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore aka Florence Duomo

I am interested in having my vision standing out from the crowd. I seek to create images that capture the subject, yet show it in a way that is uncommon and unique. I have to look deeply into my photographic skill set, decimate the technique, subject matter, capture, post process and imagine a way to complete the project with a single voice. It’s hard work and for me, I had to really delve deeply and think about it.

vicolo in Cortona

VIcolo in Cortona

In the past, I have worked on projects such as “Italy Looking Up” where I only shot aiming the camera upwards. No straight on shooting what so ever. I have shot “Adams” style large formate with my Deardorff 8×10, Lensbaby and 35 mm film, Toy Camera with a Black Bird Fly, Nikon Rangefinder with Ilford XP2, and Hasselblad 2 1/4 color print. The project “Instant Italy” was captured using Fujifilm Instax cameras exclusively. By creating sever restrictions on gear you can emerge with a unique style, simply because your confined to something that allows less visual options.

Cortona

Cortona

This year I resolved to shoot with my new and trusty Fujifilm X Pro 1. I would get a chance to explore the nuances of the 35 mm 1.4 and of course, old faithful, the 18 mm 2.0. On the road to photographic style, shooting with primes or limited focal lengths add a common visual denominator, that of the angel of view. No sloppy zooming back and forth here… its either wide or normal view. If I can’t get close to a detail, then its going to be small in the frame.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan

I also decided to make a dramatic choice that would really effect the way I composed my images, I set the camera aspect ratio to 1:1. I’d be working in square format, like my beloved red Hassy. I would also assign a B &W or monochrome film simulation mode. This also means I would be capturing less information on each picture I took. The files went from being 45.7 megabytes to 15.2 megabytes under these setting parameters. I know, I could shoot Raw and have both the big fat files and also the smaller “assignment style” files, but I like to live on the photographic edge.

Either I make this work or I have nothing. I love drama, so the B&W film mode I used most often was the B&W Red filter.

Snack cart, Milan

Snack cart, Milan

It’s not easy to shoot this way, by not falling back on Raw + Jpeg capture you are showing a level of conviction on shooting using a specific technique. Square and B&W however is an interesting choice, because a perfect square is geometrically pleasing and lets face it, B&W is cool like the Fonzie.

Rock and Roll

Rock and Roll

Time was limited, and I had other projects also on the burner. I thought about how the technique could apply to more specific subject matter, like hands, or people. In Camucia, on Thursday mornings the market attracts lots of genuine local flavor. In particular is a vendor who I call Senor Porchetta. His porchetta wagon always has a long line of bustling Tuscans getting their porchetta fill. He is jovial, equally good with pig or knife and knows his fegatini like Silvio Berlusconi knows a 17 year old.

Senor Porchetta

Senor Porchetta

Hands in the Cortona Market

Hands in the Cortona Market

I can’t recall the name of the photographer who said, “if you’re not sure, get closer”, but they were was certainly on to something. Engage your macro, and come in close. I love the macro on the 18 f2.0 is 7.09″ (18 cm) as compared to the 35 f1.4 which is 11.02″ (28 cm), the 18 lets you get in a little closer, but beware, the lens takes in a lot of the scene.

Detail of locks on the Ponte Vechio, Florence. Shot with 18mm f2.0.

Moms sewing kit in the Casa Tuscana.

Mom’s sewing kit in the Casa Tuscana, 18mm f2.0

Fujifilm also has a macro 60mm 2.4. I’ve yet to test this one, but as I continue to work with the 35 1.4 I’m sure to add it to the arsenal later in the year.

35mm 1.4 with a 200% crop

If you have read this far and are liking these images and wish to develop your style or just hear more ranting from me on style, here is a link to the 2 hour program on Youtube, “Finding Photographic Style” recorded in the B&H Event Space this year.

Cortona Cops

Cortona Cops

I also brought my Speed Graphic 4×5 on this trip loaded with Fujifilm Acros to do some cyanotype work. But thats a post for another day.

Ciao!

~David George Brommer

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