Suspect Photography

words and images from david george brommer

Tag: italy

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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The Cucoloris Monster lives in Light and Shadow – Not Sesame Street :-)

Monster Garden, Bomarzo Italy. Fujifilm Xpro 1 35mm 1.4 1/320 f 2.8 iso 200 B&W film sim mode

Monster Garden, Bomarzo Italy. Fujifilm Xpro 1 35mm 1.4 1/320 f 2.8 iso 200 B&W film sim mode

 

When the light pours through trees it causes a dappling of highlights and shadows on the scene and can create an interesting effect. In the movie business the grip guys use gobos with patterns cut in them and hold them up between the light source and the scene. They also will move them, so in film it appears as if the wind is blowing the foliage. They call them Cucoloris, Kookaloris, or even cookies and are used frequently.

West Village NYC  Ricoh GR IV Digital 1/60th f 5.6 ISO 200

West Village NYC Ricoh GR IV Digital 1/60th f 5.6 ISO 200

In photography we really don’t use them often, even though the same technique the grip guys use could be set up in the studio easily. More often, we run into it when shooting beneath tree cover.  The “cucoloris effect” is best used to create a dance of positive and negative shadow in your image, integrate them into your composition. They can be tricky to expose properly, best to use standard metering and adjust as needed with exposure compensation.

9th avenue NYC Fire Truck Fujifilm Xpro 1 Zeiss Tuoit 12mm 1/250th F 6.3 ISO 200 Film Sim Mode B&W R

9th avenue NYC Fire Truck Fujifilm Xpro 1 Zeiss Tuoit 12mm 1/250th F 6.3 ISO 200 Film Sim Mode B&W R

 

As I researched this post I realized the phenomenon is not spoken of in photography much at all, but it plays such a large part of the relationship between light and shadow. Embrace the Cucoloris, seek it out and use it to build complexity to your images.

~David

 

Casa Toscana and the Object Project

clock

The Object Project:

Things, tokens, neat items, nick knacks, jewelry, ephemera, and other personal treasures or just plain stuff can make a great project with an interesting narrative. Follow your instincts on the selection of items, but make sure a strand of relativity is connecting to each object. Choose a background to photograph the subjects which can be something as simple as a colored seamless background, fabrics, a table or a wall. Use you have access too, even shooting straight down to objects laying on a soft bed of fresh cut grass might be interesting. What ever you choose as your background, make sure you use it for the whole series. Now photograph the items by utilizing a “still life genre” technique.  Feel free to be explorative by adding other elements such as flower petals, rocks, wood, toothpicks, or anything that “works” with the subjects.

Hasselblad 80mm 2.8 Distagon T* 120 Fujifilm 160ns

Hasselblad 80mm 2.8 Distagon T* 120 Fujifilm 160ns

box one from Casa Toscana Project

In my series Casa Toscana, I began by documenting the rooms of our home in Italy. I was enthralled by the light pouring into the rooms at different times of day and got very inspired to capture the nuances of the Casa Toscana. I would photograph the larger objects that were integral to the rooms, such as the vintage refrigerator or furniture. Looking closer I began to inspect drawers and boxes and set up a still life station to photograph these “house treasures” on.

espresso

They included a vintage telephone, an old book, a toy. In contrast to the intricate environment of the home, I took these objects and placed them on white poster board and photographed them in indirect available light. I began by taping the poster board to the edge of the table top along a wall, and then taping the top of the board to an outside wall in indirect light. I easily created a “seamless” white background. The objects sit in a neutral white space that was clean and neat. Each object had an unspoken story that it was able to communicate, and also served to break up the projects direction that was a study in rooms, compositions, and light.

the old frigo

sewing_kit

bricks2

When I returned with this work to NYC I had the film developed and scanned. I’m not too thrilled with the scans, but I was able to create a stunning blurb book on the project. The overall idea really turned into something much more than I had planned for. I gave a copy of the book to a few members of Barbara’s family and it brought some to tears to eyes of a special few.  That’s how you know you did a good job, when you make the client cry. Please take a look at my Blurb Book Store to view the book and yes, it is available for purchase. I have a full preview of the book set up, so you can check out the whole story and all the images. The book is 111 pages!

jug

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start shooting objects… and put it in a project.

~David

All images shot with a Hassy and the 80mm f2.8 or the 50 f4.0. Film was Fujifilm 160NS and scanned at time of development. One note I have to make, I was never happy with the scans and I got lazy and had the lab do them. Normally I would bust out the Epson V750 and do it myself. I learned a lesson, the more you have your hands on it, the better the final result will be.

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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