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This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Transforming l’Uomo della Pizza

The l’uomo della pizza (pizza man) was standing out front contemplating…who knows what? Which adds just a bit of mystery to the photo, don’t you think?

I’d have to say that Rome by night is a good bit more enjoyable than Rome by day. The summer heat, traffic and general hub-bub of the day are gone.

It’s as if the setting sun acts as a catalyst to transform the streets, piazze and campi of each neighborhood into something that is far more charming, more romantic, and of course, more temperate.

It was during a late evening stroll to the Trevi Fountain that we came across this scene at a neighborhood pizzeria.

The l’uomo della pizza (pizza man) was standing out front contemplating…who knows what? Which adds just a bit of mystery to the photo, don’t you think?

Upon spying him standing there, I quickly dropped to one knee to take this photo, as I visualized him being the dominate object of the image, and the lower camera angle seems to make him a bit larger than life. 

Because I was kneeling down, with the camera aimed slightly up, there was a good bit of distortion as the vertical lines of the buildings converged. So here is the image after I eliminated the vertical distortion. 

You can see that a bit of the photo has been lost due to the correction, but as I was shooting wide angle, there was plenty with which to work.

I am now ready to do a bit of cropping and adjustment to color balance and lighting.

In the version above, you will note that the interior of the pizzeria is well lit, while our pizza man is in shadow – as are the tables and patrons. After a bit of work, we can see below that the building exterior, table, patrons and the pizza man have been illuminated, while the interior has been darkened a bit. 

Additionally, I really liked the texture of the paving stones and the shadows that our pizza man was casting, so I emphasized those aspects, too.

Finally, a bit of cropping to get right down into the subject of the photo resulted in the version you see just above.

That was a good bit of cropping of the original image wasn’t it? Yet, there is still a lot of detail in the photo. My camera gives me the ability to do significant cropping without a lot of loss of resolution. The Nikon D800 is a 36mp camera – this camera has a huge sensor, whereas the vast majority of other cameras are in the 10-12mp range. That gives me a lot of room to isolate objects in the image.

For my final version, I found the two patrons on the right and the Hostaria store to be distracting. I was able to crop out the store, but the two patrons had to be removed through magic – even Harry Potter would be jealous.

In cropping, it was important to the composition that our pizza man is off-center a bit to the left. Since he was looking to our right, we need to give him some room to gaze.

So, here is the final photo, which can be found on my website in the Rome gallery.

I like the feel of this late evening shot -- colorful cloths on the street-side tables, two patrons studying the menu to select just the right ingredients for their pizza, and our l’oumo della pizza contemplating…what?...use your imagination.

If you would like to speculate upon that which he contemplates, use the comment box, below.

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Stumbling-Block Holocaust Memorials

Though today’s article will probably be my shortest, it is perhaps the greatest of significance.

These stumbling blocks are a type of monument created by German artist Gunter Demnig beginning in 1992 to commemorate victims of Nazi oppression.

I was overwhelmed by the stolperstein (stumbling block) plaques that we found embedded in some of the cobblestone streets of Rome.

These plaques were placed outside the former residences of Jews who were taken away to concentration camps by the Germans. Yes, the Jews of Italy suffered the same fate as others in Europe.

This original snapshot shows two such plaques.

In this transformed version, you are able to read the inscriptions. 

Here is what these two plaques say:

Here lived Angelo Tagliacozzo. Born 1916. Arrested August 8, 1944. Deported to Auschwitz. Died February 20, 1945 at Dachau
Here lived Angelo Limentani. Born 1920. Arrested May 8, 1944. Deported to Auschwitz. Murdered

These stumbling blocks are a type of monument created by German artist Gunter Demnig beginning in 1992 to commemorate victims of Nazi oppression. Stolpersteins are small, cobblestone-sized memorials for individual victims of Nazism. They commemorate individuals who were taken by the Nazis to prisons, euthanasia facilities, sterilization clinics, concentration camps, and extermination camps.

Why the term ‘stumbling block’? Before the Holocaust, it used to be the custom in Germany for non-Jews to say, on stumbling over a protruding stone, "There must be a Jew buried here." There’s an historical irony here that’s hard for me to get my head around.

Do you know that there are people who to this day deny the existence of the holocaust?

May God bless those who suffered the Nazi’s atrocities.

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

Transforming the Bee Fountain

I was intrigued by this little fountain because of its unique subject – that being an open seashell with three bees drinking from the water spouts of the fountain

Today’s transformation article is a short one.

The subject is the Fontana della Api, or Bee Fountain. You can find this charming little fountain in Rome just off of Piazza Barberini on the Via Vittorio Veneto, a quiet, tree-lined Roman street. 

Here is my original snapshot.

 

[click an image for a larger view]

The original snapshot

This fountain was sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1644. The inscription on the shell reads, "Urban VIII Pont. Max…built this little fountain to be of service to private citizens. In the year 1644, XXI of his pontificate."  The service it provided was to water horses.

And since, as I’m sure you are aware, 1644 is the year that Pope Urban VIII died, it is one of the last works he commissioned. And thus ends the lesson in history. And, you were aware of that fact, weren’t you?! Thought so.

Detail of one of the bees sipping water

I was intrigued by this little fountain because of its unique subject – that being an open seashell with three bees drinking from the water spouts of the fountain. Here you can see one of those bees sipping away at that fresh Apennine water. 

My transformation of this photo was pretty straightforward.

My first inclination was to crop the photo into a square image, as none of the area to the left and right seemed to be important to the image.

Cropped version of original snapshot

There were several elements I wanted to remove for my final image. Do you see the woman walking in the background to the left? Out of here. The sign in the doorway just to the right of the shell? Out of here. The bit of bright sky at the top left? Out of here. See the bit of drain screening in the water just below the bee on the left? Out of here.

For the final transformation, I darkened the background a good bit. And finally, I wanted to bring out the texture within the sculpture, as it looked rather flat to me. So that’s what I did.

I find this image, with the bees, the open shell, and the autumn leaves floating in the quiet water of the fountain, to be one of peace. 

You can find this photo on my website in the Rome gallery.

Ciao for now,

Stev

Transforming a Graffiti-Clad Door

Graffiti is pretty much a world-wide problem. I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve been. 

Fool’s names like fool’s faces, always seen in public places

In only one instance did I not find it objectionable, and that was along the parts of the ‘fallen’ Berlin Wall which had not actually fallen. Those who had to live behind that hideous façade had all the right in the world to express their displeasure with it, to decorate it as a way to rebuke it in its defeat.

 

The original graffiti'd school entrance - two photos stitched together in Photoshop

I was really put off by the graffiti on the very old entrance door in Rome, as seen in the photo to the right. What this doorway serves is the Veneto & Triste Elementary School.

I can’t imagine what draws one to ‘tag’ structures. Though some graffiti artists are really quite talented, it seems that other surfaces could be found where their work would be welcomed, and commissions sought for their talents.

Graffiti is Nothing New

My earliest remembrance of graffiti was on a vacation while we were returning to Texas from Disneyland when I was 10 years old.

While we were stopped at a road-side park (we now just call them rest areas) overlooking a large expanse of west Texas, scratched into the woodwork was someone’s name and address (the address part was pretty stupid, wasn’t it, when one is defacing public property).

My mother had purchased several postcards during our trip so she whipped one out, addressed it, put a stamp on it and mailed it later. On it she had written the following message (from a Burma Shave sign set, I believe): “Fool’s names like fool’s faces, always seen in public places”. And then, “Please do not write on our road-side parks”. See, I was listening to my mother after all! And that learning moment stuck with me.

Transforming the Roman Graffiti'd Door

My first impression was to pass bye the door that you see above, but then I thought, ‘Hey, why not document it as a kind of juxtaposition of the old and new?”. I really hate to put quote marks around that thought because I’m not entirely certain that those were my exact thoughts…but its close, OK?

By the way, that photo above is actually a combination of two photos, one of the lower part of the entrance and one of the upper part of the entrance...the two were stitched together in Photoshop.

To accentuate the timeworn doorway surround, I gave it a good bit of texture and then I darkened it a bit. 

Timeworn entrance to elementary school

At this point, I was just about through, but then I realized I had one more task.

The two don’t-do-it signs (‘no parking – allow free access’ and ‘no parking at night’) and the poster announcing that this is also a ‘primary school’ or kindergarten did not fit my nearly-ancient mindset for this door, so I got rid of them.

Then I noticed the plaque above the door with the historic ‘SPQR’ reference, which stands for Senatus PopulusQue Romanus, or ‘the Roman Senate and People’. No, this door isn’t that old…SPQR is used by the municipal government of Rome today to kind of say, “This is a municipal property”. Anyway, when I saw that plaque, I decided to accentuate it a bit by lightening it.

Final entrance with juxtaposition of old and new

So, there’s the final product. It’s not a photo that I would hang in my house, and it isn’t on my website, but I enjoyed working on it to transform it into the juxtaposition of old and new.

As always, feel free to leave a comment.

Ciao for now,

Steve

Transforming the Pieta

Some of You Misunderstood!

Two weeks ago I wrote for you a widely popular posting titled 'Transforming the Copse'. Many of you emailed me to express your interest and bliss (well, maybe not bliss actually -- let's say pleasure) in seeing the multiple interpretations of that simple copse of trees.

...two years of arduous work, marble chips flying, callouses covering his hands — all relegated to another sculptor!

But, I must say that a few of you pointed out that you were stymied by my title, which some of you misread as 'Transforming the Corpse'.

But hey! You've given me an idea. Let's run with that misunderstood title for this weeks article!

Today I take that rather humorous misunderstanding as the subject of this week's article, which is indeed about transforming the corpse -- the most famous corpse of all: Corpus Christi. 

Michelangelo's Pieta' and a Humorous Anecdote

Have you been to St Peter's Basilica in Rome? If you have, you have undoubtedly seen the Pieta' sitting to the right as you enter. And because a deranged geologist took a rock pick to the sculpture in 1972, it is now protected by bulletproof glass, which makes it a bit challenging to get a good photograph of this marvelous work of art.  

Everyone knows that Michelangelo is a fabulous painter (the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for example) and sculptor (the David statute and of course, the Pieta). And he typically did not have a huge ego problem -- for instance he never signed any of his sculptures...or did he?

Shortly after the installation of his Pieta, as he was admiring how it was being displayed, Michelangelo overheard someone remark that it was the work of another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari, rather than himself. Ouch -- two years of arduous work, marble chips flying, callouses covering his hands -- all relegated to another sculptor! 

Late that night, Michelangelo made a change to the Pieta by chiseling an inscription on the sash running across Mary's chest that said, "Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this". He later regretted his prideful outburst and swore never to sign another of his works. 

Step 1: The Original Snapshot

The first photo below is my original snapshot. I had to wait for a moment when the crowds parted before taking this photo. Ooops, the security setting is now a bit obvious because of the window being reflected in the bullet-proof glass. 

Original, unaltered photo

Step 2: A Minor Bit of Adjustment

Standing in front of this historic art work, you are mesmerized by it's beauty and you don't really notice the color cast. But now I do. So, I did a bit of work to remove the yellow cast created by the tungsten light. Then, I was able to recover some of the detail lost in the reflection. A bit of cropping resulted in the photo below.

Color cast  and distractions removed, and a bit of cropping

Step 3: The Final Transformation

I found the marble stonework in the background to be too much competition for Michelangelo's masterpiece, so I deemphasized it by darkening the background.

Next, to emphasize the texture of the stone-cutting work of Michelangelo, I worked on what we call 'mid-tone contrast' in the photo-editing world. Usually, we talk of contrast in terms of the differences in the lightest and darkest parts of an image. But here, I wanted to emphasize the differences between lighter and darker elements of the photo in the stonework itself, which is in the mid-tones of the image (i.e. not the lightest or darkest parts). 

Finally, as it is that texture, and not the color, that is so important to the Pieta', I desaturated the photo just a tad to call your attention to that marvelous texture.

The resulting photo below is my interpretation of Michelangelo's work as I saw it right there with my own eyes -- with every fold and crevice created by his masterful hand vividly portrayed. And this is just the way I wanted you to see it, too. 

This example of the transformation of the world's most famous corpse, as well as the other transformations you can see on my website, is what fuels my passion in photography. It's wonderful out there in the world, and I strive to show it to you in a different way, through my own eyes. 

Have a comment you want to share about this transformation? Feel free to use the comment box, below. 

 

Ciao for now,

Steve