Friday, November 03, 2006

A Sense of Place. Or Not.

When I'm on vacation I spend a lot of time looking at wherever we are through my camera's LCD Monitor (or viewfinder in the not too distant analog past). Mostly I am looking for pictures that have a "sense of place", that portray something that is unique to the locale and tells the viewer something about what it is like to be in that particular setting.

I do not necessarily go to a location with any pre-planned themes in mind. And sometimes when I do, they just don't work out like I had hoped.

In Florence Italy I had expected to photograph lots of well-known works of art: Michelango's David, or Botticelli's Birth of Venus for example. Or perhaps several highly decorated church interiors. But most of these subject matters were either off-limits to photography, or overrun with tourists, or in too dark a setting to do them justice.

Meanwhile out of the corner of my eye I saw other subject matters - the ultra-fashionable footwear, the terra cotta tiles, and the less-mainstream public art (all documented in other blog entries) - that caused me to aim my camera lens off in different directions.

And then, as always happens, there were the quick little one-shot images that don't fit at all into any of the above categories. And actually they have no connection with their locale other than they happen to be there as opposed to a hundred and one other places where they could just as logically exist. In fact what makes these pictures interesting to me is that they don't even have any connection to themselves.

For example.

This one came upon me too rapidly - like sometimes at home when the words AMBULANCE, or TOYOTA, suddenly appear in my car's rear view mirror. For a brief moment I forget that I'm looking at a backward image, and become temporarily dyslexically disoriented.

But this one was not a reflection. So I quickly composed, pointed, and clicked - and was relieved to find when I later looked at the photograph that in fact, while most of the letters are correct, at least some others are skewed one hundred eighty degrees. Or at least I think they are.

And I still don't understand the connection between the two marquees, both of which seemed to be directing me into the same doorway.

Then there are some things that even though they really do belong together, my immediate reaction is feel like somehow they don't - like the price-tagged crucifixes that caught my attention in an Oltarno storefront window.

I definitely am not one of the top ten most religious people in the world. And I know everything has a price - and that craftspeople can't just give all of their work away. But crosses that are both cost-bearing and Christ-bearing? Dozens of individually hand-written, white, Euro-value announcements dangling weightlessly on a mob of images showing mankind's messiah suffocating to death under his own body's pressure was more juxtaposition than I could handle without capturing and reproducing it for others.

I once heard the author William Least Heat-Moon talking about how a writer strives to create the perfect sentence - "one that starts off in a single direction and then just goes.." He stopped talking and moved his clenched fists side by side - then turned his wrists outward rapidly as if snapping something in two.

Sometimes you can get the same effect by just noticing what's already there...

...but maybe shouldn't be.

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