Arno River, Firenze, Italia

Arno River, Firenze, Italia

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The step back.

Digital Photography.  Portrait day.  Location: Santa Maria Novella Train Station. 

“You have forty-five minutes to take portraits of strangers.  Interact with your models.  Play with the light.  Be aware of the background.  Ask them to move or angle their head.  Be smart.”

One after another, a shake no, a hand up.  My broken Italian.  “Scusi.  Io sono studentessa fotografia.  Uhhh….  (My Italian fails.) Can I take a foto of you (point to person).  Progetti, classe.  Grazie.”   And, within ten minutes, all I had were a few poorly lit shots and a great deal of disappointment.

One was of Giovanne.  A seemingly nice man. 

“Como ti chiami?”



“Brie.  Umm.  Formaggio. Brie.”  I smiled, proud.  I remembered the word for cheese in Italian.

“Ohh…. Brie.”

“Si.”  I nodded, ready to move on, turning slightly to leave.  Giovanne was undaunted.

“Formaggio bello.  Brie.”  He gave me a goofy grin and held out his hand.  I shook it politely.

“Piacere.  Ciao.”  And left.

My professor Simone walks past.  He begins explaining a concept to me, “the step back.”  I thought it would be regarding photography.  But “the step back” is for self-defense and protection.

“We had this incident two years back.  One girl.  She didn’t step back.  I don’t want the school to ban this project.”


As we regrouped for the remaining class time, Giovanne walked up to me.  He began speaking quite passionately in Italian, emphasizing with his hands.  I stepped back.  And he stepped forward.

Simone interceded.  And the two of them stood in front of me, conversing rapidly, an occasional hand swept in my direction.  A word here and there.  Formaggio.  Dolce.  But in truth, I was lost.

And then Giovanne glanced at me, shook his head, and walked away.

The recap of their conversation in English:

“Brie.  She is a beautiful, sweet cheese.  She shouldn’t be out in the sun.  Good cheese needs to be refrigerated.” (According to Simone, Giovanne’s attempt to be witty.)  “And I really like sweet cheese.”

“Too much cheese can make you sick.”  Simone was amused.

“No no.  I only want a little taste of the sweet cheese.”

“No.  You can look but you cannot have.”

And then the shake of the head.  And Giovanne left.

“See.  That is why I tell you.  Always do the step back.”

So I've learned to step back.


My favorite shot of the day-- the only woman who let me take her picture.

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