An Evening in Siena

Got into Siena earlier this evening. At 11 am, I saw Marina off on her way back to LA and headed to catch my train north. The Termini train station in Rome was a mess, you couldn’t get straight answers about the train or the platform from the normal channels without waiting in line for 30+ minutes.

As a result there are lots of pretend helpers giving wrong info in broken English so they can get a couple of Euros off you. One young lady was going to send me off on the entirely wrong train and got offended that I didn’t tip her enough. Luckily I found a person working for the train company who knew the real answers to my questions about rail connections.

But here I am now sitting at a restaurant in the delightful medieval town of Siena. The sun has almost set and not surprisingly, the massive town square has a “Burnt Siena” look to it.Siena Square and Bell Tower

In typical Italian style, the square becomes a place to meet and talk in the evening. And the Siena square, probably the largest in Italy, is famous for it’s playful mood. Thankfully, there are none of the aggressive sellers of selfie-sticks and fake brand name handbags you find at squares in Rome and Venice.

FullSizeRender 3

I’m at Trattoria Papei in this phone pic at a campo just behind the main square, watching the other diners eat as I toil over my phone keyboard. I  just finished a lovely peasant veggie stew, fantastico! Next course, pheasant with raisins and pine nuts. It had a dark flavor — almost like venison — and was so thickly dense, it was hard to tell where the bird ended and the sauce began. Tuscan cooking at its best.

But then Siena is the gateway drug for Tuscany. More earthy style than Milan, as much history in its twisted streets as Florence. And none of the noise and grit of Rome. This is the real Italy. And you almost don’t feel like a sweaty tourist. Almost. It’s like, yeah, I could buy a little Tuscan villa, maybe a fixer upper, hang out with beautiful Italians and no one would notice that I’m not George Clooney. Naw.

Tuscany calling, can you accept the charges?

Tuscany calling, can you accept the charges?

Photo Pilgrimage in Rome: Santa Maria della Vittoria

One of the more interesting churches in Rome is Santa Maria della Vittoria. This small church is about 8 blocks north of the Termini train station. The church is open until noon and then from 3:30 to 6 or so (time is of casual interest when it comes to church visiting hours).

Vittoria is the church that has the Bernini sculpture, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. And the place is a classic example of  a little church with a world-class art work. The church itself was built in the early 1600s and the interior came together later in that century. It’s not much to see from the outside:

Santa Maria della Vittoria

This is the Baroque era and the church has some of the overbuilt feel from that era. But it’s nowhere near as over the top as the Gesu or as ornate as St Peter’s Basilica.

Santa Maria della Vittoria

Typical of Baroque, almost every inch of surface area is covered with decoration or highly detailed marble. The alter features a Bernini starburst and a fresco.

The ceiling is a bit of a trompe l’oeil that looks like it’s about the fall of Icarus. But the actual content celebrates a battle between the Church and some pesky Protestants that’s called “The Virgin Mary Triumphing over Heresy and Fall of the Rebel Angels.

Santa Maria della Vittoria

But we came for the Bernini sculpture and that’s off to the left in an alcove. Bernini was a devout Catholic, one who understood the deeper teachings better than most. And the writings of St. Teresa of Avila seem to have inspired him, this is one of his greatest works.

Teresa was a true Christian “mystic” — not the type who was weird and incomprehensible. No, Teresa was the real deal. Her autobiography and other writings give a cogent and detailed analysis of her spiritual practices and her experiences.

One of my buddies, Evie Toft, did her dissertation comparing Teresa’s experiences with enlightened folks from other traditions. It turns out that there are lots of similarities in these Unity experiences once you strip away the differences in vocabulary.

And Bernini clearly knows Teresa’s writings. His sculpture shows us the key moment in her autobiography when she feels an angel penetrate her heart. The shafts of gold suggest her experience of union with the Divine.

Santa Maria della Vittoria

You can see the almost fiendish glee of the angel. But the real drama lies in Teresa’s body and face. Somehow Bernini manages to get it just right, that mixture of pure bliss, pure openness, floating in the cloud of Unknowing. It’s a feeling that clearly overwhelms her with joy beyond her rational brain and her ego. Teresa’s connection with this experience is almost sexual in its totality.

Santa Maria della Vittoria

Close Up

The rest of the church is nice. Bernini’s sunburst alter piece seems to me to be an extension of the Teresa experience but seen as an abstract explosion of grace. But maybe he just had some extra gold leaf to get rid of.

Santa Maria della Vittoria

Photo Pilgrimage in Rome: Santa Maria sopra Minerva

I’ve been traveling recently. Taking lots of photos. But not having much time to post. Hopefully I can free up a block of time now. We’ve been doing a cruise of the Greek Islands (with a stop in Athens) and I will post some of those shots soon. But let’s start with where I am right now, Rome.

I’ve been to Italy before but wasn’t as prepared for the experience then and didn’t have much time. Now I have a week in Rome and my best discovery has been the churches. Obviously Rome has more than it’s share of churches. Most travelers will hit the Vatican and swing by the Sistine Chapel and St Peters. But to me, that’s just scratching the surface.

Savvy travelers know that some of the best travel experiences come when you wander into a church you’ve never heard of and discover impressive works of art and a place for reflection.

But on this trip to Italy I’ve decided to go one step further, researching holy sites that would appeal to my artistic and spiritual interests. I did some reading and looked online for images of churches that seemed special in some way. Here’s the first of my favorites.

Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Santa Maria sopra Minerva (let’s just call it Minerva) is one short block south of the Pantheon and just a few blocks east of Piazza Navona. It got it’s name because the site was the site of a temple to Minerva in Roman times.

The first church was built on the site in the 8th Century. It was totally rebuilt in the 1200s. You can see that in the general layout of the place, a long central area and not much in the way of side chapels — special alcoves are an architectural element that gets more developed in later churches.

The interior got a major renovation in the Baroque era. So like lots of other Roman churches, Minerva is a living history. And if you look closely you can see how these ancient sites are reimagined every few hundred years.


The exterior of the church is fairly simple. It’s a cream-white that has a Bernini sculpture you can’t miss, an elephant with an Egyptian obelisk on its back. Quite cool. The entrance faces west.

Step inside and once you get used to the light, you notice how long the church is. The ceiling isn’t like many Baroque churches, no dome, no trompe  l’oeil ceiling painting. Instead you have this deep blue firmament trimmed in gold.

Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Santa Maria sopra Minerva in later afternoon

The alter area is fairly simple as well. But behind it are some tasteful stained glass windows and the blue ceiling gets more elaborate frescos here.

I shot this using the candles as foreground elements against the stained glass and blue ceiling.

I shot this using the candles as foreground elements against the stained glass and blue ceiling.

To the left of the alter area is a statue of Christ, thoughtful as he stands there holding a small cross. The statue is by Michelangelo. Not one of his major works but beautiful.

I generally avoid shooting art works on their own as you’d do in an art catalogue. That’s a popular approach with first time photographers. But I find that just capturing a photo of a sculpture or painting can lead to a static approach that tends to bore the viewer. So I shot this one from the side and pulled in the southern section of the church as my background element.

Minerva, Michaelangelo Christ

Minerva, Michaelangelo Christ

From this vantage, you can see an alcove. It holds a painting by the great Medieval artist, Fra’ Filippo Lippi.

Lippi alter painting

Lippi alter painting

In closeup

Minerva, Lippi Painting Close Up

Lippi is pre-Rennasaince so you don’t get a true perspective. But his work has a purity and sense of wonder that transcends the era.

The alcove on the other side has no art by anyone particularly famous. But I liked the way the entrance sculpture and the painting played off each other.

Minerva Alcove

Minerva Alcove

Minerva is worth a stop if you’re visiting Rome.

Publication of Photographing the American Southwest (for Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, etc.)

So after spending weeks and months photographing the Utah parks, months and months fine tuning each paragraph, the eBook is out. I feel like most of it is good, sometimes very good. But each time you reach high, you take a risk.  And there are always folks who will point out the mistakes and miss the good stuff. That’s part of the deal. But let me go over what the book’s about before getting into the comic details.

The book pulls together what I feel are the best photo locations at the Utah parks. It’s written for photo enthusiasts and amateurs — these parks are considered premiere landscape photography parks after all. And I think this book will be a fun and useful read for anyone who’s making the trek.


Quoting What’s In the Book

  • The best photo locations in each park
  • 60+ representative images
  • Details on each trail
  • Specifics on settings, lenses, lighting, composition
  • Landscape photography tips
  • Lightroom post-production chapter
  • In-depth writing on related issues

The Writing

The photos will speak for themselves. But the thing that surprised me most about this project was the writing, the creative exploration. I’ve been a professional writer in the high tech world for years — and I got paid nicely for it. That’s your deal with the devil when you do corporate work.

I’m not saying working on corporate projects is “evil” in any way. Adding Lexus GX specs to a web site or creating a software brochure isn’t deceptive. It doesn’t screw anyone, at least at the companies I was with. It’s just boring. And for the longest time, I did my creative work when I had an hour or two on weekends.

But nothing is wasted. And  the ad copy, brochures, corporate interviews I did over the years allowed me to master a range of writing styles. That came in handy when I was interviewing Seth Hamel about Zion or describing the scene at Mesa Arch — photographers nursing their coffee as they wait for the dawn.

Good writing should be about human experience and software functionality isn’t that. So my goal has been to take all the elements of a photo/travel book and make it personal.

Now, people will see my Utah book and think, guidebook for photographers. And it is — one of the few that’s out there. But guidebooks tend to be kinda boring too. And if I were satisfied with that kind of writing, I’d still be working for The Man.

My choice was to make this book personal, something I would enjoy writing and reading. And my hope is that people realize the value of that. These days artisanal beers (and cheeses and even butters) are the rage. And there is something cool about a flavor that’s more personal. So maybe this  is an artisanal guidebook.

Writing, of course, is a far more flexible tool for communicating human experience than the brewing of beer. (I know, but it’s true.) At its best, writing communicates thought and feeling. And I’m starting to see that a more personal, travel writing style of photo guidebook can deliver insights that the typical Fodor’s can’t come close to. We’ll see if that can get communicated.

eBook Conversion: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The challenge of writing is you want it seen. So I hired Bookbaby, a print-on-demand and eBook conversion publisher. Their approach is to take all the grunt work off your hands so you can focus on the good stuff. And sometimes it actually worked that way with Bookbaby.

Getting the cover art worked as you’d expect. I’ve worked many good designers. If you can communicate well, these folks can be miracle workers. So I gave Bookbaby some specifics in terms of color choices — this is a book about Southwestern parks, after all. And I asked them to include my shot of Mesa Arch in the design as an example of the kind of landscapes we’d be photographing.

Their first cover design had about 60% of what I wanted. And I spoke with a designer there on ways to tweak things. We ended up with a look (see above) that reflects the thrust of the book beautifully.

The biggest challenge was in the conversion process. I sent them the manuscript with all images embedded. When they sent me their first proof, the doc had about 30 spelling errors that hadn’t been in the manuscript. OK. Well, I had stuff I’d written that needed to be tweaked as well. So I put it all into the list of fixes and they started work on proof #2.

A week later, proof #2 comes back. A bunch of links were suddenly broken. And there were 20+ spelling errors that weren’t in my manuscript. Six of these mistakes had been on Fix List 1. I guess no one checked the fix list before sending it back to me. So, does Bookbaby not have spell check?

I called and asked to speak with the conversion team. Can’t do that. Bookbaby doesn’t want you to speak with the folks who do the actual work. So Plan B, I explain that I keep getting new mistakes in the document. I mentioned that every mistake means that my manuscript goes to the back of the line, an approach that will add an additional 6-8 business days to my launch date. And I pointed out that many of these were mistakes that were on the Fix List I sent. She promises that they’ll look at my fix list more closely this time.

A week and a half later, proof #3 comes back. Same number of spelling errors, the links that had been broken were still broken. I sent them back Fix List #3. No point in calling.

A week and a half later, proof #4 comes back. Now there are only 3 errors, the links are finally fixed. The process has taken a month longer than expected but there are only 3 mistakes. BUT these are obvious mistakes that a picky reader like myself will notice. That’s why writers sweat those details.

I figured, “Hey, three mistakes. They can do those in 10 minutes and then we have a pristine document ready for Amazon.”

So I called the nice customer service folks. “Sorry,” they said, “you can’t talk to the conversion team, they don’t have phones.” (Wow, no phones. That’s harsh.)

But I persevered. “It’s just three little mistakes. Should take them 10 minutes to make the tweaks, we can do it right now, over the phone.”

Nope, nope, nope. No-can-do. The project goes to the back of the que, that’s corporate policy. “But we promise to get it back to you within 6-8 business days.”

“But, hey, these are all mistakes your team added. Why push my launch date into June for mistakes your team made?”

Their customer service person explained nicely how much they cared about my book and that they would be sure to get the fixes done within 8 business days.

At that point I realized, this is as good as it’s gonna get. With these folks it seems that another proof is another chance for errors. It’s mid May now. And by June 2nd I’m on a plane and starting to work on another book. There is no time. So I pulled the trigger, approved the proof and filed the whole experience under lessons learned.

And now the book is out there. Not perfect, but then nothing ever is. You do what you can and let go of the rest.

Here’s the Amazon link. The book is also on all the other epub sites.

Shooting Zion: The trail up to Subway

The Subway slot canyon is one of the iconic locations for American landscape photographers and I made it one of my core Zion recommendations in the Utah parks book. But there are lots of great shots on the trail up to Subway that give a sense of the area — and that I couldn’t fit in the book.


“If you want to shoot Subway, be prepared for some serious hiking. The park literature says, “This strenuous 9-mile round-trip hike requires route finding, stream crossing, and scrambling over boulders.” That description doesn’t begin to cover it. Essentially, you’re following a stream up the canyon to Subway. But this is a wilderness area, the trail isn’t marked….”                      from the book

At the beginning of the hike, you head several hundred feet down a steep trail till you get to the stream at the bottom of the hill. This bottom area is a canyon with bit of a trail on one side of the stream or the other leading up-valley to the Subway slot. And as the park literature tells you, there is “route finding” involved in figuring out the easiest was up this canyon. Classic understatement.

The bottom section of the hike wasn’t as interesting for me as a photographer. But in the last third of the hike, the canyon narrows and the only way up trail is over one or another of the numerous waterfalls — like the one above. I’m using the word “trail” here but by now, there is no trail. You’re walking up the stream bed for most of this section.

So the bottom line is, expect your shoes to be wet a lot. But also expect some excellent photo locations. The quiet spot below was a bit of a dead end– there’s no easy way over the boulders. But it was a nice detour.


This spot is closer to Subway:


By now the valley walls are too steep to hike so you have to make your way carefully over the algae-covered rock layers of the stream.

When you get to the spot below, you’re at the “cave” entrance.


Notice the way the walls curve at the bottom. That’s the reason Subway gets its name — because the erosion has carved a Subway-like groove in the rock.

It may not be obvious from the picture but the valley floor is all stream bed. At this time of year (mid-October), the water’s only an inch or two deep. In spring, water flow cranks up and can be an issue for hiking.

On the right side of this section of stream bed there’s a long fissure in the rock bottom that is a popular landscape photography subject. I chose a shutter speed of 1/10 sec at F-4 in order to enhance the sense of flow:


Now you’re ready to enter the slot canyon and start the shoot:


The guy with the tripod is standing in the general area where most Subway shots are taken from.

Here’s one of my alternative Subway shots:


The image I use in the book is a more abstract rendering of this unique slot canyon. But this version gives a better sense of the environment within the cave and the way the slot curves into the light.

My book version is here:

You can see David Muench’s shot of Subway as at the bottom of this page in his portfolio:

My new book goes into far more detail about the Subway trail, best time of day to shoot and the various composition issues. And I do similar treatments for 6-8 shooting locations in each of the Utah parks — Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef. But that’s all you get in this shameless teaser.

Expect the book in May

Zion NP: The Road Less Traveled

The new travel/landscape photo book I’m doing is focused on getting 6 or 8 of the classic shots in each of the Utah National Parks: Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef. That meant that many of the lovely photo locations couldn’t be included. Zion in particular has a number of locations that are a bit off the beaten path. Here are a few.

Big Bend Area


Just west of the Big Bend bus stop is a grassy field between the river and the road. This shot (above) looks south towards the Weeping Rock area. The trail up to Observation Point and Hidden Canyon starts off up that mountain just left of center.

Same area (below) but looking south west towards the Angels Landing  area.


Heading down pass this grassland towards the read rocks gets you to the Virgin River. Looking south and down river:


Looking upriver towards the Temple of Sinawava:AN8A0336

Hidden Canyon

There’s also a fun hike that starts off at the Weeping Rock bus stop. You start off on the trail towards Observation Point but part way up that first set of zig-zags, take a right and follow signs for Hidden Canyon. It has a bit of vertical elevation but is far easier than doing Observation Point.

Shot from Hidden Canyon trail. Parts of this trail have an iron chain you can hold onto. But its never a nose-bleed hike like the one to Angels Landing.


Book Cover_Blog

Zion NP: The Road Less Traveled

While preparing the Utah parks book, I discovered all kinds of photo locations that are a bit off the radar screen.

I did an entire evening light session with Seth Hamel, a photo guide working in the Springdale/Zion area. Here are a couple of spots he took me to. Far side of the Zion River Valley:


This spot didn’t make it into the book because I try to focus that project on photo locations that aren’t hard for the photographer to get to on their own. And this spot requires a bit of travel on a 4-wheel vehicle, it’s on BLM land. Just for reference, Utah Route 9 runs along that plateau and adjacent to those low peaks on the far side of the valley. So Hurricane, Utah, is in the area off to the far left.

This shot was taken in the hills just east of Springdale, Utah. From Route 9 heading towards Zion, you take one of the roads off to the left and head up and past a residential area.


Those of you who’ve been to the Zion Valley may recognize the view. These peaks are what someone at Court of the Patriarchs would see on the west side of the Valley.

I did an extensive interview with Seth Hamel for the book. He has some great insights on how to shoot the Valley and on composition in general. Here’s a few of his thoughts on shooting the area:

Shooting Zion can be a challenge, especially the contrast issues with the bright canyons and the shade. It’s tough for an outsider to know where the light will be good and when. I can be precise as to where to be and when to shoot – the time of day, the right season.

Another thing is, Zion is getting a world-wide reputation. So pros and advanced camera folks have Zion images in their portfolios. That means a lot of locations are overdone.

And as the local pro, I know some obscure areas, locations with great scenery that no one else is shooting. And having a quiet place to shoot gives the photographer an intimacy that changes the quality of an image.

After all, photographers want that emotional connection to a spot. And that’s easier when you’re alone and not stacked up next to 5 other tripods.

Seth and I also did a day-long photo session in The Narrows. And having someone along who knows where the best light is for that time of year was a huge help. His experience meant I just needed to focus on getting the shots I wanted.

I will do a blog on the ins and outs of working with various photo guides — including the great landscape photographer David Muench, in a few days. I have a 4 day session with David starting this Sunday. Some of his iconic shots can be found here:


Book Cover_Blog

Utah Parks Book: Notes on Adjusting Shutter Speed for Shooting a River

Zion is the most popular of the Utah National Parks. And the classic location of the Virgin River and Watchman is likely the most photographed. When shooting a river or stream, the flowing water can evoke various moods depending on how you adjust your shutter speed.

Getting There: Zion NP is in southern Utah about 40 miles off of Interstate 15. You get onto Utah Route 9 and at the far end of the resort town of Springdale, you’ll find the park. For most of the year, the park is accessed by the park buses. So park at the Visitor Center, hop on the shuttle and get off just after the Canyon Junction bus stop (just past the bridge over the river). Walk back to the bridge and set up on the south side and away from the road.

The shot is of the river below, and in the distance, The Watchman, one of the iconic Zion peaks. The best time for the shot is sunset. If you just want the picture, you don’t need a tripod. But if you want to play with shutter speed, you kinda need a tripod and a cable release (or you camera’s timer function).

So let’s assume we’ve found a spot on the bridge and gotten a composition and zoom level we like. (I talk about lighting and composition in the book and that’s too much to put into a blog post.) What might our initial shot look like with no special shutter speed chosen:


Focal Length-32mm, F-6.3, Exposure 1/40th of a second

Notice that at 1/40, the stream is totally frozen, no discernible blur. You’re getting lots of colors in the water from the trees and sky. And every little ripple and detail of that stream is clear.

Now let’s crank up the shutter speed to half a second:


Focal Length-40mm, F-5.6, Exposure .5 second

Now, don’t look at the photographer who wandered into my shot. And I won’t tell you what all the photographers on the bridge were saying while he stood there for 20 minutes. We’re just looking at the water.

And at half a second, the water no longer has as much detailing. You’re eye doesn’t get as caught up in the minute ripples. But there’s still plenty of detailing in the surface of the stream. In fact if I hadn’t added the shutter speed setting, the viewer would assume this image is pure stop action.

Now lets go long.


Focal Length-32mm, F-22, Exposure 8 seconds

Obviously 8 seconds is a lot. And you can’t make this shot work if there’s any wind. But the river still looks like a real river. All the standing waves are there as are the reflections. But the minute texturing of individual waves is gone, especially in areas without rocks.

Essentially what we’re doing is showing the eye how a river looks in time. In fact, we could take a shot with a 60 minute shutter speed and we’d still see the same set of standing waves. And subjectively, the shot does evoke more of a timeless feel than it did with a faster shutter.

Is the shot as “honest” as one with a fast shutter? Is a slower or longer shutter speed more true to life? That’s the wrong question to ask. The real question is, how does the viewer respond to a given image. If the change doesn’t seem weird or “fakey” to the viewer then the photograph will work for them. — The willing suspension of disbelief, to quote Aristotle.

The second question is, what’s the effect I’m going for? That’s ultimately what matters. I go back and forth on how much I want to push the shutter speed. For some river situations, a slow shutter focuses too much attention to the turbulence. But in a slow moving river that’s not an issue. Generally most viewers don’t mind the effect.

But this is just one element in a larger set of artistic considerations. In this shot I was trying to capture a feeling I have about Zion, that when I come, I’m in a timeless place. And the image gives me some of that feeling– a tranquil river flowing through a place that has been this way always.

But each of us has to make that shutter speed choice (and all our compositional issues) based on the mood we want to share in that shot. And there’s nothing wrong with exploring your choices.

Book Cover_Blog

Italy Book: Getting a Handle on the Rome Churches and Their Art

Folks who’ve been to Italy know that one of the cool thing about the churches is that you get to see great art in the places they were created for. I guess you can theoretically do that here in the USA. But here, you don’t have many churches that want to spend that much for their art, or great artists who want to paint a ceiling for 16 years. In Italy, you step into some off-the-beaten-path church and there’s an alter piece by Titian or a sculpture by Bernini.

The Sistine Chapel is the prime example of this. An entire ceiling that captures the spiritual and artistic understanding of Michelangelo. It’s like seeing our cultural DNA mapped out over our heads. Of course, with the massive crowds, your Sistine Chapel experience is also reminiscent of wading through a Tokyo subway station.

In contrast, many churches in Rome or Venice can still offer an intimate and even spiritual experience. You can sit there and take in the space and the art in your own time. Add a bit of prayer or meditation and you can almost imagine yourself a part of a 16th Century congregation.

And as I think through where I’d like to go in Rome next month, I’ve been reading up on a couple of books that cover the churches and the art they hold. The Churches of Rome by Beny and Gunn has some great details about the churches with text that walks the reader thorough the various historical eras.

The book is a great reminder that these places of worship have been displaying the core religious, artistic, architectural and cultural trends in Rome for 2,000 years.

Churches of Rome by Grimal and Rose doesn’t get into the historical details and is more issue oriented. But this book has amazing shots of the churches by Caroline Rose. Both books help to fill in the blanks for anyone who wants the context of these artistic repositories.

The Challenge

The challenge for me (or anyone) planning a trip to Rome is twofold. First, which churches are worth a visit? I’m spending more time in Rome than most tourists and I’ll return several times before the book is done. But I do a photo shoot at each church. And it takes time to breath in a location and capture its spirit. So which of the 200+ churches to cover?

The second challenge is more complicated – the context. If you saw several of Monet’s Rouen cathedral paintings side by side with zero context, your initial reaction might be, “What’s with this guy? He’s doing the same exact painting over and over but with different colors.”

But, realize that those Monet paintings were experiments in light and perception and you start to go deeper into the dynamics of the art work. This issue plays out at the churches of Rome on far grander scale.

Decoding the Art

One of the huge travel with art and travel is decoding what you’re taking in. All those pictures start to look the same – even if you understand composition. Because every single work of art has a story, an artist who lived that experience, an economic system that supported him or her, and a cultural history. That’s why so many people take tours, to get the backstory.

For example, lets just look at one church that was in my new books. San Clemente because a church when a pre-existing Roman building was consecrated some time before 385. This Roman building was built on top of a Second Century Mithra temple (shown in Caroline Rose’s photo). The Mithra cult involved sacrificing bulls as you can see.


Then a new church got built above the old one in 1108. Back then, they used to pile up the rubble from old ruins in the area and continue up. It saved on demolition costs. The church of San Clemente was restored in the 1700s, probably to deal with structural problems and more importantly, to add frescos that would evoke the Church’s current Baroque approach to religious art. The Catholic Church became more disciplined in the artistic messages they put in their churches after the Counter-Reformation.

Here’s Caroline Rose’s photo of the upper church.


What you’re seeing here is a floor structure and tiles from (I believe) the 12th Century. That amazing gold colored mosaic behind the alter is also from that initial 12 Century construction –builders often kept mosaics from the earlier version in these Roman churches. The columns, upper windows, side wall paintings and ceiling fresco are from the Baroque era.

All that kinda works for me – if I don’t look too closely at the ceiling. But a mosaic from 1100 lives in a whole different universe from a fresco from 1700. In 1100, perspective hadn’t been invented yet. The piously flat faces of Jesus and the saints in the mosaic are so unlike the ceiling fresco with all the cherubs and saints floating around in Heaven.

The point is, just having that bit of knowledge helps me to decode that church and its artistic history. And knowing what I’m seeing helps clue me into the subtleties of the architecture and the art works.

Big Island Hawaii Locations

Just got back from the Big Island — the name folks in the state of Hawaii give to the island of Hawaii. It’s bigger than all the rest of the state put together and also the point of lowest latitude in the whole US of A.

For a photographer, there’s lots to like about the Big Island: active volcano, great beaches, a multitude of climates and altitudes. Having regular lava flows into the ocean has also created some intriguing black sand beaches.

Rainbow Falls, Hilo

Rainbow Falls is on the west side of Hilo

Kohala Coast Hapuna Beach Park Hapuna Beach Park

Father and Daughter, Hapuna Beach Park

Father and Daughter: Hapuna Beach Park, North Kohala

Hapuna Beach Park

This southern section of Hapuna Beach Park is a great spot for snorkeling. But the area leading out to the coral has plenty of underwater lava.

Waipio Valley OverlookWaipio Valley Overlook

Tidal Pool

Tidal Pool: Part of the Hilton complex in the North Kohala area

Black Sand Beach

Black Sand Beach is at the bottom west side of the island. The warm sand is a favorite spot for sea turtles.

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