Cortona #3 - The spaces in-between


Last night I photographed shapes created as the sun cast angular shadows onto Cortona's medieval buildings. This evening, by way of literal and figurative contrast, I've switched my attention to the spaces in-between.

We tend to photograph "things". This thing and that thing demand our attention and become obvious subjects for our photographs. We're always pointing our cameras at "things". Sometimes, however, the space around something can be as interesting as the thing itself.

In music, the dramatic pauses which build anticipation contribute as much to the atmosphere of a piece as the notes played. There's even a word for it. It's called a "Fermata" or, in Italian, a "Corona". It's often used to indicate where the musician would take a breath. So, pleasingly, I've been photographing visual coronas in Cortona. The Cortona coronas, if you prefer.

In great speeches, the masterful orator knows that careful measurement of the gaps between words can build tension and focus the audience's attention. Would "I have a dream" be quite so memorable without the subsequent pause? Would "Ask not what your country can do for you..." be so familiar to us today if it had run quickly into the words which followed.

Moments of comfortable silence between close friends can speak volumes. Those quiet alleyways between two people will tell you more about their relationship than the tangible words and gestures they share. If you're not convinced, go and see a Harold Pinter play and notice how the pauses between dialogue are often where the real drama takes place.

So, here's a celebration of spaces. A nod in the direction of the pause.

The gap.

The silence.


Cortona #2

Walking around Cortona's narrow, medieval streets quickly becomes an exercise in creative composition as the sun aligns itself between the tall buildings. Angular, abstract shapes are created by the strong shadows, like pieces of a giant puzzle. The light is constantly changing the apparent shape of the architecture, providing a slowly shifting light show from dawn to dusk.

It's the sort of place where a photographer or a painter or anybody with an appreciation of light would enjoy just sitting and watching. Perhaps that's why there are so many bars and cafes with al-fresco tables. It's not only because dining outside is generally more pleasant, it's also because nobody would want to be indoors when the sun is breathing life into the walls outside in such an extraordinary way.

Cortona #1


Sergio, the manager of my hotel in Cortona, was waiting at the railway station to greet me off my train from Rome. What a friendly way to begin a trip. When we reached the car park, a beautiful young woman was waiting in the passenger seat of his Alfa Romeo. A pink flower loosely held her long, auburn hair behind one ear and she was holding a bunch of freshly-picked lavender.

"Lavender", I declared, exhibiting the full range of my horticultural knowledge in a single word, "how lovely". I thought there would be some sort of explanation for the woman's presence, if not for the lavender, but Sergio offered none and neither did his glamorous friend. He was concentrating on driving like an Italian (at full throttle and with little caution) through the narrow, cobbled streets of old Cortona and she was concentrating on looking like a young Audrey Hepburn, which, now I think about it, were tasks which demanded little effort or concentration from either of them.

This is Italy where life can often seem quite effortless and explanations are not required. A beautiful woman clutching freshly-picked lavender in your passenger seat is perfectly normal. One might as well wonder why the car has doors or tyres.

Sergio drove like he was challenging for the lead on the final lap of the Monza Grand Prix, employing the brakes only when needing to reach out of the window long enough to shake hands and compliment a passing friend. "Hey, Fabio, I saw your wife this morning, she looks great in that red dress. Let's meet for dinner". By the time we'd reached the hotel, Sergio had made dinner plans with half of Cortona. I suspect the other half would just turn up anyway.


I had just enough time to get out and catch some pockets of light in Cortona as the sun began its lingering descent. I'm used to the Asian sunset, where day turns to night so rapidly that you might miss it if you blink the sweat out of your eyes, so it was a pleasure to be reminded how generous the Italian sun is with its approach to setting. I've decided that the Italian sunset is perfectly timed to allow for the enjoyment of a bottle of fine Chianti - or two, if you're with a friend. And, in Italy, you're never alone for long if you have a bottle of fine Chianti - or a bunch of freshly-picked lavender.


I'm in Cortona for a few days for the "Cortona On The Move" Photography Festival.