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Mar 132012

It strikes you immediately–as you exit Venice’s Santa Lucia train station with the Grand Canal at your feet–as you drag your luggage up and over the steep, short Ponte degli Scalzi–as you take your first steps into her narrow, warren of alleys not a vehicle in sight other than the ubiquitous boats; you have arrived in a city of great beauty and antiquity, you have transcended into legend where every iconic image of Venice comes to life.

And the question forms: how do you photograph a place where every corner, every canal, every image, has long since passed into either icon or cliche’?

It’s been decades since I first set foot in Venice. My memories are of a strikingly beautiful, unique city, unlike any I’d seen, a city where every turn presented a compositional possibility. Reality, and a career change from music to photography, brings a different sensibility. Clearly, not every turn offers the possibility of an image. Add to that the crowds, the shear number of tourists clogging Venice’s eclectic lanes and the possibilities of finding something new and different diminish rapidly.

Venice, described by Luigi Barzini, author of the definitive book, The Italians, as “undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man”, is sinking under the weight of its own Disneyland-like popularity. Yet the Venetians seem to manage this onslaught with aplomb. Though Venice, “one of Europe’s most romantic cities”, is infested with tourists, it is also a city very much alive, containing a culture separate from the tourist trade upon which so much of Venice depends.

You glimpse this life along the backwater canals, in the work-a-day boats docked outside her many residences, in the workmen busy renovating a house, in the barge hauling cement or paint or vegetables. You wonder at the lives behind the many doors, below the lamplit ceilings spied through upper-story windows, at the elderly woman, bags in hand unlocking a front door, at the violinist, case in hand, clambering aboard a vaporetto, at the couple being serenaded and at the lives of the musicians serenading.

Truly, Venice is one of the most beautiful and unique cites on Earth. Even overrun, it is alive with culture and art. As you can see, I was able to find a few images I could make my own and, using some new techniques, perhaps breathe life into a few cliche’s.

A peek into the studio of a mask maker.

How much history has passed this doorway?

Oh honey, I’ve always dreamed of a romantic gondola ride in Venice, just you and me.

Iconic certainly. Using a telephoto selects for the composition from the truth below.

And this represents only a fraction of the crowds in Piazza San Marco.

And, doesn’t show the even larger number of pigeons.

Oh honey, don’t you think it will be wonderful to get married in Venice? And then we can have our wedding photographs done in Piazza San Marco. It’ll be so romantic!

Slices of Venetian life.

Sadly, graffiti here as well.

We stumbled upon a really interesting show by contemporary Chinese artists.

An attempt, like the opening image of the blog, to take the cliche’ to a different level.

Copyright 2012 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


Feb 242012

Leaving Lago Maggiore by train from Stresa, we headed to Verona via a change of trains in Milan’s sprawling central station. Located about midway between Milan and Venice, the history and architecture of Verona provided an intriguing reason to explore its ancient streets. Its city center has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I have yet to be disappointed by spending time in UNESCO sites and will seek them out whenever possible.

Verona’s origins are as obscure as the origin of its name. It became a Roman colony in 89 BCE and later a full Roman city. From what I read, the foundations of the current city stand upon the virtually intact Roman city with the cellars of many houses and palazzos accessing Roman ruins.

Verona’s history through medieval and early renaissance times is the usual convolution of wars, ambition, plague and shifting alliances. Cangrande I gained power in 1308 and brought under his control Padua, Treviso and Vicenza. Being a patron of the arts, he gave protection to the great Italian poets Dante and Petrarch and the painter and architect Giotto.

Shakespeare used it as a setting in two of his plays, Two Gentlemen From Verona and of course, Romeo and Juliette.

The city came under Austrian power in 1508, was decimated by plague in the early 1600’s when 2/3’s of its population died. Verona was occupied by Napoleon in 1797 and bounced back and forth between Napoleon, Austria and other kingdoms, finally becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.

Fascism brought a dark chapter to Verona’s history during World War II when many of its Jews were shipped off to Nazi concentration camps. Allied troops and anti-fascist elements were tortured and incarcerated within the city.

Today, Verona is a vibrant, colorful city, with beautifully preserved streets and architecture. It is nestled along the wide banks of the Adige river and lies close to lovely Lago Garda and the foothills of the Alps to the north.

The ancient Roman Arena built in 30 CE dominates the main piazza. We just missed the summer season of operas held when the arena becomes the beautiful settings for Verona’s major operatic festival. Still, there is much to see, do and experience. Because it is such and interesting and beautiful city, our two days in Verona were totally insufficient.

Wandering the streets of the old city, I found many interesting images. These photographs are some of the best I did on our trip.

Riding to work in the Piazza Bra at dawn.

A mix of architectural periods illustrates Verona’s over 2,000 year history.

Along the Adige.

The narrow, ancient streets of Verona old city are very pedestrian friendly. The shopping rivals Milan for luxurious and very expensive fashion.

Don’t you think this armoir would make a lovely addition to any bedroom room?

I’ve been playing with a technique that could convey some of the ancient feel within Verona. This one and the one below capture something more iconic.

Climbing the hill to Castell San Pietro.

Overlooking a part of Verona from the Castell San Pietro. A night-time, dusk or dawn view on a clear day would be beautiful.

Juliette’s balcony. Okay, it’s not the one they call her balcony. Then again, neither is the fraudulent balcony they perpetrate on the tourists. Not only was she a figment of Shakespeare’s brilliant imagination, but the eponymous balcony was added to the house in 1936, hundreds of years after she would have lived had she been real. You can also visit “Juliette’s Tomb”.

And finally, a Black and White HDR image of the Torre Lomberti just off the Piazza della Erbe, another of Verona’s icons.

Copyright 2012 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


Jan 272012

After three beautiful days in Milan, not enough of course, we moved northwest from Milan for my job photographing the annual CEO Summit for the Consumer Electronics Association at Lago Maggiore, Italy. I’ve photographed many CEA conferences over the years but this was by far the most special. The hotels where the conference was held were in Stresa, a lovely town on the western shore of Lake Maggiore in extreme northwestern Italy. The magnificent, mountain scenery was marred by smog from who knows where. A few days earlier, from the air, I saw it clouding the mountain valleys of the French Alps as we approached Milan by plane from the west. This was unfortunate as the mountains rising from the lake provide a spectacular backdrop.

Lago Maggiore straddles the border of Italy and Switzerland. The towns surrounding the lake date back centuries with the majority of buildings seemingly from the 19th century. The lovely, alpine setting and its mild climate have made Lake Maggiore a tourism mecca for a very long time, influencing the towns and architecture. A visit to Lago Maggiore and an audience with the then current head of the ancient Borromeo family was a de rigeur stop on the Grand Tour undertaken by 19th century aristocracy.

Large, elegant villas line the shore, reflecting the lake’s aristocratic heritage. The Borromeo family, one of Europe’s oldest families, has maintained residences in the area for centuries. The family’s influence is seen everywhere in the surroundings of Stresa including one of the hotels where the conference was held, the Grand Hotel Des Ille Borromees. Built around 1850, it is an elegant expression of La Belle Epoch, some would say an over the top expression.

The Borromeo family owns four small islands in the lake. The Borromeo palace is located on Isola Bella which also contains  a small community and the palace’s impressive gardens. One of our activities was a tour of this 17th century palace and gardens. Members of the family were in residence, but in a private part of the palace inaccessible to the public.

The Roman roots of the Borromeo family can be traced all the way back to 66 CE. It came into prominence in 1367 during the Ghibelline Revolt against the Florentine Guelphs. A father and son in succession became Cardinal and Archbishop of Milan, the son later canonized in 1610. One off-shoot married into the Medici family. During the 16th century, most of North Central Italy was known as the Borromeo State with the family holding full political and military power.

Our visit, though short, allowed a taste of the elegance from a former time.

Grand Hotel Et Des Ille Borromees

The Regina Palace Hotel

Approaching Isola Bella

The Borromeo Palace and the village on Isola Bella


Restaurants and souvenir shops are set among the houses and church of Isola Bella.


The lower level of the palace are a series of grottos, now galleries, with the walls and ceilings decorated in this strange, shell-like texture and motifs. In pre-air conditioner days, they provided a relatively cool place for the family while away the hot, summer days.


  Part of the family’s private gardens.


 The majority of the once private gardens are open to the public. The stairs lead to a broad terrace

with panoramic views of the lake and mountains.

Isola dei Pescatori, Fisherman’s Island. With part of Stresa along the shore in the background.

Lago Maggiore is also a place for destination weddings. Here, a bride from somewhere in Asia,

is photographed along the lake shore as the groom looks on.

One of the conference dinners was held at the Ristorante Piccolo Lago, a Michelin two star restaurant.


Copyright 2011 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging


Jan 132012

Nothing can be more iconic of Milan than her gorgeous Duomo especially seen just after dusk on a lovely Autumn evening.

I was very fortunate that one of my clients, the Consumer Electronics Association, CEA for short, brought me along to photograph their 2011 CEO Summit held this year in Stressa, Italy on the shore of Lago Maggiore in northwestern Italy. I’ve photographed the CEO Summits for a number of years but this was the first time outside the U.S..

The Northern Italian city of Milan is the natural arrival point for travel to the lakes along the Swiss border. Lake Maggiore, a half hour train ride from the city is the westernmost and lies somewhat parallel to perhaps more famous Lake Cumo. Having always wanted to visit Milan and it’s most famous of all Italian opera houses, La Scala, a few days there before my job were imperative. Milan has the reputation for being an industrial city. That might be true, but its credentials as a center and arbiter of fashion are unquestioned.

While strolling the streets of the fashionable city center, store windows of Italy’s most famous labels compete for the eye. And better, at least for me, is checking out the many beautiful women stylishly walking outside the restaurant while I partake of an early supper.

Art too, holds its claim. The architectural masterpieces of the Duomo and its 19th century neighbor, the Galleria Phillip Emanuel? are astounding side by side. The museums of the Sforza Palace contain treasures and masterworks from Milan’s history along with a trove of unique and beautiful musical instruments. An entire afternoon can be spent wandering among the poignant and majestic tombs of the Cementerio Maggiore. In my experience, only the monuments of Buenos Aires’ Recoleta can compete on this world-class stage of after-worldly opulence.

And then, there is one of the most famous paintings in the long, accomplished and magnificent history of Italian art, painted by perhaps Milan’s most famous adopted son on the wall of an un-prepossessing refectory attached to the luscious Chiesa Santa Maria delle Grazie, Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper.

Plus, there seems to be music every night. Major music. If the current offering at La Scala doesn’t appeal or if a decent seat can’t be had, concerts by Europe’s finest musicians and symphony orchestras abound.

And everywhere, Gellaterias entice with their delicious and imaginative Italian ice creams.

Time, very well spent.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Lovely late afternoon light on the front facade of the Duomo.

Door panel detail-Milan’s Duomo.

A chapel in one of the transcepts in the Duomo.

Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II

Sforza Palace fortification and typical 19th century apartment building.

In the Sforza Palace.

The hall of armory.

A beautifully, crafted lute thingamajig in the musical instrument collection-Don’t ask me how you play it.

Only three panels of the massive, electronic tone generator/computer used by Luciano Berio and others to create their experimental electronic music in the 1950’s. My Macbook Pro at maybe a thousandth the size of this behemoth does everything this baby could and infinitely more.

An Aussie performing in the courtyard of the Sforza Palace on a Hang, an instrument with an amazing, hypnotic sound very similar to a Jamaican steel drum.

Santa Maria delle Grazia.

In the Santa Maria dell Grazie we stumbled upon this visiting Russian orchestra and chorus rehearsing for that night’s performance. Exceptional music making!

The streets of Milan are rife with the scourge of graffiti. Dogs pissing on fire hydrants as I like to say. Occasionally, something interesting can be found amidst the scrawls.

In the Cementerio Maggiore.

From the “Great War”.

Stacked niches 20-30 feet high in mauseleums both above and below ground went on for miles.

As the sun goes down on our final night along the streets of the Piazza Duomo.

Copyright 2011 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging