Twelve Photographs – an Italian Odyssey of Shots  

Twelve Photographs – an Italian Odyssey of Shots  
  • 2023-24

In the hierarchy of the senses, the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle placed vision first, followed by hearing, smell, touch and taste.

If applied to the Arts, the logic might extend to placing painting and photography above music, which I’m not sure is right or fair. There is a place for all of them, depending on your mood.

But during my years in Italy, I have – without ever making a project of it – tried to keep my eye open to capture photographs with my phone. Here, I choose twelve favourites.

I took this first photo with an old phone in April 2016, in Mantova, the birthplace of the poet Virgil. I knew there was a statue, but when I got there, I found bizarrely that the site had been taken over by a Mexican food market. The tension between the lofty Roman poet and the street food stall – both of which I enjoy – is something that immediately appealed.

Anyone who spends time looking at photographs understands they often work best by juxtaposing elements that don’t ordinarily go together.

Most of the photographs represented here attempt to do just that, putting together things you would not normally expect to see within the same frame.


This next shot was taken when we were scouting a location for the new school building. We didn’t actually proceed with this particular site, but I did like the light inside the gymnasium, the trees appearing ghostly behind the transparent canvas, and the basketball hoop reflected in the large puddle on the floor.

The effect is to make the ordinary seem extraordinary – always a satisfying thing.


‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,’ said the photographer Robert Capa. Here I move from the large frame of a gymnasium to the tight focus on a locust that stood frozen for some moments on the window of my apartment building.

It has the smudge and reflection of a picture taken through glass, so it’s not as clean as I would have wished, but while the insect remained perfectly still and immobile, the image seems to capture a sense of flight or ‘lift-off’, as if the insect were propelled by jet-pack.


Photographs offer slices of time. Below we glimpse a moment during Covid. I’m not sure what was happening, but it involved a film crew in the early morning on Piazza Duomo taking pictures of men in Hazmat suits, with an oddly-dressed woman. Perhaps a fashion shoot?

The men seem to be ignoring her, while she appears to be acting out some kind of distress, both hands pulling at her throat.

The gendering of the photo is ridiculously sexist, but I like the strangeness and apocalyptic mystery of the scene. I also like the splash of red from the Metro sign, the rectangles on the floor echoing the frame of the photo, and the sense of doom in the arrangement of pigeons. 


The San Giuseppe area of Naples in the summer of 2021. This image irresistibly reminded me of the winning row of three lemons you need to win on a slot machine, except here the lemons are real and bruised, rotting in the sunlight.

I particularly like the diagonal line they make amid the scatter of dead leaves on the ground. The mixture of fruit and concrete. The horizontal line under the lower lemon happily establishes the golden ratio, with the shadows of leaves below.


Who doesn’t enjoy a nice landscape shot? But for me, most good photographs contain a strong sense of humanity.

In her book On Photography, Susan Sontag says that, ‘just by virtue of being photographed,’ a subject is ‘touched by pathos’. Pathos, yes, but also joy, I think – as here, two men banter with those below while they help erect a stage in Piazza Duomo.

Whether depicting people or not, photography always exists in relation to human life, not least in relation to the person taking the photograph and the way they choose to frame it.

This an example of what has been called an ‘in-between moment’ of life that photography helps to record. I like the democracy of photography for that reason. It can include and celebrate everyone. The geometry of the shot is also helped by the bars of the scaffolding, allowing a triangle to form between the two helmeted faces and the man’s right foot.  


Another passing moment. A takeaway café in Piazza Duomo.

I remember once in Boston, a tour guide commenting how the city’s 79 Dunkin’ Donut outlets were a necessary means of dispersing the police force.

Here I like the combination of military-looking police – one seems protectively to have a hand on his gun, while the arrowed sign ‘Order’ above the head of the central carabinieri suggests not just a commercial transaction but the ‘order’ of authority – here almost comically juxtaposed with shelves of brioche and pink donuts.

Fighting crime needs to wait when it’s time for coffee in Milan.


Rome. Two technologies juxtaposed.

A cinema from the 1930s, whose modern provenance now looks distinctly vintage. And two people, distinctly unglamorous, on their mobile phones.

I would have preferred the couple to be standing on the right side of the door because compositionally it would serve better for them to be facing into the rest of the frame. Still, it sort of works, I think.


Rome again. Piazza Navona.

I looked up and saw a woman at the window in a building. The image looked so melancholy, I rushed to capture it.

The two shuttered windows below echo the two unshuttered windows above, one of them lit, where a woman seems to hold her hands high – in despair? In prayer? In preparation to sing? I don’t know. Like any photo, it’s just a story told with light.

I like the way the shot is asymmetrical in construction, with the woman and the lamppost weighting one side.

In his book on photography, Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes explains how every picture has a ‘punctum’ – a point of interest, where your eye is drawn, and which emotionally pierces the viewer or grabs the attention. The woman in the window is the obvious example, though the video surveillance camera attached to the lamppost below is also a contender.


Perhaps my favourite photograph in this series.

I was in San Babila and saw two tall and cloaked policemen about to cross the road, with a Boss sign above each of their heads.

The photo seemed a gift, and I was fortunate to be able to hold the moment, with the traffic light exactly between them, showing – for me, the ‘punctum’ – the icon of the green man walking, and on either side two people half-obscured by the policemen’s capes. By chance, the red and white of the horizontal tape on the left answers the vertical black and white of the pedestrian crossing on the right.

The photo offers a sly comment on power and authority, with an ironically modish twist.

A lot of photos rely on good luck, and I know I was favoured on this occasion.


Another one where I had to act fast.

Weirdly I could see a man walking towards me on Via Borgonuovo – a man dandyishly dressed, in sandals, sunglasses, white trousers, carrying an enormous pink spoon. Don’t ask me why.

I think he saw me taking the photo and looked down, but here I like the line on the road almost parallel – in fact at a flaneurial tilt – to the line of the spoon, the line of the spoon echoing the red diagonal in the sign to the left of the photo, and the happy accident of the dark doorway offering a contrast to the man’s light clothes.

All photos are taken at an angle to the world. This is one of them.


These photographs are presented here in chronological order. This last was taken in Moscova in September of this year.

As Henri Cartier-Bresson has said, photography is about capturing the ‘decisive moment’. This one I almost missed.

The bike was moving fast so I needed to take the shot rapidly.

It is a bit blurred and out-of-focus, but I managed at least to centre the photo showing a little dog, the head peeping from a specially designed hole in the back of the scooter, the dog looking princely and unconcerned as his driver navigates the traffic.    

Of the many photographs I have taken in my years in Italy, the twelve above are the ones that please me most. So now when I think of Italy, I think of these images which have stayed with me.

As memories of my experience, they may not be representative, but they do manage to hold the world still for an instant, and the moments they record are unreproducible. They won’t happen again.

I have never studied photography nor taken a formal lesson, and the editing here extends only to a bit of cropping in some of the shots.

Issues of copyright mean I cannot use better photos by others to illustrate my points. But these days, with smart phones, everyone is a photographer.

In a larger sense, as I have written before, education is about paying attention, remaining alert. It’s about the quality of noticing, refreshing our perspective, and finding new ways to see the world through curious eyes.

As well as encouraging this in the students, I try to pursue that goal myself, because not only does it make learning more entertaining, it also helps give meaning to our lives.

Chris Greenhalgh
Principal and CEO

  • Art