Piazza San Pietro


After being in Rome and fighting the crowds four days into the trip, photographing late at night became my shooting time of choice. They say it “slows down” in October…and well, I guess it depends on what your definition of “slowing down” means.  Comically, I learned that for me, it meant something entirely different than what it means to Italians. 🙂 “Ah, no, this is not busy at all, you can actually walk freely on the streets now without getting completely squished!” Oh, dear…

Suffice to say, you definitely don’t want to be there in the summertime months, when tourism is at an all time high while also dealing with temperatures peaking at 45 degrees celsius in the centre of Rome! I digress…

The following image was taken some time after midnight at the Vatican City – this is Piazza San Pietro – or known to us as St. Peters Square. It’s enormous, and hauntingly beautiful at night. My already very wide angle lens couldn’t take in the entire circumference of columns and saints.

At a certain point late in the evening, this plaza is entirely fenced off to the public and only patrolling police cars can be seen inside. Anyone caught walking behind the fence in the plaza once it is cordoned off like this is quickly nabbed, questioned, and in some cases as we witnessed, arrested.

On this particular evening it was very cold and windy. The wind seemed to howl through the columns giving the entire plaza a very spooky, and eerie feel. I have always had a type of horrified fascination with the Vatican City and the feel of the environment this evening really gave both Shiraine and I chills – and yet through the trip, I kept coming back here, it pulled me and my camera in like a magnet. Thus, treating the images in post production with an old, vintage sepia tone helped to express that feeling for me.

The apartment we rented while in Rome was in a neighbourhood a couple of miles behind the Vatican City walls, and I learned that while navigating my way back home – the blue dome of St. Peters Basilica was a guiding landmark in case we ever got lost – which happened a few times ;). This image below was shot on a different evening than above, and early enough that I could still walk through the plaza on my way home when this point of view behind the Bernini water fountain caught my eye.

We walked through this area many times on our way to and from the centre of town. There is always something interesting to see, no matter what time of day. During the day, I sometimes caught the most interesting looking priests dressed in different garb depending on where they found themselves in the hierarchy of the church. This one in particular is a favorite image. He is actually talking on a cell phone as he was marching through the plaza, but it’s hard to tell from the angle at which I photographed him.

Seeing, and in some cases interacting with the clergy, while they were out and about throughout the city dressed in their attire was an experience that left me with definite ideas of going back and revisiting to work on visual stories. One night at a restaurant, Shiraine and I witnessed a table of priests acting more like they were a group of guys out on a stag party. Quite lively, and when leaving, there was one in particular that was so drunk he could barely walk – but he was stopped by a couple of patrons that engaged the group of them in a prayer circle before stumbling out to the car and driving away. Nuns were also ever present – one afternoon as I was out on my own commuting in to town, it seemed that the station was full of nuns all flocking onto the tube. When I asked what the occasion was, I was told that the Pope had come back to town. Ah, I laughed…they all got off at the Ottavianno stop where the Vatican is.

Challenges? I found that having a large DSLR to photograph with wasn’t always the easiest way to catch images “on the fly”. Especially where photographing clergy in the plaza were concerned. Shooting candids and “street photography” with a large camera like mine only raised eyebrows, and in some cases suspicion with the police as they cruised in their “golf carts” at St. Peters. One was following me at one point, and I literally had to hightail it out of there as inconspicuously as possible as I could tell they didn’t like the work I was doing singling out the clergy for photographs. I didn’t feel like being put in a position to explain either. Ciao! and off I went for a gelato instead :). Phew. Close call.

There were times when I was just dying to photograph priceless moments, however, they would know, and it was sometimes downright inappropriate. In some cases, you could, and I did indeed ask, and they were fine with it. However, many of those moments required a natural spontaneity of not knowing a photograph was being taken, otherwise the beauty of the moment was just gone. As much as it was frustrating, I chalked it up to valuable learning and simply that is just the way it goes at times. Practice, and try and try again.

So there are moments that will have to remain forever in my memory. One in particular, was a very large German nun in her habit, gathering what you had to assume was a travelling group of young Catholic teenaged girls into a Gelateria for treats  – the sight of them all eating Gelato and laughing was gorgeous – but pulling out my camera in that moment in such a small space would simply have been outright intrusive and wouldn’t have been appropriate. Next time, I’ll equip myself with a smaller, compact camera in addition to my larger full frame Mark II for a trip like this one.

I’m making my way through editing more images and writing about Florence and the Amalfi coast. I also have posts from the summer that I have worked on from my time at the Artists Round Table in Port Townsend, and more recently the Close to Home Workshop with Stuart Sipahigil and Ray Ketcham. All good stuff and coming soon!