Tag Archives: Positano

Italy: Remastered

Positano, (Campania, Italy) at dusk

Here is a sneak peak of my latest project — Italy, Remasted. In 2005 and 2008, my wife and I traveled The Sexy Boot of Europe and discovered that Italy is indeed better than the hype.

For a combined five weeks we toured Northern, Central and Southern Italy, shooting and eating our way through such magnificent icons as Rome, Florence, Siena and Venice, and such lesser-known gems as Bolzano, Varenna, Val d’Itrea, Matera and Sestri Levante. Italy has a firm hold on our heart, and the images I have from there are some of my most cherished possessions.

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10 Must-See Churches in Italy

(Click on photos for a larger view)

Tanager Photography is temporarily grounded (i.e. the baby is due in less than three weeks), so I figure a retrospective is in order — how about the most spectacular churches in Italy?

Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments box, or suggest ones I missed. Keep in mind a few things: these are from a non-Catholic, non-historically significant, photographer’s standpoint. My criteria was a simple scale of how blown away I was by each church. Also, I intentionally left St. Peter’s Basilica off the list because technically it is in the Vatican.

1. Duomo di Siena

In one of the few cities in Italy where the main piazza is crowned by a town hall instead of a cathedral, the Duomo of Siena still manages to stand out as Italy’s most majestic church. Composed of alternating stripes of black and white marble and situated at the crown of the city’s hill, Il Duomo is a riot of medieval art, storytelling mosaics and hallowed spaces. Of particular note: Pisano’s ridiculously elaborate pulpit (above right), Bernini’s ecstatic St. Jerome holding the cross like a cradled fiddle (top left), a floor mosaic depicting the Slaughter of the Innocents, and a painted dome that creates an optical illusion of the three-dimensional heavens (above right). This church is a mind blower.

2. Pantheon, Rome

My first stab at this list didn’t even include the Pantheon. Why? It’s not very churchy. In fact, it’s hard to figure out. From nearby Piazza della Minerva, it looks like nothing more than a massive, ancient turret. From the front, it’s portico of Corinthian columns looks more reminiscent of the Acropolis than any vestige of Christendom. And in fact, therein lies the rub. Built originally by Romans during the tenure of Hadrian in 124 AD, it was a tribute to the multiple deities of the day. Not until 609 AD was it converted into a Christian church, and fortunately, since then they’ve pretty much left this austere and daunting, perfectly symmetrical building as it was. At first blush, the Pantheon inspires a humanistic awe at how crafty the Romans were. But after an hour of watching the sun shaft that passes through the oculus move about the room, you can’t help but get the feeling that its God peeking in.

3. Basilica de San Francesco d’Assisi, Assisi

No word better describes Assisi than tranquil. Granted, I was there in early April, in the midst of constant rains and the renewal of spring. Summer may be a different story. Regardless of when you roll through this town, the Basilica de San Francesco d’Assisi is impossible to miss. Towering over the Umbrian valley, the cathedral that honors the town’s native son St. Francis — the patron saint of Italy, animals and the environment — is a massive complex, and somewhat contrary to the intimacy of the town. It is, in essence, a double-decker church. The Upper Basilica — which was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1997 but restored — is lavishly colorful, with richly detailed frescos by Giotto depicting the saint’s life. Underneath, the Lower Basilica is more somber, cold and bucolic, especially during a service, when chanting and hymns echo off its low-arched ceiling.

4. Basilica di San Marco, Venice

I have mixed feelings on Venice, particularly St. Mark’s Square. On the one hand are the hawkers of trinkets, the tourists feeding pigeons, the 6-Euro cappuccinos, the menus in 8 different languages. On the other hand, is the stout, gray onion-domed cathedral crowned with gold-winged angels and Byzantine mosaics. She’s like an old lady with too much jewelry, but you can’t help but love her anyway. Like Sophia Lauren, now that I mention it. The basilica is, in a word, ridiculous: from the length of the line to get in, to the amount of opulence the Venetians put into it to demonstrate their wealth. The ceilings, walls and arches of the interior are layered with gold tiles and mosaics depicting saints and the prophets, and its easy to fall under the spell of the cathedral’s radiance. Much of the church is filled with treasures the Venetians raided from elsewhere, including it’s namesake’s relics. Historically, its fascinating, but on a WWJD level … well, you decide.

5. Santa Maria d’Idris, Matera

Poles apart from the Pantheon, the Church of St. Francis and Basilica di San Marco, is Santa Maria d’Idris. Located in a small cave atop a rocky mount overlooking the grottos and canyon of Matera (upper right corner, above left photo), it is a strange, mystical, spooky place. This ancient city in Basilicata (it dates back to Paleolithic times — put that in your pipe and smoke it, Rome) has clusters of cave churches throughout the city limits, but this one is most memorable, in part because of its rocky mount location (it’s entrance takes in a beautiful 270-degree panorama of the city), and its labyrinth of meditation chambers, which are decorated with boldly colorful frescos in various states of decay. Looking like it was carved by hand out of the rock, Santa Maria d’Idris is imperfect and intimate, two traits missing in so many places of worship.

6. Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo), Florence

Intimacy was clearly never the intent of Florence’s massive duomo. No, this church was meant to send a message to other city-states, like Siena. Looming over the city center and seemingly peering into every alley, passageway and window in the city proper, it is one of those rare churches that’s actually a skyscraper. It’s interior includes an unforgettable and grotesque ceiling fresco by Vasari and Zuccaro, but is largely forgettable in comparison to the cathedral’s exterior circus of pink, green and white marble. A row of grim-faced saints on the facade point at patrons of the piazza, a once stern and effective reminder of morality no doubt, that has slowly been lost on the tourist licking their gelato at the Baptistery’s gate. But the truly moving element of this iconic cathedral is Brunelleschi’s dome. By the time it was conceived in the early 1400s, the formula for Roman concrete (the kind which made the Pantheon possible) was forgotten. So he just decided to make it of bricks instead — 4 million of them … without a crane.

7. Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice

Venice has a staggering amount of amazing churches, but after the Basilica di San Marco, the Frari Church is head and shoulders the standout. Not because of its exterior (which is actually quite drab) but because of the art it holds inside. Most famous may be Titian’s altarpiece, The Assumption, a fantastic portrayal of Mary’s Assumption to Heaven, surrounded by swirling angels and clouds. The church also houses Donatello’s John the Baptist, works by Bellini, several tombs (including Titian’s) and elaborate wood and gold choir stalls by Marco Cozzi.

8.  Santa Maria Assunta, Positano

OK. I’ll be honest. I barely peeked inside this church. I know, I know. How could it make the must-see list if all I’m basing it on is the exterior? Some roving journalist I am! But there’s something romantically delightful about this church. From my experience, no other church in Italy fits more perfectly into the landscape than this one. It appears to anchor Positano to the ground, as if its presence keeps this wildly gorgeous town from floating away. Secondly, it’s beautiful mosaic dome has grass and plants growing out of its clefts, a small detail that shows that all things — manmade or otherwise — are reclaimed by nature. And finally, spend a Sunday in Positano and you’ll see the locals flocking to church, a pleasant reminder that this is a living, breathing community after all — not just a tourist playground.

9. Chiesa dei Gesu, Rome

The mother church of the Jesuit Order is located a few blocks from the Coliseum, the Pantheon and the Forum. Talk about a long shadow. But that’s Rome. For us, the church was a quick stop en route to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and the Pantheon at the insistence of my cousin, Nick, who lives in Ciampino and has been a Roman resident for years. The church is a neck craner, with the highlight being a spectacular ceiling fresco by Giovanni Battista Gaulli called Triumph of the Name of Jesus (above right). It’s the only ceiling I’ve ever wanted to stare at for an hour.

10. Duomo di Amalfi

The Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Amalfi exudes a rare elegance among large churches. Its 62 stairs spill like a waterfall from the zebra-striped and gold facade. It’s campanille is composed of multiple cylinders, a style I haven’t seen elsewhere. Considering that the church is in the middle of the spectacular Amalfi Coast, it’s an amazing convergence to see from the piazza below. Inside, Baroque and Romanesque elements combine beautifully, but the real story lies in the crypt. Here, supposedly, lie the bones of St. Andrew. How they ended up here is just one of those historical footnotes of Europe’s history. Like with other saints, his relics were transported, stolen and stashed all across the continent. St. Andrew mostly ended up here, where his bones were safely stored after the sacking of Constantinople in 1208.

Of course, there are a few honorable mentions:

And the one that got away: The Cathedral of Milan. A train strike kept us from spending any time in Milan, so we missed what is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular Gothic churches on earth. Perhaps another time.

Alright, if you’ve been: what did I miss?

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VOTE: Photo of the Year – Category 2 (Landscape and Nature)

If you haven’t voted yet for Category 1 (Travel), please do so. I only got 13 votes in that category so far, and while this whole “contest” may seem fruitless, it does give me insight into which photos really grab people. The more votes, the more I learn.

For Category 2, we have Landscapes and Nature lumped into one. This is a category that relies heavily on being at the right place at the right time, something I had a lot of luck with in 2008. Still ahead: food, people in places and portraits. The poll is at the bottom of this post.

#1. Blooming daisies, Positano, Italy.


#2. Buffalo Pass Road in fall, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado.


#3. Hand passing through lupine, Crested Butte, Colorado.


#4. Lone cypress and blazing fog at dawn, Chianti (Tuscany), Italy.


#5. Rosy paintbrush beneath Maroon Bells, near Aspen, Colorado.


#6. Clam shell on polished pebbles, Nauset Beach, Orleans, Massachusetts.


#7. Green fields of Chianti and passing storm, Badesse (Tuscany), Italy.


And here’s the poll. Would love comments, too, on why you picked what you did. Your feedback is invaluable.

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All I Want for Christmas…


If you are looking for an interesting Christmas idea or two for yourself, a spouse or that impossible-to-shop-for person, I’ve got a few.

  1. Individual portraits of you for your spouse. We can work on a theme or a setting that is right for you. You don’t have to wear a Santa hat necessarily (or sport a tinsel fu man choo — who does such a thing anyway?), but a Christmas tree in the background makes for a lovely effect. To see part of my portfolio of individual portraits, visit my website and click on Mikey + Cheerio.
  2. 2008-11-30xmas-4449

  3. Family portraits of the whole crew. This past weekend I had a great time working with the Luellig family (see below), doing a mix of in-home and white-seamless portraits. A separate blog post will come in the next few days on that shoot.
  4. 2008-11-29luellig-4408

  5. And then there is my favorite…fine art for your walls. My archive of images at Tanager Fine Art Prints is entirely available for purchase. See an image you like? Select it, click “Buy/License” and scroll through a variety of print sizes available for online purchase. Prices range from $40 for a 5×7 to $400 for a 30×40, and don’t worry about my logo…it will not appear on the photo print (the watermark is an online security measure). There are also other objects for sale like photo mugs, decks of cards and more. Prints are then delivered to your door without that tinsel-bearded middleman having to get in the way.
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Speaking of tinsel, as much as I loathe the stuff (I swear, it’s like sand in your shoe…it never goes away!) it sure is photogenic. Happy holidays.


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VOTE: Photo of the Year – Category 1 (Travel)

WordPress now has this poll feature, and I have yet to put it to good use. But last night while I was brushing my teeth, I had an idear. Maybe I should do a year in review (“God Kevin, enough with the nostalgia!”) and have my readers vote on what made the best shot of the year.

So, after a bit of editing and selecting, I have five categories: Travel, Portraits, People in Places, Landscape and Nature, and Food. The top vote-getter in each category will be placed in a final round, no-holds barred, pixel-on-pixel smack down sometime around New Year.

Since we’re pretty much done traveling for the year, we’ll begin with the Travel category. Scroll down, and place your vote for which one you think is best. As always, you can click on the photo to see it larger.

#1. Il Campo and Torre Mangia at dusk, Siena (Tuscany), Italy.


#2. Tractor in front of Kate’s Seafood, Brewster (Cape Cod), Massachusetts.


#3. Acquarossa trulli at night with star trails, Casalini (Puglia), Italy.


#4. Manor overhanging harbor with thunderstorm, Sorrento (Campania), Italy.


#5. Sangiovese vines at dawn, Chianti (Tuscany), Italy.


#6. Space Needle and carnival ride, Seattle, Washington.


#7. Santa Maria Assunta and Galli Islands at dusk, Positano (Campania), Italy.


And now, the voting machine.

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The Best of Italy – Part 1

Caprese Salad in Montepulciano.

Caprese Salad in Montepulciano.

Hailey hates it when I do this “list/best of” crap, but it’s in my DNA. After all, I feel I can celebrate a little. Back in April we went to Italy for three weeks to commemorate our fifth anniversary. An outstanding trip, something I’m really glad we did now despite that horrid Euro-to-dollar exchange rate. Oh well. Travel is never something to regret, and the flat-screen TV can always wait.

I digress. I’m celebrating because I’ve reached a milestone with the Italy images. We shot 5,401 pictures, edited that down to a “reasonable” 4,754, color corrected the best 957, and placed the best 480 in a slideshow to inflict upon friends and family (those poor, poor people). This weekend I uploaded the last of the 345 best images to our stock agency, Photoshelter, for vetting and licensing. That only took three months.

So, to celebrate, genuflect, and in general overwhelm you, I thought I’d post the top shots and tell a bit of their story. As always, you can click on each photo for a larger view.

So enjoy…or “I’m sorry.”

The view from the Hotel La Minervetta’s patio. That’s rosemary on steroids and Mount Vesuvius in the distance.

Positano at dusk, seen from the patio of Le Sirenuse. We didn’t stay there, but despite their reputation as one of the top 10 hotels in the world, the staff was totally cool with us loitering and taking pictures for an hour. The Sirens apparently lived on the islands in the distance. A likely story.

Offertory candles in the duomo of Amalfi.

After the Amalfi Coast we went back to Sorrento for a night. This enabled us to spend an afternoon on the Isle of Capri, which was semi-worth it. We had three hours, we rushed things, and its Capri…the kind of place where Pierce Brosnan walks around wearing all white linen outfits, right? However, the island is gorgeous and its the birthplace of Caprese salad, so it ain’t all accessory dogs and mani-pedis for the jetset.

On the boat ride back into Sorrento’s harbor, this wicked thunderstorm developed just as the sun was setting, creating the unreal scene above. It’s just so perfectly Italian — dramatic, rough around the edges, yet stately. Italy is one of those rare places where you can see man enhance a natural setting with architecture, and the manors on the cliffs of Sorrento Harbor is one such sight.

Part 2 will come later this week….

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