Like all good projects, this one began without me even realising it. I didn’t intend for this to become such a long term thing, in fact, I originally hadn’t even intended to make anything in particular at all. What started off as a solo holiday around Italy with a couple of cameras, a flight into one place and a flight back from somewhere else with a vague plan on cities to visit in between has ballooned. With multiple return trips, a collection of somewhere in the region of 1200 plus images, a few self-published zines, an article in Let’s Explore Magazine, contributions to gallery exhibitions and the realisation that perhaps good things don’t have to come to an end.
March 2015: Before the beginning there was…
The first time I travelled to Italy was with my girlfriend in the spring of 2015. We took a city-break style trip to Rome and did the usual thing that tourists do, saw some of the major sights, ate a lot of pasta, wandered around until our feet hurt, drank.
I also made terrible photographs.
I had only very recently started to shoot film, and the images I made were some of the first using the now-defunct Agfa Vista 200 Plus that I shot. These images were taken so long ago that the camera I used, a Nikon FM, has been sat broken on my shelf for quite some time ever since.
As a newbie to film photography I made all the classic mistakes; I over or underexposed everything, I didn’t meter for a scene but rather for a subject that I didn’t even want to be the focus. You can even tell I am not used to manual focusing as some of the images are blurry as hell. In other words, they are classic holiday snapshots, put away in a drawer and brought out to relive memories but not shown later down the line when you actually take your photography seriously.
It stands to reason then, that I will be showing some of them here.
I am going as far back as this point because I like to think this was the moment I decided that I would start to learn the Italian language. At that point, I had learned enough to say hello, please and thank you as all good travellers should — especially if English is your first language — let’s not be lazy guys — but I felt like an idiot when I had been unable to converse with people who easily spoke to me in a language not their own. Later on that year I enrolled in a beginner’s Italian course, that course would go on for the next three years until it was cancelled, as I was the only person still going.
My first year of learning Italian was an eye-opening experience, I have this particular trait where if I am not good at something I either lose interest or get very angry and feel very stupid. This was one of the first occasions where I was not very good and rather than losing interest I used my annoyance to try and get better (notice where this might be going eventually?).
After a year of learning the basics, and I mean the incredible basics like how to order dinner and ask for directions, we returned to Italy for a special trip for a very special reason; me becoming old and not being able to deal with it.
July 2016: The big three-oh birthday trip
On the lead up to my thirtieth birthday, my girlfriend had asked me if I wanted to do anything special for it. In my fear and revulsion at the idea of not being able to claim I was in my twenties anymore, I said that I didn’t want to be in the UK for it. Firstly because anyone we knew couldn’t make a fuss and remind me of it and secondly, well just because of that really.
So we planned a trip, a nine day long trip to Italy. We’d visit Venice, Florence and Pisa. I could use my new language skills (sparingly obviously) and visit some of the most beautiful and historically interesting cities in the world. The fact that my girlfriend is vegetarian and Italian food is very good whenever we need to find somewhere for us to eat out made it a good choice as well.
We flew to Treviso and made our way to Venice and spent three days sight-seeing. We then took a train to Florence, spent another four days taking in the sights and spent my birthday wandering around the Uffizi gallery and watching the sunset in Piazzale Michelangelo before going to Pisa for a final two days and then heading home.
Again, I shot mostly holiday snapshot images, although by this time I had become quite interested in landscape and architecture, so a lot of the images were of the cities themselves and the buildings that made them up. There was a small amount of what I would now call street photography as well, although at the time I was definitely just photographing things I saw as interesting with no real purpose (isn’t that kind of what street photography is?).
I still have the folder of the scanned images from this trip saved on my computer as “Nine days in Italia”: the first time I actively gave a folder a name other than “such and such camera, such and such date with film stock etc.”. Perhaps this was a prelude to taking my photography a little more seriously? Anyway, it was over a year until I returned to Italy, and this time I returned with a purpose.
November 2017: Un giro d’Italia part one
In the Autumn of 2017, my girlfriend decided she was going to go away for a pretty long trip with a few friends of hers to Indonesia. This wasn’t a surprise, she has done similar things in the past, for example, spending six weeks volunteering in Sri Lanka a few years prior.
However, I decided that instead of sitting around at home, going to work and being generally bored with very little to do. Instead, I would take a trip of my own and what better place than Italy? By now I had completed the second year of my Italian language course and thought what better way to force me to either get good at it or fail miserably than travelling around Italy for three weeks on my own?
This was the first time that I also considered perhaps documenting the trip as a little bit more than just snapshots and tourist photographs, perhaps I could start an actual photo project?
I’m going to heavily paraphrase the journey as I did (and ever since have still kept) a travel journal, but that is for another potential future project, perhaps not even photography-based.
The plan was this: fly to Turin, sometimes there, visit some museums, the Risorgimento and the Italian National Automobile museum specifically. Next, get a train to Genoa (first class as it turned out!), visit some more museums, this time one on the naval history of Genoa, wander the narrow medieval streets, look at the port, see the sunset etc. Next up was Lucca, only for a day, as someone told me you can see everything you need in that much time, this was a terrible lie.
The longest stay in one place of the whole trip would be Florence. I stayed here for almost a week. There are few reasons for this; I support the Florentine football team Fiorentina so I kind of like the city. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful cities I have ever had the pleasure to visit and also I saw some stuff the first time I went but there was still tons more left to see.
Spoiler alert: it would take me until my third trip to Florence to actually see Michaelangelo’s David.
I took a day trip to Prato because, well just because I could and it’s 20 minutes by train from Florence. Then finally at the end of the whole trip I spent a few days in Rome so I could see some of the locations I had missed the first time around, for example, me and my girlfriend never saw the Trevi Fountain full of water, as it was undergoing maintenance.
This time I managed to see it in all its tourist-packed glory. This is a recurring theme with my travels that I always miss something or something is closed when I am there the first time. Anyway. That was the end of the trip, I flew back home from Rome with a total of thirteen rolls of 35mm film and fifteen rolls of 120 film shot over the three weeks.
But what was I going to do with all that film? A lot of it was junk, throwaway stuff that I shot without thinking or because I thought that the more that I shot the more I would have to work with when I got home.
Apparently 2017 was the “year of the zine”, well it was for me anyway as I had noticed a lot of people putting their own work together in self-published booklets and I had purchased a few myself. This was what I decided I was going to do, curate the best (in my opinion) images I had taken and produce a small body of work in an A5 zine that if people wanted to buy great, but if they didn’t, well then I had a nice bunch of presents I could give to people and also one for myself.
I designed it (badly) using Microsoft Word and some templates for A5 zines I found online. The finished article was pretty rough, a twenty-eight page A5 booklet with twenty-eight images and a twenty-ninth image for the cover. I had actually subconsciously made the decision for the cover image when I had shot it in Genoa (image below), putting up on social media at the time that I thought I might have taken a photo that would look as a cover image for a book or something.
In all honesty, I am astounded that the whole thing ended up looking OK as I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and feel incredibly sorry for the printers that had to delve through the mess I sent them in order for it to come out correctly. But it did, and people bought it, all of them in fact, and I had some lovely feedback and comments about my photography.
This was the first time I felt that I had put my images out into the wide world asking for recognition and actually achieved it but now in my mind the project was over, done with, finito.
Time to move on to something else, or so I thought.
October 2018: Un giro d’Italia part two
You may notice a theme here; in the Autumn of 2018 my girlfriend was taking a trip away with her friends and not wanting to (once-more) spend my time at home feeling like a left-behind loser, I planned another trip of my own. “Hey, I know a fun place I went to before” I told myself, “why don’t you go to Italy again and visit some other places you haven’t been to before?”.
So I did…but this time it was a little different, first I could only take a little over one week away from work, so the trip would have to centre around fewer cities than last time and secondly, it rained, a lot. I am from Wales and I’m telling you that it rained a lot. That should give you an indication of just how drenched I spent my entire time.
The rough plan for this time around; Fly to Milan, spend a few days sightseeing, see the massive cathedral, visit a castle, go to the San Siro and watch AC Milan play Sampdoria in a football match. Then, head to Bologna, go up a big medieval tower, go up a big hill to a church for a view of the city and surrounding countryside, walk around the city keeping dry from the rain under the porticoes, go in the big cathedral to hide from the thunderstorm.
Take a day trip to Modena, visit a Ferrari museum, I regret not going to a nearby museum about Pavarotti because why wouldn’t you regret not going to do that?
Look at a bucket that Modena stole from Bologna in a battle six hundred years ago. Look at another smaller cathedral. Return to Bologna, get rained on some more then fly home. This is a vastly simplified version of events but I think it covers most of the major points.
So what was different about this time? For a start I had actually planned to visit at least one location purely for the photographic opportunities it would give me. The walk to the Sanctuary of San Luca involves a nearly 4km walk along a covered walkway up a pretty massive and steep hill ending with a church and an amazing view across the city of Bologna to one side and the mountains to the other.
This was an actual day trip I had planned purely to photograph the repeating porticoes of the path and the view itself (image of that below), luckily this was on one of the less rainy days. I also had already decided before I had travelled that a follow-up zine would be made featuring some of the images I would make, this time around I was actively seeking out photographs to feature rather than looking back afterwards and seeing what might fit.
On my return home this is what I did; another twenty-eight image A5 booklet with a twenty-ninth for the cover (that cover image being one of the views from San Luca that I trekked for), this time I made far too many copies and sold much less than I thought I would. Oh well.
March 2019 – Un giro d’Italia part three
Yes the familiar story once again; Blah blah blah my girlfriend went away somewhere without me, blah blah blah I went to Italy again.
I think it’s finally at this point that I realised perhaps Un Giro D’Italia was more than just me going on holiday and taking some nice photographs, maybe I had something on my hands? An ongoing project with no end in sight, an obsession with a particular country and the documentation of it through my camera? Or maybe I had just become obsessed with the place and what I was doing?
Either way in March of 2019 I packed my bags, took a flight to Torino for the second time and set off once again for a journey around the Italian peninsula.
After landing in Turin, I spent a few days in the city, trying to see places I hadn’t seen the first time I’d been there, not all of it photography related (the Museo Egyzio, for example, is basically a giant room full of Mummies) but also revisiting places I had been, such as Parco del Valentino, so I could see them and photograph them in Spring (last time it had been Autumn).
Next up was Parma, home of the cheese and ham and as it turns out, also a lovely and architecturally beautiful city. I visited a football stadium the day AFTER the Italian national team had played there, stupidly as I could’ve got a ticket and didn’t realise. A couple of parks, one being made from an old fortress and another from the former Duke’s private gardens and I wandered the city at night time while Verdi was played out over a tannoy system in the streets.
The place was a labyrinth of narrow streets and tiny alleyways that made it perfect for my kind of photography. After a short day trip to Reggio Emilia (it was OK but as usual I went on a Monday and everything was bloody closed) I headed to La Spezia, which was a random entry on the itinerary as many people either don’t know where it is or asked me why I was bothering to go there.
My hotel was literally in a train station, which was both weird and interesting, there was a museum of the Italian Navy that was essentially a room full of toy boats and torpedoes and then there was a beautiful seafront which allowed you to watch the sunset into the Mediterranean that made for some excellent images. OK, the real reason I went to La Spezia was specifically to photograph the sea at sunset.
After la Spezia, I took an incredibly long and multiple changes involved train journey to Siena, a city I have wanted to visit for years. Siena was one of those cities that is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t been, it feels frozen in time, built on top of a huge bunch of hills which made walking anywhere painful and exhausting but so rewarding when you stumble across hidden secrets.
I visited the huge unfinished cathedral, the famous Piazza that they have Il Palio horse race around, hunted down the fountains/statues that every contrade (or city area) has, walked along streets covered in flags and banners celebrating winners of Il Palio and again walked at night photographing dimly lit alleys and streets.
I left Siena to head to Florence for a few days, once again because it is a city I am particularly fond of and also because at the third time of trying I finally remembered to book a visit to see Michelangelo’s David. I also spent a lot of time wandering the streets, photographing generic sights as well as the more touristy ones and also went to visit some of the lesser-seen parts of the city, walking for hours each day just taking it all in.
Finally, I went back to Bologna again, visited my favourite restaurant in the city, ended up in a random street performance/carnival thing and finally took a flight back home.
For the third time, again I planned to make a zine out of the better photographs I’d taken during the little over two weeks of the trip, although I had learned my lesson from the last time and made a much-limited number of copies. Again, it was twenty-eight images in an A5 booklet and a twenty-ninth cover image. Again, I specifically used only the medium format stuff that I had shot.
By this time I was experienced enough to know exactly what I wanted the zine to look like and how I wanted to present the images and prior to even setting off, I had drawn up a vague list of things I wanted to go see specifically to photograph. This was now becoming the main focus of each of these trips, visiting a location for a holiday but that holiday was specifically to photograph the location.
This is where I am at now, even if I’m not actively thinking about what I will photograph when I head out the door or step on the plane, subconsciously that is exactly what seems to be going on.
So, what’s changed since 2017?
When I first took that solo trip in 2017 I had planned to take a few photos and halfway through thought maybe sharing some of them if they were any good with the world might be worthwhile.
If you think about it this whole project is only really a project because I say it is. At the end of the day I could have just gone on holiday numerous times and taken thousands of photographs and at no point claimed it was anything more than just holiday snapshots.
I think what has made this a project for me, is me actively deciding it is one and the same can be said of why it hasn’t ended. So as I’ve gone on, what has changed?
Firstly I think photographing the same way with the same tools (all of this has been shot with a Yashica D TLR for medium format and an Olympus OM-1 for 35mm) and the same film stocks (mostly Kodak Ektar 100 for medium format and usually FujiColor C200 and a little Cinestill 800T for 35mm) has really helped me to focus on knowing everything about the camera’s and film I use.
For example, I can tell you my Yashica will shoot twelve frames from a roll of Kodak film but inexplicably I can’t get it to shoot more than eleven using anything by Fuji, hence sticking with Ektar most of the time (as well as just loving the colours of Ektar). And I know exactly what situations I can push my OM-1 in and still get a steady and non-blurry shot, handheld at an eighth of a second anyone?
Other than photographically, I’ve also grown (sort of) as a designer. I’ve had to teach myself how to use Adobe InDesign in order to create printed work as well as think about how I want my images to be displayed in a coherent way for people to enjoy. The first zine wasn’t exactly slapdash but the third was a much more considered process with wanting particular images opposite and complementing or contrasting each other and even the choice of wording to go alongside being something to consider.
From the beginning, I’ve personally noticed a change in how and what I choose to photograph, for a start those stupid borders I had printed on my early work (what was I thinking?) are long gone. I often say that I find a huge amount of inspiration in the work of Luigi Ghirri and although I was aware of his work prior to 2017 it’s only over the last couple of years that I’ve become slightly obsessed with it and perhaps I am now trying to imitate his photography through my own?
The entirety of my photography has evolved to the point where I think there is genuinely a particular style to it, a style that I may not have achieved or reached without something like a solid ongoing project to focus me towards.
I think in the end this whole project thing has given me more confidence as a photographer and also helped me to narrow down what I want to achieve. Ultimately this is for me and no one else, if other people enjoy my work then that’s fantastic but I’m enjoying what I’m doing for myself as well.
So from the very beginning, I described this as “long term” but what exactly does that mean? If I’m honest I don’t really know myself. I’m heading to Italy again soon (although by the time this is published I could perhaps have been back for a while already), it’s only for a weekend to Milan to watch a bit of football and take a few photographs but that’s kind of what this whole thing has always been like.
In the end, I have no plans for this to stop, just like I had no plans originally for it to begin. I think ideally when Un Giro D’Italia feels like it’s done, that’s probably going to be a time when it’s done with.
When that will happen…? Who knows.
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