Thinking Inside the Box: Terreiro do Paço

Thinking Inside the Box is an occasional series in which I talk about the making of my images.

I arrived at Terreiro do Paço, Lisbon’s vast central praça, too late.  Or so I thought.

The multimedia spectacle celebrating the renovation of the Arco da Rua Augusta was about to begin, and the crowd was immense.   There was no place to set up my tripod and get a clear view of the colorful projected imagery on the building’s facade.

I tried my best.  I secured a position as close as possible, but still there were dozens standing in front of me.  Plus buses and trams, power lines and poles marring the view.   I angled my camera upward, frame after frame, trying to avoid all the hazards, with disappointing results.   I thought the evening, photographically-speaking, was a bust.

But fortunately the show would be repeated one hour later.  I returned with a new attitude.

This time, I positioned myself far back in the crowd.   “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” I thought.  The heads in front of me were no longer nuisances, but in their silhouetted abstraction became an integral layer providing depth, context and a bit of creativity to the composition.

Finding the best spot to make an image often requires changing your viewpoint and changing your point of view.

terreiro do paço, lisbo

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Thinking Inside the Box: Guarding Chairman Mao

Thinking Inside the Box is an occasional series in which I talk about the making of my images.

Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and coming across Andy Warhol’s interpretation of Mao’s portrait, I was reminded of my time in Beijing several years back when I photographed a guard standing at attention before the official portrait at the entrance to the Forbidden City.

The woman guarding the Warhol portrait was much more approachable, and I couldn’t resist asking her to pose with the painting.

A contrast of East versus West.


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Thinking Inside the Box: Dueling Dragons

Thinking Inside the Box is an occasional series in which I talk about the making of my images.


At Villa Borghese in Rome, I encountered a pair of stone dragons guarding the garden entrance.

The dragons were peacefully standing at attention, a mirror image of one another.

A few degrees rotation of the lens changed all that:  A fierce duel was created, with the dragon on the left emerging as the dominant warrior.

A few degrees can make stone breathe fire.


This image was awarded a Top 20 commendation in the American Institute of Architects Miami Chapter’s photography competition in 2005.

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Thinking Inside the Box: The Taj Mahal

Thinking Inside the Box is an occasional series in which I talk about the making of my images.


When you’re photographing what’s widely considered to be the world’s most beautiful structure, it’s not too difficult to make a nice image. Or even a very nice image. A wide angle lens, a spot in front of the reflecting pool, hopefully in the early morning before the crowds arrive, and you’ve got it. Or perhaps a view framed by a nearby archway, again hopefully before the crowds arrive, and voilà!

But how do you move past that cliché postcard view and tell a different story?

In all the pictures I’ve ever seen of the Taj, I never really knew what it looked like. The marble, the details, the beautiful inlays – I was quite surprised actually. That was the Taj I wanted to share. So I swapped the wide angle for a telephoto.

And then there were the long lines of crowds. Undeniably part of the experience of visiting the Taj Mahal. But instead of cursing the pesky tourists and patiently standing in one spot hoping they moved past my frame, or angling the camera upward as to easily avoid them, I chose to embrace them.

And how could I not! The single file of tourists, in their bright Indian dress, turned the crowd into a colorful architectural element.

The Indian people as part of the structure. In abstraction, melding into their proudest cultural icon.

An intimate, more telling view, I hope, of what is usually only admired from afar.


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Thinking Inside the Box: Lijiang China

Thinking Inside the Box is an occasional series in which I talk about the making of my images.


In researching my tentative route around China, I consulted my trusted travel advisor, Mr. Google, with the inquiry, “the Tuscany of China.” It wasn’t that I expected, or even wanted, Italy to be literally replicated in China. But my only familiarity with the country involved the metropoli of Beijing and Shanghai. And I wondered if I might find a kinder, gentler place somewhere that embodied what I loved about the hill towns of Italy.

Mr. G. suggested that I might enjoy Chengdu. But it turned out that I wasn’t able to fit Sichuan Province into this trip.

I did instead find myself in Lijiang in Yunnan Province, an incredibly picturesque cobblestoned town with narrow winding lanes. And public squares where, if you looked past the hordes of tour groups, one could find the locals going about their business, playing cards, socializing.

In Sifang Square I spotted a group of gentlemen sitting closely together and passing the time engaged in lively conversation. It was the same exact scene that is a staple in the Italian piazza. And one that I find, for the most part, missing back in the US in our rushed existence. Dolce far niente, the sweet art of doing nothing. And these men had that sweet art down to a science.

I was particularly attracted to their expressive faces and animated interaction, and the sense that they were truly enjoying each other’s company.  I pressed the shutter button at the moment I detected an interesting variety in the directions they were facing. I chose a tight frame because what was important to me was that universal human interaction, without the distraction of the background setting.

I believe I had found la dolce vita in China after all.



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Thinking Inside the Box: Piazza San Pietro

Thinking Inside the Box is an occasional series in which I talk about the making of my images.


Suore e bambini,” I said to myself as I boarded the metro for Piazza San Pietro on Christmas morning.  “Nuns and children.”

I couldn’t help but feel some excitement as I entered the vast piazza to witness the Pope’s Christmas day address to the world’s faithful in a hundred or so languages. But I been to St. Peter’s before, and I knew that even with my 70-200mm lens, Il Papa in the window overhead would only look like a small speck.

So I decided that I would turn my camera toward the audience instead. And I’d particularly seek out what I thought would make the most interesting photographs in this sort of place, nuns and children.

As cheers erupted from various corners of the piazza as the Pope wished the world a Buon Natale and Fröhliche Weihnachten and Joyeux Noel, I wove through the crowd in search of my subjects.

Feliz Navidad… Milad Majid…

I was a bit disappointed to find relatively few nuns in attendance. Perhaps they all had to work on Christmas?

Kala Christouyenna… Feliz Natal…

But then I came across a clearing in the sea of bodies. Two young children, taking up quite a bit of valuable real estate in the crowded piazza, were sitting on the cobblestone, playful, snacking and oblivious to their surroundings.

I decided on a perspective looking slightly downward to accentuate their smallness. As well as to feature the cobblestone of the piazza and give the image a subtle sense of place. I would only include the legs and feet of the adults around them, in order to provide an abstract contrast between i bambini and those standing at attention watching the Pope.

Nothing that outwardly says “Christmas,” but even so, an attempt to capture some of the joy of Christmas day.




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Antarctica: Back to the Garden

We are stardust
We are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden”

© Joni Mitchell

I step off the plane
Welcome home

My key opens the front door
And I set my luggage down

But I am still in Antarctica

The car horns are impatiently blaring
I hear the sound of penguins calling

The streets are strewn with litter
I see icebergs scattered in the sea

The newscasts show the ravages of war and terror
I feel the tranquility of a place where only peace exists

The headlines warn of our impact on this planet
And it is clear to me…

We all have to go back to Antarctica

As for me, I haven’t left
And never will.

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Antarctica: Wish You Were Here

“19 jan 2010

12:15 pm
sailing through
the lemaire channel
currently at
64°54′ 700″ S
63°47′ 100″ W
icebergs ahead,
white on white landscapes

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Antarctica: Senza Parole

it is said
that eskimos have
a hundred different words for snow

one hundred words
and not one to express
the feeling of

spotting the very first iceberg of the journey

hearing the sudden crash of a glacier

making snow angels in an antarctic blizzard

tasting thousand year old glacial ice

watching snowflakes dance in the frigid wind

being enveloped in a panorama of white

all in a place that, for most, exists only in dreams

a hundred words
yet I remain

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Antarctica: Morning Has Broken

“Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s re-creation of the new day…”

© Eleanor Farjeon

Our wake up announcement will come at 6:00. Enough time to fight off Mr. Sandman, don layer after layer of windproof and waterproof, and muster to the zodiacs by 6:30.

But my morning begins much earlier. “Morning” in name only, as the sun never really sets this far into the southern latitudes. I race to get dressed, grab my camera, and run up to Deck 5.

As with the day before, and the day before that, I find that I have the glass-enclosed Panorama Lounge, and the Antarctic morning, all to myself.

I rush to the window. Shades of gray. I look down and see a gray sea. I look up and see a gray sky. And I look ahead and can barely make out the hint of a gray iceberg in the distance.

The color of sadness just about anywhere. Anywhere but here.

For I know this cold and gray holds life. On the ice. Beneath the sea. In the blustery wind above.

This cold and gray holds power. Inhospitable. Uninhabitable. A backdrop where one cannot help but feel so small in the grand scheme. And so blessed to be a part of it all.

And this cold and gray reminds me that I am an adventurer, that I have crossed far past the boundary line that most never imagine or dare to cross. And way beyond the possibilities I ever dreamt for myself.

I step outside, the wind is frigid and fierce. I try to steady myself against the railing, raise my camera to my eye and wonder if I can capture in the frame what I see in this cold and gray: Nothing. And everything.

In a few minutes everyone will be awake. Hopefully the wind will die down just enough so our zodiac ride won’t be canceled, and the sun will peek out just enough to make for some good photographs.

But for now, in my last moments of quietude, I can’t possibly imagine a better view in this early hour than these icy shades of gray.

Every morning is a beautiful morning in Antarctica.

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