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A walk through Genoa (Genova), and a kind of photo essay on street photography

Genoa, 15 September 2006. Click on images to see enlarged version.

All photographs © 2006, Detlev Fischer. If you require files fit for printing, contact me about the conditions.

Courtyard off Via Cesare, I believe
(1) Courtyard off Via Cesare, I believe. I had eaten in the vicinity and started on my walk towards the historical centre.

Car park entrance near Via Cesarea or Vi Fiasella, Genova
(2) Car park entrance near Via Cesarea or Via Fiasella, Genova. This seems a somewhat newer part of town, a business district without any sightseeing attractions. I believe I attempted to make casual photos, showing nothing in particular, capturing the pleasant non-importance of the area.

View up Via XX Settembre and Ponte Monumentale Cesare Gamba, Genova
(3) Now we are turning left into Via XX Settembre, a main axis linking Piazza della Vittoria and Piazza de Ferrari, towards which we look. It passes below Ponte Monumentale Cesare Gamba. I believe there are stairs leading up somewhere but first the high level appears off-limits. To have street levels crossing with such a difference in altitude (appox. 25m) reminds me of Stockholm.

Clogged side street of Via XX Settembre, Genova
(4) Clogged side street of Via XX Settembre, Genova. This mess seemed somehow to capture the density and irregularity of Genoa.

Clogged side street of Via XX Settembre, Genova
(5) Clogged side street of Via XX Settembre, Genova. Some seconds later.The elder woman now leaving.

Crowd in Via XX Settembre, Genova / Genoa
(6) Crowd in Via XX Settembre, Genova.

Family on crowded Via XX Settembre, Genoa
(7) Family (tourists?—probably) on crowded Via XX Settembre.

Pedestrians crossing Via XX Settembre into a side street, possibly Via D. Fiasella.
(8) Pedestrians crossing Via XX Settembre into a side street, possibly Via D. Fiasella. Between people you can make out a beggar on his knees, backed up against the wall.

Looking into Via Maragliano from Via XX Settembre. You can see an anique rug shop called Gerbi.

Old Konja rug.
(8a) Looking into Via Maragliano from Via XX Settembre. You can see the delicate neon sign of an anique rug shop called Gerbi – tappeti orientali. I can never resist such a shop.

I spent an hour looking at rugs, especially at an old Konya long rug with shaggy pile and octagonal guls enclosing simple squares with angular inward-facing hooks extending beyond the corners, coloured in permutations of a wide range of rather soft shades, with large areas repiled decades ago with flat synthetic dyes which had since faded to tones such as greyish pistaccio, pale mauve, or a shabby apricot, an apricot that was certainly not madder-based.

In other words, either a rug to cherish the way it is, history having left its mark and given more scope and heterogenity to a design that would usually derive its strength from just a few clear dyes—the madder reds, the quercentin yellow, the indigo blue, the green mixing the two former, and perhaps a dark brown that may be the colour of dark sheep's wool. Or—and this was what the shop owner professed to be going to do—to send it to Turkey for extensive repiling and then sell it as authentic reconstruction ("just the way it is intended to be") to a collector at perhaps around €8000.

I took some photos to elicit the interest of one or two rug dealers I know, just to see whether they would be prepared to pay anything at or above the sum that the dealer was asking for the rug in unrestored condition, as is. In which case I might get my contact in Genoa to buy it and ship it to me so I could sell it on. It turns out the bad dyes were an effective deterrent to a purchase, both were not interested. I imagine if you subtract the cost of repiling in Turkey, and lower your price expectations quit a bit because of the very extent of repiling that the rug will have suffered, there is no or little margin left. They wouldn't go to great lengths to re-create the abrash by mixing different dyes, and won#t achieve the same mellowness of the long-staple wool.

I realise this has turned into a rug parenthesis—more rug stuff here
, now let's carry on with the photographs and the walk.

Pedestrian crossing. In the background a bridge with Generali lettering on top seen from Via XX Settembre
(9) Pedestrian crossing. In the background a bridge with Generali lettering on top seen from Via XX Settembre.

Scheduled and sightseeing buses on Via XX Settembre, Genova
(10) Scheduled and sightseeing buses on Via XX Settembre, Genova.

Man holding envelop in Via XX Settembre, Genoa
(11) Man holding envelope in Via XX Settembre. Too much of a typical people snapshot to be very likeable. It reminds me of the type of photos that used to be in a German magazine, 'Radius', for which my parents had a subscription in the Seventies. Photos were all b&w, and always made a point –: 'good' photography, le moment juste. They were from all over the world, following that 'family of man' ideology which was quite influential. There was nothing muddied or ambiguous, it was clear joy, clear evil, clear misery or clear beauty. Many shots seemed to indict the coldness of modern civilisation, and as many wanted to show that forms of agreeable human life still existed. Many shots were supposedly funny, like the shadow of a net on the bald head of a monk. I fear this magazine had some impact on my taste, has left early impressions hard to rid oneself off.

Television interview under the arcades of Piazza de Ferrari
(12) Television interview under the arcades of Piazza de Ferrari. Is this a proper television team, or are these media students working on an assignment? The way the guy holds the camera tells me these are not pros, but I may be wrong. They certainly don't look like anti-globalisation activsts or similar. For proper media people, they seem too young and not jaded enough (sorry for the cliche).

Television interview under the arcades of Piazza de Ferrari
(13) Television interview under the arcades of Piazza de Ferrari. My muddied reasoning was that those who capture others must be content to be captured. Representing 'the media', anyone of them maybe does not dare to be media-shy. The young woman seems to hide slight discomfort under the mask of a smile.

Bus stop near Piazza de Ferrari (Via XXV Aprile), Genova
(14) The onset of rain: people find shelter under the arcades near Piazza de Ferrari / Via XXV Aprile, waiting for their bus or for the rain to subside.

Young woman smoking while waiting for the bus near Piazza de Ferrari
(15) A young woman in (fashionable?) dungarees smoking while waiting for the bus. Her face (which I never saw fully from the front) seems interesting, rough and energetic.

Men under the arcades near Piazza de Ferrari / Via XXV Aprile
(16) Also sheltering from the rain, these two were a strange couple, the've clearly known each other for a long time. The one with the mobile phone still pursuing some business (fringe business?); the other looks as if he has given up hope of playing any active role in society. An onlooker, possibly with a history of abuse and mental illness? But all this is silly conjecture. The fact that these are not likely to find themselves on the internet, and even less likely to perceive their inclusionh here as an infringement of their personal rights, makes it so easy to reproduce shots like this one. It again begs the question how to draw the line between 'street photography with some people in it' and 'people photography' where the consent of the photographed (not necessarily in advance of taking the picture) seems ethically much superior to the stalking approach I have applied.


(17) This image of a woman talking to a nun would again have been the stuff of Radius magazine, which I am pretty sure does not exist anymore. Only that it would have to be "more to the point", more rarified, perhaps cropped differently. I should render this in b&w to test whether it is Radius-magazine-compatible (I leave the magnified image in colour).

Black umbrella vendor pacing down in Via XXV Aprile
(18) Moving down Via XXV Aprile, a hasty shot captures this black umbrella vendor pacing down in Via XXV Aprile. Photographs of beggars or people making a living by selling wares on the street are always perceived as awkward, perhaps out of some guilt that the object of photography is not recompensated, and also because this briefest sentiment seems to mask the unavoidable (but quickly repressed) imagination of some seemingly eternal awkwardmess of the precarious economic position. Most umbrella vendors are black, most are much younger. This one seems to carry long umbrellas; more often, vendors have a bunch of small collapsible umbrellas hanging from their wrists.

Arcades of Via XXV Aprile, Genova
(19) The Arcades of Via XXV Aprile allow me to hide in relative darkness behind a pillar; people entering are unaware, or look out into the rain (which also means it is difficult to capture their faces and front, unless they turn around; and in that case, the stalking can appear very obvious and embarrassing). Then the solution is playing a comedy of the tourist caught out by the rain pretending to wait for an unobstructed view of the buildings across. Some temporarily assumed numbness towards my own qualms, and the vague expactation of some big reward in the form of 'an excellent snapshot' keeps me in this shameful mode. The old man carrying a bag looks like one of many skinny 'expressive' characters that remind of the old men in Leonardo's studies, for example, (after a quick googling), Five Characters in a Comic Scene.

Young and affluent Genovese meeting in Via XXV Aprile
(20) Young and affluent Genovese meeting in Via XXV Aprile. The rain has already subsided. They are so absorbed in their chance meeting that they pay no attention to the photographer. The fact that they are young, rich and well groomed makes it easier to reproduce this image here. Why? Because I suspect that if they found their image here, they would be unlikely to object (prove me wrong)—I imagine they actually might be as pleased as when they spot their reflection passing an antique mirror in some relative's palazzo or villa. When unseen and completely at ease (the latter I imagine to be their predominant state), they will stop and smile at themselves and then trace their face line with a caressing finger, recognising with a hint of well-educated shame the power and glory with which their social background and the favours of nature have invested their appearance.


(21) Via Roma vs. Piazza Manin, a long axis of sight.

Man entering a car at Piazza Fontane Marose, Genova
(22) Man entering a car at Piazza Fontane Marose, Genova. This place already receives a stifling hint from the world heritage Via Garibaldi (leading to Via Cairoli) that starts in the background (off towards the left).

Piazza Fontane Morose
(23) Piazza Fontane Marose. I believe the Banco di Sardegna is housed in the Spinola Palace. My fifty-year-old city guide (from which the tour map to the right is scanned (I have merged two, actually) tells me that the name goes back to a fountain that is long gone, but there is (or was, 50 years ago) a placque from the year 1206 inscribed "Fontis Marosae antiquitus appellatae". The Spinola palace could still be visited 50 years ago.

The photograph of Piazza Fonte Marose below shows a bit more of the Palazzo Spinola—compare a scan from my old tourist guide book.
Piazza Fontane Morose today, Palazzo Spinosa in the background
Palazzo Spinola and Piazza Fonte Marose 50 years ago.

Tourists in Via Garibaldi - one taking a picture with her digicam.
(24) Tourists in Via Garibaldi—one taking a picture with her digicam. I had been told this was the most interesting place to visit, with many old palazzos and two museums, one of them showing old Flemish and Italian painters. I found the street itself not so interesting, was put off by the pompousness of the buildings, the flags, the stifling world heritage atmosphere. The light was particularly dull in this street, at this time of day, in this weather (clouds that would eventually build up to a thunderstorm). The wetness of the stone floor and the reflections of tourists in it are not much more than photographic ornament. I do not like this picture, but I leave it in. At least it deals with the way tourists represent themselves in these surroundings. But this in itself does not explain anything, beyond serving the cliche of documenting one's existence in front of some heritage sight. In general, people seem to care little about the specifics of the site, which is full understandable because it usually bears no relation to their own lives and interests. I think the heritage signal works more like a reminder that some pic should be taken from time to time. Given the narrowness of the street, the palazzos themselves are very difficult to capture anyway.

Via Garibaldi, looking down a sie street into the Centro Storico of Genova
(25) Via Garibaldi, looking down a side street into the Centro Storico of Genova. One of the vendors has just spotted me. I usually checked the image I had made, and found these gazes into the camera (or through it into my eyes) while the people were still around. This seemed strange; the checking of the recorded image seems to indicate a kind of ablation or redemption since the image is no longer tied to the living referent. It becomes a thing of the past. At the same time, the anticipated dirty look will find no match or response—just the absorbed tourist-amateur obsessed with a bit of technology. But this is a reconstruction of what happens—on a personal level, there is just a pale and fuzzy bluntness, or ignorance of shame. The shame gets to the legs, in terms of a numb and dream-like style of ambling.

Blank image
(26) There is one image that I am too hesitant to include: that of a young couple sitting halfway up some stairs descending onto Via Cairoli, eating chips and having a soft drink. I was intrigued by the stern looks of the woman and really wanted a photograph. To make it less obviously, I did not raise the camera to my eyes, just kept it hanging round my neck at belly height and tried to point into the right direction. Then she spotted me a split second before I pressed the shutter, and eyed the camera with hostility. This gaze has been captured, and I can't look at it without profound unease. (The image is actually slightly out of focus.) I imagine she must have seen the dark twich in the lens, when the shutter opens, and knew they had been caught. I did not dare look at her afterwards. I kept imagining on that day that she would soon unerringly discover the photo on this page (should I publish it) and object rather strongly—in what terms, I did not contemplate.

Via Cairoli
(27) A turn to the right, looking down Via Cairoli.

Pedestrians at Via Bensa
(28) Pedestrians at Via Bensa. I have been intrigued more than once by the way the red traffic light forces peoply to line up and involuntarily pose.

Stairs near or at Via Bensa, Genoa
(29) Via Bensa, a pan further to the right, people crossing the same crossing (or one further up?), now the stairs are visible. The way these darkened stone structures pile up is somehow impressive, especially where Via Bensa approaches the dark cavity of the Galeria Garibaldi tunnel.

Via Bensa, a pan further to the right, where it approaches the Galeria Garibaldi tunnel
(30) Via Bensa, a pan still further to the right, where houses pile up and seem to lean over darkly where the street approaches the Galeria Garibaldi tunnel. A young guy came running in my direction.

Via Balbi leading towards the Stazione Principale
(31) Moving away from the darkness of the tunnel, a nice vista suddenly opens up, of straight Via Balbi sloping down and then leading up again towards Stazione Principale; behind it, we see layers of houses set against the wooded mountains encircling the city. To the right, the columns of Chiesa della SS. Annunziata (17th century)—as my guide book tells me. But there is little more to say about it. I stopped very briefly to take the photo, and look at it only now more closely. I decided to go down towards the strada sopraelevata (the elevated road that follows the costline) instead of heading straight for the station. People were beginning to shot worried glances towards the clouds, which got darker by the minute.

Bus stop Via Bensa, Genova
(32) Bus stop Via Bensa, Genova.

strada sopraelevata, Genova
(33) Trotting down Via delle Fontane towards the water's edge and the port area extending its fingers into the sea, you hit the Strada Sopraelevata, a massive construction running along the coastline all the way through the city. It is actually a good rain protection and I believe people may just learn to forget about it since it is not on their level of activity and therefore does not interfere that much.

People waiting for the bus at Via A. Gramsci, and eyeing the approaching thunderstorm
(34) People waiting for the bus at Via A. Gramsci, and eyeing the approaching thunderstorm. The bus I then entered before I was squeezed out after two stops was the fullest I have ever experienced.

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