In an interesting change of family-visit route from Oxford to Northern Italy, I recently had the opportunity to spend 3 days in Milan, where the world-famous Salon de mobile (International Furniture Fair) was being held. This is one of the world’s busiest events. Hotels were packed and, to say that the driving experience was the worse I have ever experienced, is a very mild understatement. But, on Monday morning, the city seemed to empty of professional travelers, leaving its center in the hands of the now-ubiquitous selfie-sticks and follow-me umbrellas.
So, these 3 days let me sample a very interesting mix of scenery ranging from the inner courtyards of designer boutiques that had opened-up to the public during the Design Week, to the Ferrari-lined luxury-shopping Mecca Via Montenapoleone, to the tourist magnet Duomo and adjacent galleries and, of course, the stunningly impressive FieraMilano, host to the international fair.
Over the next few days, I will post short series of photographs of each of these areas along with some explanations and a discussion of what to make of such areas from a photographic point of view. We will also shortly be publishing a free sample InSight: Milano guide to give readers and guest writers an idea of what these self-guided photo walk guides are about.
In today’s installment, let’s cover the “Classic furniture” hall of the show.
Stepping inside one of the venue’s 10 immense hangars is like stepping inside a dream in the movie Inception. Or inside the lost city of Khazad Dum (although I’d prefer to keep this comparison for El Duomo, in a future post): walk to the middle and look arround or above you and the sheer dimensions of each building will stagger you.
The Classic furniture hall, while not the one I’d go for to decorate my home, is probably the most interesting visually and the best to find perfectly laid out and perfectly lighted scenes waiting to be captured in camera.
Just like amusement parks (Euro Disney, or Harry Potter studios), that sort of venue is like a never-ending source of scenes from a film, well put together, beautifully lit and totally out of the ordinary, a least for me. Also interesting is the fact that no one seems to care with anyone pointing a huge lens as pro shooters and journalists abound.
Does that make the place easy to shoot ? Nope. Not really.
Lighting, as sweet as it is, leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to intensity. So you’ll be using slow exposures (some photographers were using tripods) or high ISO. Not that it matters all that much, given how well modern cameras deal with the issue, but noteworthy for those in search of the ultimate file quality.
Then, there’s the matter of gear. While pros are allowed to use zoom lenses to bring back the goods and feed their families, it is one of the unwritten but unescapable laws of the universe that we lowly amateurs should steer clear of those if we want to learn and get better. A 35mm would probably have suited the location very well. But given my infatuation with a certain 85/1.4 which will be reclaimed by its owner anytime, I was carrying the mighty OTUS with me. 85mm with no room move about and with plenty of obstacles, not easy. Finally, and most importantly, there’s the photographer.
It is so very easy to forget all that we have learned over the years when faced with a novel subject.
Success in photography comes when we are able to forget about the nature of the subject and simply see in it matter to create pleasing, interesting or message-shaping imagery. Atmosphere should count more than detail. Intent should trump technical mastery.
Did I succeed in this ? Partly. Some of these photographs speak to me. Serenity, grandeur, decadence. Others not so much, and these could never be published in a mag or hang in a gallery.
Which is why it is so important to visit out-of-the-ordinary places and challenge ourselves with new subject matter. Doing so renders technical reviews totally unimportant (although who can deny the extraordinary colour and volume rendition of the OTUS here ?) and helps us focus on the real issues that hinder progress.
I will therefore continue my Italian introspection session with more furniture, design and history in the coming days 🙂 Of the above photos, which do you prefer ?
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The one with the flowers and the one underneath – I would call it a wash.
Thanks Volker. The one with the flowers and the one with the fat chair next to the lamp are probably the 2 with the most atmosphere, for me.
I love the one with the red chair next to the lamp. I enjoy the vibrant colours and flow of the composition drawing my eye from chair to lamp to painting and round and round. The image has a quiet, comfortable, warm feeling. Brian
Thanks Brian. The bottom one and the horse heads were my favourites intitially, but the fat chair with the lamp is growing on me too and is becoming my favourite as well. Cheers, Pascal.
For myself the images 2,3, and 4 catch my eye. Though each would need a little cropping, or adjustments, to really keep my attention and spike my WOW factor. I understand you did not have much of any room to do things differently, though here are my thoughts for the conversation.
In image 2, I have two thoughts. First would be to add a little room to the right and bottom edges. The arm of the chair and the bases of the pyramids seem a bit cramped.
The second thought for image 2 is to crop deeper into the right side to remove the curve or the arm and its reflection. This would make the image more about repetition of shapes than just about the pyramids.
In image 3. I also have two thoughts, and both involve cropping from the top. My first thought would be to crop from the top until the curve of the glass beads comes to a sharp point on the left side. This makes the image more about shapes while leaving some sense of place.
My second view of image 3 is to crop further from the top until the long glass beads at the bottom of the curve are removed, making the image almost square. Then the symmetry of the overall image highlights the symmetry of the light with the chair back below it and also helps make the asymmetry of the table and the bowl stand out. This abstracts the image a bit more for the shapes and almost removes the sense of place.
In image 4, I simply would crop the right side and possibly from the top to remove the bright spot at the right edge of the frame and the black shape below it. To me these are negative distractions. Though I do have mixed feeling about this action, as it might make the space around the sofa and flowers seem a bit cramped.
Thanks for posting these images. This type of imagery is not that common on many of the sites I read.