#602. The Road to Montechiari

By pascaljappy | Travel Photography

Jun 02

This is a lovely guest post by Jens Kotlenga devoted to a topic that really inspires us here on DS :un-destination. Jens is an educator by profession, a traveller by choice and a photographer by heart. He picked up photography from his parents and started doing commercial work in his teens, photographing at proms and weddings to earn pocket money. After graduating from high school he could not make up his mind to pursue photography as a career. He opted for degrees in English literature and History instead. Fortunately though, throughout his career he has been able to derive synergies from all three fields he passionately cares about.

After living for lengthy periods in Southern Africa and South-East Asia, Jens is currently based in Germany. Jens’ website is jens-kotlenga.com. Thank you very much Jens !


Tucked away in a little corner of Tuscany, about fifty kilometres south east of Siena, lie the Crete Sienese and Val D’Orcia. Both probably embody best what is typical for Tuscany in terms of its landscape: rolling hills, winding dirt roads leading to rustic farmhouses, country lanes planted with rows of cypress and pine trees.



I discovered this landscape on a photographic masterclass with Bruce Barnbaum and Alexander Ehhalt last October, and ever since I have wanted to return. I chose the late spring, when the land would be a lush green after the spring rains, as this would contrast nicely with the barren landscape I had seen and photographed in autumn. And this time around the focus would be less on photography and more on exploring the area on foot together with my wife, an avid hiker. For a fortnight we rented part of an old farmhouse at Montechiari, a hill with 360° panoramic views, just outside of the village of Torrenieri.



Although this trip was supposed to be a strictly non-photographic one, I often set my alarm clock to about half an hour before sunrise and managed to sneak out of the house for an early morning shoot. And yes, I did return to some of the classic photographic settings. But this time around I also wanted to find out whether there is a photographic life beyond Belvedere, Terrapille, Vitaleta and Cipressi. Inspired by philberphoto’s post #579 on DS, I decided to investigate the possibilities of turning Tuscany into a non-destination for me.



So instead of rushing off in the direction of Pienza or San Quirico d’Orcia in the mornings I simply put on my hiking shoes, walked past the car and turned into the road that leads up to the hill we were sitting on. And thus I had found my theme: The Road to Montechiari.



During the time I spent on the hill, I explored the various roads leading there. They range from rugged gravel covered in fine dust to footpaths through woodland, tractor trails leading into the maze of fields and past olive groves. I limited myself to what was within an easy morning walk of no more than about four kilometres away, and to what I could find within a few metres of the road. I tried to reduce the landscape to its most basic aspects: textures, lines, shapes, contrasts – and to try and capture something quintessential of the landscape in each photograph.



As these jaunts were supposed to be all fun and no stress I left the tripod at home and settled for taking with me just the compact 35 and 90mm Summicron-Ms for my Sony FF. Occasionally these were accompanied by an Elmarit-R 180mm on the long side and a Voigtlander VM 15mm to cover the wide angles. No more, no less.



And thus I found my surroundings and the resulting photographs to be singularly un-iconic and in the sense of philberphoto’s definition as I understand it: un-destination. They show a random collection of signs, roads, pathways, fences, clouds, trees, fields. Nothing that will ever make it onto a postcard or into a calendar. And yet I trust that some of them do convey what I have come to feel to be the genius loci of these quiet and unobtrusive landscapes.



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  • Scott Edwards says:

    Excellent images – thanks for sharing.

  • Fabrizio Giudici says:

    PS. “Crete Sienese” -> “Crete Senesi”…

  • philberphoto says:

    Wow! What a great post! And the pictures! You should see my face, I am green with envy! One thing is missing, though. When one is as inspired as you claim to have been, somes things need doing. Where the hell is my commission???? (preferably in wine from Tuscany, of course).
    Still some pictures are absolutely fabulous, iconically un-iconic, in philberspeak. Especially with bales of hay and cable poles. Don’t worry, it means nice..:-)

  • Sean says:

    This is a well considered, thoughtful and accomplished piece of work. Well done.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Much as I love the iconic places, things etc that tourists lust after, there’s a great deal to be said for the “alternative” form of tourism. Getting to hell out of the major cities and finding a nice spot somewhere in a particular country that enables you to at least pretend for a while that you’re “living like one of the natives”.

    There will always be tourists who “see the world through the viewfinder of a Kodak Instamatic” (the 20th century equivalent of shooting everything in sight with a cellphone on a selfie stick), but experience NOTHING and go home no wiser or better informed than when they rocked up at the boarding gate, to fly out.

    Your shots reveal a new understanding, an empathy with Tuscany, that far too many “tourists” will never see or experience. Thanks for sharing them, Jens.

  • Werner Mäder says:

    Great shots. I like the non-destinations much more than the artificial landscapes some photographs take home from Tuscany. Thanks for publishing them here with your very personal text.

  • Fabrizio Giudici says:

    The post is very interesting, as usual. Fun enough, I was there (actually, a few kilometres south) a couple of weeks ago.

    I second Jean Pierre. I’ve been there for a number of years, recently with some regularity. I’ve seen tons of photographers along paved roads among the major villages; even some “serious” ones, I mean people setting up the tripod, so they weren’t for a point-and-shoot. I’ve even met a just married couple doing their wedding photo set. But I mainly drive through white roads, and in contrast they are mostly deserted. Some are part of a network of hiking paths (via Francigena) and they are frequented by hikers – but the number of photographers I’ve seen on those roads in years can be counted on the fingers of a single hand.

    Also, most people concentrate on well known places, but don’t spend time for wandering around… no curiosity, really. There are surrounding areas that – at the eyes of a photographer – are still filled with interesting stuff, and would offer subjects with less risks of being “iconic” – sure you wouldn’t shot the millionth photo of the same perspective that you can see published everywhere… but they are deserted.

    And they are not hard to reach. A good bunch of white roads don’t require 4WD, with a bit of caution you can drive there with any car…

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