Rome Travel Guide

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Taking Photos in Rome? Watch Out!

The photos on this page have no common subject matter, but they are related: all were taken within 48 hours, and--more important--all produced criticism, or concern, from people around us, whether they were in the frame or not. 

The first photo was taken in Pigneto, during a public event called Citta' Aperta (Open City).  In this instance, I was photographing a street sign on which street artists had done some work.  As I was taking it, a woman in the distance--about 100 feet away--got up from a bench, waved her arms and yelled "no foto, no foto."  I explained that I was photographing the sign, not her, and she calmed down. 

The second photo was taken across the street from our apartment in via Palasciano, near Piazza San Giovanni di Dio.  The subject was a large banner/sign of Jesus that covered most of the back wall of a small car-washing business.  As I took the photograph, the proprietor or employee emerged, concerned about what I was doing.  Dianne explained, but his unease remained.

Later, on a walk in the neighborhood, we turned down what turned out to be a dead-end street, passing an older man walking a Dalmatian-like dog on a leash.  Working our way back to the main street, I took the third photograph, of a building whose rounded balconies I found intriguing.  The dog-walker was upset, asking what I was doing, and he was not mollified by my explanation that I found the building's curves compelling.  As his dog barked and snarled, he said with vehemence and obvious irritation that we couldn't
Looks like an "abusivo"--an illegal addition--on the
third level
take such photographs.  When I asked him if it was against the law, he said yes, of course it was, and he twice asked us, still irritated and rubbing in whatever authority he (and his dog) possessed, if we understood what he was saying. 

The next day, while reading La Repubblica over morning coffee, I discovered that Ermanno Polla, a professor of architecture, had similar experiences while carrying out a study of Rome's buildings.  Polla's project was to photograph, chart, and draw every façade of every building within the city's walls, which he did over a 17-year period.  "So many negative comments," he said in the interview with a reporter.  "People said to me, 'What are you doing here?  Why are you taking photographs?"  Although the chair of his department had written a letter for Polla explaining his purpose and reinforcing that he wasn't an impostor--and Polla had made thousands of copies to distribute--"only a few trusted me and invited me into the entrances halls or courtyards." 

Much suspicion.  Too much. 

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