In the fall last year, I found myself roaming the streets of Nicosia, Cyprus, a Mediterranean island with a turbulent past, like much of the region, and still-unresolved present.
My initial, non-photographic reason for spending almost two weeks there didn’t pan out as expected, my ticket was non-refundable, and accommodation paid in advance. With nothing left to do, killing the time by roaming the streets with a camera in hand wasn’t the worst that could happen. Not all who wander are lost, as they say, and
It is a small town. Especially the old part, confined by Venetian walls. Nicoisa is the capital and administrative center, landlocked, thus lacking the usual Mediterranean charm of its seaside sister cities. I crisscrossed it several times, often passing by the same spot. It was in one of those streets that I thought I passed through earlier, perhaps from another direction, that I passed by this scene. I did actually passed by it at first. After several days of wandering around, buildings and streets tend to blend into one and the same. But something made me stop after a few steps and turn around. By that time, I’ve seen a lot of destruction, dilapidated buildings, decaying walls. You see, Nicosia is the last divided city in Europe, split into Greek and Turkish parts by oil barrels filled with sand, barbwire, makeshift barricades, military checkpoints and border crossings. Buildings in and near that zone fell in disrepair, abandoned. I’ve seen plenty of those. But there was something different about this one – a crumbling wall with a beautiful fresco still standing.
The contrast was staggering. I wasn’t even sure what the fresco was depicting or what was the original purpose of the building. A harem? Beauty salon? Regardless, the women were beautiful, the details were beautiful, the scene was beautiful. Even more so now, surrounded by destruction.
Sic transit gloria mundi
We photographers are a walking depository of useful technical information. We know which lens to use, which shutter speed, f/stop. We might even remember things like the rule of thirds, color theory, and such. We can certainly approach, analyze, and see the scene with all that in mind.
But we are also creatures shaped by our education and life experience. The world is full of visual symbols that might mean different things to different people. One of my favorite books in my younger days was Carl Gustav Jung’s “Man and His Symbols.” As I grow older, scenes of decay and destruction are having more and more profound impact on me. Once you start noticing your own decay, be it the body or soul, it is impossible not to see it elsewhere. As the years roll by, we accumulate more and more of defeats, betrayals, bad luck, abandonments. In the end, we are alone. Still standing. Not unlike Santiago, from The Old Man and the Sea, my favorite work of fiction, the story of agonizing determination and resilience against the odds.
And here we have it again: a beauty, surviving against the odds, against the environment, against politics, and in spite of human neglect. Still standing.
Equipment and Processing
Right before the trip to Europe, I got a brand new iPhone XS Max. I was so impressed by its photographic quality that I used it for 80-90% of my travel shots. This is one of those. The square format is a result of using it for a vertical panorama. The place around the structure is used as a parking lot, and I tried to avoid any of the cars surrounding it. The only solutions were to come close and use a panorama mode, holding the phone high up.
Then I felt a shame. Here I am, a “real” photographer, carrying my old shoulder bag all day long through Europe, filled with a DSLR, 24-105/4 and 70-200/4 zooms, and yet ending up with an iPhone shot!? So I pulled my “real” camera and started shooting the same scene from various angles. Ultimately, none of those shots had the impact of this one. In retrospective, I could have shot a vertical panorama with my DSLR too, but I wouldn’t be able to see the results until weeks later, without access to my desktop.
I processed it in Lightroom upon return, trying to give it a slightly distressed look, to match the scene. It is a Mediterranean island, after all, the sky was blue and the grass vibrant green in the original shot, but I wanted the sky bleak and the grass dark and dull, so that the emphasis remains on the fresco painting.