I’ve been photographing what I call “ordinary objects” for a couple years now, featuring things like mailboxes, payphones, water fountains, trash bins and the like. I just added a Mexican mailbox to my collection over the Veterans’ Day holiday. I have objects from France, Italy, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico now.
As you may well know if you’ve followed my blog for some length of time, I like taking portraits of ordinary objects- things we see in daily life and ignore and/or take for granted, like pay phones, water fountains, traffic cones, and trash cans. I’ve photographed them in Paris, Toronto, New York, Washington DC and now Rome and Florence. They all have a common denominator of their base functionality. I think though that the Italian ones seem to have just a bit more flair and style to them – take a look and see what you think.
This fire hose connector is probably the newest thing I’ve photographed in this series – the copper connecting pipe has only just begun to oxidize!
In contrast, this trash can in Florence with cigarette butt receptacle is quite well-used, but still has style.
… as does this Roman bin across from the Capitoline hill.
The poor mailbox in Trastevere has been graffiti’d and stickered and it still soldiers on.
Don’t you wish all payphones were this glamorous (and as easy to find)? Here in DC when I went to find a payphone to photograph, it took me several days of looking before I ran into one. I saw this one on my first day in Florence.
I’ll include this because it has a very utilitarian purpose – it’s a street lamp. Granted, a 15th century street lamp attached to a palace, but a street lamp nonetheless.
A public drinking fountain. These were ubiquitous across Rome, in very much the same form, some in better and some in worse condition. But they worked, and the water was sweet and clean, always flowing, and free.
A lowly door handle – this one in particular is attached to a palace, but there were plenty to be found of similar quality on middle-class residences in both Rome and Florence.
And last but not least, a traffic cone. Well, in this case, a red granite bollard some four feet high and three-ish in diameter, in the entrance courtyard to the Palazzo Barberini.
I found this fountain with its traditional wolf’s head and SPQR inscription, both symbols of ancient Rome, in the entrance courtyard to the Centrale Montemartini museum. I suspect they’re relics of the Fascist era as the power plant was built during Mussolini’s pre-war leadership, and symbols of Imperial Rome were in very high demand.
Today, it adds a touch of tranquility to an industrial setting.
Public drinking fountains are becoming rare creatures. Even rarer are ones that work. They’re kind of like frogs – their disappearance heralds a collapse of public infrastructure the way frogs disappearing are a sign of ecological collapse. When we are no longer willing to provide safe, clean, free drinking water to the public, I think it says something about us as a society, and it’s not complimentary.
To get photo-geeky for a moment, this was shot with my usual Rolleiflex 2.8E, and to ensure I was getting the extremely narrow depth-of-field I wanted, I used Ilford PanF film, which is a very slow ISO 50, and rated it at ISO 25 for good measure. I like PanF for the extremely fine grain it provides, and it allows me to use large apertures in bright daylight, however it does get very contrasty, more than I normally would like, so processing it is tricky to keep the contrast under control.
I’ve been making a habit of photographing things we see every day but take for granted, like mailboxes and fire hydrants. I couldn’t pass up the bright yellow mailboxes of Paris, and especially not this one that has been so overtly decorated with graffiti. I think I got lucky that this one was on a dark blue background at least in part, to set it off and compliment it.
I know, I know, the hydrant from Chalon already made an appearance, but it was soooo long ago I figured you all had forgotten it, and it also fits the theme of “things”, especially brightly-colored things that we see but take for granted. So here it is.
I’ve also been photographing the bikeshare bikes in DC, so I had to take a crack at interpreting their French cousins. Unlike here in the US, the bikeshare bikes seem to be of a single universal design in France. In Paris and in Chalon they are the same design, with the same colors, the prime difference being in the logos on the rear wheel cover and the local advertising. Frankly I could have done an entire photo-essay on the bikeshare bikes but I had other things on my agenda.
Newsstands fall into that category as well, I think, of things we see but ignore. They’re very functional, and in places that have them, we tend to notice their presence/absence more than we do their form. This one is very Parisian, but with a modern twist – instead of having static broadsides plastered to the outside, now the ads are LED displays or at least rotating banners so in the span of a minute, you can see three to five different ads scrolling past.
Last but not least, here is a public drinking fountain. I tend to notice them because here in DC for the most part if they exist at all they don’t work. In the 1870s, Baron Haussmann installed public drinking fountains across the city as part of a sanitation campaign, bringing fresh, clean drinking water to everyone. The design of the fountains was suitably ornate, bringing beautification along with safety.