Piemme, Bologna, 2006

Piemme, Bologna, 2006: the story behind the image

As ever, on an autumn trip to Bologna, I veer off the beaten track and dive down into the back streets. I’ve come here just to spend some time photographing an Italian city. The weather is cool and misty, typical north Italy in late October, and the colours are all suitably muted, the locals are wrapped up in scarves and overcoats and I’ve had enough of tasteful architecture. I need to find something a little more gritty.

So I take off at random down a down at heel side street, not really expecting to see too much. Then this. I remember feeling quite overwhelmed by the blue and didn’t really notice anything else for a while. But as I stood and looked, all the other components came together – the scooter, the garish poster, the clashing blue parking sign and the various bits of peeling paint, graffiti and official stickers.

I knew I had to take this photograph. The garage had resonances, albeit with an overlay of Italian patina, of the industrial and commercial dilapidation of Manchester’s Northern Quarter that I had been photographing for a while.

I think nowadays I would aim to frame it rather more carefully and include the full height of those bollards, and the entire wheel on that scooter. But the street wasn’t all that wide with no room to step back much further.

So I took the photograph, and moved on. Just one frame. Just one! I’d take a good few more to make sure these days. Anyway the mechanics shut away inside were starting to look at me rather suspiciously, so I waved at them and walked off down the street.

Piemme, Bologna, 2006

Is the picture just about the colour? Is there enough there to keep the eye going after the shock of the blue has faded? (Even though after so many years I still find that blue riveting.) I think there is: the detail around the door requires careful study. Just checking out the certificates on the glass doors takes a while. Puzzling out the closing down sale advert in that lurid green. Realising the bollards mark the edge of the motorbike park. Admiring the spanners in the banner over the door. Checking out how the electricity supply wire runs carefully round the edge of the paintwork.

And the doors. The epitome of back street garages the world over. You just know the metal doors will squeak when you open them, and you’ll be amazed that the workshop is big enough to house a car to work on. But compared to the purpose built units on the edge of town – this is small beer and possibly not long for this world.

Of all the pictures I took that week in Bologna (some more in this gallery), this is my favourite. The blue and the studied decay in the quiet autumn light makes it for me, a portrait of a way of working that’s largely disappeared from big cities. Imagine what it would have looked like freshly painted – the colour and optimism of a new business, both fading away over the years.

If nothing else, it showed me I had made the right decision with the new lens.

Despite my misgivings about talking too much about camera settings and other configuration matters which aren’t too important, these are the bits of technical information about this picture some folk find useful:

  • Camera: Canon 350D
  • Lens: Canon EF 24-105mm f4 IS
  • ISO: 200
  • Exposure: 1/15 at f4.0 (handheld)
  • I use Lightroom and NIK software for sharpening and noise reduction.

More back stories

Late bar, Venice, 2008

The story behind the image. By daylight the scene is nothing to write home about. But at night, nearly midnight, all those extraneous elements and colours just disappeared, and the atmosphere of the Venetian night took over.
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The Fin, 2011

Way back in 2011, I was fascinated by the buildings in Manchester – mainly the Victorian and Edwardian commercial architecture. There was lots to go at, and much that was in an attractive state of dilapidation. But there’s lots of modern buildings too and I regret not photographing more while I was there.
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Time’s Arrow, 2016

The story behind the image. There was something about the line of gravestones not just leading to the door but also taking you back in time as you walk along beside them.
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Distant Horizons, 2019

Sometimes, when you take a photograph, you know immediately what it’s about. Other times, you’re not so sure. This was one of those times.
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