This is just about my favorite personal travel photo. Around 2001, Deborah and I were in Florence Italy on vacation, and for a reason I can’t defend I left the more serious camera at home and went into it with a point and shoot. I took a lot of images in two weeks, but this stood out The hotel we were staying at had a rooftop deck and in the afternoon, they served up Brunello by the glass.
For those of you who have been there, you know that as astounding as it can be Florence can easily get to be wayyyyy to much. It’s the kind of city where I was hesitant to go outside because I was afraid I was gonna break something. So it was with a great deal of pleasure I sat safely with Deborah on the deck in the late afternoon, and while holding my glass up to get a closer look at the wine, through the top of the glass I saw both Brunelleschi’s Dome and Bert Stern on the horizon. Bert Stern? Let me explain.
In the late 50’s and early 60’s Bert Stern was the original "Mad Man" of New York. He was present at the dawn of the golden age of advertising where new worlds were being created by larger than life characters. Stern was the photographer. He created visuals no one else had ever done. As a young shooter, he was offered the opportunity to photograph an ad for Smirnoff Vodka, after the amazing Irving Penn had turned down the project. For inspiration, Stern walked down 5th Ave in New York with a martini glass filled with water. He noticed when he held up the glass to the Plaza hotel the water in the glass acted as a lens and inverted the image of the hotel in the liquid. The copy on the ad was going to say “The Driest of the Dry”, and in an instant Stern decided he needed to fly to Egypt to shoot the martini glass in the desert, with the Pyramid of Giza inverted in the liquid. And so he did, and in the process he helped reinvent a new age of commercial photography. The image became a classic and has not been repeated. This is a screen capture of the image as it appeared in a Time Lightbox online story posted by Phil Bicker in 2013, the year of Stern’s death at 83. I reproduce the photo and small section of the memorial story here.
When I came of age photographically in the late sixties, this image made an indelible imprint on me. Not that I grew up to shoot in the same manner as Bert Stern, which I did not, and not because I now shoot the same kinds of subjects, which I do not, but because it helped me understand that we can look ever so closely at the world and never see it until the stars align, we get our egos out of the way and we allow ourselves the opportunity to see clearly. And there’s the rub. As commercial photographers can we get out of our own way, see clearly, and then capture it? Do that, and the world will beat a path………….
I always wanted to shoot something like that image from Bert Stern in 55. Not for money and not for fame and not for anyone but me. The dome doesn’t invert through the dark red of Brunello, but the intent is clear. A tip of the hat, and a Brunello toast to the man who understood the freedom of being able to truly see and then act upon that vision. There’s never been anything like Bert Stern, and now I got a chance to say thank you to a true original.