A six-week-long vacation led Napa, Calif.-based Barry Schwartz to a hilltop village of Panicale, Italy for a self-assigned project later featured in The New York Times, The World Through a Lens series. Barry’s photojournalistic experience and accompanying essay transport readers to one of the most charming regions of the world. As both a professional writer and photographer, the opportunity to publish a photo series and accompanying essay for a national publication was an experience Barry couldn’t let pass.
What I brought to the photos was a combination of my architectural photography skills, which is central to my practice, along with portraiture and documentary work.
Barry has worked with The New York Times in the past, but this particular project was submitted in response to a series for the Times’ Travel section, The World Through A Lens, which began after the pandemic shut down assignments for this type of work. The feature required both photos and a written essay to encapsulate the intrigue of the setting. After studying previous installments, Barry could see there was some leeway in the style and content of the writing, so he decided to make it a first-person, personal piece.
Doing a variety of work has been really helpful in keeping everything fresh, and I think that’s reflected in the images and was obviously appealing to the editors at the Times.
The Times requested Barry upload a set of full-resolution JPGs and after a couple of weeks, he was given a deadline to produce the written essay. He was assigned two editors, Phaedra Brown and Stephen Hiltner, one for photos and the other for writing, but there was a fair amount of play between the two.
Barry focused his article on the small hilltop town of Panicale, Italy, which is in Perugia, about halfway between Rome and Florence. With a piazza, four restaurants, a couple of grocery stores, several churches, and a small theatre, you can walk around the whole town in about 25 minutes. The cobblestone streets, beautiful architecture, glorious views that stretched for miles, and undeniable charm of this quintessential European town had everything a photographer could ask for.
Everywhere you look – including the fantastic views – was eye candy of a high order.
The main problem was how to avoid making my wife into a photography widow, since there was great stuff everywhere begging for documentation.
Barry and his wife Maggie spent a week in ancient Panicale, so he took advantage of every opportunity to document the place and the people who lived there. They were lent a row home owned by an old friend in the newer part of the town, which dates from the 1400s. The core of the town, including the piazza, was founded in approximately 1000 AD. He set up a tripod on the balcony and photographed the plain that stretched for miles to the north towards Castiglione del Lago and east and west for many more miles.
I had a very light rig; a Fuji XT-2, two zooms, a lightweight travel tripod, and lots of batteries and cards. While touring with a tour guide, I slowed our progress quite a bit, tailing behind to get every shot I could.
The assignment for the Times was a bit of a hybrid since it was based on existing photos of Barry’s time in the village along with a written essay. The editors seamlessly highlighted Barry’s escapade by linking the essay and captions to the images, along with the backstory of Barry and Maggie’s personal lives. Barry’s background in portraiture and architectural photography aligned well with the setting and he met some great people along his tour.
My editors, Phaedra Brown and Stephen Hiltner, sequenced the photos, edited the essay and the captions, and at every turn made me look better than I could ever have done myself.
It all turned out better than I could have imagined, especially since I had not considered doing any sort of written accompaniment to the photos until the submission made it a requirement.
The collaborative effort between Barry and The New York Times takes readers on a virtual voyage to the cobblestone streets of this twelve-hundred-year-old rural Italian town. A picturesque location that will continue to touch the hearts of Barry, Maggie, and readers for years to come.
Because this was a self assignment and it was part of a long trip with my wife, I loved the entire experience.