Sharing My Orvieto
By Bert Behnke
Orvieto...the name alone makes me smile and want to go back.
Do you remember the first time you put a sheet of paper into a mysterious solution and watched magic appear under a dim yellow light? That was when photography first became magical to me. Of course, for those of you under thirty-five, that magical moment was when you downloaded your images and put them into PhotoShop--same feeling, different generation! Such feelings can also extend to events and places that become tied to your very soul through photography. That's where "my Orvieto" comes in.
So what was the reason I had to travel here with friends? Orvieto Fotografia was celebrating its tenth anniversary as the congress of the Italian Federation of Photography (FIOF). This year, they were featuring speakers from China and the United States. Because I had been attending since 2001, the organizing group asked me to recommend speaker names.
This year the FIOF asked Sante D'Orazio, the renowned New York fashion photographer and creator of fine art books (featuring Pamela Anderson and various supermodels) to be a featured presenter. They also scored a major coup by having the legendary Robert Frank agree to appear. Frank's book "The Americans" is a cultural phenomenon, one of the most sought-after books in photography. His associations with Henri Cartier Breeson and Jack Keruoac, as well as his historic movie of the early Rolling Stones (which has been all but buried in lawsuits for 40 years) are just part of his legend.
So who did I bring to the party? Well, I'm PPA all the way, so I invited PPA President Dennis Craft to attend and open American Day with a short welcome speech and presentation of PPA's top images, the ASP Loan Show.
The conference itself is a smaller version of what you might see in the U.S., but it is altogether a different experience. It started on Thursday when I helped set up the digital print competition (in its fifth year). I serve as their jury president and run the on-site judging for the FIOF. This year, they had almost 2000 entries--up from 1300 last year! The week before, the Italians held a pre-judging and selected about 900 images for us to judge on Friday. The big job ahead was made easier knowing that the judges are always willing to work together.
On Thursday evening, I met the judges over dinner and wine. Along with my Italian friends, who usually make up about half the panel, were some people I either had not met or had not judged with. They included Pascal Baetens, the well-known Belgian figure photographer and Augusto Pieroni, the magazine art critique from Rome. Joe Oppedisano, from Verona via Brooklyn, was a breath of fresh air to the panel, as was my friend Vincent O'Byrne, the award-winning Irish photographer (with whom I usually talk politics until the wee hours). Canadian commercial photographer Dave Montizambert was back with his great style, and Umberto Stefanelli, one of my favorite photographic artists and friend, was there to share his unique perspective. All of this international talent in one place...and I got to be a part of it!
After a long Friday spent judging, Saturday was my day to stroll around Orvieto, share it with some friends, and await the arrival of the Crafts. I was looking forward to seeing Orvieto through their eyes. After lunch, I went to the final judging, where the five category winners were awarded 1000 Euros each and the overall winner received 5000 Euros. Twelve of us looked at entries representing the Portrait, Commercial, Wedding, Open, and Reportage categories. After long discussions and a secret ballot vote, the judges awarded the overall winner to Graziano Panfili, a photojournalist from Italy.
As I entered the elevator to leave the judging, I came face-to-face with the Crafts, tired from the overnight flight, but excited to be in Italy. We decided to see a bit of Orvieto and have dinner together that night. I guided Dennis, his wife Lori, our good friend Janie Cross and Cindy, my better half, throughout Orvieto (and now I'm doing it for all of PPA). There is no hustle-and-bustle, only life in the wonderful, Umbrian style. As we strolled the cobblestone streets and saw the many colorful storefront displays, they took in every sight, sound and aroma. They were experiencing my magical place, "my Orvieto."
Dinner was at L'Una d luva, a restaurant my friend Gina owns...and cooks every meal. I met Gina about four years ago, and I even brought one of my seminars to her restaurant to demonstrate location photography (she was my subject). We speak different languages, but we have developed a friendship derived from my art and hers, photography and cuisine. So I sat back as Dennis and Lori, along with Cindy and Janie, experienced an Italian meal that I had begun to take for granted. Yes, they were experiencing what I had: "my Orvieto."
Sunday was our big day. Dennis and I arrived at 9:15am as directed, along with Sante D'Orazio and Robert Frank. But, as is Italian custom, things were pushed back a little. So at 10:30am, FIOF President Licia Papini welcomed the attendees before introducing Mark Smith, the Cultural AttachÃ© from the United States Embassy. What a great surprise--our government had sent a VIP to introduce the PPA President and I! After his welcoming remarks, I introduced PPA President Craft to a loud welcome. His warm and welcoming address to the Italians set a great tone for American Day: The Loan Collection, D'Orazio, Frank and PPA!
That night the American party featured a rock band, great food, and drinks, while Dennis and I handed out PPA pins, DVDs, t-shirts from PPA Charities, and caps--a big hit with the Italians.
With our job mostly complete, we borrowed a car and rode to Perugia, home of Italian chocolate. Again, I was able to experience Italy through the eyes of somebody new. The mountains, the castles, and the beautiful olive groves and grapevines made for a marvelous day. That night we returned for the awards presentation and the gala dinner that ends the conference--another night of great food, great wine, and great friends. Another year at Orvieto Fotografia, and a year to remember through the eyes of friends.
Before I could even get settled back home, e-mails were arriving from new friends we'd met. I've already begun making plans to go back in 2009. We'll probably organize a trip to Orvieto Fotografia for American photographers and some special seminars, too. If you want to be a part of it, contact me at email@example.com.
In the meantime, go to www.orvietofotografia.org and check out the images from this year. When you're ready to go, let me know--I can't wait to see it through your eyes!