Sunday, July 13, 2014

Travelogue 3: I Dreamed of Rome

In the early afternoon of June 19th, I landed in Rome. No matter how much I prepare, traveling to a new destination always upends my sense of routine. With just a short plain ride, my everyday life dissolves and I find myself happily disoriented in an open town square staring at a 2,000-year-old Egyptian obelisk. At every turn I find the small differences from my other existence. Tremendous doors everywhere, churches constructed centuries ago, narrow pathways that open up to glorious piazzas. It's a dizzy teleportation trick.

Piazza del Popolo
Egyptian Obelisk at the Piazza del Popolo, Rome
There's nothing like getting lost in one of Rome's constricted walkways and streets. You snake your way around narrow streets lined with shops, going God knows where, only to be rewarded by the open sight of a tremendous piazza.  It's a sweet startle to suddenly find Piazza Navona greeting you with Bernini's fountain. My favorite experience has always been the Pantheon: life teeming all about in random patterns, people meandering in their own unworried direction, licking gelato, pointing, taking pictures, holding hands.

Pantheon, Rome
Pantheon, Rome
Rome is veined with small streets and alleyways. Follow the map loosely, but better to stumble into her secrets. Down one cobblestone street I found a bunch of quaint little storefront cafes and gelatterie; another turn I found a faceless church that just so happened to shelter three gobsmacking murals by Caravaggio. I passed Hadrian's Temple twice before I realized what it was. It remained hidden in open view, and it humbled me.

Temple of Saturn
Temple of Saturn
The Via Del Corso is a straight shot from Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia. I walked that distance and even further to the Baths of Caracalla (madness - walking that distance and the immensity of those baths). Along the way, ancient ruins, abandoned antiquities naked to the elements, the restored villa of Augustus, the remains of a weather worn column, or a temple.

Augustus' Villa, Interior
Augustus' Villa, Interior
The map instructed me to turn right. "It can't be here", I thought, "right next to The Gap?"  It was eroded and overgrown with green, its perimeter girded with high iron gates. But there it was: the tomb of Augustus. It was one of the things I so wanted to enter and explore despite its shambled state, but instead I had to appreciate the stinging irony of a tomb which once housed one of the most famous Roman emperors, baking under an ageless sun with a clothing retailer as its neighbor.

All the ruins strewn among the modernity, Rome better than any place on earth can tell you permanence has a price, but better that than gone forever.

Either way, I still think I dreamed it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How much for that picture in the window?

Flatiron Building - Jack Aiello
copyright © Jack Aiello 2012
Being an avid -- you might even call me a semi-pro -- photographer, you would think I nailed the business end of my image making. Truth is, I love to learn about the craft, to improve my technique at every stage of the process, but my business sense is not so sharp.

Case in point: I was recently asked by a charity to volunteer my services at an awards dinner.  I volunteered for them once before, however, this time, I politely declined informing them that my photography, though not my sole source of income, helps greatly supplement what I earn to support myself.

Another time, I was asked by my employer to aid in a beautification project. I photographed various New York City skyscrapers whose prints were to adorn a bland section of corridor leading to a frequently visited unit (I work for a medical center). In this case, I didn't charge for my work simply because I thought it was poor taste to charge my employer, for one. But that's not all. I believed in the project, it got my juices going and with proper credit due on a plaque, I would be able to share my work with all my colleagues.

There are potential clients who say that they will offer you exposure in lieu of not paying you, and I really dislike that tack, but in this case, I felt it was justified.

Still, many people don't understand the time and resources it takes a photographer to scout and research a location (especially if you're a landscape/nature photographer), compose a shot, get the right exposure, white balance, etc.  This is not to mention the cost of the equipment involved. Then there's the time spent in post processing, particularly with dynamic range prints.

I never really knew how to broach the business aspect until I read Chip Phillips' piece. More than I could better articulate, Chip's article provides a lot of practical advice on how you need to determine the worth of your own work.

What do you think?  Should I have charged my employer? Do you consider whether a company will or won't profit at all from your images as a factor before you charge or give it away? What are your negotiating tips? How do you feel about rights managed images vs. royalty free images?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A Year in Review

The year is almost over. In a few hours, 2013 will be a distant memory. In taking stock of this past year, I want to avoid the easy platitudes a new year inspires people to spout. It wasn't all rosy, but neither was it hellish. It was an odd year of growth. I'll do what I do best and just bullet outline what I feel to be the truth of my 2013. It's not just what I did and where I went, but also the defining moments and events that were taking place within me.
  • The first half of 2013 was a blur of job interviews, sleeping in and watching Jerry Springer religiously at 11am every morning. I'm thankful that all of these activities, particularly the last habit, vanished once I got my new job. Some people may hate the 9-5 routine, but there's nothing like a little structure to restore your sanity. It helps that I come in every morning and work with a group of people I genuinely like.
  • My weight as of December 31, 2013: 211 pounds
  • I still struggle with caring what other people think of me. I know it's a waste of energy and it's none of my business what people think of me, but not until this year did I finally accept that this will be a lifelong demon that I will succumb to at times; and other times I will kick straight back to hell.
  • In late May, I traveled to Trumansburg, New York by Cayuga Lake and was enchanted by Taughannock Falls:
    Taughannock Falls, Trumansburg, NY
    Copyright © Jack Aiello  •
  • In late July, I traveled to Seneca Lake and discovered beautiful Watkins Glen:
Watkins Glen State Park
Copyright © Jack Aiello  •
  • At times, my mother will infuriate me, and when she does, I will remember that she shows her love through food. Christmas Eve Dinner, December 24, 2013
Linguine with Clams
Photo Courtesy of Marylisa Terzulli
  • I learned that if I want to grow, I have to let myself off the hook.
  • The phrase, "Not all those who wander are lost" is very true. And I figured out the difference between the one who wanders and the one who's lost. It's fear.
  • I have to admit my trip to Utica in October was a bit of a bust, but I still managed to find beauty in that old train station and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

 Utica Train Station, Utica, NYAdirondack Scenic Railroad

  • And as 2013 winds up, I will celebrate it alone - by choice. It's not sad, it's not pathetic, it's not anything. As I quietly take stock of my life these past 12 months, I will reflect on all the good things going on in my life: my family, my friends, my photography, my constant desire to improve myself, and my acceptance that sometimes I will fall short. But the important thing is I will keep trying.
A Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pasta e Fagioli Made Easy

Pasta e Fagioli
Why does my photography blog look like a Food Network page, all of a sudden?  Well, I told you that my site might take some twists and turns, and besides, I don't entirely ignore food in my photography. Because the weather has been so foul and cold lately, I feel like talking about my favorite Italian comfort food, pasta e fagioli, or Pasta Fazool as it's more commonly referred to in the U.S.

Pasta e fagioli is an Italian peasant dish that doesn't require a lot of fancy ingredients. It's meant to be hearty, simple to make, absolutely delicious and will keep your tummy warm and full during those bitter cold winter months. This is my father's recipe. My dad, for many of you who don't know, was a well respected chef for Elaine's Restaurant in New York City during its heyday in the late 70's and 80's.  Here we go:

  • Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves of smashed garlic
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • About 2-3 Tbsp. pancetta cut in small cubes
  • 15 oz can of White Cannellini Beans (if you don't have this in your pantry, the beauty of pasta e fagioli is that it can be made with any kind of beans. Try red kidney beans, even chick peas if that's what you find)
  • A squirt of tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes (I prefer TuttoRosso crushed tomatoes with basil)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Chicken bouillon cube
  •  About a cup Elbow or Ditalini Macaroni
  • Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese and ground black pepper for garnish
In a large pot, drizzle just a little olive oil at the bottom. Doesn't need to be a lot, just eyeball it.  Add the crushed garlic cloves, small pinch of red pepper flakes and the pancetta. Under low heat, saute everything for a few minutes until the garlic becomes golden and the pancetta starts to crisp.

Add 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes and let everything cook for an extra few minutes under the low flame. Squirt some tomato paste in there - eyeball it, no more than a tablespoon - and stir. Next, add the entire contents of the cannellini beans - do not drain the can. Continuing under the low heat, cook the beans in the tomato sauce for another ten minutes.

Now here's a twist to the recipe that is crucial: with a stick blender, or a masher, start pureeing or smashing the base mixture of beans and tomato sauce so that it transforms from a bright red, to an almost orange/pink color. Note, don't smash all the beans. Continue to cook under a low heat for a few more minutes.

Add the water and the chicken bouillon, and under a medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Next, add about a cup of elbow or ditalini pasta and stir frequently until the pasta cooks to al dente.  

Initially, your pasta e fagioli will look soupy like this:
Pasta e Fagioli - Jack Aiello Photography
Jack Aiello  •
but once you let it rest for 15 minutes, it'll start to thicken and appear more hearty like this:
Pasta e Fagioli - Jack Aiello Photography
Jack Aiello  •
Sprinkle with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and some fresh ground pepper.

A few notes
  • I prefer using the Tuttorosso brand because their crushed tomatoes contain basil bits and comes already salted. Some other crushed tomato brands are unsalted.  That's fine to use, but then the chicken bouillon cube might not be enough flavoring and you may have to salt to taste. Just play with it.
  • Let's talk Pancetta. Pancetta helps round out the dish, but the goal here is simple, simple, simple. If you can't find pancetta at your local supermarket, just leave it out.
  • DO try to find Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese - and NOT processed "parmesan". Even try Pecorino Romano, whatever, but don't skimp on these fresh ingredients; it makes a difference, even the fresh ground black pepper. 
If you do it right (and you can't mess this up), this dish will warm your belly in the coldest winter nights. Enjoy and Buon Appetito!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Making My Way to The Freedom Tower

Freedom Tower, New York City
Freedom Tower, Copyright © Jack Aiello 2013
I haven't visited the World Trade Center in what seems like ages. Having lived through September 11, I mourned and paid my respects privately with no true desire to visit the physical site. During a recent period of accelerated construction of the area, I still felt no need to go down there. Moreover, I couldn't bear those "TV Specials" that would supposedly honor the 9/11 anniversary by rebroadcasting the disturbing and graphic sequence of events from that day. As such, I never felt ready to be even within that vicinity.

About two months ago, I was commissioned to photograph the Freedom Tower, and so off I went for the first time in almost 13 years. For the most part, things are looking back to normal. People are going about their day and tourists are snapping photos. Though you can visit the Memorial site, it's still blocked off from view and there's still major construction at every turn of the corner. But once I followed the maze to the Memorial and saw the North and South pools where the Twin Towers once stood, I felt a drop in my gut. The optimism was definitely tempered with a sense of transformation, a look to the new but always with an eye toward a remembrance of what happened at this very site.

No matter how revitalized the area might appear to be, those two empty cascading pools -- at once beautiful and haunting -- remind the visitor that something sorrowful and tragic happened here. The new Freedom Tower in its final phase of construction, while not as imposing as its predecessors, is still a lovely, and very photogenic piece of architecture.

The new World Trade Center offers a balanced sense of optimism with the new construction of the Freedom Tower and the Calatrava Path Station. Tourists will always pose and smile alongside the usual landmarks, a testament to the triumph of American resiliency and pragmatism. But the stone gray pools whose dimensions carve an area below street level will inform you differently. There's something sad, yet meditative in the way water plummets into that small square positioned concentrically into the larger square footprint that make up the North and South towers. It suggests both an infinity and finality of things. Those names etched in bold around the perimeter, not to mention the no-holds barred Museum opening later next year, will always serve as reminders that New York and America were forever changed.

Freedom Tower New York City
Freedom Tower, Copyright © Jack Aiello 2013
For more images of the Freedom Tower, check out my site at

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The NYC Photowalk - October 26, 2013

Photo Expo was at Javits in New York City this past week.  I didn't get to go, but I managed to sign up for the Saturday Photo walking tour that started in Times Square. It was a great opportunity to meet some other fellow photographers and especially Elia Locardi and Ken Kaminesky, who hosted and organized the event. If you haven't seen their work, they're in my blog roll. They do some amazing HDR travel and landscape work.

© Elia Locardi / Ken Kaminesky
Photo Courtesy Elia Locardi / Ken Kaminesky

PhotoWalk NYC ©Attila Fovonyessy
Photo courtesy of Attila Fovonyessy
If you look closely, you'll see me posing with Elia and Ken as I won a prize - a 2 TB dual external drive from G Technology. Winning the 2nd prize raffle was icing on the cake. More fun was getting to meet people with similar interests and passions. The tour started at Times Square and the group wended its way through Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Grand Central and the Chrysler Building. I was exhausted by the end, but invigorated as well.  All in all, a good day.