Circling Squares | Travel | Smithsonian
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Circling Squares

A 360-degree perspective on some of Europe's most alluring public spaces

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Andrea Pistolesi is quick to admit there's something odd about these photographs. "You look in front of and behind yourself at the same time," says the 50-year-old Florentine photographer. "It's not very normal." Indeed, his 360-degree panoramic images of European city squares are full of fun house absurdities: buildings bend, fountains loom and the same figure may appear in the same photograph more than once. But those effects aren't the point, Pistolesi says: "You have the opportunity to put all the elements that make a space unique into one single picture."

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Pistolesi makes the panoramas by rotating a camera atop a tripod and taking about 12 exposures in quick succession. (One shy bystander elected to circle around behind the turning camera to avoid being photographed.) A computer program stitches the pictures together, slightly distorting each one to create a single image with a dozen points of view. In a way, the form suits the content. The European city square itself, always a site for social and political gatherings, welcomes multiple points of view. Pistolesi, who has photographed in some 70 countries and published 50 books of photography, calls the city square "very European as a concept."

In Paris, Pistolesi says he had to dodge a nosy warden in the Place des Vosges in order to get his shot, a view of the City of Light that is at once classic and eerily different. In Lisbon, he worried that his images wouldn't stitch well because of the elaborate mosaic-like patterns of the paving stones. But the images did mesh, and he discovered a logic in the design more profound than he'd noticed with the naked eye. Each panorama presents a space "that is there," Pistolesi says, "but you'd never see it like that."

 

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