On Photographing Cities

Meet Maribel, the first of the new Storytellers to join the SLE team! In her Spotlight post, she shares her love for photography, travel, and writing. The slideshow below offers us a look at some of her photography from her travels spanning the globe, from Argentina to Italy.

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Two weeks after arriving in Florence during the fall of 2013, my academic adviser, Lucia, took me to the Alinari Museum of Photography. Because it was my first time in Europe, she and I often bonded on visits to galleries and basilicas, and on that particular September afternoon, we went to see Izis’s collection of post-World War II photographs entitled “Paris des rêves.”

“It’s been so long since I heard French,” she said to me in Italian.

We paced through the exhibit, visiting each frame and reading the biographies and captions on the walls. The photographs, all in black-and-white, captured women daydreaming in public parks, couples kissing in quiet corners, and men in suits on their way to work. Despite the peacefulness of each photo, there was a certain joie de vivre to the collection, as if all of Paris were waking from a long winter slumber, restored and enlivened. Afraid of disturbing the quiet in the photographs, I felt the urge to tiptoe on the hardwood floor.

“I studied French in school but understand very little of it,” I replied.

Seeing the collection, however, made me look forward to visiting Paris during the semester. Like with travel, art has a way of making us nostalgic for something we don’t really know or understand. Whether we find a bit of ourselves in an artwork or in a new city, we catch a glimpse of how connected we actually are to the world. I don’t know if it was a facial expression or the simple coming and going of city dwellers in those pictures, but each shot felt familiar to me, almost like recognizing the snapshots of an old photo album.

Perhaps this was because the city that Izis photographed was the Paris so many of us dream about—the Paris of a Jean-Luc Goddard film or maybe Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. His pictures were full of details that distinguished it from any other city. Even more than pictures of Parisians, they appeared to be the narrative of an era. The Lithuanian photographer’s honest, impartial style brought him plenty of success in Europe, where he befriended many writers and artists. These writers then collaborated with Izis, writing the complementary captions to his photographs, which are now often seen as photojournalistic images.

Seeing this kind of photography in Florence inspired me. While studying photography in high school, I loved to photograph my friends and family, thinking that by knowing my subjects well, I could represent them better in my art. But Izis wasn’t from Paris, and the people he photographed were likely strangers he saw on the street. I think his gift, and that of photojournalists in general, is that they see the world as it is, more objectively than the rest of us and with fresh eyes. They teach us all to how to look deeply.

My hopes in joining the SLE community are that I will be able to narrate the stories of my travels and experiences learning languages through writing and photography, in the most honest way I know how, as well as hear the stories and ideas of other language and travel enthusiasts.


Maribel is a senior at Georgetown University studying Italian language and literature. She enjoys learning foreign languages, traveling, and the visual arts.


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