2019 Spring Italy Madi Pfaff Temple Rome Temple Semester

Hidden Treasures of the Tiber: A Home Away From Home

This semester I have the pleasure of taking Digital Photography with Professor Marina Buening. She teaches the basic features of street photography, combining technique and photoshop skills to give students understanding of how to shoot manually on a DSLR. The class meets once a week for five hours. We spend the first several hours reviewing and critiquing homework and projects, working on edits and printing; during the second part, we go out to a park, museum, market or neighborhood to make photographs. For our final project, we chose a topic of interest and were asked to create a cohesive series of ten images to present to the class for critique. Each week we are required to go out and make a study of our concept, spending time in the elements. Lucky for me I chose to investigate the landscape of the Tiber river, which runs through the city of Rome.


During my time here, I have found myself frequently drawn to the river Tiber. In my last post “Homesickness Abroad: What to Do When You Don’t Want to Do Anything” I wrote,

“I’ll go sit by the Tiber river, which reminds me of the Schuylkill, and bring my camera, a book of poetry or essays, or a sketchbook and some snacks. It is key to try and find special spaces like the ones you have at home. The elements feel very important to me, so finding a special area by a river echos familiarity in my mind.”

In addition to the sense of comfort the Tiber gives me, I am constantly astounded by the things I continue to find in it. In Rome, there are years when it rains so much the Tiber floods significantly. I have found hulls of ships wedged into the sandbar and glass that used to have information about the river written and sealed inside, filled with sand and plants growing within! Rome is not known for being the cleanest city in Italy. Certainly, the Tiber, much like the Schuylkill, is filled with all kinds of trash. However, many of these items become like partially submerged sculptures in the sands of the river. Among my subjects are a tattered sun chair, a rusty rental bike, a leather duffel bag rendered misshapen and torn by the elements, the architecture of the bridges and surrounding plant life.


Interestingly enough, there is an island on the Tiber river that used to have a temple to the god Aesculapius, attributed to the legend of the snake and Roman medicine. Later, during the time of the plague, the Ospedale Fatebenefratelli was built to treat its victims in a sort of quarantine from the surrounding population of the city. Today the island and the hospital still exist and serve the population. This place stands out in particular to me as a sort of oasis. I went there on a sunny day, and there were classes of school children being lectured by the river about the history of the island, and fishermen, and couples, and people sunbathing. It was beautiful. I saw the ruin of the temple with the snake on it and remarked that time really is the strangest thing.


One of my favorite things about walking along the river taking these photographs is the environment of the river is constantly in flux. Surely from year to year the rainfall varies, but week to week and day to day there are variations in what floats down the river, in the current, traffic along the water, and in how light hits the water and creates shadow within the deep walls of the Tiber. Every day along the Tiber river is a new adventure, a investigation into forms of the eternally transitional spaces.


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