At some time early in March this year I felt the urge to get out and capture some collective human motion again. With my longtime exposure project 60-second slices of present in mind and the intention to extend it beyond Berlin I asked myself where to go this time.
Inspired by the news reports on the election of the new pope, an image instantly popped up in my mind – the image of Saint Peter’s Square packed with people. So then, why not go to Rome for Easter? Surely I could find what I was looking for during the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi Message on Easter Sunday.
Built between 1656 and 1667 according to the planning of Roman architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini Saint Peter’s Square itself marks an oval with an obelisk in its centre. Symmetrically framed by two curved colonnades at both ends of its major axis it lies in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica – the heart of Vatican – and opens up to Via della Conciliazione, which belongs to Roman territory already.
I was aware of the fact that the image I had in mind was a bird’s eye view and thus, a rather impossible one to get from that vantage point. It was infact similar to the iconic photograph that National Geographic’s Thomas Abercrombie took back in 1966 of another highly symbolic and religiously charged place – the Kaaba in Mecca.
Abercrombie’s image is fascinating not only because it conveys a sense of place but also because it depicts the motion of the masses which in itself is a part of the religious ritual of the Hajj. So this similarity ultimately leads me back to my own photographic essay on collective human motion.
Of course, I couldn’t really get a high perspective on Saint Peter’s Square. Even more so as I was late for the Urbi et Orbi Message after having documented the masses on their way to the square. So I wouldn’t get in anymore. Then instead I hurried and fell back on finding myself an appropriate point of view on Via della Conciliazione.
With Saint Peter’s Basilica at the vanishing point and the camera set in an angle slightly above the crowd these are the two best shots I got:
I shot two rolls at that point during the Pope’s message and afterwards. Then it was overwhelming to see the masses leave the square and move towards me. The motion wouldn’t end for more than an hour and all these people where walking along the main street to finally sprawl into the centre of Rome at the other bank of the Tiber.
Considering the result it might not exactly be corresponding to what I had imagined in the first place, but I find it at least as beautiful. I am happy I found a way to react on the circumstances and in the end, of course, nothing beats the experience of actually being there.
Well, and it always starts with an image in my mind …