We continue our series of interviews to discover how the City of Florence, in which Dan Brown’s novel Inferno is set, is perceived by tourists and expats from around the world.
We conducted our first two interviews with Helen Farrell of The Florentine, the magazine used as a reference point for the English-speaking community mentioned in Inferno, and with Tiana Kai Madera, a travel blogger and marketing consultant based in Florence.
Today, we are going to interview Nathan Smith, the instructor of the Florence photography adventure tour, who has lived and worked in Pisa, Tuscany with his family since 2009.
Welcome, Nathan. You are a professional photographer. Could you explain how you got started as a photographer?
I started shooting with a little Kodak Instamatic camera when I was a young Boy Scout, and my parents were very encouraging. Later, I was a missionary in Spain, and had an Olympus 35mm SLR. I used to only photograph landscapes and nature, but during my time in Spain I took some great photographs of the people of Spain, and a few years later I decided to pursue photography as a career. I started photographing weddings for friends, and then as a business while studying commercial photography, fashion, and portrait photography. But I discovered that I really enjoy photographing weddings, and capturing the joy and excitement of the day. It’s wonderful to do something that you love for a living!
You are the instructor of the “Florence photography adventure tour”. Please could you give us an idea of what the tour consists of and how have you come to collaborate with the project Florence Inferno?
We start with a one hour lesson, geared to the skill level of the students. Often we have a really small group, so the instruction ends up being a semi-private lesson. We then take a break for lunch, and then we walk around Florence for four hours, putting into practice the things we have learned. If we have more than two students, we also have a guide from Florence Inferno who gives us a formal tour, while I provide guidance with photography, helping our students get the best photographs.
As far as working with Florence Inferno, late last year my wife and I took the Halloween tour with Florence Inferno, and I chatted with the owner who was on the tour, telling him I was interested in working a tour company in Florence, and the rest is history. I really like working with Florence Inferno. They are unique in that their tours focus on small groups, so their tours are much more personal. Often the groups are less than 10 people, and we can go into places that are less accessible to the huge group tours that you see around Florence.
Do you have a favorite subject to photograph in Florence? A place, a monument? Also do you prefer a particular light during the day to make photos?
Wow, great question! Downtown Florence has many great sites: the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio are all great places to photograph, but I love trying to capture the energy and the wonderful mixture of old and new in the city. When I can, I like to photograph the people of Florence.
As far as a favorite time of day, I prefer normally to photograph about an hour and a half before sunset, although when shooting in the city, sometimes the best light is two to three hours before sunset.
Have you read the bestseller Inferno by Dan Brown? Do you think that this book has had a good or bad impression on the city of Florence?
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but no, I haven’t read Inferno by Dan Brown, yet! I did take the Florence Inferno tour last month, which was incredible. After taking the tour, I now want to read the book. As the tour points out, the book is a work of fiction, so some details were changed in the book to make the story more exciting, but much of the book does draw upon actual places and historical events in Florence, so the tour was very interesting.
Although you photograph both in Italy and abroad, and were published in the recent October (2014) American edition of Vogue magazine, what drove you to choose to work in Italy?
I have to saw it was love. Six years ago I was single in California, and dating a few women there. My wife and I connected online, talked by phone for several months and she was coming out to the U.S. We agreed to meet, although I remember on our second phone call telling her that while she was nice, I didn’t think it would work out, due to distance, cultural differences, etc. Well, 3 months after she arrived in California, we got married. For 3 years we did 9 months California / 3 months in Italy, but we moved here in August of 2012. She teaches school, and I teach photography.
However, I continue to photograph weddings all over the world. I just did a wedding in September in Utah. The wedding in Vogue was an American wedding held at a private villa near Pisa. Over 400 guests flew out from mostly New York, and the wedding went from 5pm until 6am, with a huge party held the night before in Lucca.
Heidi Klum and other celebrities were there. It was quite the event.
What is a real must to be able to say that one really knows Italy?
For me, I think you need to get to know the people. Yes, you can see the wonderful sites, eat the incredible food, the wine etc., but the soul of Italy to me lies in it’s people. My Italian is getting pretty good, so I can converse pretty well in Italian, but in Florence fortunately there are many Italians who speak English, so even a visitor can and should take the time to get to know the locals. Italians for the most part are a friendly people, and love to talk. Even if it’s just for a few blocks, try to get outside the tourist areas, and go into some of the small shops.
You’ll find Italians to be a very warm and inviting people.
Thank you, Nathan for this great interview!
You can see his work at www.nathansmithphotography.com or at www.facebook.com/nathansmithphotography
The pictures in the article belong to Nathan Smith