Travel is usually a great resource for photographers. Looking at unfamiliar surroundings sharpens your photographic senses. I think the explanation is simple and comes from evolutionary psychology: when you are in unknown territory, you are well advised to watch out for unexpected dangers. In other words, we probably owe our enhanced perception performance to historic lions hiding in high grass.
When I travel every summer to my city of origin, Warsaw, the first thing that hits me, is the change of light. The light there is softer, comes from a more oblique angle, and most of the trees around are leafy, creating continuous plays of dappled shade.
The unlikely name: “Dolina Szwajcarska” (Swiss Valley) has been given to this small park in the center of the city in circumstances now lost in history. When I’m in Warsaw I often pass there, on the way to take a coffee in one of the best pastry shops in Europe.
Warsaw is, surprisingly, full of greenery. While most of the historic parks are placed along the road connecting Zamek Krolewski (Royal Palace) to Belweder – residency of the President, it is the abundance of trees inside the city that surprises.
I like to to take a walk from Plac Trzech Krzyzy ( Square of Three Crosses) up to Belweder, passing inside Park Ujazdowski and Park Lazienkowski – the latter is the most famous Warsaw park, and one of the most beautiful I have seen. It reminds a bit the Villa Borghese park in Rome.
The origin of Warsaw’s green spaces is very peculiar. It can be traced to the titanic clash of totalitarianisms, that took place over this city. Towards the end of WWII, as Stalin advanced with his army towards the west, and was on the outskirts of Warsaw, the Polish Armia Krajowa (Home Army) staged here an uprising against the German occupants, to facilitate the conquest of the city, and establish a rightful Polish administration. Stalin, who wanted to impose his puppet government, did not enjoy the idea, and ordered his forces to stand pat. The Poles fought alone for 63 days before having to surrender to the German armoured troops. Hitler was so outraged with this “nuisance”, that afterwards, ordered to blow the city up, so that only a heap of rubble would remain. He managed to destroy 80% of all buildings, before the Russians attacked.
After the war, Warsaw has been rebuilt from scratch, and except for a small central district, it has in practice been artificially designed anew on the drawing board. The communist planners did not have to bother with property rights or be concerned with land prices, so lots of space has been assigned to green areas. Nowadays, more than 60 years after the end of that war, the trees have grown big, and in the summer you can fully enjoy the embrace of their shade.
Dappled shade of the parks is also an ideal background for portraiture – you should only make sure, the face is illuminated uniformly.