I call them Portals on my website. Not the nerdy type that has to do with the Internet, but the visual kind involving pretty doors and windows. My fascination with entryways began years ago on trips to Europe.
In the crowded alleys and streets of villages throughout France and Italy (to mention a few), the narrow facade of a home may be all that’s visible to the outside world. So, it’s not surprising that Europeans regularly use their frontage as a means of self-expression. The choice of motif, color, and decor all tell a personal story. And in many cases, the ancestry of the place shouts loud and clear, adding historical context to the subject.
Most of my photography falls under the category of “grand landscapes” (less close-ups and macros), but I enjoy taking the time to photograph doors and windows whenever possible, especially under the right light and conditions (preferably in the shade or overcast skies to avoid bright highlights). An old building with a flowered facade painted in bright colors can reveal much about it occupants. My favorites are those that exhibit not only color, but also texture, shapes, beliefs, and a sense of antiquity.
Europe is certainly not the only continent having pretty windows and doors. North America too has its share but rarely are they given the same sense of priority. Since our homes tend to be bigger here, our facades often play a less momentous role in asserting likes, beliefs, and whims.
It can also be tricky to get close enough to photograph the facades of private homes in North America. The idea of walking up to a house, setting up a tripod, and snapping photos without asking permission is ill-advised in this country, making the prospect less likely and downright risky. But in the narrow confines of European alleys, it’s generally accepted and oftentimes encouraged with local pride.
So, I’ve selected a dozen images of my favorite European facades for this article, with a backstory under each photo to provide a bit of context. I hope you enjoy this brief detour from my usual photography.
Portovenere is a village on the Ligurian coast of Italy. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 1st century BC when it was a fishing community in ancient Roman times. The old town includes narrow cobblestone alleys with intriguing entryways like this one. The door to this private home features a gothic-like arch, a studded door, praying hands for a door knocker, and a niche statue. As a religious bastion, many Italian facades include symbols of religious fervor.