Some years ago I came across the music of Jack Wylie, Duncan Bellamy, Milo Fitzpatrick and Nick Mulvey; a modern jazz sound which was given an exotic touch by Mulvey’s choice of instrument – the hang. Together they were known as The Portico Quartet until Mulvey (and then his replacement Keir Vine) left the band. Unsurprisingly they are now known as Portico.
I’d never given much thought as to the origins of their name until I visited Bologna. The city is famous for its food, its university, its political history, and it’s jazz festivals. The first clue. When you visit you realised it has another speciality, the architectural feature known as a portico, a sort of extended porch where a roof supported by a colonnade runs alongside a building to provide a covered walkway. In Bologna you cannot escape them, which is good news for photographers.
We love a good portico because in one feature it provides so many things that create great composition and interest. Contrast where light spilling between columns loses its power as it reaches further into the space, light broken by the shadows cast by those same columns. There there is the repetition of identical or near identical objects which can be used to create a surprise when the pattern is broken, or simply to lead the eye further into the picture. This being Italy you also have the wonderful ochres that colour walls and columns, given further interest by the patina of grime that develops over the years. I must have photographed dozens of examples while I was there.
I don’t recall it raining while I was there, but the truth is in a city of so much cover I might well not have noticed, which takes me back to the band and the origins of their name.
In Bologna to play an open air gig they were rained off, and so grabbing their instruments they regrouped under the nearest cover and began to play and improvise in this alternative venue. As soon as you visit Bologna it becomes apparent that there could be no other explanation.
So here is my Portico Quartet, four of my favourites from the many I could have chosen.