The other side of the coin

My 40-year love affair with Florence

Lena Keslin
July 3, 2014

I understood the thoughts and feelings Katie Acompora described in her recent article in The Florentine, ‘Time to say goodbye.’ That was me in May 1980. I first arrived in Florence in 1973 and immediately called my parents to announce, ‘My heart is finally at home.’ Forty-one years later, I still feel the same. What is it about Florence that takes hold of our hearts and our senses?


For me, it was learning to speak Italian and interacting with my Florentine neighbors and my friend Gino at Pennello, next to Dante’s house, who invited me to eat with his staff in case I couldn’t afford a meal there until out-of-town company came to visit me. It was the group of old timers with whom I would watch dubbed versions of American 1940s movies on a small television in a little café near piazza San Felice. In 1973, not everyone had a TV set at home.


I went to Florence to continue my art studies after graduating from Parsons School of Design in New York City. I signed up to study with Silvio Loffredo at the Accademia di Belle Arti. My original plan was to paint, but I couldn’t stand being cooped up inside with Florence right outside my window. So, instead of painting, I photographed the famous and the little-known places, the archways and courtyards, and the artisans around Santo Spirito. Whether it was via San Niccolò or the winding vine-covered paths of the Boboli Gardens, I marveled at it all.


I scoured and traversed every part of the city, always amazed at what I was seeing and discovering. I photographed it all and I haven’t stopped. It seems that all these years of photographing have brought me full circle.


My most recent visit, in May, was to hang an installation of 25 of my Florentine photographs printed on canvas, on display at the Antica Torre di Via Tornabuoni, 1, for the next year. The show was inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, 43, ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’ If the ‘thee’ of the poem were Florence, my photographs would be my answer: Brunelleschi’s dome, Palazzo Vecchio at sunset, the Ponte Santa Trinita’s Primavera reflecting in the mirror-like Arno, the scroll-like details of Santa Maria Novella.


My photographs have filled the void of not continuing to live in Florence. Photographing the city keeps me coming back to explore my beloved city and its jewels. My husband and I regard it as our home away from home.


With the passage of time, so many old familiar faces are gone, but I feel exhilarated by the new things that are happening. From the beautiful rooftop of Antica Torre everything looks the same as it has for all of these years. What has changed on the outside is me, but inside—like Florence—I remain the same.


Lena Keslin’s photographs can be seen at Antica Torre di Via Tornabuoni, 1 (check in with the receptionist at the front desk). Her photographs can also be viewed on her website,

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