Senior photo editor Carol Enquist reflects on editing the difficult Traveler story “Lake Como: A Love Story.”
After a long career as a photo editor at National Geographic Traveler, I’ve become familiar with many destinations on which I’ve never set foot. I’ll see an image and immediately recognize the location, some obvious (Angkor Wat in Cambodia) and some obscure (Nubian pyramids in Sudan). In my memory Lake Como, Italy, conjures up gorgeous, sunny landscapes and beautiful people.
The story proposal we received from writer Lorenzo Carcaterra wasn’t so sunny though. His wife, Susan, was dying of cancer, and they wanted to go on one last trip to Lake Como. Their trip was delayed several times because of Susan’s illness, and within a few months of their return, Susan died.
When I assigned the story to photographer Massimo Bassano, the original plan was for him to travel to Lake Como in early summer, but under the heartbreaking circumstances, the manuscript came in too late to keep that schedule. So Massimo instead traveled to Lake Como in the fall—long after the summer season, with its warm weather, bright skies, and lively crowds, ended. Torrential rains, flooding, and landslides in Italy added to the delay.
When I first saw Massimo’s coverage for this story, I was concerned. In many photos the lake looked gray, not sparkling and blue, and the sky was often overcast or rainy. The towns looked almost deserted. I worried that the coverage felt gloomy and quiet. But as I thought about it, I realized that Massimo’s set of images perfectly reflected the tenor of Lorenzo’s story. This wasn’t a carefree, lighthearted travel story, but a poignant, moving love story. We had the perfect set of photos.
Massimo knew that he needed a classic view of Lake Como for the article and realized when he was on Comacina Island (seen in the center of the image above) that the perfect vantage point would be above the village seen in the bottom of the photo. He knew the location he wanted to get to but not how to get there. He told me that while playing cards with (and photographing) some locals, he explained where he wanted to go. They told him to “follow the road to the cemetery and then a trail through the forest” to the highest point. It had been another unsettled day and Massimo knew that there was a risk of rain, but he made the trek, arriving just before sunset, and was rewarded with a quintessential scene of Lake Como.
At Traveler we take great pride in our storytelling and photography. We believe in showcasing authentic travel experiences, even one tinged with sorrow, like this powerful and moving story.