Danny Alfonzo is a senior in the College of Communication majoring in advertising and minoring in graphic design. He also has an amazing talent for photography, a hobby he was able to actualize through Marquette en Madrid, a study abroad program in Madrid, Spain.
Some people express themselves through writing, others through visual media, like photography. Danny was able to capture his study abroad experience and European travels through the lens of his camera, posting photos to his Tumblr, danielalfonzo.tumblr.com. His Tumblr became very popular while abroad, gaining more than 850 followers.
I sat down with Danny to talk about his study abroad experience and learn the stories behind some of his amazing photos.
Why did you decide to study abroad?
Years ago, my sister studied abroad in Rome, and [my family] went and visited her. We went to Madrid for a week and I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I loved the life of the streets and the antiquity of how beautiful everything seemed. From that moment on, I became really obsessed with the idea of traveling. I just knew when I was there that I wanted to live abroad for a semester at least.
That’s kind of what inspired me, and when I finally got my chance to go my junior year, I decided on the Marquette en Madrid program. I decided that it was a really good program because I stayed with a host family. I was going to have my dinners cooked for me, and all of my classes were going to be in Spanish, so it felt like I was going to get that full immersion. I think I really made the right choice.
Tell me about your photography and your experience taking photos abroad.
My senior year of high school I started getting really into photography. I loved it. I loved trying new things — portrait photography, landscape, long exposures — and I just became fascinated by it. At Marquette, I got a lot of experience in different jobs and opportunities. I gained a really big knowledge and skill base.
When I went abroad, it was the first opportunity I had to travel and use all my skills to really capture my experiences. I’m not much of a writer, and I thought sharing my experiences through photos would be a great idea. For that reason, I started my photo blog. It really keeps me on task; it keeps me shooting and producing and creating because maintaining my blog makes me happy. If I had nothing in the world, and I just had a camera and there was nobody there, I would be so happy. I make myself so happy going out exploring, shooting and seeing what I can get.
Before I left, my parents were like, “Are you sure you’re going to bring all your camera gear abroad? You’re probably going to lose it.” But I said, “I’m willing to take that risk because I think it would be worth it.”
I brought all my camera gear: my tripod, my lenses, my filters. I thought, “This is going to be worth it,” and I’m telling you, it really was. I always went out with my camera whether in the city of Madrid or where I was traveling.
It was a hassle; I’m not going to lie. Carrying that much weight made me really tired, but at the same time, it really motivated me to take advantage and take some really great shots.
This one was from Granada, Spain. It was one of the first trips I took while we were abroad.
We bought our tickets to see the Alhambra at 8 a.m., and our hostel said we had to get there at six to beat the line.I got to see the Sierra Nevada, which is that mountain in the background. We were walking through the Alhambra as it opened, and the sun was just rising. It was a beautiful moment.
That whole trip I felt so alive because it was my first trip alone in a city we didn’t know. It was probably one of my favorite trips; we had a lot of cool experiences that really topped off our first trip.
This one was in Lake Königssee, Germany, in the Bavarian Alps, near the border of Austria. We had just gotten to this little town. We were going to take this boat across this three or four mile lake in the mountains. When we got there, my friends and I were like, “Wow, this is beautiful.” I mean, this photo right here, you can’t even see what was beyond the photo, this was just the beginning. When we crossed the lake there was this old church, nestled in the mountains. It was crazy that these mountains just rise out of nowhere. I had never seen mountains like that in my life.
We had been traveling on a train for two and a half hours to get to these mountains. Along the way it was raining, but when we got there the rain had stopped. The lake was emerald; it was a green I had never seen in my life.
That was probably one of my favorite days.
This photo is also from that day in the Alps. This was in the beginning of the day when it was really cloudy, but there was so much contrast between the mountains, the snow and the sky. It was majestic.
So this shot is one of my all-time favorites. The shots that I’m most proud of are long exposures. Getting a good long exposure is one of the most rewarding things.
On this particular night, I think it was one of the last nights that I had in Madrid, and I thought, “I’m going to have a night to myself to capture the city, the hustle and the bustle.”
My favorite moment was sitting there, working with my camera, working with the settings and listening to my music. I got into the flow of the city because I had to wait for one light to change at the end of the street for more cars to come, and then I had to wait for the perfect moment for the light to change in the other direction.
I felt so in tune with the flow of the city, it was one of my favorite photographic experiences ever.
When I was looking at this shot, I thought, “This is a door, and I see the rest of Madrid through here. I see the city.” These doors used to be the city gates, and looking through it, I felt like it was welcoming me. This is a door to a great metropolis that I love. It was a cool shot.
This one I had taken in the metro of Madrid. During that semester, the metro was such an important part of my life, I loved it so much, and it was always there for me. I loved commuting from my homestay to class.
I knew I wanted to capture the movement of the metro system. I owe so much to the metro system because it made life so easy.
This one was in Frankfurt, Germany. It was actually my last day in Germany after spending two weeks there. We were coming back from Berlin, and we had a couple hours in Frankfurt. It was cool because it was the first city I had seen in Europe that had skyscrapers.
When I was in Europe, I really liked looking at architecture; I became really involved in it. And it was really cool to see what Europeans, especially in Germany, were coming up with architecture-wise.
“Always look up,” I told myself, to get different perspectives on things.
This shot was in Switzerland. We were waiting on Lake Geneva to see the Jet d’Eau, a big jet that shoots water in the middle of the lake. They turned it off for an hour, and we were waiting for them to turn it back on because we wanted to see it at night. We were sitting on this big dock in the middle of the lake, and we realized the moon was rising. That’s Mont Blanc next to it, the highest mountain in all of Europe. It was a really pretty shot.
This one is from my trip to Morocco. I had taken a trip with a Peace Corps volunteer-led group that focuses on bringing study abroad students from Spain to Morocco for a cultural immersion trip.
This was in Chefchaouen; it’s known for being a city that’s painted blue. There was a Jewish community that lived there long ago, and a lot of Jewish communities paint their cities blue. They were eventually exiled, but the city was kept blue.
We were taking a morning hike. It was the last day in Chefchaouen, and we had woken up at around six in the morning. It was nice to walk through the town as the sun was starting to come up, everything was really peaceful and quiet.
The doors in Chefchaouen were just beautiful. Every single one had some aspect of blue in it, but each one had its own personality, its own story and its own architecture. The colors and creative decisions that went into designing the doors make them all look so different.
This photo was fun. My mom had come to visit me, and we had decided to take a day trip to Zaragoza, Spain. Unfortunately, that day it rained.
This photo was when we were running on our way to take the train back home, and we were just miserable because it had been pouring and pouring. But when I saw this, I thought it was beautiful.
The cathedral there is the biggest in Spain. It’s ginormous and you could see it from every part of the city. With the reflection from the rain, it looked so serene and peaceful.
This one is the Plaza de Toros, in Madrid. I lived three blocks from here. I would always take night and day walks near here, and I thought I should really get cool shots of this plaza.
I took these shots in the same day. You can see from the light in the first one that this was already late afternoon. I thought, “I’m going to get a cool shot of this at night at the same place.”
I really like the contrast of them. In the first one, everything is bright, but the plaza looks dark. And the other one the plaza looks all lit up, but everything else is dark.
This one is from Segovia, Spain. This is from one of the only times I took a solo trip. It was supposed to rain that day, so my friends kind of ditched me, but it was okay because I still had a great time.
That day was actually kind of hectic because I had gotten there and I had realized that in my camera I forgot my memory card. I had tried taking my first shot of the Aqueduct, and it was like, “Well, this is a really big fail, I can’t shoot anything.” So, I had to go spend 20 Euros on a card. It was the most unnecessary expense of the trip.
Segovia is a city on this big rock and has these valleys on all sides and hills on the outside that overlook the city. I went around the whole city getting different shots.
It was a good day for self-reflection; I got to travel by myself, which I hadn’t done yet, and it was really rewarding. It was a day for myself — just me, my camera and the world.
This photo was in Lisbon, Portugal. That weekend (my friends and I) really committed ourselves, it was an intense trip. We took a night bus on a Friday night, got there on a Saturday morning, and did a tour for seven hours. We hadn’t slept on the night bus before, and then slept in a hostel for a night. We had a day in Lisbon, and that night we left. It was a 48-hour trip of doing as much as we could.
This photo was the one morning we had sunlight. This is the essence that I saw of Portugal. The streetcars are really cool, they reminded me of San Francisco. You could see that the trams had a really big influence on the city especially because of how hilly it was. The city is kind of grungy and old, and I thought I really captured the city in a beautiful way.
This one was a night shot that I got in Seville, Spain. It was on our Marquette en Madrid group trip, when all 25 of us went to Seville and Cordoba. We stayed in a hotel, which was the only time I got to stay in a hotel while I was abroad.
There was a rooftop pool, and I thought the pool, the city in the background and the sky went so well together. Any chance I get to take photos from on top of a building, I have to do it.
This one I took in Retiro Park in Madrid. I had spent the day walking around, it was a cloudy day, and I was getting really crap shots. This guy comes up to me, he sees me with my camera, and in Spanish he tells me, “Hey, yeah, it’s a really cloudy day, it’s a really good day for black and white photos.” I was like, “You know, I guess he’s right.”
So I pulled out my tripod and did a long exposure of the water and the clouds. And even though it was a crappy day out, I was capturing the movement of the clouds, the water, and the reflection.
How did your study abroad experience change you?
After traveling and seeing different cities, what it really made me do was appreciate my home more. When I came back, I realized there are so many beautiful things about [Milwaukee] that a lot of people don’t take the time to look into. I’m guilty of that. Before, I would take it for granted. But when I came back, I really started looking more into the city and where I can get a great shot that convey the mood of the city.
I’ve started learning more about the city, like Bay View, Riverwest and the UW-Milwaukee area. I have even taken drives to nearby towns like Port Washington, Sheboygan, Delafield and Wauwatosa.
While I was abroad I learned to appreciate things more, appreciate what you have around you and that there is beauty in everything. You just have to know where to look for it.
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