Ok, it is not such a good image but it goes with a small story.

We were walking around the "new" upper part of Matera one morning, when I saw some steps leading down to a public restroom. It seemed like a good time to take advantage of the facilities.

Upon finishing my business I paid the attendant, a wizened and bent old fellow who took a particular interest in the ancient camera hanging from my neck. We spoke in Italian for a few minutes -- which is to say: I had absolutely no idea what our conversation was about.

But from the context I gathered he had something to show me. He led me around the corner from the toilet, and farther down a dim passageway. Then he wrestled with a large plywood panel and leaned it to one side of a dark opening. My guide then beckoned me to enter.

I found myself within the scene shown here, a dark and wet cavern coursing off in many directions. It felt like plague and old bones, the curses of witchcraft and long-unsolved mysteries.

I had entered into a sample of the true old Matera, the settlement of troglodytes who scuttled about in the misery of their dark abodes, with only a few odd rays of light to penetrate their perpetual gloom.

The history of this place is neither happy nor romantic. It is one of poverty, disease, desperation. As the telling goes, young children of the settlement would be sent out to beg from any passing traveler. And they would plead not only for scraps of food and bits of money, but also for medicines: against malaria and tuberculosis.

The light in this place was just about useless for a photograph. A few plates of thick bottle glass in the ceiling admitted only small daggers of hazy daylight from the piazza above. Standing there alone and defenseless in the muffled darkness, I began to imagine how easy it would be to have a knife drawn against my own throat, my stripped and organ-gutted remains then dumped into a hidden pit somewhere along with a pile of other rotting tourist corpses, never to be seen again. I took a stab at 1/15th of a second, made this single exposure, last frame on the roll, and hoped for the best.

In the end, my underground activities with the Rolleiflex seemed sufficient to please and satisfy my guide. He escorted me back out of the tunnel, smiled and bid me farewell on our return to the surface. I knew I had been granted a rare and exclusive privilege. Not only to see this place with my own eyes, but to escape from it with my life.

Matera, Italy, November 2011.

Rolleiflex 2.8A, 80mm f/2.8 Opton Tessar, Ilford HP5.