Rome . 27 . August
The history of Italy is not easy to understand, even by the long-dead with minds far sharper than mine. Italy, is a country full of hidden meanings. One must dig through centuries of historical fallacies, mythologies, tour guides, and Hollywood films to get even close to anything that might appear like a cohesive or homogeneous narrative.
There are angels hiding in the cracks of the Coliseum. You can sense their presence. They know what to do when thousands of years of dust is swept to the sea in the rain or when the acacia bows beneath Mediterranean winds. The air soon clears. Silence and the scent of warm citrus. Golden blankets of light fill all the piazzas across this land and the angels sing sweetly. This is our home they say. Who are you? Whispers.
Barcelona . October 25th . 2014
The light in the early evening doesn’t lie. Dusk embraces color as the Old Harbor falls to darkness where silhouettes and shadows creep across rooftops.
There are moments when circumstance and experience conspire to shape our conscience in unexpected ways. Thomas Merton called the conscience the “face of the soul.” In the mirror of my soul, my conscience, I peer out into the world with bewildered eyes. The conscience, Merton continued, “… is the light by which we interpret the will of God in our lives.” A confession: sometimes I make pictures without a clear conscience– capturing it as a moment – and moving on. I’ve always looked at photography as a spiritual exercise. While the actual act of making pictures seems relatively simple, automatic, and normal, there’s much more beneath the surface. Photography as a spiritual experience begins with recognizing that a picture of someone is not the whole person in the same way as a map is not the road. I live for the picture – the moment – and the chance to capture the fleeting “reality” of God’s light in all things. Perhaps this is an indictment of today’s visual culture with all the picture-popping people carrying armloads of selfies. Here we are caught up in the low-resolution tsunami of images to distract us.
Sagrada Familia . Barcelona . October . 25 . 2014
I get lost in light. Lost in a sea of tourists who stumble about like cranes looking for minnows in the shallow margins of a pond. I will not apologize for feeling indignant at how sacred places, such as La Sagrada Familia, become like theme parks. Perhaps this is all part of God’s master plan – a clever plot to bring us closer to Him. But, here, within the cathedral bathed in blood-red light streaming through stained-glass the irony overwhelms me. I wander among the paparazzi, since I am one as well, hiding behind a lens. I find myself on the floor, chasing shadows.
In his book “The Italians”‘ Luigi Barzini paints a poignant yet complex picture of Italy. “Behind the turbulent and picturesque agitation of Italy, behind the amiable, festive, and touching spectacle, behind the skillful performances, real life is something else. It can be sordid, tragic, and pitiless. It is often an anguished, sometimes a mortally dangerous game.”
Sunset . Florence . October . 2014
This is a country of hidden meanings, centuries of historical fallacies; mythologies run amok, forgotten wars, tour guides-a-go-go, and spaghetti westerns.
Nearly 30 percent of Italy’s yearly income comes from tourism – more than 30 billion Euros a year. Not so coincidentally, there are more than 2,000 museums in Italy and 72 of them are in Florence. Italy is wrapped in plastic and packaged to sell on street corners by new arrivals from Pakistan or Africa. Each year more than 30 million tourists from all over the world come to Italy on vacation. That means one tourist per every two and one half Italians.
Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset looks like a camera convention. People jockey for position along a concrete baluster to make selfies with overlooking one of the world’s most famous skylines. Guidebooks are like baseball cards – most of them aren’t worth crap.
Within me, from the time I picked up a camera as a young boy, and now, a man on the far edge of his prime years, I’ve come to understand the power of light. Seeing is not a passive process, looking at things is. A cursory glance, something catching the eye, sensing but not feeling. I do not know what it means to simply look for light and not truly see the world as it is. Seeing is an act of the conscience. By seeing the beauty of all things we open ourselves up to interpreting the will of God. Today, the act of capturing a “fleeting reality”, the decisive moment, signals an opportunity for transformation – an instance of awakening the eye of the heart.
Orvieto . Italy . October . 2014
I am looking for lovers. It’s an odd obsession, but I am out to prove something – love still exists in the world. I am on the prowl with a long lens and plenty of patience like a tiger in the jungle.
Italy’s real beauty is illusive, veiled beneath famous frescoes and behind metal detectors and x-ray machines are those who live beyond the margins of what tourists come here to see. Italy’s real beauty is its people – even those that wear the cloak of invisibility that comes with hustling, begging, pick pocketing, cleaning hotel rooms, or selling cheap umbrellas and Gucci knock-offs for way more than they are worth. The real Italians are becoming a statistic. Within the next 40 years, there will be one person over 65-years old for every two working people. At present, Italy has the third oldest population in the world, just behind Germany and Japan.
Miro Museum . Barcelona . Spain . October . 2014
During the 1930s, Henri Cartier-Bresson, a young French photographer, described his style of making pictures as the decisive moment. Bresson observed, “To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality.“ Memory is stitched together by a millions decisive moments. To hold’s one breath – to recognize a flash of universal truth in a tear or a smile – when life becomes a series of discrete instances. Photography demands interaction. Pictures reveal relationships – subject and photographer, light and camera, what is seen and what we fix in time. Thomas Merton said, “In modern life our senses are so constantly bombarded with stimulation from every side that unless we developed a hind of protective insensibility we would go crazy….”
Rome . August . 2014
There is a tide of discontent that the wild instagramming-facebooking tourist may never see. Unemployment in Italy hovers around 12 percent. However, the most alarming statistic is that more than 40 percent of youth under 25 cannot find work. To understand Italy is to look beyond the antiquity, customs, art, architecture and language. In some cultures, those that have a little more than those who have nothing find ways to justify the discrepancies and inequalities of living – some cultures even build such ambivalence into their religion. Italy is a country of contradictions.
Umbria . Italy. 2014
A camera, if pointed in the right direction, in the right light, and focused just so, can capture the very nature of what it means to be human – the doorway to the afterworld – the élan vital – the human soul. In this spirit, what is even more remarkable, is that this box of metal and glass, when given instructions can make the invisible, visible.
St. Peter’s Basilica . Rome. September . 2014
It’s easy to understand the aesthetic benefits of simplicity since a photograph holds only a finite amount of information. The idea here is that simplicity in the frame may seem like a matter of composition — arranges elements so that they communicate a message more effectively. Clear and contributing backgrounds, foreground/background relationships, juxtapositions, contrast, are all part of the mix that can either simplify or complicate the message. At the same, simplicity in photography can also be an attitude, an approach to making compelling picture, or a state of mind. Photography that positions the photographer in a more harmonious relationship with the subject and the environment is more likely to experience a greater sense of fulfillment in what they create.
Monti Sibillini National Park . October . 2014
A picture can be a poem. Pictures, when made decisively. possess a grammar of the spirit. The heart opens like the camera’s aperture as light cascades through curves of glass – unnoticed, but significant.
Florence . Italy . November . 2014
There’s a gaggle of Japanese tourists marching in unison out in front of the Duomo as a guide waves a flower wand about like a baton so her group doesn’t get lost in the cobblestone. A tourist’s neck bends like a swan before breaking to gaze at the more than 4 million bricks holding Filippo Brunelleschi’s teapot. There are no Italians here really; only a few police officers and mad cyclists with scarves a- flapping dodging tourists at break-neck speed. There is a women, a gypsy perhaps, who spends her day doubled-over on Via Cavour covered in thick dusty clothes. Her have is hidden- a small Dixie cup sits on the ground besides her – empty.
Castlelucia . Italy . October . 2014
I am a man of two minds living in two worlds with one heart. This is the only way to explain the situation I find myself in. What I think and do, and what I feel and don’t do. The light, cold as chrome, slashes through the fog of indecision I have endured in my days without knowing it. There is one mind of contemplation and another mind of the moment. St. Benedict believed that one must live a life of prayer and work as if two minds were one. That God is good work, as Benedictine reminds us to listen to the “master’s instructions.” In a state of two minds, where the spiritual and physical are delineated and dichotomous by individual will rather than the will of God, “instructions” fail to reach the heart of hearts. A photograph helps us to see the world in new ways, but it also can prevent us from seeing for ourselves. We accept the vision of another for one’s own become have become accustomed to merely looking at the world and not seeing. While St. Benedict speaks of “listening” as a rule of obedience to the “master” there is also the matter of “seeing” that which is to be seen in the light of goodness and deep faith. You’ll know it when you see, or even better, you’ll feel it when you see it. Something like 85 percent of our sensory experience is determined by sight, which means what we see has influence on what we hear. St. Benedict’s prologue, “List carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” At the same time, I have come to interrupt this notion as “see carefully my son” and “see” with your heart.
Florence . October . 2014
I was 43 years old when my son Liam was born. Little did I know that in less 10 years I would have moved away from him and his sister to begin a new life teaching at a small Catholic College in Kansas. This where the story starts for the time being. I have come to Italy with my college’s semester-long study abroad program and Liam, who is just starting high school, has come with me. We share a small room, a former monk’s cell on the second floor of Villa Morgen outside of Florence. We are comfortable. I teach. Liam works on his online high school classes at night, while studying Italian with the students during the day. This narrative attempts to bring into focus some observations and thought about my relationship with a teenager I have longed to be close to. There is no pretense here, only the hope of distilling the fragments of a life abroad.