A Dog’s Vigilance – A Trek in Abruzzo

Abruzzo, Italywise

A Dog’s Vigilance

Recently, when I was fortunate enough to join two shepherds and two flocks (one of sheep, one of goats) up in the mountains of the Parco Nazionale della Majella of Abruzzo. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what would stand out, so I just made sure I had my camera ready for “whatever”. I also worked to be quick on my feet. Following a flock on the move and capturing a unique perspective can be a bit of a challenge.

In this photo, which I have entitled A Dog’s Vigilance, I was fortunate to capture an unexpected “stand out” moment. I was trying to stay ahead of the flock of goats and capture their wonderful faces. And, there in the middle of the flock, was this amazing canine face.

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My Day with Shepherds in Abruzzo

shepherd, italywise

Heading up the mountain.

Just two weeks ago I took the long, but stunning drive down to Abruzzo and to see my dear friends Novelia and Beppe for a three day stay in Sulmona. After my first trip, early in the summer, I had resolved to return as soon as possible. Novelia had orchestrated a day for me and three friends to “shadow” the shepherds from Abruzzo’s organic La Porta dei Parchi agriturismo, run by Nunzio Marcelli, in the Majella National Park’s Sagittario Valley.

Our day took us with the shepherds high into the majestic Abruzzi Apennines.

Oh what a day we had. The weather was spectacular. The views were the kind that made you want to slap yourself to make sure you weren’t dreaming. The two shepherds were kind young men who seemed happy to have us along for the journey. Or course, the real stars were the flocks of goat and sheep.

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The Dark Side of Venice – Photography by Giacomo Fornari

 

Venice, Italywise

Venice Night by Giacomo Fornari

I am fascinated with the dark side of Venice. Perhaps, this is the primary reason it remains my favorite city in all of Italy. Long ago I learned to leave the heavily touristed thoroughfares behind to wander and explore the endless maze of narrow streets and alleys. A person doesn’t have to go far to begin experiencing the spooky and mysterious aspects of this one-of-a-kind city. It’s no wonder that Italy has inspired so many dark (and often disturbing) books and movies. For classic film buffs there is the cinematic masterpiece Don’t Look Now. Who can forget the knife wielding drawf? When I’m wandering the seemingly deserted areas of Venice at night, I half expect such a figure to emerge from the darkness. Lucifer’s Shadow, a book by David Hewson, is a well crafted tale of murder and intrigue in Venice. And I’m itching to read more of his books.

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The Contours of Man and Mountain – Photo by Jed

Dolomites, Italywise

I don’t consider myself an accomplished landscape photographer. My fascination with people and stories of everyday life have been my focus. However, on our one day excursion up to the Dolomites, which was just one and a half hours’ drive from Treviso, I gave myself to focus on landscapes, for a change, and see what presented itself. Being a novice in this regard, I had absolutely nothing to lose.

So, I took some of the advice I’ve given in earlier emails about finding your voice, and..

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Venice – White Coats in Readiness – Photo by Jed

Venice, Italywise

White Coats in Readiness

Often I visit the archives of photography I’ve done many years ago to see how my style has evolved, and to see if there are some gems that still stand out to me. Here is one that I took at least sixteen years ago using conventional 35mm film (Fuji Velvia 100) when I didn’t have the luxury of confirming I had the shot, as I envisioned it, on the spot. Oh how photography has changed with the advancements in digital technology.

Normally I stay far away from Piazza San Marco in Venice, feeling a bit claustrophobic, and so outnumbered by the throngs of tour groups – now made even more challenging with the proliferation of cruise ships docked close by. Consequently I seek out more opportunities in the in-between hours of activity – either crack-of-dawn, when it’s virtually deserted, or late afternoon when many people are sleeping off the excesses from earlier in the day.

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What is Your View of the World?

 

Venice, Italywise

A window in the Giudecca looks out on Venice in this new photo by Jed Smith.

 

I’ve been asking myself this question anew lately. Recently I was fully entranced watching the new television show Master of Photography with host Isabella Rossellini. Think Project Runway, but with a group of twelve amateur and professional photographers vying to make it to the next level after each photo assignment – one that is viewed, critiqued, and juried by world-renowned photographers. The episode (and assignment) was “The Beauty of Rome” and the participants were given a four-hour window to scour Rome for their unique take on it as the Eternal City.

I tried to imagine myself under the duress of this kind of assignment, and I started getting nervous watching the contestants hard at work. But, mostly I was excited and eager to see Rome through twelve different sets of eyes.

I sweated when the contestants made their final choices and submitted them for the critique and a subsequent elimination of one within their ranks. And, for good reason. The jury of famous photographers didn’t hold anything back, offering encouragement in the right moments, but mostly chiding them for playing to the judges and not delivering on the assignment that asked for a truly personal vision and statement.

I also remember a moment when one judge urged a contestant to not explain too much about her piece so as to not unduly influence the viewers and to allow them to bring their own interpretations to the experience. I loved that, because I needed to be reminded of the following:

Don’t let your creative expression become too cerebral. You can think all the emotion OUT of your expression, if you’re not careful. And, by all means, keep your mouth shut and let people find meaning in your work without your having to spell it out for them.

I’m at an important crossroads in my artistic endeavors, and I’m realizing that, all too often, my head goes to the place of asking the question, “Will this be a successful piece, and will people like it?” – rather than letting my heart and intuition guide me to what feels right for me personally. I believe my most successful paintings and photographs are ones in which I feel my way through their creation.

An additional piece of advice I’ve been giving myself is:

As you share your view of the world don’t consciously try to be clever or unique for the sake of being unique.

So many artists are clamoring to make a name for themselves by doing something that hasn’t been done before. Good luck with that, for the most part. Your work can run the risk of coming across as gimmicky and contrived vs. a natural authenticity. When you share your authentic voice and view of the world, I believe it will stand out.

Let art, like life, happen.

This is another piece of advice that seems to be repeating itself. This is why I like the photo above. At the time of its creation, I was totally focused on something else, and then this composition grabbed me and I knew I had to take the picture and not stand there analyzing it. I was at a wonderful retrospective exhibition of the late, great Helmut Newton in Venice’s Giudecca. I was fully immersed in studying his unique vision and style of execution, when I turned, and here was this view of the world that spoke to me. Enough said.

I hope, in my art, to share my unique view of the world. I hope to trust my gut, more and more, and to allow serendipity and synchronicity to lead my expressions vs. trying to control and over think based on preconceived notions of “good art”.

To see this and other photographs, be sure to visit my online gallery.

I’d love for you to become a direct subscriber to Italywise.com. It’s easy. Just enter your email in the upper right column. You’ll receive a confirmation email, and then future blog posts will land directly in your in-box!

 

 

The Caretaker – Watercolor by Jed

watercolor, Jed Smith, Italywise

The Caretaker – Private Collection of Shelley and Ed Hobson

Just a few days ago I returned from a short trip to the beautiful town of Sulmona in Abruzzo. The experience was incredibly rich and warm (thanks to my amazing host and new friend Novelia) and I am hard at work on writing a blog post (soon to be published) about this amazing slice of paradise here in Italy. While I enjoyed many things in Sulmona, it was impossible to really scratch the surface with all the area has to offer. One thing, in particular, at the top of my list for my return trip is to do a “walk about” with a local shepherd. Novelia already has made calls and is working on possibilities to make this happen. What an artist/photographer’s dream to be able to camp out with and walk the sheep herder’s paths!

As I contemplate and look forward to such an experience, I remembered this watercolor that I painted several years ago, called The Caretaker. I love painting this, not only because of the unique perspective and composition, but because of the theme of a shepherd looking after his flock. I believe I inherited my fascination with flocks of sheep and goats from my highly influential artist mother, who frequently made them the subjects of her paintings.

I am drawn to the theme of the shepherd and his sheep, also because of the metaphorical meanings of having a benevolent force in my life that always is looking out for me, and always on my side.

I’m anything but conservative or fundamental in my spiritual beliefs, but my soul does respond to images and metaphors that become inspiring companions when fear shows up in my life. Currently, I am reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, and she speaks, quiet effectively, to how fear can stop creative pursuits in their tracks. She doesn’t reserve the concept of creativity for artists. She speaks to creating a life that allows a person to express their unique gifts and ideas. This resonates with me as an artist and writer who, all too frequently, can let the voice of fear talk me out of plunging ahead with a project. Ms. Gilbert wisely counsels each of us to not fight our fears, but to allow them to coexist. However, she advises not to let fear have a say or a voice in how we proceed.

As a person who has altered his life dramatically, these sage words of advice also come in handy. Leaving the security of the known can invite some pretty big catcalls from the voice of fear.

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A Moment of Meditation – Photo by Jed

meditation, Italywise

A Moment of Meditation

The woman in this photo represents something important for me, especially these days. This woman is someone who is practicing meditation as part of daily life.

As I am learning to be more present and more observant of life as it unfolds around me, I am struck by the magnitude of people escaping the present moment. Let’s be clear, this includes me much of the time, as my hungry, over active mind constantly is looking for something to chew on. A diversion from what is right here, right now. How can I possibly fully take in life if I am constantly glued to my digital devices checking emails, Facebook posts, news feeds, or playing games? Busted!

Often, those of us of the generations that have grown up and embraced the digital revolution shake our heads sadly at the “older” generations who haven’t seemed to “get onboard” with the same vigor. Maybe they actually are our teachers for learning to be present more often and for not seeking to fill almost every waking moment with a diversion.

Yes, I’m waxing philosophical again, and my blog often is a place for me to journal publicly about what life is teaching me. More often than not, I’m learning to ask questions…and to let those questions just percolate, rather than seeking to find some hard, fixed truth.

A big question for me these days is:

What IS meditation, anyway?

An excellent question. Mostly it conjures up ideas of sitting in an upright posture in a quiet room, and stilling or working to discipline the mind. It can become a structured activity that requires yet another set of ideals for doing it the “right” way. How quickly it becomes yet another impossible something to perfect, a task vs. a place where you can let go from all the doing and trying. Krishnamurti was outspoken in seeking to free people from traditional concepts of meditation.

Real meditation is the highest form of intelligence. It is not a matter of sitting cross-legged in a corner with your eyes shut or standing on your head or whatever it is you do. To meditate is to be completely aware as you are walking, as you are riding in the bus, as you are working in your office or in your kitchen… – J Krishnamurti

Mindfulness has often been used interchangeably with meditation. Be present for what you’re doing vs. being swept along on the autopilot of our conditioning. I have to chuckle at the word “mindfulness” as it seems to mean “full of the mind”. I don’t know about you, but I very much would like to not be ruled by the mind – well, at least not the chatty, persistent left brain interpreter.

I do believe there are benefits to having a structured practice and a time set aside to just “be” and to allow the thoughts to float by, much like debris in a stream. But, I’m very much intrigued and attracted to using the in-between moments of daily life as my real practice of meditation. This is turning my world upside down, as all too often I’ve learned to discard these in-between moments as being mere stepping-stones to a better, happier place.

Waiting at a traffic light, sitting on a train, being in a long queue (plenty of those opportunities here in Italy!) are all plentiful opportunities for me to explore meditation in my daily life. This often means leaving my iPad or iPhone at home, or safely tucked away in my backpack. Instead of reaching for one of these devices to stay connected, perhaps I can steer into the space of beingness.

In closing, I want to share a quote that I adore, and one that most perfectly, for me, expresses how and why meditation can be so powerful!

Meditation is like taking a bath to wash the mind. – from Meditation in Daily Life, theartofliving.org

To see this and other photographs, be sure to visit my online gallery.

I’d love for you to become a direct subscriber to Italywise.com. It’s easy. Just enter your email in the upper right column. You’ll receive a confirmation email, and then future blog posts will land directly in your in-box!

Remembering Morris

Watercolor of Morris

Morris – Collection of the Artist

I’m still getting familiarized with the holiday schedule here in Italy. Many of the biggies correspond with those in the U.S., but others, like Father’s Day, vary significantly. So, since Italy’s Father’s Day was celebrated in March, and since I’m not receiving a barrage of advertisements for the U.S. event, Father’s Day, as I have celebrated it, almost passed me by. Tributes to dads, ramping up on FB, reminded me to pause and be thankful for being blessed with not just one, but two great dads. My birth dad, Ed Smith, died twenty-three years ago, and his passing came too soon, and the pain cut me to my core. But, soon, another wonderful dad came into my life, and his presence helped ease my pain – especially since his presence brought so much joy to my mother Liz Smith-Cox.

Morris Cox, was an extraordinary man, and a wonderful stepdad. Mom married Morris in her early 70’s, a few years after my dad’s death. I remember Liz remarking, after the first years of being married to Morris, how fortunate she was to have experienced “love like this” twice in her life. Morris made a point of telling her, everyday, how much he loved her and how fortunate he was to have her in his life. This was a powerful lesson to me, as Morris exemplified the belief in gratitude. Studies show (check out this article from Greater Good) that our brains “light up” when we remember and practice gratitude.

Morris also demonstrated an engagement with life and with keeping one’s mind and passions engaged. He was an English professor (and Dean of the Liberal Arts College) at Clemson University, yet in his 60’s he became a student again, this time of law. He practiced law (this is how he met my mom) into his 90’s.

Morris was the epitome of a fine, southern gentlemen. Whenever he and my mom were out and about (often in his baby blue Rolls Royce), he would race around to Mom’s side of the car to open the door for her. He was keen on having impeccable manners and always being kind and generous.

I am incredibly grateful for Morris’s loving presence in my life. His marriage to Liz also brought three wonderful step-siblings into my life, and we enjoyed many “big family” gatherings.

In 1999 I painted the watercolor above of Morris, after a trip with Mom and Morris, and my sisters Shelley and Dale, to Santorini, Greece. I always loved watching Morris. I found his face rich with character, intelligence and kindness. Painting him was my expression of love for this remarkable man.

Morris, I miss you. You lived an extraordinary life, and you gave handsomely.

A Decidedly Italian Wedding

Cortona Wedding

Cortona Wedding is a photo by Jed Smith.

 

Years ago, I was having a nice leisurely lunch in Cortona, Tuscany, with friends who were visiting from the States. We were dining outside, and overlooking the square below and the city hall just opposite. The restaurant was La Loggetta, one of the best restaurants in Cortona.

If you aren’t familiar with Cortona, it is widely know for being the setting of the book and movie Under the Tuscan Sun. Many years before Frances Mayes published her widely successful book, I studied art in Cortona for a summer with my alma mater, the University of Georgia (they still maintain a campus there). While there, I fell in love with this old Etruscan village – well before wide-scale fame and tourism was dropped on Cortona’s doorstep.

As we were lunching, we realized we had front row seats to a wedding party descending the steps of the city hall, presumably after the act had been completed. Fortunately, I had brought my zoom lens, which I promptly put to use as I endeavored to capture this unique wedding experience, and one that says, we’re Italians and we take pride in expressing ourselves. For this reason alone, more often I’d love to play the role of a paparazzo (that’s a singular photographer) to capture, furtively, such beautifully and naturally orchestrated scenes. I can imagine it now, a version of The Wedding Crashers, but with me as a photographer who shows up, and tries to blend in.

In this particular scene from an Italian wedding, I invite you to zoom out to see the full image (if you haven’t already). I love the movement of all of the characters coming down the stairs, and leading to a focus on the bride and groom. Girasole, or sunflowers, are the chosen flowers of the wedding, giving a nod to the proliferation of these beauties throughout the area in the heat of summer. Even the groom’s boutinniere is a small sunflower. Brilliant.

Now my favorite part – the formality has been toned down with how naturally the bride and groom seem to be attired and styled. I particularly love how the groom is wearing hip sunglasses, and sporting a sexy open collar (yeah, with a couple of buttons unfastened). I looked at this scene, and thought to myself that these newlyweds wanted to be themselves, rather than conforming to a strict and formal matrimonial expression.

The right place at the right time. As an artist and photographer I’m continually amazed at how such captivating and intriguing scenes present themselves. Moments like these seem to be more elusive when I purposefully hunt for them. I’m learning it is useful to have a plan and to be prepared, but even more importantly, there comes a moment of getting out of the way and letting magic happen. And, it will.

For this and other wedding photos, be sure to visit my online gallery.

 

 

 

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