What Are Your Intentions for the Journey?

Abruzzo, Italywise

Photo by Jed Smith ©2016

I’ve been staring at a blank page (for this week’s post), and a blank canvas (for my next painting). Both are usually intimidating, and I still can’t quite get over asking myself “Do I have it in me to do this again?”

I certainly hope so. But, as I start any new creative endeavor, I’m learning to ask myself a very important, and helpful, question: “What are your intentions?” And, even though this post is written with an artist’s perspective, I do believe this question can be a valuable tool in all areas of life.

I picked the featured photo in this post because, for me, it aptly represents moving through life with intention and purpose. When I’m cruising into my nineties (yes, I plan on living that long) I want to be able to look back on my life, and say that I didn’t shrink from heading into the metaphorical mountainous terrain of life and the wilderness of the unknown.

I also want to know that I didn’t move through my life unconsciously. I want to have lived life with passion and intention.

So here I am, solidly past my half-century mark, and challenging myself to spend more time checking in with my heart (not my head) to understand if my intentions will result in a life of authenticity.

Some of the questions I pose to myself are:

Am I doing this for love?

This one’s the mother of all questions. You know why? Because I think many of us are taught to feel a tad (or a lot) guilty when we’re able to do something for the pure love of it. Which leads me to the next question….

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In the Face of a Sheep

Abruzzo, Italywise

 

My recent sojourn with shepherds, goats and sheep in the stunning Apennines mountains of the Parco Nazionale della Majella of Abruzzo left me musing about what I had learned about myself while communing with the flock.

On the day of the journey, we had arrived early morning at Nunzio Marcelli’s La Porta dei Parchi agriturismo, a good forty-five minutes before the trek up the mountains was to commence. I wandered around the property, first stopping to observe the goats being milked (an upcoming post). The shepherd dogs were lounging about, getting their last respite before a full day’s work, while staying faithfully close to their charges, who were safely contained in pens. It was then that I captured the photo featured in this post, and this singular, arresting face of a sheep. Only later, when I was doing my editing, did I realize the reason the image resonated with me so much…

I saw myself in the face of that sheep.

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Finding Respite in a Shepherd’s Journey in Abruzzo

abruzzo, Italywise

A Shepherd’s Journey

As most of you know, I recently had the good fortune to go on a “walkabout” with shepherds in the majestic Apennines in Abruzzo. This is the fourth in a series of photos that chronicle my experience. As I perused the multitude of images to choose one for this post, this one leapt out at me.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time contemplating this special experience in Abruzzo, the area just above the heel of the boot of Italy. It was a dream opportunity for a photographer. And, it was a golden opportunity to escape the madding crowd of relentless digital and media onslaught to which we fall prey on a daily basis. I confess I’ve willingly allowed myself, all too often, to be sucked into this vortex of distraction, and angst. Yes, angst. I believe it would take a supremely enlightened being to deflect the anxiety-inducing effects of the

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In Abruzzo, Nunzio Marcelli is a Master Shepherd

Nunzio Marcelli

Nunzio Marcelli

 

If you’ve been following my recent posts you’ll know that I recently had the extraordinary opportunity to take a five-hour trek with shepherds in the mountains of the Parco Nazionale della Majella of Abruzzo. Chronicling life with a flock of sheep and a flock of goats, along with two shepherds and several hard working dogs, was a photo assignment life luckily dropped in my lap.

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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.

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