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!

 

 

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!

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.

 

 

 

And the Winner is…”Haughty in Houndstooth”

Italian street life, Italywise

I had the best time reading every submission in this caption contest, for a photo I took of a street scene recently. Its working title was Wall on By, but that easily was surpassed with the variety and creativity of entries. Creativity is far from an exact science, yet I had to make a choice, and Haughty in Houndstooth, by Susan, took the top spot. Brava Susan!

What I like about having this kind of creative contest is how art evokes stories. When I had my first solo exhibition of watercolors many years ago, I resisted talking too much about the intent behind each of the paintings. On one hand, I wanted to respect the curiosity of the gallery patrons as to what made me choose a specific subject. However, I would endeavor to turn the tables and inquire first as to what each person saw in the image, so as not to influence them with my creative process.

Each one of us is always looking at the world through our individual filters and conditioning. We may not realize it, but we’re constantly scanning the world around us, and creating stories about what we see. The human imagination can take just a few elements of a scene and quickly construct possible story lines. What I love about art is that it is both about what the artist wanted to capture or express AND what stories and emotions it evokes in the viewer.

Who really knows the truth of this particular scene, and as your entries demonstrate, many interpretations are possible.

As an artist and photography I’m constantly in scanning and observation mode. Italian street life is ripe with vignettes unfolding. I can’t help but attach my personal narratives, but I’m learning to do so lightly and with humor, and remembering I can never know the truth of an entire situation.

Thank you all for bringing your creativity into this photo caption contest. Stay tuned, I may make this a regular thing!

Caption Contest! Win a Amazon Gift Card!

Italian street life, Italywise

Walk on By is a new photo by Jed Smith.

I’m happy to introduce a scene I captured on one of my recent photo excursions. I’m constantly intrigued and entertained by “snippets” of Italian street life, and I was happy to be quick on the draw to capture this one. The expression of this well-heeled signora is the focal point of this image. Looking at the image now I can imagine countless captions. So, I decided I’d have a little fun and invite you to bring your unique perspectives to this image and submit a caption in the comments sections of this website/blog Italywise.com. One entry per person*, and submissions must be made by end of day Tuesday, April 19 midnight PST. The winning submission will receive a $30 Amazon.com gift card (or the equivalent in the country of the winner).

To see this and other photography and paintings be sure to visit my online gallery.

*Family/relatives are ineligible (though you can still submit for fun!)

At Rest – New Photo by Jed

At Rest, Italywise

At Rest is a recent photo by Jed Smith

I am drawn to, in my art and photography, scenes of simplicity and calm. For me these are meditations and reminders of the importance of stepping out of the torrent of “doing” and allowing my soul, and mind, to breathe.

I’ve always had a fascination with physics, especially the paradoxes of quantum physics. For an artist? Yeah, go figure. I guess my dad’s nuclear engineer genes haven’t been crowded out by my mom’s art genes.

What continually does a number on my head is that the world/universe actually is 99.99% empty space, yet we’re convinced by the swirling activity of infinitesimal particles of energy that what we see is solid and real. I know that I all too often forget about this ocean of empty space which holds everything, and where anything can happen. Like me, unless you’re an Einstein or David Bohm, your brain will shut down if it tries to assimilate this into anything but an intellectual concept.

In light of a brain that can’t conceive of the inconceivable, I “feel” my way towards truth with my art. The above scene brings me calm. In contemplating such a setting, perhaps my mind, like the waters, becomes still, and the realization of the depth and richness of the unseen space that connects everything returns to my awareness. The neurotic need to do, to figure it all out, abates. And, the insanity of the world’s current events temporarily loosen their grip on my attention. For me, this in incredible gift.

In closing, I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite actors…

Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen – that stillness becomes a radiance. – Morgan Freeman

To see other photos be sure to visit my online gallery.

Being…Just Being.

The art of being, Italywise

Just Being is a recent photo by Jed Smith, taken in Basilicata (the arch of the “foot” of Italy)

In my photography and in my art I’m drawn to subjects who seem to be in a space of being. For me, it’s a representation of stepping out of the rushing stream of doing and needing to accomplish. Probably, this speaks volumes about my own addiction to constant movement and achieving.

Some people might look at the scene above and come to conclusions that reflect some kind of loneliness or sadness. I prefer to believe this man is in a space where the need to do, or to over think life, has dropped away.

Be – don’t try to become. – Osho

Moving to Italy has given me plenty to do, and to accomplish – learning the language, and tackling a pretty big list of logistical imperatives. In other words, I’ve had plenty of food for the hungry monster who thrives on being engaged in constant movement. Also, I’ve realized I don’t have to be physically moving to still be charging forward like a racehorse. I’m well acquainted with my restlessness, lying in bed after waking up in the morning, while my mind latches onto a laundry list of matters that need to be addressed or problems that need to be solved. Chuang Tzu referred to this as “sitting while wandering”. How appropriate.

I’m cheating myself if I remain in the rushing stream of doing. The funny thing is that I KNOW, from experience, when the doing part of me is exhausted, or takes a break, suddenly the world opens up for me. I feel present, and the world expands into dimensions that transcend thought or verbal explanation. In Umbria, I’ve experienced clear nights that wrap me in a magnificent cloak of stars – all made possible by the lack of urban noise and light pollution, and by the lack of thinking about what I have to do tomorrow or what I regret in the road behind me.

As life beckons me to a fuller life, I’ve come to believe that living with paradox is an essential element for my slowing down and residing in being. I’ve not been a fan of paradox for most of my life, because I like to have things figured out and to know where I’m going. That’s pretty ambitious, and I’m learning also, that it’s pretty damn impossible. I’ve thought I’ve needed to constantly steer life, which requires a vigilance that is exhausting. It also doesn’t trust the universe, or a higher power to move and take me to unimagined places. The funny thing is, the most creative and successful solutions to problems come when I quit trying to manhandle my way to figuring things out. The universe will provide answers (maybe not according to our timetable or expectations) if we let go and step into being.

I close with this YouTube video from Alan Watts, which speaks to the paradox of letting go while helping to remind me to let go and reside in “being”.

 

Well-Heeled in Italy

Italian fashion, Italywise

Well-Heeled in Italy is a recent photo by Jed.

I’m taking liberties by including the phrase “well-heeled” in the name of this recent photo. This two-word adjective most often has been used describing someone who is well off financially – as reflected in the quality of their shoes. However, its origins come from cock fights (check out this link at http://www.saidwhat.co.uk) – yes, cock fights. You see, spurs would be added to help them fight. Hence “well-heeled”.

As I study the prevalent sense of fashion here in Italy, I see much of it begins with the shoes. Most self-respecting Italians wouldn’t dream of being out and about with boring or crappy shoes – as evidenced by the two well-heeled women in this photo. You can’t see their faces, but I assure you they are well into their fifties. Fashion isn’t reserved for the youngsters and I love how these woman boldly and comfortably opt for sexy dresses and shoes that show off their legs (which often are kept in fine form by being part of a culture that embraces walking vs. opting for hopping in a car).

My favorite Italian fashion scenario to happen upon is an Italian wedding. I love snooping around to see the decked out crowd – men and women alike. It’s not unusual to see attendees standing outside (taking a break from the wedding in progress) to have a cigarette and/or check their cell phones. For me this is one of the best “cat walks” for checking out the latest Italian fashions. Hint, stay tuned for a future post about Italian fashion using Italian weddings as a backdrop.

In closing, I pay tribute to the Italians’ seemingly uncanny ability to effortlessly express fashion sense. I can’t articulate the exact “how” or “why”, but I sense it is hard-coded into the DNA of the culture. It doesn’t mean that fashion tragedies can’t be witnessed on the streets here – I just find it’s a pretty rare occurrence.

To see other photos, be sure to visit my online photo gallery.

Street Life in Sicily

Life in Italy, Italywise

Street life in Cefalu, Sicily is rich in vignettes.

I feel like a paparazzo (that’s just one photographer vs paparazzi, which indicates many) of street life in Italy. I do this not only for photography, but for inspiration for my paintings. I try to work in stealth (that translates into having a zoom lens), so as not to disturb the energy of the scenes that unfold before my eyes.

So it was on this day in Cefalu, Sicily, that I begin zigzagging through the streets with my periscope up on the lookout to see what presented itself. Much of the movie Cinema Paradiso was filmed Cefalu. I can see why this was a perfect movie set, and still is.

The translation of Cefalu is “head”, and theories suggest this refers to the shape of the hill and rock above the town, adorned with an ancient castle.

Learn more about Cefalu at ItalyGuides.it.

In this particular image, the gentlemen in the chair was fixed, as if rendered in stone. Meanwhile la suora (the sister) moves up the street, and enters a home. I love these layers of street life in Sicily, and I hope to return for a longer visit, solely to for the purpose of capturing life as it unfolds on the streets of Sicily.

For this and other photographs, please be sure to check out my online gallery.

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