"Parlano Con Il Cuoco" - They Speak with the Cook

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Saying “I do” in Italy.

Last October, I was honored to be the wedding photographer for the marriage of the daughter of some very dear friends from North Carolina. I had an amazing time being in “artist mode”, constantly on the move to capture key moments (often furtively). I also felt incredibly privileged to be included in a ceremony and celebration of love between two radiant, loving souls. The wedding itself was an intimate affair with maybe two dozen people – mostly family and close friends who had made the journey from the States to be part of this important event.

The wedding ceremony and the reception and dinner afterwards was held at my favorite restaurant and agriturismo, Calagrana, here in Umbria, in the Niccone Valley. They are masters at orchestrating events and delivering some of the most amazing wines and foods you’ll find in Umbria. The bride and groom were married under a verdant gazebo with graceful wrought-iron swirls. The bride’s father, a minister, officiated.

After the ceremony, prosecco and appetizers were served on the terrace overlooking the valley. A long sit-down dinner came next. Nothing was hurried or orchestrated on a strict time schedule. For me, it was almost as if Italy’s “Slow Food” movement had extended to the wedding venue.

As the photographer, I loved witnessing the many wonderful emotions flowing through the course of the afternoon and evening. At times I felt guilty – like I was some kind of voyeur or intruder into very personal and intimate moments. One of my favorite images is of the embrace between the new husband and wife when they slipped out on the terrace to have a moment alone.

I have attended two other weddings here in Umbria. Both were Italian weddings and they were much larger affairs (hundreds of guests). I’ll write about them in another posts. But, whether it is a wedding of Americans or of Italians, tying the knot in Italy is a magical experience.

 

Let Life Happen

Giallo - A Study of Love, in Yellow

Giallo – A Study of Love, in Yellow

Let life happen. Be present. These two important lessons keep presenting themselves. When I trust these two mantras, I’m amazed at what happens.

I captured this scene in Trastevere, Rome, when my dear friend Susan was visiting and we leisurely were strolling through the neighborhood after lunch at Grazia & Graziella (always a colorful and delicious experience). Not only do I love how yellow creates a focal point for this image, I also love this moment of tender affection.

This is an example of how life can orchestrate a scene for me, without my attempting to manufacture or control it. I’m learning that, when I open up my personal aperture, instead of maintaining a narrow focus looking for something in particular, life delivers something immensely better than any preconceived idea. My job is to be present and to be aware – and to be quick on the draw with my camera.

Having spent quite a bit of time in Rome, I’ve come to observe countless tourists glued to the their cameras and their smartphones. They seem to be intent on capturing every moment of their experience. In a way, it’s like grasping, striving to hold onto life vs. letting it flow. I see this because I have been the same. When I have been in that mode, life seems to flatten out, losing it rich sense of dimension – all in the pursuit of “holding on” and being afraid of missing out. And, at those times I have ended up not being fully present for the many wonderful people in my life.

I know my conditioning and my predisposition is to try to muscle my way through life. Now, I’m learning a path of relaxing into the flow of life, and trusting in what is and what will be. Because conditioning doesn’t just fall away without time and awareness, I’m certain life will keep bringing me opportunities to build these fledgling muscles. Patience, and more patience.

Relaxing into the moment does not mean being passive and waiting for life to deliver everything to my doorstep. As I have been writing this post, Simone has been downstairs listening to a YouTube interview with Oprah Winfrey. In yet another moment of synchronicity I heard Oprah describing her approach to life as “preparation leaning into the moment of opportunity”. This sums up an important point for me – do the hard work of preparation, and then allow opportunity to present itself.

The hardest thing for me to digest, is that my thinking brain cannot conceive of all that is possible. Becoming untethered from incessant thinking is a new and strange thing. Yet when it happens, I find myself experiencing an alertness that is peaceful and expansive. I’m grateful when these “windows” open up, and I’m also learning not to grasp, or lament when those windows seem to slam shut. All in due time…

Be sure to check out this and other photos and paintings in my online gallery.

 

 

A Study in Orange – Photo by Jed

A Study in Orange

A Study in Orange

I am visually enamored with unexpected color stories, and I’m incredibly grateful when I have the awareness to see a scene like the one above orchestrating itself. Again, this is a life lesson in allowing things to happen, rather than trying to contrive something according to an idea of what I think “might” be interesting.

This photo was taken this past winter while I was in Venice for 2 1/2 days. Two of these days were characterized by high winds, high waters and unrelenting rain. Normally this would be a recipe for ensuring I stay inside and bury my head in a book. Instead, thanks to the urging of Simone, we forged through the elements and I became a periscope for this unique time in Venice. While I was happy to capture a variety of scenes as they presented themselves, I was happiest with this one, which was one of the last images I took as we were on our way to the vaporetto stop to head back to the Santa Lucia train station, and to our Italo train ride back to Rome.

Earlier I had been casting aspersions about the “cheap, makeshift boots” being sold in massive amounts by opportunistic vendors. Little did I know these would become a central part of this photo. I love the orange boots, the orange “legs” of the pigeons, and the orange buildings helping to frame the image.

I’m grateful to the photo for reminding me not to label or judge things according to conditioned expectations of beauty.

Be sure to check out this and other photos and paintings in my online gallery.

In the Moment – Photo by Jed

In the Moment

In the Moment

This is one of my favorite photographs – for more personal reasons, which are inherent in the title. I have lived a very full life, yet sometimes the dark side of fullness is a cacophony of too much thinking and doing. Too much time in my head analyzing and labeling things, and too much time preoccupied with the future. Some philosophers have called it “intellectual violence”.

When I look back at this photo I’m reminded to “Be here now.” This photo was taken near the lovely Abbazia di Sant’Antimo, south of Montalcino (think spectacular Brunello wines) in Tuscany. I come across reflective moments like this in many rural Italian areas. In Umbria, I often see my neighbor, a woman in her 70’s, sitting out on her top step with her walking cane leaning against her, while she gazes, seemingly for hours, across her fields of vegetables to the spectacular mountain vista that surrounds all of us. Some people might look at the lives of such “salt of the earth” people and think they have boring repetitive lives. Maybe there is spaciousness and freedom in such lives that aren’t filled with non-stop “doing” or over-crowded by a world of constant digital connectedness. I suspect many of these people are more alive than we can imagine.

I pray to live a life outside of my head, and to reside more in my heart. I pray to experience truly what is right in front of me, right now.

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

A Seagull’s View of Venice – Photo by Jed

A seagull's perspective of the high waters in Venice.

A seagull’s perspective of the high waters in Venice.

Just a little over a month ago we were in Venice during two days of very challenging rain, wind and high waters. While the weather didn’t make getting around the city easy, the conditions provided me a different perspective on the city. Not only in Venice, but in other cities in Italy, I’ve been asking myself, “How does a bird experience its surroundings?” So, I played around with this. In this image, taken in Piazza San Marco, I risked dropping my camera into the flood waters. And, given that this is Venice and the city has a reputation for not having the most sanitary water accumulating in public places, I also risked taking an onerous biological sample back with me to Rome. Thankfully my grip on the camera was solid.

Here you see the result of my “playing around”. I love how the seagull is the focal point, in a way that doesn’t dominate the photo. The Doge’s Palace and its reflection provide the framework. I plan to explore the birds eye view in future photography pursuits. So, as always, stay tuned!

A surprisingly inspiring bus ride on a rainy morning in Rome.

A rainy early morning on the 3B in Testaccio, Rome.

A rainy morning on the 3B in Testaccio, Rome.

Thursday morning, March 4, 2014. Beauty can show up in the most unexpected ways when you open your eyes and step aside from your normal perspectives.

I woke up this morning…reluctantly. Outside was cold, steady rain. I’m a sunshine man. I live to see the sun, and I usually pout internally when the sun is in hiding, and when I have to face inconvenient weather elements. Still, I roused myself, took a shower, had a strong coffee, bundled up and headed out to catch my bus to my intensive Italian language class. I couldn’t shrug off the class, because I paid handsomely for the course (worth every euro), and I didn’t want to lose my bearings in the middle of a very important segment on pronoun placements when using imperative verb forms.

My normal commuting strategy for less-than-ideal weather is to pop in my ear buds, navigate my Iphone to YouTube or ITunes, and shut out the world until I arrive at my destination. But, today, I was more keenly aware of this inclination and made a different choice. I purposely packed away my ear buds and made a conscious decision to pay attention to the world around me. I put my Iphone in readiness as a camera.

I looked everywhere, observing how the citizens of Rome were dealing with the weather. I first scanned the landscape inside the bus, and then my gaze move outside. And, I discovered that the rainy window on my left was presenting me with a different perspective on the world. So, as we approached the subsequent bus stops, I started clicking ways. Here you see the results – a pretty significant departure from my usual photographic style. With only slight color enhancements, these images are basically un-retouched. I love how they capture the mood and essence of the morning and the weather, and how they feel more like paintings than photographs.

I’m experimenting and playing. I can hear the voice of my Momma Liz urging me to play, to color outside of the lines of normal convention…and to not be afraid to fail. Thanks Mom, you still reside within me and inspire me.

While this post is primarily about art and creativity, today’s experience is helping me to relax the tenacious grip I have on the steering wheel of life. I’m learning to let go of a mountain of conditioning and preconceived notions of how life is supposed to show up, and to quit trying to control everything. Life has a funny way of taking you to places and experiences that can be pretty damn amazing if you just get out of the way.

 

A quick and simple shot through the rainy window on my daily bus ride.

A quick and simple shot through the rainy window on my daily bus ride.

Art and magic is everywhere. A rainy buswindow adds a beautiful filter for the world outside.

Art and magic is everywhere. A rainy bus window provides a beautiful filter for the world outside.

Cellulari – Photo by Jed

"Cellulari" - Mobile phones in a story of movement here in central Rome.

“Cellulari” – Mobile phones in a story of movement here in central Rome.

 

I love capturing people as they go about their daily lives here in central Rome. At times, I resist inclusion of elements that demonstrate how the digital world is taking over people’s lives (no, I’m not immune), preferring to capture the old world charm of this city whenever possible. But, I believe art and photography moves with the evolution of societies. It makes me wonder where and how mobile phones will be viewed by future generations, and if technology will have advanced in such a way that these phones depicted here, will be perceived as old and clunky as rotary dial phones. Will the use of these devices be perceived as something that became nostalgic and romantic?

Pondering these questions, I was very happy to capture this pedestrian scene, which almost feels orchestrated in the movements of the characters. The older woman, stylishly put together (and her dog, too) clearly is engrossed with the contents of her phone, and she has the agility to do this “one-handed”, which shows she’s not a novice. Off to the right a father with stroller makes his entrance, also with the same focus and involvement with the cellphone in hand.

See this and other photos and painting in the online gallery.

 

Calcio in Piazza della Minerva – Photo by Jed

Calcio (Soccer) in Piazza della Minerva

Calcio in Piazza della Minerva

Piazza della Minerva is one of my favorite places in Rome – not only for the architecture, and this wonderful obelisk with the elephant, but for people watching. Here, the scene is punctuated with boys playing soccer – a rare moment when the piazza isn’t crawling with tourists. See this and other photography and paintings in my online gallery.

“The Daily News” – Photo by Jed

Lettura del quotidiano

Lettura del quotidaino – Reading the daily news. A common scene in bars here in Italy.

This black and white photo captures a scene I enjoy observing every day in caf├Ęs here in Italy. Each cafe has several newspapers, so unless someone else is already reading your favorite newspaper, reading is pretty much a fee endeavor. I love seeing the concentration and involvement with these publications, which are ripe with the crazy politics and scandals of Italy and Europe. And, you’ll also find ample commentary on all that is newsworthy in the States. While Italy, and Europe is a bit of governmental and financial mess these days, people also find much of what is going on “across the Atlantic” to be a mess of its own.

Be sure to check out other black and white photos in the online gallery.

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