As many of you know, one of my inspirations regarding photography is a man named Brandon Stanton from Humans of New York. He runs a blog he nicknames HONY that features everyday people who he meets and chats to in the streets of New York City. He finds a way to get down to the core of who they really are or what they stand for. Sometimes it’s as simple as a short quotation or a brief story but often the picture he takes alone speaks a thousand words.
I wanted to do something similar while away on my trip. At first I thought it was going to be easy but as soon as I crossed the boarder, the thought of the language barrier hit. It’s a wonder I never thought about it being a problem before hand. It proved to be a bigger struggle than I expected, even though English seems to be the most worldly renowned language around here. In Amalfi, I was finally able to muster up some courage instead of silently stalking from afar and speak to these people directly. I found that the atmosphere and the relationships between people was so much more welcoming on the islands as opposed to the tourist areas of Italy. There, everyone seems to be rushed, always stuck on getting from one place to the next as quickly as possible and the business wasn’t as personal, depending on where you go of course.
The people here, they were different. They were inviting and open and most of all, they were all happy. Truly happy. I’m certain it attests to their lifestyle because in a place like that, how could you ever be anything but? I found they really respected the fact that we both came from a different part of the world. So through broken but heartfelt conversation, I was able to uncover a few things about who these people were. Passing them by in the city centre, you would never know their stories. What I love the most about speaking to these people is I often come out of our meeting with an entirely different perspective on them than the one I had at first glance. It just goes to show that everybody has a story, we all have something behind us to share.
Gilda was the first lady I photographed closely. Her and I met at the hostel in Sorrento moments before I departed for the coast. I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to get to know her more since she seemed to have a lot of experience behind her and was an incredibly gentle soul.
On my first walk through the Amalfi city centre, we passed by each other in the crowd on the way up the hill. She happened to be traveling there that day and it was shocking that out of all these people and all the times we could have been walking, we crossed paths.
She immediately said that she had been worried about me and hoped I had found a place to stay. It touched my heart that she cared about someone she had just met and I shared with her the story about my arrival.
After we said goodbye and parted ways, I had an impulse and ran back to find her standing at the fountain. I quickly asked her if I could photograph her for my blog. It was the push that I needed to start my own personal project.
She was camera shy, but I continued to talk to her as I photographed. She told me that her ex daughter in law was fascinated with taking photographs of abandoned mental institutions. What a niche!
I asked her if she had any words of wisdom she wanted to depart on the young. What was one thing that she had learned about life? She responded with
“I’m still learning.”
I hope the rest of Gilda’s trip was everything she had dreamed.
I came across this man while exploring a narrow staircase I had stumbled upon on my walk. He was standing outside of a restaurant that he seemed incredibly proud of. He was intriguing so I approached him and asked if I could take his photo. He was more than willing and spoke very little English but laughed the whole time, smiling and hamming it up for the camera. His name was Anzo and he was the owner of the pizza shop. He was very adimate that I come in and try his food. I tried to explain that I had already eaten but he was persistent showing me his low prices.
I decided to ask him if he had any advice he wanted to give as well. He hesitated for a while and there was at least a minute of silence before he responded with,
“Take away or eat in?”
You can take that advice in whatever way you please!
I met Carlo after my third time walking up to the end of this path in the centre. Every time I walked back and forth, I saw something new. In this case, it was the concentration of this man on his water colour paintings. I watched as he sat there by his little stand and painted a colourful picture of the city. I noticed that he didn’t seem to be using anything as a guide. I first told him that his work was beautiful. Then I asked him if he painted from a photo or from his mind. He told me that most of his paintings are done by memory. Very few are done with a photo as an example. He told me that when he’s not selling his work here, he’s a teacher in Rome for a Mosaicista class.
He then proceeded to open a small black box and pull out a charcoal sketch he had done of a human body. It was very elegant and simple. He said he hadn’t used a model at all and this too was by memory alone. It was what he did in his spare time, a pleasure for only himself.
His favourite thing about painting?
Marella and I met in a book shop that held leather bound journals with beautiful homemade paper. I spent quite a while looking at them displayed along the walls because they were so interesting to me. She noticed how much I seemed to love the books and began telling me that they were hand made by her grandfather over 25 years ago. Her mother had helped him make the books as well and they had a second shop run by her brother in the square. I was able to meet her mother Ana just a few moments later. After I took her photo, she put it back on the wall and told me,
“he’s in paradise now.”
You could tell he left a very strong presence with his family and I was happy to have learned about it.
Irenzo and I never really got to know each other because he had to grab someone to translate who wasn’t able to stick around for very long. In the short time that we did chat, he told me how to get into the beautiful church up the way and that his favourite part of Amalfi was a small town near Positano called Revello. Also that he was the owner of the gift shop and lived in the upstairs room. What drew me to him was his constant smile that he shared with customers. He sat at the door in his little chair and warmed the hearts of everyone who walked through. Or, he at least warmed mine. He was a pretty cool dude.
This man was not a local at all but he caught my eye because he was taking a photo of one of the main statues in the square. A few kids scurried out of his way but he told them he would rather have a few bodies in the picture since he was looking to paint it later. I told him that I couldn’t agree more and I also wouldn’t mind some life in the photo as well.
John W. Gaines IV is from Pearland Texas and does oil paintings and prints of photos that he takes himself. He told me that his work is featured in a French gallery and one of his potential clients is Oprah. He seemed to have made quite the name for himself and was very proud of his work. I shared my story of wanting to head into photography so we had a very similar connection. I liked the way he turned one form of art into another. When we finished talking, he laughed and told me that I had made his entire day. He definitely helped to make mine. His work can be found at http://www.johngainesfineart.com
I would never have met Dominic had Kate not pointed him out in the Atrani Piazza one night. We were having drinks and she whispered to me, “you should take that guys photograph over there. He’s the most Italian looking man I’ve ever seen!” She was right about that. He had the beret and the little red scarf around his neck, more French than anything actually. I have to admit, I was a little nervous to approach him at first since the people he was with seemed to give off a vibe saying they weren’t too keen on talking to a curious tourist. But, I had learned already not to judge a book by its cover so I headed over. The man with Dominic who I had immediately thought was going to be unapproachable, ended up being a super nice man. He translated for me as I asked to take Dominic’s photo. He seemed so kind. He had that sense of kindness that just oozes out of a person. I asked him what he liked to do, if there was something he wanted to share. He too is an artist, like a lot of the people I had been meeting. He told me he lived in a house with over 200 wall murals he had painted on his own. He made a living off selling his art in the street and when I asked him what his favourite thing about art was, he told me that everything he ever painted was done in the moment. He loved painting when the sun was just barely setting over the rooftops and he worked with whatever struck him as inspiring at that time. In the moment, in the moment. He was sure about that more than anything.
I wanted to end with this guy because I really enjoy what he told me before we went our separate ways. His name, if you can believe it, is Golem. He is a digital graphic artist and he was in Italy for a festival where he was featuring his work. He travels all over the world to promote what he does and said he was even in Montreal at one point in time! As I was taking his photo, his friends were laughing behind him and in turn, so was he. Before I left, he gave me his card and I asked him like I had everyone else, if he had anything he wanted to share. If there was something he loved about what he did. He told me,
“For me, it is a pleasure to be creative. Creation is our mission in our lives.”
I want to share with you one final quotation that I believe fits really well with these stories. It’s something that Benoit shared with me in Atrani. A french phrase. The saying goes,
Les Voyages Forment La Jeunesse
Journeys Shape Youth.