“Oh I love this one. Can I buy it?”
My good friend Cathy was looking over some contact sheets of photographs I had taken in Italy. It was 1993, and I had recently returned from my first trip to Europe.
For my introductory European travel adventure, I arrived with my, new to me, but used, Nikon F3, which was 10 years old by the time it ended up in my hands. It was and still is a beautiful camera.
I traveled with as much film as I could fit in my lead film bags to protect them from the many airport x-ray machines I would have to pass through, and now looking at the images through a loupe with Cathy was the first time I could confirm that the lead bags had indeed worked and my film hadn’t been fogged by x-rays.
It’s funny, I haven’t had to think about lead bags now in over a decade.
I was enjoying watching Cathy find the images that caught her eye. But it never occurred to me that I might sell any of them. The world-traveling-photographer part of my life was just getting started. I was experimenting and making my first photographs that I might consider art. Learning to see in the new places I was beginning to travel to.
“Really? You want to buy a print?”
And just like that, my fine-art photography career was born.
My good friend Kristin had generously invited me to tag along on her family vacation to Italy back in 1993. I didn’t even have a passport at the time. But it was a lovely way to be inaugurated into the joy of traveling to countries outside of my own.
I remember planning so diligently in the weeks leading up to our departure. Upgrading my camera from the Pentax K-1000, that for ten years, really helped me learn how to use a manual film camera, to the Nikon F3. Buying three used lenses, two of which actually turned out to be very good lenses, even though at the time I didn’t really know what I was buying. (I still have those.) Xeroxing a few pages of Beginning to Learn Italian, that I would continue to memorize through the flight to Rome. Registering my camera equipment with the US Customs Office. Those lead bags I mentioned before. And as much Ilford HP5 B&W and Fuji Velvia color transparency film as I could fit in them.
During the course of the trip, besides Rome, we visited Naples and Pompeii before heading north to Florence. Italy is a beautiful country, but it was Florence that really captured my artistic heart. It wasn’t as busy as Rome. I like to say Rome is like New York, if New York was 2000 years old. No, Florence was cozier than Rome. Easily walkable. And you could just feel the art ghosts, thousands of years old, around every corner.
It was in Florence that I first found my travel photography groove. Quietly discovering the compositions in the narrow streets, lined with beautiful old buildings. And the people. Just timeless.
That’s where I made the photograph that Cathy was now admiring. I remember seeing the man walking down one of the narrow streets, umbrella in hand. I framed up the composition and clicked the shutter. I made a few other similar photos along that walk as well. But that one seemed to have something special about it. Anonymous. And something I would try to re-create in my future work. Making an image that was a challenge to tell whether it was made recently or fifty years ago. I can’t say exactly why that’s important to me, but it always has been. Making the viewer curious about the story. Florence was a lovely place to realize that.
It was a wonderful experience. And I was hooked on travel for life.
And then coming back and selling some of my work. Well, as they say, you always remember your first.
Thank you, Cathy!