I am an observer. I am an outsider here, a newcomer with fresh eyes. In Italy, even the things that are ancient are brand new to someone whose home country’s definition of antiquity is about 200-300 years old. Even the things I should be accustomed to, like ambulances, traffic lights, vending machines, pharmacies, and grocery stores, are new. I have found that the best way for me to adjust to my new surroundings is to observe.
I brought my camera to Italy with me because it helps me see. It helps me pay attention to the things I may not otherwise notice or remember. And because I now have the habit of seeing the world through my viewfinder, I am a better seer even without my camera. I take in one detail at a time. One frame at a time. I look where people forget to look. I change my posture so I can see better, squatting and leaning and turning my head sideways. I walk slowly so I can get the shot, either with my camera or with my mind’s eye. I am an observer instead of a main character. It helps me be part of my surroundings in a way that honors and respects them.
Sometimes we go into churches or villas where frescoes cover the walls. They are bold and colorful and beautiful. But they have not always been protected and preserved the way they are now by red velvet ropes. They used to be vulnerable to mischievous teenagers and couples who would etch their names and the year into the ancient frescoes. If you look closely, you can find graffiti from the 1700’s and older. This is a detail many miss, but my eyes have been trained by my camera’s viewfinder to see the small details of the etched graffiti even before they see the image of the fresco. Other observers notice them too, but many pass them by. These etchings are complex because while they are a sad defacement of precious art, they are also a little-known glimpse into what people were like on a very relatable level hundreds of years ago. They got into trouble, they had crushes on girls and boys their age, and they thought of 1772 and 1889 and 1940 the same way I think of 2021. This in an artifact you won’t find on a guided tour. You’ll have to look closely for yourself. And train your eyes to capture the details, with or without a camera.
Hollen Terry, Fall 2021