on liminality, loafers, and limitation
At first is was strange to think that a place as beautiful as Orvieto could become familiar, in a way. Yes, the cliffside views and the people watching will never get old, but they have begun to take on a new familiarity, for which I am quite happy with, but still puzzled by. But recently I have begun to find a beauty in this transition. I took the 7:21 train to Florence again, and having already made this trek, my mind was put at ease. This trip was not dedicated to vintage hunting- I going there for work...as strenuous as photographing in Italy can be. The task for the day was the Brancacci Chapel.
I didn't need to arrive 20 minutes early to the bus stop because I knew that the bus would leave at around 6:43. I knew that when the local cafe owner Angela would pass by on her morning commute, she would ask "Dove via oggi?" which means "Where are you going today?". I said Florence, yet again. She remembered that I went last week as well, and remarked that I must be getting to know Florence pretty well. While waiting at the bus stop, a local woman asked me what time my train left. She was heading to work in Rome, and seemed a little bit worried about missing her train. It then struck me that everyone waiting for the train that morning was, well, waiting for a train. The platform suddenly became a shared, 'in between" experience, and any leftover fears I had began to dissipate.
One of the main themes that I have been reflecting upon this Summer has been liminality.
Liminality is the in-between moments, the space between an inciting incident in a story and the protagonist's resolution. It is often a period of discomfort, of waiting, and of transformation. Your characters' old habits, beliefs, and even personal identity disintegrates.
Being rather new to these sorts of spaces (especially in the context of travel), I still approach them with a sort of glee. I recently started reading Alain de Botton's, The Art of Travel and I am loving every bit of it. He writes....
“If we find poetry in the service station and the motel, if we are drawn to the airport or the train carriage, it is perhaps because, despite their architectural compromises and discomforts, despite their garish colours and harsh lighting, we implicitly feel that these isolated places offer us a material setting for an alternative to the selfish ease, the habits and confinement of the ordinary, rooted world.”
I began to think about what these isolated, unselfish places create room for, and that's when I got my answer.
I had my headphones in as usual, and was reading Art as Therapy (Another one Alain de Botton, ha). About an hour into my ride a young Italian woman boarded the train. She looked a bit hurried and pretty familiar with the commute. She chose the seat across from me. A few minutes later, much to my surprise, she looked over at me and said “I have that book”. Her english was great (although she would disagree) and I was taken back.
Her name is Benedetta and she's from Cortona. Turns out, she is studying painting restoration (which from what I have learned, is a combination of art, art history, and a bit of chemistry...) in Florence and was on her way to class. She told me that she liked my style and especially my necklace. I told her it was a poppy that I bought in Orvieto. She said that they are her favorite flower.
Style side note: outfit from that day.
I told her about why I am in Italy and my work as a photographer. She suggested that I look into attending Cortona on the Move, an international photography festival that was starting in the next few days. I took note, not thinking much of it as I had a lot of editing to do back in Orvieto. We talked about how difficult the art world or creative industries can be, especially finding a job. She offered the sweetest words of encouragement, to "Never lose hope".
After our conversation, which was punctuated with bits of silence (being that it was still early morning), we arrived at our destination and parted ways. I told her I that I snuck a portrait of her and she became very bashful. My trip to florence was successful, I found my location without stress (and yes, maybe stopped at a vintage shop along the way to pick up the most adorable little vintage neck scarves), stumbled upon a small gallery, and decided to do a bit of gelato detoxing with a fennel salad before catching an early afternoon train home.
A day or two later, on a whim, I decided to look into this photography festival, which I thought had been going on for a while. It turns out, the opening ceremonies were happening in two days, and they were offering portolio reviews (with some pretty notable reviewers from the NY Times Paris, Marie Claire, etc...). I was speechless! I expected all of the slots to be taken but immediately called to see if they could squeeze me in, which they happily did! Within ten minutes of googling this festival, I had six portfolio reviews and, well, no portfolio printed or prepared.
My work has never been professionally reviewed, and I didn't have any specific project I was working on that was in good enough shape to present to a trusted friend, let alone these seasoned professionals. But I knew that I wouldn't be too happy with myself if I let this opportunity pass me by, and a simple phrase kept ringing in my head...
So off I went! Scurrying around town, trying to find a print shop (and trying to communicate with those working at the print shop), making selections, commissioning Cher Chow to design me new business cards, and digging through office supply store shelves to find a makeshift portfolio folder (pictured below), and maybe using the occasion of meeting with such fashionable women as an excuse to buy new shoes (which I am so excited to show you in an upcoming post)...
Color side note: love the combination of cobalt and blush.
To condense a very busy, scary, new experience into a few short words, I learned so, so, so much. It was a lot more difficult and intimidating than I expected (flashbacks to my first solo exhibition) but I gained a lot of insight and advice. Most of the other people getting reviewed had already published photography books and had such strong handle on their work, so for the most part, my reviewers were gracious. But I have begun to ask a lot of really hard questions, most of which I am still processing. They gave me A LOT of homework and guidance for my future projects. Here are some notes and quotes from my scattered journal:
..."don't think too much"
..."create collision and dance with spontaneity"
..."photography is about ideas"
..."tell me why I should care about this photo?"
..."EXERCISE MORE CONTROL"
This last saying was one that heard in each of my six reviews, and I think it was my biggest takeaway. It referred not only to the compositional choices that I made, but also the conceptual. They each encouraged me to put limits in place.
And here are some iPhone images from my two crazy inspiring, challenging, and formative days in Cortona. So, some thoughts on this sunny Sunday.
- Liminality can be kind of magical. I hope to keep exploring these poetic places.
- Can our style choices act conversation starters, as a means of merging spaces, creating spaces?
- Creativity thrives when given boundaries or limits.
- When recounting this story (from meeting Benedetta to my two days in Cortona) to my sweet new friend Sylvia, she said "That is the purpose of travel." Ah! I loved that.
- When the doubts began to arise I began to process with another new friend, Christine, who reminded me that although challenging, my experience was "a wonderful brush with the world".
- I now know how to say, "photo prints", "high quality", "immediately", and "I am nervous!" in Italian.
To end, here's a quote for all of you that may be traveling soon. Especially on a train.
Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do; the task can be as paralysing as having to tell a joke or mimic an accent on demand. Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks—charged with listening to music, for example, or following a line of trees. The music or the view distracts for a time that nervous, censorious, practical part of the mind which is inclined to shut down when it notices something difficult emerging in consciousness, and which runs scared of memories, longings and introspective or original ideas, preferring instead the administrative and the impersonal. Of all modes of transport, the train is perhaps the best aid to thought. The views have none of the potential monotony of those on a ship or a plane, moving quickly enough for us not to get exasperated but slowly enough to allow us to identify objects. They offer us brief, inspiring glimpses into private domains, letting us see a woman at the precise moment when she takes a cup from a shelf in her kitchen, then carrying us on to a patio where a man is sleeping and then to a park where a child is catching a ball thrown by a figure we cannot see. On a journey across flat country, I think with a rare lack of inhibition about the death of my father, about an essay I am writing on Stendhal and about a mistrust that has arisen between two friends. Every time my mind goes blank, having hit on a difficult idea, the flow of consciousness is assisted by the possibility of looking out the window, locking on to object and following it for a few seconds, until a new coil of thought is ready to form and can unravel without pressure.
The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton
All the best and best of the rest!