There are moments in life when everything falls into place perfectly. There are no chances, this I know deep down, but the encounters that happen can change our lives – if we relax into them and say yes. I try to follow my intuition, but sometimes it’s easier than other times. However, when I received the invitation to attend A New Way of Seeing, a photography retreat in Genova with Di Mackey and Helen Kerrison, my spirit did a little twirl and I actually jumped up and down around the house. In my book, exuberant bursts of joy are usually a pretty clear sign.
Tickets where quickly booked and I left one antica repubblica marinara and landed in another – Genova. Landing at the Genova airport after a panoramic flight over the city is quite an experience. Let’s just say I love being close to the sea, but I like the sea just a little further away from the runway. Ahem. It was the beginning of a fun and adventurous weekend!
Di and Helen waved at me from across Piazza de Ferrari as I meandered through the people soaking up the late afternoon sun around the massive fountain. My time in Genova was capped so beautifully by moments in this piazza and against the backdrop of the cascading water. After a short stroll we arrived at the hotel where I would be staying for the weekend, which was just across from the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for churches with stripes, and I practically went weak at the knees looking around me. Even the steps to the cathedral were striped! I wobbled across the piazza to check in, but it wasn’t long (perhaps record time if they keep check-in to checking-out-stripes statistics …) before I was out taking photos the cathedral in the evening light.
After a marvelous evening talking over wine in Piazza San Lorenzo and Di introducing us to Roberto Panizza’s masterful cooking (and tucco!) at Il Genovese, the work of the weekend began in earnest Saturday morning with espresso and cornetti at an outdoor cafe. And, of course, Di diving into shutter speed, aperture and exposure. (One needs coffee and sweet reinforcements for this.) Soon, however, we were wandering the streets of Genova working on a series of exercises to learn about camera shake, depth of field and all those little buttons and dials on our cameras.
What better place than the absolutely gorgeous Piazza Matteo to experiment? (More stripes!) I had read before arriving that it was one of Genova’s most charming piazzas, and for someone who enjoys structural polychromy as much as I do it was just perfection. I couldn’t get enough of the stripes and the old green shutters turned here and there. And Di was telling me to take photo after photo after photo to learn the different camera settings and the results. Yep, no problem there teacher!
The photography lessons fluidly led from detailed descriptions to anecdotes and to stories of Genova. Somehow I think I’ll always think of Genova and my new friends when I use my camera now, and I like that very much. While my Nikon D3200 hadn’t really budged from the automatic setting in the last year since I bought it, Di helped me break out and feel confident shooting in Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes.
At first, it all seemed a blur of ISO, F-stops and trying to sort out what aperture numbers really meant. But by Sunday afternoon something happened. We were taking photos of the fountain in Piazza de Ferrari and it all came together. Suddenly I could control the settings on my camera to make the spouts of water long and smooth or stop the action where it felt you could see the drops of water. Just by turning a dial. And it worked. And it made sense. Helen was sitting serenely on the side of the fountain and can attest to the fact that I resisted jumping up and down again. But just barely. My camera, I am pleased to say, has only been back to the Automatic setting a few times since I’ve returned. I’ve still got so much to learn, but after only a weekend with Di I feel like I am on my way. What a remarkable feeling!
The weekend’s photography lessons were punctuated with conversations with Helen. We were creatively very open and seeing Genova with new eyes through our camera lenses after working with Di, and Helen gently led us on another journey turning our gaze inward. Through meditation, creative visualization and some truly inspiring talks, I think we all felt more connection with our passion, vision and dreams.
With Helen’s guidance and kind presence, I was able to grab hold of what it is that I am most passionate about–something that I have been struggling to get a firm hold of lately–and learn some new techniques for opening up to the flow of life and moving in the right direction. I can’t thank Helen (captured above looking very Italian) enough for sharing her wisdom, joy and quiet encouragement.
After this remarkable photography retreat, I’ve seen myself in a new way, not only through my own eyes but also through the eyes of Di, Helen and the other lovely women that I am lucky to now call friends – Lisa from Renovating Italy and Leah from Help! I Live with My Italian Mother in Law! I rejoiced in their successes and got goosebumps as they opened little by little and shared who they truly are with all of us. I felt the same welcome and safety in return. It was a place to open up and to learn and discover – how to capture images and become more familiar with our cameras and to do those same things with ourselves.
From ecstatic moments when everything just clicked with my camera to impromptu handstands, sharing dreams and sometimes tears and much laughter, it was one of the most opening, deepest and marvelous weekends I’ve ever had. Oh, and I learned out how use my camera, too! Did I say it changed my life? Just go – now is the time and you’re ready.