“Magic” and “Italy” are, for me, two words that go together like moon and sky. They are synonymous and, much like the Italian culture, they characterize the go-with-the-flow way of life that many Italians live by. Italy has always been a special place for me and from my first trip to bella Italia, I was in love! From the historic architecture, the beautiful countryside, dramatic landscapes at every turn, delicious food, and the wonderful people, this place is different, it is special, and it feels like ‘home’. My Grandmother’s family was from Northern Italy and I’ve always felt a strong connection to the country. So when an opportunity to attend a photography workshop came up back in 2009, I jumped at the opportunity to attend. The experience itself was amazing and included four days in the Tuscan countryside, in a farmhouse with people from all over the world, learning and taking photos. It was amazing and to this day was an experience that has rewarded me in ways I never could have imagined.
On the last day of the workshop we were surprised with train tickets to Firenze. We were given the assignment of taking only one camera and one roll of film. One roll of film?! I walked around Firenze that day, had lunch in Piazza della Signoria, walked by the Duomo, Mercato Centrale, past Santa Croce, and along the Arno River. I took only a few shots, one of the Duomo, some back streets, a butcher shop, gelateria, and the ever so famous row of bicycles on every street. We ended up near Piazza della Repubblica on our way back to the train station. It was evening, the sun was about to set, and all the locals were out for their passegiata, or evening stroll. The piazza was alive with energy, the spinning carousel filled with children, a few tourists, and many locals. Soon the locals were saying goodbye, and two of them – an older couple – were headed home together. This couple immediately caught my attention as the lady was wearing a fur shawl and walked with a cane, pulling her little dog on a leash. By her side was the man dressed in a suit, carrying the woman’s handbag. They walked toward the arch at the edge of the square, past the spinning carousel and in this perfectly right moment I had two frames left on my camera. As soon as I was in position I took a photo of them walking away under the arch, the dog looking back at me. One shot, one perfect moment.
It is my favorite photo that I’ve ever taken and it was a true example of making each shot count. It is also a perfect glimpse into life in Italy and has really made me stop and think before I take a picture. I took hundreds, maybe thousands of shots on my digital camera on that trip but these 12 frames were my favorite. It also forced me to really soak up the beauty and real life that was happening around me, experiencing many more moments than were captured on film.
This one day in Firenze taught me many things and I think they all can apply to anyone on holiday or experiencing a new place for the first time. Wander off the beaten path, get lost, throw away your map! Get away from the touristy areas and explore a place early in the morning or late in the evening as it’s when all the tourists leave and only the locals remain. Get out from behind the camera and experience everything with your own beautiful lenses – your eyes! Invest in people, hear their stories and soak up the local culture as these are the moments you will remember most. This photo of the couple is the only picture I have printed from my trip and yet somehow it is enough. The moments in between strolling around Firenze will live with me forever, almost even more than the 12 photos I took that day.
Melissa Schollaert is a photographer, dreamer and travel fanatic who feels most at ‘home’ on the road. A true artist at heart, she has a degree in Interior Design which influences her photography as well as other artistic endeavors. You will find her criss-crossing the US taking photos or somewhere in Italy. If you need her, she’ll be on a plane.