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Accidental Abstraction: Images of Italy

It was around this time of year. I lived in Tennessee, a couple of months after graduating college, not knowing what I was or would be doing. I picked up writing gigs wherever I could, which is why I was in Chattanooga covering wrestling - Greco-Roman style, not WWE. My friend, Matthew, was with me. After a whirlwind weekend, I said something to the effect of "Yeah, man. I'm leaving in a couple of days."

I remember the gravity of the moment in the parking lot - stunned by a bruised evening sky streaked blood-red, icy orange and winter rose, and finely attuned to the reality of traveling to Italy alone to study language, culture, family history, life and myself in it. You should've seen me back then. Flying by the seat of my pants. I had a raw wanderlust, and I'd planned this Italy trip over the previous few months. I researched the school I would attend and the host family I would join. I had another friend, Ryan, express interest in the trip, but he backed out a few months before we graduated. Turns out, that was for the better.

I needed to experience the shock of a new culture and foreign language I didn't speak, and the unfiltered adventures of unplanned, solitary travel. Back then, I took a lot of photos. I wasn't trained or anything, never took any college courses because the supplies were too expensive in those analog days. I captured what I thought was interesting, hoping it would remain so once developed.

I believed my black-and-white film would produce small pieces of fine art, certainly - the stuff of public photo exhibit greatness. I packed a few rolls for my journey. Siena was my home base and I stretched out to many other parts. The Piedmont region generally, Torre Pellice specifically, is the heart of my paternal family history, expanding into France. The Cinque Terre was an accidental discovery by word of mouth, mainly because travel guides weren't digital yet and I hadn't researched much before I left. Wish I knew how many miles I walked during that late winter/early spring. Trains carried me to some places, but I was saving my money, so I hoofed it often.

When the scene or moment warranted, I captured it in black-and-white. The quotidian attracted me - old men visiting outside small shops, people waiting for a train, common transactions in stylish bakeries. Of course, I waited until I returned to Tennessee to develop my film (my camera was as digital as my unexamined guide book), so I had no clue what I had. But I was eager for the results.

When I opened my packet of photos, processed at Batey's Photo Shop in Murfreesboro, I had the feeling I struck gold. My feelings betrayed me. My long-awaited black-and-whites were a mess, overexposed or underexposed or something. Like I said, I didn't know what I was doing so I'm not sure what I did. Everything was blurry. Frustrated, I stuffed those photos away and took joy in all my other Italy photos that turned out.

Spin ahead almost 20 years to a weekend or so ago when I dug out a crateload of old photos. I rediscovered those mistake black-and-whites, but they no longer disappointed me. Rather, there is an ethereal beauty to a lot of them, which I didn't see when I was expecting something much clearer and more vibrant years ago.

The fuzziness adds emotion and depth. Out-of-focus photos require deliberation to recapture, much like my memory of the trip and time. These black-and-white photos I nearly trashed when I first saw them? They speak to me now with a dream-like quality. Who are the people in the photos? Where are they today?

Therefore, I have commissioned myself to display, for the first time on this international stage, the exhibit "Accidental Abstraction." My apologies for drinking all the wine and eating all the cheese & crackers I could've passed around to you in this moment.

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