Flying to Italy later today. Got a couple of classes to teach.
This is, effectively, the same trip I did last year…but during that trip something wonderful happened. During that trip last May, I found my camera again.
A seriously unfortunate confluence of events began a cosmic convergence beginning in 2003 that became a ten-year personal descent into darkness. I refer to this period in my diary as the “Dark Decade.” 2003 – 2013 had its bright moments, but was largely a period of significant depression and rudderless drifting for me. Somewhere in the Dark Decade I lost my passion for photojournalism. So much happened to me during that span, so many hits and injuries and insults, that I lost my camera, as it were. My passion, my verve, my very nerve was trampled under the more immediate concerns of simple survival and enduring bitter ennui.
But then I flew to Naples to teach in 2016. A goal many of us had long worked toward—the chance to take the courses we developed aboard and teach public affairs and media techniques to U.S. forces on an international stage—had very abruptly and very unexpectedly panned out. I was the lucky man in the lucky spot to be the pioneering instructor, and the set piece was to be played out in Naples of all places.
Naples is one of my three favorite cities along with Paris and New York. Seventeen years earlier, in 1999, I first set foot in Naples. I was attending a public affairs conference. I was a very junior Sailor back then, and rated as a Yeoman (admin clerk), but working as my squadron’s photographer and public affairs guy. That 1999 trip cemented my trepidatious wavering and I “cross-rated” to become an official U.S. Navy photographer in 2000. Seventeen years after that conference I walked Naples’ crazy streets again, this time as a senior Sailor teaching public affairs after two years designing and building a whole new course set for the Navy.
And somewhere, under Vesuvius’ long shadow, I found my camera again.
It’s odd where you find the things you lost, isn’t it? They’re just never where you expect them to be.
I’d long been using Ed Kashi’s magnificent work as a key teaching tool in my photojournalism classes. In Naples last year I seized the chance to experiment with his “abandoned moment” style. You don’t actually look through the camera in this style of photojournalism. You shoot from the hip, thereby avoiding what I call the “Kardashian Effect” (people changing their behavior when they see the camera). I lost a LOT of potentially great shots this way. However, the shots I got were stunning. The stories that did write themselves across my camera lens were far more compelling than anything I’ve shot in a very long time.
At the Archaeological Museum in Naples I spent a day furthering my experimental foray into what I already termed “guerrilla photojournalism,” but with a challenging twist: I restricted myself to my cell phone camera. No bells and whistles, no settings, no switchable lenses. One simple, point-and-shoot camera.
Guerrilla photojournalism let me return to what photojournalism is supposed to be all about: telling real, raw, honest stories about the people around us. Ordinary people, great people, poor people, rich people…all people. No acting, no “mugging it up for the camera,” just their real lives and their real days. I shot nearly everything in black and white (another regression to my earliest days of training as a professional photographer). I discovered (or, more accurately, re-discovered) the lack of color focused attention more deeply onto the subjects, creating a more personal, emotive image.
The spark was lit, and I left Naples, that magnificently crazy collision of humanity, with my camera back in my hand, stories to tell, and a life to live. The “Dark Decade,” the great winter solstice of my life, ended back in 2013. I began healing and recovering over the succeeding three years until, in May 2016, Naples put the match to the tinder and reignited my passion.
I wonder what stories I’ll find this time around?
Stay tuned—I’ll let you know!
However, it is now 01:39, as they’d say in Europe. Time to post this and go to bed. More tomorrow…probably from Frankfurt after I cross the pond.