Post Trip to Italy: After Thoughts Part 2 What I learned from Elia Stelluto about Capturing Moments through the Camera Lens
Last blog post, I wrote about my trip to Italy, which took place back in October of the past year. In that post, which I decided to make into a two-parter, I started with my visit to Rome and what stuck with me the most when I was there: the Sistine Chapel. This was important because given the wealth of history behind the chapel and the legacy left behind by Michelangelo, I felt that I'd write about how understanding the skill and technique of the old masters is influential to today's artists.
In this post in which I focus on my time in San Giovanni Rotundo, I'm going talk about what I learned from Elia Stelluto, the famed photographer of San Padre Pio. Padre Pio (1887-1968) who has been canonized a Saint, was a friar, but above all, he was a well known mystic and stigmatist. His body remains uncorrupted to this day and is displayed on public view at a church in the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. Throughout the years of San Pio's work, Elia captured the major moments and highlights in his photographs and they have been on display throughout various locations in San Giovanni.
When my family and I finally met Elia and his sister, Maria, we got to see and learn of the many amazing places throughout San Giovanni and more about his friendship with Saint Padre Pio. As someone who specializes in drawing learning from someone who specializes in photography, there were a few new techniques I garnered from Elia that reshaped my creative process that I wanted to cover here in this post.
When we went to go see the stations of the cross, upon trying to get a good photo of each one, he showed me the best ways to take a solid snapshot. Don't hold the camera too close to the subject matter. Don't place it too far either. Keep it steady. If the subject matter is a landscape, position the camera to match the horizontal position. If the subject matter is portrait, set the camera in the upright position. Also, be very observant of the light source. In this case, because this was outdoors, the sun was my light source, so I had to position my camera in the best ways possible so that the sun wasn't blinding nor darkening which station I was taking the picture of.
Although I was using the camera on my phone to take pictures, (which I normally do for snapping real-life examples that I use as references for my illustrative works), Elia encouraged me to be open to the skill and techniques that go into picture taking. Usually when we take photos with our smartphones, we don't normally over analyze how we do it. We see something that catches our attention and want to document it as quickly as possible especially if it's something that is going to move very quickly like a truck with a rare logo or a billboard while on the road, so we just try to capture it right then and there. However, because there are those special moments we want to capture using any kind of camera and even though photography might not be our main focus, learning the basic techniques of photography from Elia got me rethinking the way I take pictures and why. In some cases, I do it to preserve memories and others as reference for my illustrative works. So, even though I don't specialize in photography, learning from Elia's years of experience has restructured my thought process for picture taking and how it complements the work I do. Ever since then, I just take pictures that I know are going to mean something to me when I pull them out again and that they won't just be a blurry clutter for my phone, both figuratively and literally. If it's a subject matter that I'm going to revisit for a project that I'm working on or an important memory I simply want to preserve from my travels that I want to document and show what I've learned from or got out of it, I felt it was a good idea to take advice from someone who knows the craft and experience and then I start using it in even the most simplest of things.
In the end, I really enjoyed my conversations with Elia and getting to know more about his work ethic and process. Although photography is not something I'm considering to pursue professionally, I felt it was very beneficial to learn a thing or two from Elia's craft. In turn, I started to see we are very much alike. Although our mediums are different, as artists, we share the same goal in our art: to tell a good story that will be an inspiration to others.
For this post, I'm going to write something a little different here. I'm going to share a personal story about my trip to Italy last month and what I got out of it. I went to Rome and San Giovanni Rotundo in the middle of October for ten days with my family. We visited many historic locations, such as the Sistine Chapel in Rome and the resting place of San Padre Pio in San Giovanni. Even so, we met San Padre Pio's photographer, Elia Stelluto, who also gave me a few pointers in taking photos. One month after the trip, I got thinking about what contemporary artists can gain from visiting Italy and getting to know its rich history.
For Part One, I'll start with the Sistine Chapel in Rome first. What stood out for me the most in Rome was the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Painted by Italian painter and sculptor Michelangelo (1475-1564) in 1508 and completed in 1512, the ceiling is highly renowned as a staple of the Renaissance era. Upon observing depth and detail that went into every aspect of the piece, I could not help but be utterly amazed by how one person could have taken the time, skill and patience to create such a colossal work of art. Given both the time it took and the intense level of craftmanship (as Michelangelo was known for), this is one sight you just can't miss visiting. It got me thinking about art in the modern world and how craftmanship has been regarded overall since the early 20th century, specifically with the Dada movement. While I don't dislike all art from the 20th century, nonetheless, it was the time period when high skill level was often mocked, ridiculed and looked down upon as 'outdated'. In addition, I also got thinking back on the rules of stylization, -a topic that comes up often in the art world- when reflecting on the art of the Renaissance era to the rise of Cubism. If artists intend to deconstruct a piece and stylize rather than make it look realistic, it's always important to practice and understand the skills behind drawing from life as well as learning about the craft behind the old masters. I've mentioned in a previous blog post about stylization according to fine artist, Stan Prokopenko and how learning the basics helps refine our approach to style.
That said, finally getting to see the Sistine Chapel ceiling in person further extended my appreciation for the high level of craftmanship the likes of Michelangelo was famous for. There are a couple of reasons as to why contemporary artists should observe pieces of the time period and take them to heart. The main reason first and foremost is our historic roots. When the Dada movement emerged, it was a major shift in the art world, but it seems that as the 20th century went on years afterwards, craftmanship was starting to seem like a joke. Aside from the fine attention to detail, even subject matter became increasingly superficial. With the high level of craft, beauty and strong desire to seek deeper meaning in our human existence, the art world accomplished such significance through the classic works. Upon examination of the fine arts, the exploration into the human condition is expansive and the time focused on that craft is as a result, what gives the spectator an immersive amount for self-reflection and evaluation. The artists themselves sought meaning through their craft and viewers can learn a great deal about themselves.
The second reason artists will benefit from observing something like the Sistine Chapel ceiling goes back to the stylization practices. As expert artists say, aspiring artists must know the basics before they can develop a personal style and develop it well. Even so, they are encouraged to learn from the old masters. I'd go another step farther to add on that there is something extra to gain from studying both that will help artists hone, not only their technique, but getting to know their true potential and individuality. As practicing from both life and the old masters goes hand in hand, it was also that the old masters sought their inspirations from life and its greater significance. Although it might seem unrelated at first, it's as classical Greek philosopher, Socrates (470-399 BC) famously stated, "[t]he unexamined life is not worth living". The statement is interpreted to mean that a life without self-reflection is fruitless and therefore, lacks the meaning and potentiality it could have or could have had. The way I see it is if artists want to develop a personal style, something that should say something about the artist as a person in some form or another, those steps are always going to be crucial to the learning experience, but it's also significant for artists to learn more about themselves as well. Artists could know all the fundamental foundations that are encouraged and necessary to enrich their craft. When comes time to develop a personal style, is should also be encouraged for artists to self-reflect on their lives such as the mistakes they made, the struggles they been through and the things they learned from them as well as individual exploration and what they gained out of it. Sometimes artists start on a path that seems like its the one they truly want to take, but through hardships, challenges and growing stronger because of those experiences prompt change.
Although tone and style are different, tone being the attitude the author displays in his/her work and style is the format the piece is designed with, both always go hand in hand and compliment each other. So, without experiences, your tone can express one thing an thus, influence the style you are known for. But when new experiences shape you as a person and you grow from them to better yourself, you learn more about your true self, about others around you and garner a better outlook on life because of the obstacles that come and overcoming each one. You then garner a greater appreciation for yourself and others around you that you count your blessings more than take things for granted. It's also important to note that as time brings about change and your outlooks on life change, your taste also changes, too. Art is based also in one's taste and of course, but styles change as attitudes do. In other words, aspiring artist shouldn't just learn from the old masters from a technical standpoint, but on a philosophical one as well.
When in Rome (no pun intended), if you visit the Vatican, definitely make a trip to the Sistine Chapel. As you browse all the way to the end of the chapel, give yourself permission to ponder the time, skill, practice, craftmanship and thought that went into such a marvel. If you're an aspiring artist, definitely keep the lessons your instructor encourages you to study in mind as well as making room for reflection. I'll discuss my visit to San Giovanni Rotundo in Part Two after the Christmas and Holiday season. Until then, keep exploring beyond your boundaries!
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