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.
Imagine a store where shoppers could scour scores of timeless memorabilia with no expectation of what they might discover. It could be a vinyl record for a popular band from the 1950’s or a collection of photos from a bygone era. It could even be a small set of trading cards or figurines from the early days of famous cartoons from the 20th century. At first glance, it sounds like the type of store that the younger generation might not easily latch onto. But if you happen to visit Virginia Beach and swing by the Pembroke Mall, you will be in for a big surprise when you come by a store filled in every nook and cranny with neon lights, statues and images of iconic film and animation characters like the Blues Brothers and Betty Boop and portraits of Marylin Monroe and Elvis Presley.
Cool and Eclectic, fittingly known for its slogan, ‘Where it is usual to find the unusual’, is an independently owned gift shop, consisting of a wide variety of vintage and contemporary items. From vinyl, to comics, to décor, to toys, to even clocks, their inventory will not only invite the customer to shop for hours, but also encourage both the older and younger generation to bond over icons from both past and present.
This year was my 9th annual family vacation to VA Beach and as always when I’m there, I never miss an opportunity to stop by Cool and Eclectic. It has always been one of my favorite stores from the area and knew it would be a great topic for the blog. As usual, the store owner, Larry never fails to deliver on the store’s promise. Although Larry was away when I visited, I had the pleasure of speaking to two other employees, Mark and Diana, whom I briefly interviewed for this post:
Q: In terms of the lease, how much longer do you suppose Cool and Eclectic will remain at the mall?
Mark: Well, it’s kind of up in the air. We don’t know exactly as far as expenses and things like that. We don’t really know if we’re doing well or not. I know we are hindered by the construction at the [main] entrance [to the mall]. I think it has affected our sales.
Diana: Yeah, the construction has affected it. We used to get a lot of traffic through there.
Mark: The construction has taken longer than they said. It’s been months beyond what it was supposed to be. Sunday was not a good day for me in the morning, but later on, we did really well.
Diana: Usually we used to get maybe two or three slow days, but the rest of the days, it was busy. And usually weekends, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays used to be busier.
Mark: I think our loyal customers have helped us exceedingly to stay afoot. They appreciate our variety. They appreciate us being there for them to find them things that they like and the regular customers come regularly because they know we’re going to help them out. We appreciate our VIPs a lot. We give them extra discounts cause they’re regulars. We value them and that’s why they stay with us.
Q: When it comes to your customers, do they rank from just about any generation? They could be millennials or baby boomers.
Mark: Absolutely across the border of all generations. We have every generation come in and like our variety. Because we have a good enough variety, they all appreciate their own time period. We have enough to cover everybody’s time period and we find that they come back because we match their time period very well, whether it’s a millennial or it’s, like me, a baby boomer. We appreciate a lot of stuff and even beyond the baby boomer.
Diana: We get younger generations and they appreciate very old memorabilia, which is very surprising.
Mark: It is. It’s refreshing to see younger people like the older stuff, too. They’re getting a bit of history when they come in.
Q: How did the store concept come to be?
Mark: If Larry was present, he could tell you more about that, but…he’s being doing this store for a very long time, far beyond me and before our friendship has evolved. He’s been doing this for quite some time…at least twenty years.
Diana: Yeah, I don’t know how long, but he’s been doing it a long, long time.
Mark: Cool and Eclectic has probably been around at least then. Maybe twenty years. I might be off a little bit, but it’s a long history. We’ve moved to different locations.
Q: At first there were two stores, one at the Lynnhaven Mall and this one here at Pembroke. Eventually the Lynnhaven location was moved to this mall. Thus, Pembroke operated two Cool and Eclectics under one roof and now it’s just this one.
Mark: Yes. Not out of our desire. It was out of our control (laughs). Basically, they got bumped out of both [malls]. The Lynnhaven [location] was bumped out of there first and we moved here into [Pembroke] mall. And we got bumped out again and not having another location to go to, we merged our two Cool and Eclectic stores together. So, we are now one and hopefully we have the best benefits of both, the old and the new. The old one, which is this one, tended the older stuff, but now that we’re infused with the other one, we have a lot more new stuff. And I think that’s a good, positive thing for this company.
Q: Sounds like it’s a huge blessing especially when you have people from all walks of life really appreciate what they see here. When people come to Cool and Eclectic with their kids, does it become more of a chance to bond over the classics and the contemporary?
Mark: Oh, yes! The children come in and they buy the things that they have seen with their parents. The parents buy them for them and they’re all happy and excited when they’re going out. And they’re good family heirlooms that these kids, if they keep them, they can pass them onto their kids and their grandkids.
Q: How do you feel about the future of the store?
Mark: I’m very hopeful it will continue because everybody can appreciate a little bit of history, which this [store] has. It has the history. It has the vintage items. The LPs, I hear, are experiencing a resurgence because the sound quality is unmatched. The digital does not hold a candle to the LPs and apparently, they can do it with the LPs. So, it’s going to be something amazing if we see a resurgence of LPs coming back again. I’m hoping to see them back into the movie soundtracks again, too…and hopefully [this trend will] infuse our company to put some new stuff and keep it fresh and alive and going.
Once again, a huge thanks to Mark and Diana for their time. To learn more about Cool and Eclectic, check out their Facebook page.
Ever (re)discovered new facts about any art form or part of pop culture that you thought you knew before and realized there might be more to the story than what meets the eye? The Blog section debunks common expectations and assumptions in the art world.