Hi, hello, I am a graduate student now. Currently I’m living and breathing photography, sleeping very little, and happier than I’ve been in a very long time. My classes are a strong reminder of how much I don’t know about this thing I define myself by- I feel like a complete beginner. It’s slightly scary, but also freeing. I love the fact that I’m in a field in which I have an infinite amount of ways to learn and grow, and I’m at the right place to do it. SACI is very small, and the strong sense of community here was evident immediately. Plus, I couldn’t wish for better professors. The MFA program directors, Jacopo and Romeo, are like encyclopedias when it comes to photography; in addition, they both have incredible resumes and portfolios and have exhibited all over the world. These are the people that I am learning from. I’m still in a state of disbelief.
Last weekend we were in Milan, and yesterday I got back from a 36 hour field trip to Rome. Rome is both cozy and unfathomably big (at least for this Alabama girl); I’m not sure how that dichotomy is possible, but Rome pulls it off. The field trip involved two photography exhibitions, late-night book store trips, and a pretty spectacular life talk courtesy of Jacopo and Romeo while viewing Roman ruins at 1:30 in the morning (photographers don’t need sleep). I’m having to remind myself that I’ve only known this group for a few weeks; it feels like they’ve been in my life for far longer. Part of that may be a direct effect of having traveled together twice already.
One of the exhibitions we saw in Rome was a compilation of works by Italian and international photographers; it was meant to be a sort of artistic atlas of the country in modern times. Viewing it got me thinking- besides the obvious reasons, why exactly did I choose Italy? Yes, it’s full of beauty and culture and history and downright amazing food, but that’s a pretty surface level analysis. I haven’t been here long, and I’ve only visited for a few weeks at a time prior to coming for school, so of course my opinions are highly subjective and personal. I can’t describe a country that I barely know yet. However, all of the Italians that I talk to tell me that Italy is a little bit of a mess. It’s a young country, so the divide between regions is strong. Politically, absolutely no one knows what’s going on, including the lecturer the school brought in to inform us on the subject (also, hey Americans- the Berlusconi era should be enough to to terrify you about the consequences of a Trump presidency). Corruption is rampant, and financially, the country is in a crisis. Nothing actually happens when it’s supposed to happen; dealing with anything bureaucratic is a nightmare, and on a smaller and more trivial scale, lines don’t exist when you’re buying your morning cappuccino. Also, did I mention that I’ve had a box of only oatmeal and peanut butter from my mother stuck in customs for a month now?
So factoring all of that into “la dolce vita”… why am I here? Prior to this weekend, I’m not sure if I could have put it into words. However, I think that Romeo, one of my photography professors, summed it up when he put it this way: Italy is a place where you can hear your heartbeat. The Italy I’m just beginning to experience isn’t what you see on postcards. It’s imperfect, it’s honest, it’s totally crazy, and above all, it’s beautiful. You feel alive when you’re walking down the streets of Florence. The lows are low, but sometimes there is a radiance to the chaos, especially for someone like me. I am the type of person who likes to be in control at all times. I’m not good at resting. I’m always rushing, always doing something. It’s impossible for anyone to exist that way in Italy, so on a very personal level, I think being here is a good thing. The pace of this country is forcing me to experience life in a way that is foreign to me. Out of my comfort zone (but still very safe at a school like SACI), I have to take life as it comes, at whatever speed it comes. I’m new enough to be glossy-eyed about things, and I know many would disagree, but my optimistic analysis is this: you feel alive in Italy.
Emotionally, I’ve been all over the place since I’ve been here. The vast majority of the time I’m either excited or completely and totally in awe of the beauty surrounding me and the community I’ve stumbled into at school. Still, there’s been a generous helping of stress and anxiety to accompany the wonder. Did I mention that my debit card was compromised by a skimmer, my bank didn’t catch it, and I checked my statement to find I was short $5,000? Somehow Regions has frozen my card over nothing on three separate occasions, but managed to miss the fact that someone had been making mass withdrawals in Southeast Asia as I continued to buy groceries in Italy as normal on the same exact day. Getting in touch with my bank from Europe was a nightmare. I still don’t have a debit card, my credit cards aren’t accepted here, and I made four separate trips to Western Union to try to pick up the money my parents wired me because someone kept messing up the information on the transfer. Of course, it’s going to be fine; my bank is filing a claim and I know I’ll get my money back. These things are fixable. Surprisingly, though, I didn’t crumble. I refused to let it ruin my beginning weeks at this school. Despite the bumps in the road, 90% of the time, I’m still in a state of wonder.
It’s a good feeling knowing that I wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world. I wouldn’t be at any other school. Also, I wouldn’t be studying anything else in the world. As I mentioned earlier, I am living and breathing photography here, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this passionate about something. Everyone needs something to get them out of bed in the morning; it’s why people have been driving to erect the magnificent, intricate churches you find all over this country. People require a sense of purpose and a sense of community. It sounds cliche, but I think I found religion when I found photography. Being here at SACI, that statement feels truer with each passing day.