I use my camera like I'd use a notebook. I record little details and notes, things I've noticed or want to remember for later. I photograph small things that catch my eye, a particular design or pattern that seems unusual.
It could be a specific texture or how the sunlight hits a tree and makes a particular shape.
I take photos of things I've not noticed before. Photography helps me to be more observant, as you obviously cannot photograph everything, so you need to be decisive. I only pick what speaks to me. And Sicily has loads to say to me.
Over the pandemic going in and out of lockdown into semi-lockdown, from red to yellow, to orange and back again, I was forced to appreciate where I am in small-town Sicily.
If living through Covid taught me something, it was to appreciate the small things, breathe, be and exist at the moment with what I have in front of me, and experience everything with each of the five senses. And above all that, what I see and where I am in the present moment is enough.
Sicily is a beautifully textured place; many layers of history are layered, one on top of the other, leaving spaces and gaps where you can see the remnants of many different stories.
These fragments are intriguing, leading you to many histories, stories and endless possibilities. Each place has its style, from the colour of the shade of paint, from the stones used to construct buildings to the stoic or elaborate Sicilian Baroque.
The colours can vary from thick grey lava stone to whitewash sandy limestone to the white of the stone homes of the smaller islands that surround this island.
The townscapes range from grey, stark block-shaped houses and cobblestone streets to the apex of high Baroque with flourishing vines, grotesque statues and cherubs floating up the walls. So many curiosities and artistry that can only exist in Sicily.
I'm obsessed with the textures of the buildings in Sicily; the variety of materials used to build churches and palazzi around the island are like variegated hues from the same Sicilian colour palette.
When playing with my new toy, an iPad, I use the colour sampling function to take the colours from my photos and use them in my sketches. I have a whole heap of greys, yellows, greens, blues and deep reds in a colour collection I call Sicily.
I'm not an artist, but I'm finding myself happily whiling away a few hours occasionally, drawing or collaging on my iPad. It's been a very satisfying discovery reconnecting with my old habit of doodling in a notebook. Digital design is excellent; you have all the materials and limitless possibilities.
A few years ago, I read an article about a pagan god called the green man, a symbol of nature whose image is still very much used in modern design; some fresh produce uses him in their packaging. The character is embodied in folklore and mythology as a mischievous character who represents the fertility of the natural world.
Think like Shakespeare's Puck or Oberon, leprechauns or Pan from Greek mythology. The exciting thing is that most churches use the image of the green man in their embellishments; it served as a subtle symbol to the early Christians of their pagan beliefs.
I found the Green Man at the base of the front entrance to my local church; just as the article suggested, he's welcoming people in and reminding them of his presence, even though most people have forgotten about him today.
You must always expect the unexpected while visiting Sicily. Things always tend to get delayed, not go as planned or take an impossibly long time. I always say to anyone planning a visit, always allow plenty of time when you visit, for the astonishing and also you need to allow Sicily to give you an adventure.
The one thing I love about Sicily is its ability to surprise. I've lived here for nearly two decades, and every day it still reveals new things to me. The best way to become enthralled with Sicily is to walk around the side streets of the main cities, turn to a corner and find an open courtyard.
I remember going into the magnificent town hall at Messina; I'd been there dozens of times; its impressive marble staircase and robust decorations were familiar. But strolling into a newly opened cafe on the second floor, I turned into a previously closed wing of the palazzo; in front of the cafe, I saw a new conference room with a photographic exhibition dedicated to the history of Messina.
So after sipping a quick espresso while standing at the bar, I looked at the free display. At the centre of the room was an enormous mirror that took up most of the front wall; it was framed in an ornate golden baroque frame with endless vines, fruits, baskets, hunting horns and general bounties of nature. Of course, I thought of the Green man and tried to find his laughing face amongst the fertility.
I couldn't see him anywhere, but a mysterious coat of arms was at the apex of the frame. The heraldic symbols included a winged Pegasus horse flying over a body of water, probably the sea, a giant snake, the sun and a constellation of stars. I had no idea of the meaning or origins.
On either side of the family coat of arms, two of the most bizarre-looking cherubs were seductively leaning up against the shield. The artwork was a grotesque joke; perhaps these cherubs were like dwarf Renaissance court jesters playing an improvised little farce for the green man.
It was only Sicily amazing me yet again.
I hate to be long-winded, so I will stop here for now.
Sorry that I’m running a little behind this week but I’ve been having problems with my internet connection. Better late than never!!
I'll keep trying to write something worthwhile here every week, perhaps more often if I get in some karmic writing zone.
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With love and light from RDB
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I Didn’t read the whole article yet but your first paragraph about using your camera touched me as a former photographer teacher and someone who has been documenting the people of Sicily for at least 15 years. Thank you. Joe zarba