Layers upon Layers

Aaaahhhh, Italia.

Italy seems to be coming up for me a lot lately. Just little remembrances, here and there. It’s like a soft realization that my time in Italy has been absorbed into the layers of me, of my history. No longer the most important layer, or the most fragile, raw layer. A layer that’s been safely ensconced by “before” and “after.”

Italy Sorrento Bicycle Kat Sloma Photography

Sorrento, Italy

Maybe it’s because now — heading on 3 years later — I know there is a “Kat” after Italy. Life has continued to go on. There has been more creativity, more learning. More growth. I’ve reinvented myself again, as a new person, after Italy.

My time in Italy was about reinventing myself. Beyond the scope of my normal life it was this chance in a new place to dig deeper and find who I am at my core. I uncovered the creative, artistic part of me again. I found confidence in myself outside of my previous frames of reference.

But it was still with a frame of reference, and reliance, on Italy. I took my identity as an artist, as a photographer and writer, from the place. From the travels and adventures around Europe. So, coming back I had to reinvent myself once again, in a new context. The context of “after.”

For a while, Italy was still my frame of reference. That layer was on the surface, always to be referred to, compared to, examined against. And then, when it started to get covered up, the top layer was too fragile. I couldn’t dig down to Italy, because I would damage things on the surface. I need to let it go, and move forward.

But now… I can revisit it again. It’s like picking up a treasured object; savoring a special memory. A layer of who I am, like any other. Not one that defines me any longer, but one that enabled my definition. And a layer that, because I found I could transform, allows me to continue to transform. Because of Italy, and the return, I know I can learn and grow and forever change.

I am all layers. I am adding to myself all the time. No one layer dominates. No one layer defines. The beauty is in the strata… Layers upon layers.

A Return to Italy

This weekend we returned to Italy – in a virtual way – by seeing the Italian movie The Great Beauty (La Grande Belleza). It was a thought-provoking movie and today I want to share a bit about it, so I revisited Italy in my photographs as well, finding an image from Rome to share with you.


The Great Beauty tells the story of Jep Gambarella, a 65-year-old writer living in Rome. For forty years, after publishing his first and only novel, he’s been in Rome living the “high life” of the beautiful and rich. With the passing of his 65th birthday, he starts to reevaluate how he’s been living his life and why he’s never written a follow up to his one great novel.

For forty years, he’s been seeking the great beauty, the thing that will inspire him to write again, and has yet to find it. He is driven to revisit places and relationships, some by choice and others by circumstance, seeing things in a different light. Ultimately, he comes full circle, accepting where he is, and understanding that he already has what he needs in his life to write the next novel.

Throughout the movie, there is only a little bit of internal narration, and most of his evaluation is played out through his interactions and choices. Things aren’t always spelled out for us, the viewer, and that can be confusing. There are moments of surreality thrown in here and there, and I found myself scratching my head. But after the fact, as I thought about the movie as a whole, it all worked together in the end.

Looking at what was playing, I was intrigued when I saw it was an Italian movie and I was sold when I saw the trailer – it is visually stunning. I especially loved the view of early morning Rome that Jep gives us as he wanders home from his night exploits. Unfortunately, reading the subtitles meant that I didn’t get the full visual impact of the movie. I was paying attention to the words so I could follow the story. Not only that, I was listening to the Italian and comparing it to the English subtitles, trying to match up what I knew. It would be easier, for me, to watch a movie in a language I had no familiarity with than Italian. I plan to see it again, now that I know the story, and really watch the movie instead of reading it.

I share this movie with you today because it made me think. I’m not sure everyone will like the movie – it contains drugs and nudity and a lifestyle most of us wouldn’t choose – but it will make you think. Everyone might take something a little bit different from it, but what I took away was this: We don’t need to seek some grand thing in our lives, some overarching purpose. We need to look for the small moments of beauty and grace that come to us. It is treasuring these small moments, through the course of a life, which add up to the great beauty.

It’s worth a watch. If you go see it, come back and share your thoughts on it here.

Two Years, Two Months, Two Weeks, Two Days

Two years, two months, two weeks, two days. That’s how long we lived in Italy. As of last Monday, that’s how long we’ve been back from Italy. Ever since passing the two year anniversary of returning home this summer, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned since moving back from abroad. How I’ve grown and changed since then. What’s been easier, and what’s been harder. Today I will share a few thoughts with you… Two years, two months, two weeks and two days later.

First, I must talk about the time in Italy a little bit. You see, I went to Italy with a small personal goal: To figure out who I was. The year before my assignment started, there were several rounds of layoffs at my corporate job. That can be scary, but even more scary if it makes you realize how much of your identity you derive from your work. I started to realize that if I were laid off, it would be like the rug being pulled out from under me. Who would I be? How would I define myself? And I knew that was not a good situation to be in. I needed to figure out who I was, beyond external definitions. Who I was beyond being a mom, wife and engineer. I honestly didn’t know.

So I took lots of books with me to Italy and I made time to read and journal. Following my intuition and growing interests, I began to explore art. I started visiting art museums and exhibits, dabbling in painting, and taking my camera with me wherever I went. I wrote about what I was discovering in my journal and on my blog. And, lo and behold, I slowly uncovered an artist underneath all of the layers of self I had put on over time. I discovered within myself someone who could take observations of the world and re-form them into something new and different through words and photographs. And I began to understand who I really was, what mattered to me and what I struggled with, in unexpected ways through these expressions in words and photographs. It was wonderful. I felt powerful, and I knew, just knew, that I had found the key piece of who I was that would continue beyond the unique time and place of living in Italy.

I was right.

Monet's Water Lilies

Monet’s Water Lilies at l’Orangerie, Paris

And I was wrong.

Because when I moved back here to Oregon, I began to have an identity crisis of a different sort. Who was I as an artist, without living in Italy? Would I still have words to write, photographs to take? I hadn’t realized, until returning home, what I was gathering up during that time in Italy was a different set of external definitions and expectations, wrapped around this new identity as an artist. I had tied myself up in thinking “what” I was photographing or writing about defined me as an artist the same that “what” I did as a career defined me as a person. Damn! Maybe I hadn’t made as much progress as I thought. I had traded one thing for another, and I still had lots of work to do. Personal work, artistic work, to discover who I was, independent of a place.

It was make or break time. Either I would come out the other side, still defining myself as an artist, or I would move on and look for something else. Because as you’ve undoubtedly noticed, Italy and Europe is no longer at my doorstep. I’m not a huge world traveler anymore, hopping to new countries every couple of months. I couldn’t rely on travel to fuel my artistic and personal growth any longer. As much as I love travel, I knew that always wishing to be “somewhere else” wasn’t how I wanted to live my life after moving back to Oregon.

So returning to Oregon really just continued me on the journey I had started in Italy. The last two years haven’t felt as much like trial by fire, with the intensity of change I experienced in Italy, as trial by slow cooker. It’s taken me longer to figure things out, probably because the landscape of life is more familiar, the pace of new experiences is slower.

I’ve come out on the other side of this transition from Italy to Oregon, and yes, I am still an artist. I’m not the same artist I was when I left Italy, and that is a very good thing. I look back at that point in my life and that person I was fondly, but not with longing. “Italy Kat,” as I’ve called that version of myself, didn’t know what I know now. Even though she thought she had it all figured out, she wasn’t as balanced in her life or grounded in reality. She didn’t understand that she would continue to grow and change in ways beyond her wildest predictions, and that growth and change, continual reinvention, is an essential part of being an artist. She didn’t yet understand that you have to learn to be happy with who you are, no matter where you are, what you do, or who you are with. You have to find the grounded, centered confidence of who you are at your core, or external things – the place you live, the job you have, the relationships you are involved in – can define you. And all of those things are transient, they can go away, taking huge chunks of your identity with them. I’ve learned that I don’t want to always be looking to elsewhere for my identity, as an artist or otherwise. That gives up control of who I am, and my happiness, to others or to circumstances.

My Water Lilies

My Water Lilies, Oregon

To be honest, I know I have a long way to go before I really get to the independence of identity that I’m talking about. I may never really get there. But through this journey to Italy and back I’ve at least learned a bit more about myself, discovering myself as an artist and finding out where “place” fits in for me. I’ve learned I can let places, people and circumstances in my life influence and change me, without letting them define me. I can take them in, use them, and always, always come out with something new that is of my own making.

Because I am, at my core, an artist. And that’s what artists do.

The Journey Continues

Camera. Italy. Me.

These things together may not have been the very start of my creative journey, but they certainly were the things that launched me high speed down the path. Somehow in the last few days I came across this photo in my archives and my heart leapt. There it is, laid out in a picture… cameras, Italia and me. Taken in the Alinari Museum of Photography in Florence in 2011, somehow this image speaks volumes to me about my time in Italy. My creative journey with the camera.

I’ve been back from Italy for over a year and my journey with the camera continues. The Corvallis Fall Festival this weekend was another step along the way. It was a successful weekend for me. Not just in sales (although that part went surprisingly well), but in learning, in getting to know my fellow members of the PhotoArts Guild, and in pushing through my fears of having my work “out there” in the public.

I learned a ton… preparing my photographs for sale, how to set up a booth, different ways of display… the list will continue on. While this was my first year participating in the PhotoArts Guild booth, for the four other photographers it was their second year. They had learned a lot and made substantial improvements to the booth to make it bright, open and accessible. Not bad for what could be begged, borrowed and bought used! We were also lucky to have beautiful weather the whole weekend, which always helps a festival like this.

I also learned that you cannot predict the public reaction to anything. There were certain photos that many people would spend a long time studying, but no one ever bought them. There were photos that generated a lot of interest in the form of conversation and questions, but no one ever bought them. In previous years, cards were the big money maker they told me, but this year fewer cards were sold and more prints were sold. Go figure.

So, how do you know what people want? You don’t. How do you predict and prepare? I’m not sure you can, other than to have a variety of options to offer. Sometimes people come to the festival with an agenda, something specific they are searching for. Sometimes people come to the festival as a way to get out and do something for the weekend, with no intent to buy. Sometimes people connect with the art you have to offer, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they have money to spend, sometimes they don’t. Responses to art are subjective. There are too many variables to predict an outcome.

After all of this, you are probably wondering: Will I do it again? Yes. It’s the next step on my journey. And now that I’ve taken the first step, gotten over the initial fears and investment, I’ll continue to move forward down this path to see where it leads. Not at a sprint, mind you, but at the pace that works for me. It was fun!

Burst of Flavor

We continue to investigate Repetition in Exploring with a Camera this week. I was trying to decide what image to share when I realized I had the perfect repetition image staring me in the face! I have this image from a Venice market stall matted, framed and sitting in my dining room, ready to drop off to an exhibition. This image is all about repetition – with repeating shape, subject and color.

If you’re around Eugene, Oregon, you’ll be able to see this “Burst of Flavor” in the Taste and Flavor: Spicy exhibition at the David Joyce Gallery in Lane Community College from August 29 through January 1.

If not, you can enjoy it here along with some wonderful images featuring repetition from our participants. Visit them below, and link your exploration of repetition in too. We’d love to see how you repeat yourself!

A Favorite Sign

Today we wrap up July’s Exploring with a Camera: Signs. It’s been quite fun to investigate how signs crop up in my photographs and to see yours too.

I’ll leave this exploration with a favorite sign of mine, from Venice. All over the island of Venice are printed signs saying “Per San Marco” or “Per Rialto.” Since Venice is such a warren of walkways, bridges and canals, it is very easy to get lost. Often we found ourselves wandering and the only way to figure out where we were was to go back to Piazza San Marco or the Rialto bridge and start again, so these signs became a lifeline. My favorite sign image is this hand-painted sign, found off the beaten path in a back alley. There were none of the “official” signs around, so someone took matters into their own hands and created this one. They were probably tired of the tourists asking for directions. :)

You can still link in today with your sign images. I’d love to see how you use signs in your photography! Do share.