Living in countries not my own has invited, over time, an examination of those labels pinned on me by family, friends and circumstances. You see, moving countries and cultures alone, my labels disappeared and I had to define myself all over again.
It’s an on-going process, and I have been slow to adjust to the freedom of it. I grew up in small-town New Zealand, married and moved all over the South Island. A situation that sees friends and colleagues become like family in the absence of family. And so too, the labels that are created by sharing a culture, a language, a set of rules.
The editor of Honestly Woman, Bev Ryan, wrote of that question so many woman ask … that question meant to keep us small. “Who do you think you are?”
I wanted to reply because reading her article gifted me an epiphany – ‘This is who I think I am.’
I am a New Zealander. This defines who I am at my core. After living in other countries, I see that clearly.
I am a photographer. My way of seeing and capturing the world, and my sensitivity, combine to make me sure of that. My personality works best with photography. I love to observe, to spend time on the edge… trying to understand.
I feel I have been fortunate to have filled so many roles as a woman. A sister, daughter, niece, cousin and granddaughter. A wife, a young married mother, a divorcee… twice.
I have married in English and in Flemish. I have been a stepmother, I am a grandmother. I love all these labels. But more than that, these days I am learning that I enjoy the freedom of defining how I inhabit them.
The Genovese see me, I think, as a woman who is passionate about their city, their culture, and their way of being. I love their slowness in offering friendship. A friendship earned is surely a friendship treasured.
But the city… it’s more than 2,000 years old. The history is fascinating, intense, multi-stranded, admirable, terrible, and never ever boring. It contains the beautiful and the ugly. The sacred and the profane. Streets lined with exquisite palaces, and a beautifully dark and twisting medieval centre … the largest intact centre in Europe. There is the truly beautiful Ligurian coast, and there are multiple fortresses on the hills that surround it. It is a city with a soul.
I have friends here. Business men and women, musicians and artists, baristas too. And a desire to share this behind-the-scenes life with women via photography workshops. Exploring the chocolate factory where 18th century equipment is still used, photographing the building where Marco Polo was held prisoner, telling the stories I know, and inviting people to discover more.
There are a million stories here.
I run photography workshops for women. Elsewhere as well, but my favourite location, since 2008, has been Genova. I used to fly in from Belgium, and meet up with small groups of woman, introducing them to the basics of photography, and to Genova. The people, the food, the cuisine.
I have learned that women sometimes need to just be with other women. I learned that my nurturing skills, developed over years, are useful, and that each woman needs something different from our time together. And there is so much fun to be had when a small group of women spend time together over days. I also do individual workshops and I have had lovely feedback from them too.
In the end, my passion for both photography and Genova, is a joy to share with people.
I’m currently planning my 2018 photography workshops but don’t hesitate to get hold of me if you already have plans to be in Italy. You won’t regret coming here. Of that I am sure.