I stood quietly in front of the sculpture, my eyes trying to take in every detail of the craftsmanship, wishing my Italian was fluent so I could carry away the words on his tomb as tangible reminders of the truth of what it is to be great. It was September 7, 2004, and I was nineteen years old, attempting to find myself in churches, cloisters, art museums, restaurants, and new experiences in Florence, Italy. I was visiting the cathedral of Santa Croce for the first time. In Santa Croce, I laid eyes on the resting places of Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Rossini, and Galileo, just to name a few. That day, I felt overcome by the realization of the greatness of all of the lives of these men; of their influence on art and music and shaping worldviews of men and women. And deep inside of myself, I wished I could slice off a piece of that greatness and hold it in my hand.
I'm the type of person who has always searched for greatness, whether it is a feeling, an experience, a conversation, or an expression from inside of myself. I have felt the restlessness inside of myself of the possibility for greatness more times than I can count, and it is one of the most exciting and intoxicating feelings I have ever felt. I love being dwarfed by endless possibilities. I think everyone secretly wants to be great, whether than be through the over-arching meaning of that word, beyond expression, or simply great at something. Deep inside of myself, I know that being great at one something is not enough for me. I want to be great at a lot of things. I would never say I want to be remembered for greatness on the level of Machiavelli or Michelangelo, but I'd love to hold just a slice of their innovation and fearless thought in my hands. I believe all human beings hold the capability for such greatness deep inside of themselves. Some people have a harder time accessing it than others because of things getting in their way, such as a lack of resources or a fear of where that greatness will lead them.
When I glimpse the possibility to do something great (and everyone has different definitions of what is great; I subscribe to many of them) I am seized simultaneously by an excitement that I recognize the possibility that I could reach that level of achievement, and I am also gripped by the fear of uncertainty of the details. How will I get there? What happens when I make mistakes? What would I do when I'm there to maintain that level? What will people think? What if, what if, what if? But I try to catch myself in that mindset and remind myself of how many things I have accomplished in this life and how many things I have overcome, and I realize that anything is possible. I just need to work hard and believe in myself, and I will reap the benefits of success.
To be a successful photographer would be accomplishing something great for me. I want to show people their beauty and be there for them at pivotal times in their lives. I want to document those moments that, no matter how hard you try to hold on, fade as time goes on.
And I think documenting moments is important, otherwise it is possible to lose the idea of how you've become the person you are.
I took this image when I was in the cloisters of Santa Croce. I remember being overwhelmed by the peace and the beauty of that moment, and I wouldn't be able to remember if it not for this photograph. I'm glad I have it to remind myself of the life-changing experience of studying abroad, and the way I felt on that extraordinary Tuesday afternoon that I spent wandering around in the shadows of greatness.