Italy + France | Destination Photographer | Erika Ryan Photography

Why am I a photographer?

I get this question a lot: "what made you become a photographer?" There's always the easy answer, that I love it and I couldn't imagine doing anything else, but honestly, its a lot more complicated than that. I've always loved taking photographs, the artist aspect of it and more importantly always being able to look back and remember those experiences and how I felt during them. This gets into the real answer to why I became a photographer. 

I've always loved to travel, and I remember wanting to visit Italy for as long as I can remember. I read about Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael and Botticelli and fell in love. My dad used to talk to me about astronomy and told me all I could've ever wished to know about Galileo. Then, I found out my junior year of college that one of my professors was hosting a study abroad trip to Italy and France that summer and I just had to go. So I did it, it was extremely last minute and I had nothing ready, but I went and it completely and utterly changed my life. 

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I was in for 3 weeks of Italian adventure - our apartment was a block from The Arno and the Ponte Vecchio, weekends in Venice, Padua, Bolzano, and Rome. It was incredible. I spent the mornings learning about the great Renaissance artists and learning everything I could about their lives and work. I was in heaven. We spent our nights eating amazing food and eating more gelato than I probably should've. We explored chapels and cathedrals and drank wine on trains. I don't know if i've ever been happier in my entire life. It was the most amazing experience I've ever had. 

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I think the most memorable moment (which ironically, I did not get a photograph of) was when we went into the Santa Maria Novella, and we were standing in the back during a service when this little Italian man came up to us and asked if we were Americans. We all laughed and said yes and he got so excited! He grabbed a couple of us by the arms and said, "oh come with me! I want to show you something!" So we all went out into the courtyard of this beautiful church and he started talking about love and family and how we must stick together and love one another. That life isn't worth living if we didn't have people to live it with. He asked if he could pray over us, and prayed we had safe travels and made friends to last a lifetime and that he hoped we would all live long and wonderful, fulfilling lives. It makes me cry just typing this out. I've never been much for religion, even growing up in church my whole life, but listening to this man who had never met us before wish us well and love us so much was amazing. Then he said he wanted to take us into the private chapel that was only for the churches staff. He unlocked this big, heaven wooden door with this thousand year old key and we got to see something that less than 100 people in all of history had ever been able to see. He let a friend of mine play the piano that very few people had ever been allowed to play. It was amazing. Although I won't ever remember that man's name, I will always remember what he did for us that day. I'll remember that he, singlehandedly, changed my entire life. 

After we wrapped our tour of Italy, we took a 3 hour plane ride to somewhere I never thought I'd get to go, and somewhere I almost didn't ever leave: Paris, France. 

I stepped off the plane, walked a couple of blocks to get on the subway and then walked a few more blocks to find our hotel and in that 30 minute journey I realized one thing - I wanted to stay here forever. I have never felt so at home anywhere else in the world. Everything about Paris called to me. The aesthetic, the atmosphere, the people, everything. I loved it. I remember asking my professor what would happen if I decided not to go home! 

I spent most of my time in Paris alone, and it was wonderful. I went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa, and my favorite thing of all: Van Gogh's exhibit in the Musee de Orsay. It was breathtaking. It was completely dark except for spotlights on the paintings and projections of his writings on the walls. I remember walking up to his self portrait and looking at it for an hour. I literally stood there in front of it for a solid hour. You could see the brushstrokes and paintbrush bristles still in the paint, and I cried. Seeing this amazing mans work right there in front of me was a borderline religious experience. I also went to see the Monet museum in his old home, and walked the streets of Paris. I picked up a copy of Harry Potter in Latin from Shakespeare and Company, which to this day is my most prized possession. 

So, long story (sorry, I know this was long) short: this is why I'm a photographer. This experience and the things I saw during it, I never wanted to forget. I want to create something as timeless as this place. I want to evoke the feelings I felt here over and over and over again. The overwhelming love and passion and nostalgia, I don't ever want to forget that. I also want to travel the world and have many more experiences like this, and if I could ever be lucky enough for my career to be a path to more adventure, I'm going to do everything I can to make it so. 

au revoir.