I am currently in Orvieto Italy, a small hill town just about 1 ½ hours north of Rome. I spent today meandering the streets and walkways of the town with my family meeting the locals, shop owners, and a few tourists mixed in.
I met Paolo (the man pictured here) just after lunch as we were heading back to the Duomo to photograph the facade as the late afternoon light was beginning to create some great shadows and contrast. I introduced myself to Paolo and asked if I could take his photo. Through the broken English/Italian exchange he set down his attache and iPhone on the street and reached for my camera. I very quickly realized he thought I wanted him to take a photo of me! We shared a laugh and when I could muster enough Italian to explain I wanted a portrait of him, he was lit up with pride. He turned to Julie, my producer and wife, and asked “Sei serio?” (Are you serious?) As we talked he was more than happy to oblige and was very curious about this personal project. We talked and I took some portraits as I explained.
What I explained to him and what I realize I may not have yet explained here is that I want to capture as many portraits of “Happy Humans” as I can over the next few months and build a small body of work. This has grown from a passing idea to a full blown personal project while I’m on assignment in Europe over the next three months. I was struggling a bit on how to utilize this time between assignments and stock photography captures. More on that after Paolo’s portraits…
Meet Paolo: A designer and chef. What a combo right?
Paolo says to Julie, “Sei serio? Tu vuoi la mia foto?” // “Are you serious? You want my photo?
Paolo says “It’s Okay!”
Where did this project come from??
It began with discussions Julie and I had about capturing some really impactful environmental portraits while we were abroad. Similar to what I’ve done in years past. Last year in particular I had been working on another personal project around portraits of religious and brought that to Europe with me and shot ~100x portraits of religious from Capri to Assisi to Rome.
This time, I really didn’t have a project set in mind beyond the assignments I brought and would be given while I was here. Then I spoke with a good buddy back home one evening on the phone. He and I talked about the photos of people that I was capturing. We talked about the happiness factor in all of the images…tossed around a few ideas and then he suggested to me, “…you need to shoot 1,000x Happy Humans over the next 3 months”. It immediately clicked. Pun not intended. I was going to shoot with a purpose of building out a Happy Humans body of work. TD – Thanks brother! You are my Ambassador of Quan! (He also happens to run an awesome blog Balance & Focused – Check it out)
As I started putting a plan together as to how to approach it, I initially thought this would be a great way to build on my portrait and conversational skills. More than that though, as the idea simmered, I love the idea of showing people what it looks like to be happy. I think so often we get caught up in all the tediousness that is “our life” and forget the one simple thing that makes it all worthwhile. What we all want. What we can all have if we just let ourselves.
To be “Happy”.
Does that mean we have to have the perfect job? Does that mean that we have to have perfectly behaved children? Does that mean we need to have the perfect house? No. None of that means a shit unless we start out happy.
I was listening to a Tim Ferris podcast yesterday afternoon as I was driving back home to Orvieto and I heard a couple quotes that I thought resonated with happiness. Neither is a perfect fit for where I’m going with this, but it does get across the main point.
“If you can’t be happy with what you have, nothing you ever get will make you happy.” &
“Money, much like alcohol seems to exaggerate who they were already.”
WOW. Marinate with that for a while.
So with that, I find that when I’m shooting street portraits abroad, I tend to seek out, purposefully albeit subconsciously, people who exude happiness. They may not be the richest, the most affluent, the person with the perfect life, bud dog gone it, they are happy.
I’m now about capturing these portraits of Happy Humans in the moments I meet them. It’s a project that has no real end game other than I hope that the photographs I share with you bring you some joy and realization that being happy is a state of mind. A state of outlook, not a product of the things you have or do. With that…enjoy!