Most humans are sighted. Stephanie Izzo sees.
Izzo, 28, a Coventry native who now lives in New York, has captured the essence of our littlest state in her self-published book, “Ocean Sites and City Lights: A Collection of Photographs.”
It is visionary, scenic, historic; 120 pages of beaches, lighthouses, skylines, architecture, urban vignettes. You will see our state as only she can, in a way you hadn’t before.
“As a native Rhode Island, I hold this book dear and near to my heart,” said Izzo. “Traveling from Mozambique to Peru and from the Philippines to the Ukraine, I have had the privilege to take a variety of photographs capturing different cultures and landmarks, but this book is the work I am most proud of. It’s of the place I will always call home.”
To capture the unusual images and to properly reflect our state, Izzo endured all of its weather to gather the perfect shot at the precise time. She descended from rooftops, ascended in a helicopter, met locals eye to eye, around, over, under and through landmarks and the unfamiliar.
The Coventry High School grad has traveled from the orphanages in the Ukraine to villages in Mozambique to the lights of Paris, but returns home for Christmas, as always, to speak about her lens craft.
RICENTRAL: When did you get your first camera? Is that how the artistic passion began, or were you a painter or cartoonist that changed over to photography?
STEPHANIE IZZO: Growing up in an artistic home, I absorbed a great amount of sensitivity from my parents. My mother was an oil painter and both parents taught art classes at their gallery in Scituate.
So, still-lifes/sculptures/colorful fabrics/rigged up lighting, etc., were kind of part of daily life. Your question about painter/cartoonist made me laugh because I did both of those things a lot as a kid.
I received my first "cheapie" film camera, when I was eight or nine but after never being pleased with the photos I got back from the drug store, I decided that picture taking was harder than I thought, I didn't know what I was doing wrong and I got frustrated.
I guess in a way, the excitement to capture life was always there, but I didn't have the proper tools to capture it, and after enough times of being disappointed with what I'd find inside the CVS photo lab envelope, I quit. At the ripe old age of ten.
RICENTRAL: What was the first great photo that ever, to paraphrase what Emily Dickinson said about great writing, made your head explode?
IZZO: I really enjoy Steve McCurry's photo of the "Afghan Girl" which originally appeared in National Geographic magazine. His book, “South Southeast” played a huge part in inspiring me to travel.
RICENTRAL: What was the first photo you remember taking that wasn't a snapshot of Uncle Pervis or whomever?
IZZO: I captured my first real photograph at age 19 (with a Nikon FM SLR). The funny part is that I had bought the camera a few months earlier so that my friend could take photos of ME.
He wasn't a professional but we played fashion model/photographer for an entire summer in the hopes of capturing that one amazing shot (of me). How vain! So, at the end of the summer (2002), I asked him to photograph these three Bosnian refugee children. They were friends of his and I never wanted to forget how beautiful they were (I remember thinking that they had faces like angels).
We were at the beach, and he said, ‘Why can't you take their pictures?’
I said, ‘Because I CAN'T - I'm not a photographer!’ and he said, ‘Neither am I!’
All I knew was that I was supposed to line up the green line in the viewfinder so the shot would be exposed correctly. I remember feeling ridiculous lying on my stomach in the sand trying to get to the same level as the children. I was afraid people would think that I thought I was a photographer.
A few days later, I was in the parking lot of CVS, flipping through the four-by-six prints, expecting none of the photos to have turned out ... and then I came to this one particular photo and I stopped.... and I think I literally said out loud (to myself), ‘I want to do this for the rest of my life.’
RICENTRAL: When did you know you had a gift for this?
IZZO: John Loengard, a famous photographer and photo editor for LIFE magazine, once said: ‘I [used to think] that 'good photographers' took 'good pictures' because they had a special eye. What I found was that good photographers take good pictures because they take great pains to have good subjects in front of their cameras.’
Maybe I have a gift with children. When I'm with a child I really feel like we speak the same language, Even if they can't talk yet or they don't speak English. There's a lot to be said through the eyes.
RICENTRAL: People tend not to give most photographers credit for being artists because they are using a camera and they think, 'Well, hell, I can use a camera.' Are you an artist or a visionary or something else?
IZZO: The way I see it, if what is there is already beautiful – the precious face of a child, the magnificent Manhattan architecture or a snowstorm in Central Park – then how can I take credit? I only stole a moment from time by capturing what was already a work of art.
So I guess you could say, I have a deep appreciation for the everyday wonders in life, and the tenacity to repeatedly go out and capture those scenes that someone else might have overlooked.
RICENTRAL: What sights did you love to photograph most in Coventry? What's your favorite Rhode Island landmark or site to shoot?
IZZO: There's a gorgeous place called Parker Woodland right near the house I grew up in. I think that may be my favorite spot, though it didn't make it into the book because it didn't tie into the theme of ‘Ocean,’ or ‘City.’
I also really enjoyed exploring Block Island. Believe it or not, I had never been there before shooting this book.
Without a doubt, my favorite moments of shooting were either when I was on a roof or in a helicopter. I love flying, especially with no door in between me and what's below me, though I've never been on a roller-coaster in my life, nor will I EVER!
RICENTRAL: When do you shoot black and white? When sepia or another tone? When full color?
IZZO: I shoot black and white or sepia when color doesn't work and I prefer sepia to black and white because it's warmer and more inviting. I went to a Mary Ellen Mark photo workshop once and she said that she found shooting in color more difficult than shooting in black and white, but I really disagree.
A monochromatic image not only has to be compositionally strong but also has to have the exact right balance of shadows and highlights otherwise it can give a scene a completely different mood than what you were originally aiming for.
RICENTRAL: Has digital made photography better for the world?
IZZO: I don't think digital technology has made anyone a better photographer, however, my experience with film has definitely given me a huge appreciation for the convenience of digital. In school, they always said, ‘Cameras don't take pictures. People take pictures,’ and I agree.
There's definitely more ‘photographers’ out there shooting a greater quantity of photos, but in the end, the quality work still stand out from the rest. (On the plus side,) the instant gratification of digital suits my impatient personality just fine.
RICENTRAL: Why should the public buy your book for Christmas or any time?
IZZO: I'm not just saying this, but I really think the book is special. This is a book full of unique perspectives of Rhode Island, by a Rhode Islander, and printed in Rhode Island at Meridian Printing in East Greenwich (not outsourced to China).
It is my hope that someone will walk away after looking through this book and really appreciate the fact that we live in such a beautiful state.
Stephanie Izzo’s work is available for $29.99 at Summit General Store in Coventry, 25 Old Summit Road, Greene, Rhode Island 02827 (401) 397-3366 or www.stephanieizzo.com .