All images photographed at the Erich McVey Workshop in Elk, California | Design & Styling: Ginny Au | Hair & Makeup: Mimi and Taylor | Floral Design: Sarah Winward | Paper and Calligraphy: Meghan Kay Sadler | Photo Lab: PhotoVision | Film Sponsor: Fuji Film | Table Linens & Rentals: 12th Table | Venue: Cuffey’s Cove Ranch | Models: Jillian Lieber & Alex Michels of Stars Model Management
Michael and Natasha. Portra 400. Contax 645.
If we haven't met in person yet, I'm sure you've been able to guess by trolling through my site, that I have a thing for Italy. And that's putting it mildly. A family member recently said she expected me to turn into a full fledged Nonna any day now.
I've heard the first step is admitting that you have a problem. I, Jen Wojcik, am obsessed with all things Italian. Whew, ok, it's officially out there.
So why Italy? I was an Art History major in college and studied the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods in Rome during the spring semester of my junior year. Being in the the presence of some of my favorite pieces of art was emotional and inspiring, but it's only part of why I fell in love with the country.
It was the scent in the air, the food, and the rhythm of day to day life, that I fell in love with. Time doesn't matter in Italy. Yes, people have things to do and places to be, but they first and foremost they have lives to live and families to love. This, beyond anything else, comes first. Their passion for family, friends, food, and art was intoxicating.
The train will get there when it gets there. The shop you just walked up to, that was open at the exact same time yesterday, is closed for no reason. Meals stretch out into hours of laughter, wine, and espresso. People stop to chat with their neighbors, knowing full well, the meeting they're on their way to can, and will, wait. Italians live. And in the in-between, they work.
This past fall, I returned with my husband, my brother, and his girlfriend. This weekly series will explore that time, as well as all other things Italian that I love.
Assisi, Italy. Portra 400. Contax 645.
I attended Retreat Gatherings at the end of last year in my favorite city on earth, Rome. I thought that I was attending a retreat full of beautiful shoots, but to my surprise, as well as the rest of the attendees, we were there to capture a real elopement between one of the most amazing couples I've photographed, to date.
This one is a tough one for me guys. And one, that to be honest, I have been putting off posting on the blog. This wedding meant so much to me on so many levels and I hadn't quite settled on how I wanted to share it, or if I even did. It was one of those experiences that you want to hold close to you and have it be only yours.
But by definition I couldn't do that, as much as I wanted to. This was a shared experience and it was profound because of that.
So here we go...
You may or may not know by now, I've only shared it with family and friends; I was diagnosed with cancer in mid-November. It was just a small tumor but something that caught me completely off-gaurd and had me reeling. My husband and I were immediately bombarded with options. We could do this, we could do that, we could see this doctor, we could see that one. And to make it worse, Caleb had just left for a weeklong business trip. So I was alone. I mean, I had my parents and my brother to come home to from that appointment, but in those moments when you're falling asleep at night and longing to be wrapped in that comforting embrace of your husband, I was alone. I cannot accurately convey how much your world is upended when someone says the word cancer to you.
So all of a sudden, I wasn't just going to Rome for Retreat Gatherings in a couple weeks. I was going after surgery. Five days post-op to be exact. Crazy, right? That's what almost everyone said when they asked if I was still going. But Rome became my light at the end of the tunnel, my prize for the pain, my carrot at the end of a very long and painful stick. Italy gives me life, it sustains me, and I needed it then more than ever.
So five days after surgery I got on a plane. Heavily medicated and exhausted before I even sat down in my seat. My surgeries had gone well and the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes. I was cleared to fly.
But here's where it all turned around. I kid you not, as soon as I stepped into the Italian air and was whisked away to our retreat in Frascati, I felt better. I was home. Everything was going to be ok.
The setting was breathtaking, the hotel was old world, and the group that had come to learn and create were fun and easy going. But it was really Trebor and Jacqueline that inspired all of us. The moment we found out that they were actually getting married on our last day, the gathering became something entirely different. We weren't there just to capture pretty things anymore. We were there to document love, which at the end of the day, is why we all do what we do.
Everyone was so incredibly kind and caring and by the end of the retreat, we really felt like a little family. From the beginning, I had been open about what I had just gone through. Since it was an all women retreat, I instantly had a group of mother hens intent on keeping their eye on me. I can't tell you how many times each of them would check in with me to ask if I was alright or if I needed anything. The beauty of Rome, Tara's stories, Sam's jokes, Sara's wry sense of humor, Jessica's comforting smile, Michelle and I's chat on the train, Amy's explanation of kangaroo balls...I could go on and on and on.
Every single woman there helped put me back together. Little by little, they helped me begin the healing process. And even though I was completely spent by the end of it, and literally collapsed at the end of our reception dinner for Jacqueline and Trebor, I wouldn't have traded my experience and the relationships I built there for anything.
To each and every one of those amazing ladies, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Retreat Gatherings is truly a place to be create beautiful imagery, be inspired and make lifelong friends.