Dreams Into Reality: You are Never Too Old to Dream Another Dream
Dear Lovely Friends,
You are never too old to dream another dream.
About 6 years ago, a delightful English lady who has lived in the South of France forever, Jilly Bennett, attended my photography workshop in Puglia.
Jilly was in her late 70’s and we all fell instantly in love with her energy, sense of humour and joy for life, and all the escapades she has had in her life.
Jilly was and is dog obsessed; on the first photography workshop, whenever we turned around, there was Jilly down on the ground taking photos of dogs, chatting with Italians in who knows what language (dog), and running around like a delighted teenager in Martina Franca capturing the hearts of dogs and dog owners.
Over the years, this heavenly woman who has passed her 80th year kept taking photos, attending workshops, and winning photography prizes.
Last week, she has given the world a gift 🎁, she is sharing her beautiful photographs with the world in a fine art shop and I believe even legendary dog photographer #elliotterwitt would be admiring them!
Her work is moving, touching, funny… sometimes it will break your heart and other times it will make you laugh out aloud!!
I’m so excited to call a couple of her prints mine and get ready friends, guess what you are getting for Christmas!!
Over to Jilly!
Whilst most people at your age are wearing slippers and watching TV, what motivated you to become a photographer and start photographing dogs?
The motivation was simply that I was so entranced with the Mediterranean way of life I saw around me that I simply had to share it with others and because I cared for other people’s dogs in my home as well as the dogs, I am lucky enough to adopt, it was natural to include dogs as well. For years, I had one of the top-winning kennels of Old English sheepdogs in the UK and judged all over the world, so dogs have always been my ‘everything.’ Now, no more show dogs but always a rescue dog. Yes, we rescue them but we all know that it is really they who rescue us. It seems to me a perfect arrangement.
It took a long time to learn the techniques of using a camera (still learning) which I did with YouTube videos, the help of friends and taking thousands and thousands of not-very-good photos but that’s how we learn. I looked at the beautiful work of the great masters: Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, Willy Ronis – black and white grainy photos that look like they should be in a Paris Noir classic film. And my idol in dog photography is Elliott Erwitt – the humor, the pathos in his images makes me laugh out loud or really touches me.
And then, Carla, I found your first book, Italian Joy, and suddenly I realized what photography could be. Here was that wonderful grainy photography I loved but with every image loaded with emotion. Every photograph told a story of Italy, of life, of love. This was a revelation to me. Now, with my passion for dogs and love of everything French and Italian, I had a direction! That book has been my bible ever since and made me realize I wanted to learn how to do this. I found you online and will never forget the day you left a comment on one of my photos – I danced around the room that day! Later, as you know, I’ve had the joy of attending many of your photography workshops where I did indeed learn and grow and gain confidence, not to mention making lifelong friendships with fellow students.
How has photographing dogs influenced your life, travels and relationships?
It changed my life – corny but true. We all need an outlet for our creativity and photography gave me that. It gave me a life of French friends as well as English-speaking ones. There is no better way to integrate into a country where you speak a different language than to have a shared interest and I’m so lucky to count many local photographers as friends. I started exhibiting, entering competitions, and was fortunate to have some success. I’m on the committee of the Festival of PhotoMenton. I travelled all over Italy and the south of France for the pleasure of photographing dogs but it’s also pretty nice to enjoy an Aperol spritz and a plate of Paccheri al Forno with new friends, usually with a dog under the table, at the end of the day. And who can resist those fabulous cobblestones in Rome and the chaos and total joy of life in Naples?
What is it you are looking for in a photo or what makes a photo great for you?
Emotion, emotion, emotion. It’s that connection between a dog and its human. Sometimes it might be the connection a dog has with another dog but it is always an emotion, perhaps funny, perhaps touching.
At 80, not only have you mastered photography but you have tackled so many complex programs like Lightroom, Photoshop, blogs, Instagram and Shopify. What tip would you give to someone who avoids taking a step towards something they are curious about because of technology?
Nowadays there is so much help available in everything and anything online. YouTube videos are brilliant. Adobe has excellent teaching videos on Lightroom and Photoshop aimed at every level of expertise from total beginner onwards. Remember ‘Google is your friend’ but you need to phrase your questions in a concise, specific way. I ask Google how to do things all the time! And importantly if you have a bad memory like me, write every single step down and refer to that until it becomes automatic. And ask for help! People are kind. People love to help. Don’t be scared of technology as it is so exciting. But get help when you need it.
What would be one tool, habit or piece of advice you would give to another women 60+ that wanted to take a creative leap of faith?
First of all, and this is a tough way to look at it, but think about life 20 years down the line. Do you want to be thinking ‘I wish I’d done that, I wish I’d had a go!’ So first explore your subject and learn. Buy books on the field of creativity you are interested in, watch videos online, enroll in workshops, where you will learn and importantly meet like-minded souls so that you support each other in your creative progress. At the moment, because of Covid, workshops are mostly only online but that works too. I have recently been creating my shop because I enrolled in Carla’s brilliant ‘Walls of Love’ workshop – months and months of work and the fellow artists and photographers I have met on Zoom are now friends for life. We help and encourage each other and share our ups and downs. This is so important. Don’t be shy, just do it. Success or failure doesn’t matter, it’s the act of doing, the fun of doing, that matters. Personally, I have always found it harder to say no to an opportunity as I always think of what I might have missed. The road less travelled is the right road. Just do it!
Getting older gives us such freedom. Ladies, we are not dressing up for men any more! Children are grown, we have the time to dive into our dream. We only have one life. What is the worst that can happen? I can tell you. The worst is that you didn’t give it a go! The best is that you took that leap of faith et voila! a whole new world opened up for you and chances are it won’t be the one you expected but something even more exciting.
What has photography taught you?
Compassion, for starters. As we develop an eye for photography, we are learning to really ‘see’ not just ‘look’ and so by taking a photo of an old person (I forget I’m that too!) I realise how much I have to learn by chatting to that old lady in the village. Perhaps she barely went to school but, believe me, she knows what really matters in life as I see her interacting with her grandchildren, watch her kindness to everyone and also glory in how much she laughs.
Photography also taught me I am creative being, it taught me to have confidence in my ability, it taught me to trust friendships and to know I’m loved. All this thanks to photography which is pretty big time in my book. And beautiful Carla, most of all, thank you for being my inspiration, mentor and friend for all these years. But for you…
Biggest love to Jilly for showing us how to do life…