How My Photographic ‘Mantras’ Helped Bring Me My Life Today

carla coulson, chasing a dream, heart in the sky

All Photos Copyright Carla Coulson 

Dear Friends,

It feels like so much has happened this year, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

I have had a chance to reflect back on the past sixteen years and what has actually happened, why somethings worked and somethings didn’t and what photography has given me.

I give photography much credit for everything I have today!!

When I left Sydney in 2000 I lived along, ate take-away food each night alone, dreamed of finding someone to love and share my life with, to live in a community and belong and spend the 2nd part of my life doing something I loved (not much to ask for right??)

When I arrived fresh of the plane in Italy in 2000 and started at photography school, I was a clean slate. I had just pushed aside the first 35 years of my life and was about to start on a path that I knew nothing about.

carla coulson, love, italian joy, paris tango,

Learning photography and watching images appear in the darkroom filled me with excitement, wonder and curiosity.

Each day I went out into the streets of Florence and took photographs. I had no agenda other than learning, seeing, feeling what came naturally and trying out my ‘training wheels’ photography skills on daily life.

Days, weeks, months, years passed and I was still out on those streets taking photos of things I loved – that brought me pleasure, made me laugh and filled me with happiness.

When I decided to try and publish a book in 2003, I looked at all the pictures I had taken and there seemed to be some recurring themes. Like a lot!

carla coulson, black and white photography, portrait photography

There were images of love, kissing on church steps, couples locked in a passionate goodbye at the train station and sitting on a bridge in the sun. There were images of friends, family and community, of people eating, share and enjoying food together, of Italian beaches and summer, faith and travel and of course Joy. These images were what I was attracted to without any ulterior motive.

So off I toddled to a publisher one day with my big bunch of photos and hope in my heart. These photos and my story became my first book Italian Joy and I will be forever grateful to the wonderful publisher Julie Gibbs and Penguin for her vision in saying yes to my dreams.

This summer (11 years) since Italian Joy, I picked it up and started flicking through it again. I started for the first time to see it in a different light, with new eyes and new thoughts and what has happened in the intervening years.

carla coulson, black and white photography, laughter, mantras

Well, I am sure you have all heard about affirmations and mantras? The power of repeating something you want, over and over again till the big boys and girls upstairs hear it and grant you your wish.

I realised that my photos were my mantras – I took so many photos of people in love that it eventually came to me. I took so many photos of family, friends and community – I found my tribe. I took so many photos of summer and Italian beaches it became part of what I do and I took so many travel photos that I became a travel photographer for the first 12 years of my life and got lucky enough to publish 7 books. I took so many photos of joy it became part of my everyday and all those poor people I stalked in love helped me find my very own sweetheart.  And I started to believe in something greater than just what we see.

carla coulson, italian joy, paris tango

Did focusing subconsciously on things that were missing bring them to my life??? Were the big boys and girls upstairs hanging over my shoulder in the darkroom looking at what was appearing in the developer? Did someone not only hear my message they saw it? Or was it the fact that hundreds of thousands of moments of everything I wanted were recorded not only on film but in my heart and mind?

carla coulson, italian joy, jump, amalfi coast

All Photos Copyright Carla Coulson 

Am I the only one this has happened to? I would love to hear if anything similar has happened to you like this..

Maybe taking photos of what you want might be the next new ‘post it note on your fridge with your daily affirmation?’

Much love


“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” Greg Anderson

Check out my Portrait Lightroom Presets here.

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Kristin Cosgrove
7 years ago

Hi Carla,
Your post today has really resonated with me. It seems like a sign because I was only at the picture framer today having your photograph framed! I feel the way you feel about photography about food. It is my dream to come to Italy and learn everything I can about food, cooking, culture, family, tradition and ritual – about connection and community, joy and LOVE.

So,I’m still here in cold and windy Torquay but like you, I have started cooking beautiful Italian classics anyway. I devour beautiful Italian cook books and blogs and even drink a negroni for aperetivo 😉

Thank you so much for sharing your photographs but also your words with us.

I think you were always destined to find joy in your life as are we all, we are so fortunate that we have the tools (camera, wooden spoon) through which to search.

Kindly, Kristin x

Alison david
Alison david
7 years ago

Writing on my phone so can’t be eloquent, but ditto Kristin above. (Kristin, I finally did it, find a way to make it happen). I didn’t take pics but I cut them out from magazines, watched movies, studied the language, cooked, ate, read, sang, slept and lived Italian for years. This morning I’m having coffee in centre of Milan between lessons ( one of my jobs is teaching) watching ppl and still being glad after nearly three yrs that I made the move. It’s not all easy but it’s worth it. And yes, you do get what you focus on. Either with your camera lense or your own internal one. 🙂

Sandra Busby
7 years ago

Enjoyed your blog. I am a photographer, mostly amateur, as well as a watercolorist, totally amateur, and I have shared your experience. I even find that if I post a photograph, even one I have not taken on my desktop or on my bathroom mirrror of a “look” I want to achieve, I will gradually “become” more like that.

Lisa DeNunzio
7 years ago

Not sure if I truly have something similar to say, but I do find your story inspirational. I am a firm, firm believer of things that happen by ‘chance’ and how important it is to
‘pay attention’ to that fleeting moment and act. I have made significant friendships that had I turned the other way or not responded to those few words from a stranger, I would have missed out on extraordinary experiences. Recently purchased a home in Italy, harvested our first grapes. A dream realized…..

Melissa Gaggiano
7 years ago

Creating images is a lot like being a collector. I believe that when we collect things we are filling our [mental] walls with something that might be missing in our lives … and if we photograph people, moments, and things that make us sentimental then… yeah, we are drawing something special into our lives.

Earlier this year I started “The Moments Project”. The idea was to document ‘those seemingly unconnected, uneventful moments in one’s life. Sometimes we see things, people and for a second we stop and reflect. The moment passes after a second or two, and we move on never thinking of it again. I may not remember the thought, but I want to capture and keep the moment’. I was curious. I wanted to know if those moments captured would change the way I took photos.

Annabel Holmes
Annabel Holmes
7 years ago

Hi Carla,
I haven’t been in touch for a long time but you continue to be my inspiration. Love this post – it reminded me of that wonderful George Bernard Shaw quote, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” You did that! Thanks for sharing. Annabel

Elizabeth@pineconesandacorns blog

What a wonderful story! I love your blog and your books and your positive messages as well. You are an inspiration!

7 years ago

I’m doing how I know how to do. I don’t know if it’s communicating very well with the big boys and girls upstairs. I perhaps am still confused and unsure of the path I need to take. I kind of know the general picture, but not specific enough. And I think perhaps if I’m not clear enough, perhaps the message is not getting passed on clearly to those upstairs. That’s my kind of feeling of it. I can feel there is something bigger waiting for me. It’s there, but I don’t know how to reach it or get there. Does that make sense??? I always think, perhaps I’ll meet someone, “that” person that may change the course of my life. Or maybe I’ll hear something, or that ‘light bulb” will switch on. Until then, I do. I do how I know. But I kind of feel like a doing but not going really anywhere or in anyone direction. Like I’m running, and I find out I’m running on a treadmill. If that makes any sense.