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Adventures of a traveling student photographer

To say UNC Charlotte student T.J. Anzulewicz went off the beaten path for art is an understatement.

The 24-year-old photographer practically lived out of a camera bag and walked 18 to 28 miles a day. Along the way he had adventures, ran into danger and narrowly missed the Japan earthquake.

The result: "Wanderlust," a stunning collection of photos and artifacts from Italy and Japan that symbolize life's serendipity. UNC Charlotte will present the works in a solo artist exhibition this spring.

To create "Wanderlust," Anzulewicz (pronounced An-ze-le-vitch) used "a set method of exploration that I completed four times in Rome and three in Japan," he writes on his website. "This project starts by choosing a historically significant location to begin at, such as the hypocenter in Nagasaki or the Spanish steps of Rome.

"Before sunrise I arrive at the chosen spot; when the sun rises I expose a photo, and pick up an item," he explains. "My walk then continues for a solid hour in one direction, mapping the path I take. After the hour is up I force myself to stop at this spot. I expose an image, pick up an item and record the time then continue on for another hour, where I stop and repeat the process.

"I continue this for the duration of the day until sunset. Upon completion, I am left with a map of 25-30 miles in a foreign land and about a dozen images and items."

Anzulewicz plans to use these to make "Wanderlust" "an interactive mechanical and digital exhibition."

Born in Fort Rucker, Ala., to a military family, he moved 16 times in the United States alone. This lifestyle formed his nomadic personality.

"I just had this urge to travel," says Anzulewicz, who took his first photography class in 2006 at Pitt Community College near Greenville, N.C., where he earned an associate of arts degree. In 2009, he enrolled at UNCC.

His "Wanderlust" adventure began in May 2010 in Rome, where he was spending a summer abroad as part of an art and architecture program.

He planned four journeys from the center of the city, mimicking the shape of a compass rose: west (to follow the path of ancient gods); east from the Vatican (to symbolize praying to the same God); south to the Appian Way; and finally, north to the Spanish Steps.

"I have no idea where that hour is going to be," Anzulewicz says of his methodology, "but it's that cause-and-effect chain that brought me to that spot." On one day, he walked 28 miles to Italy's coast to photograph the beach stamped with his footprints.

The items he picked up included bottle caps, tile shards, and even a small bone. "Sometimes the items are really awesome, sometimes they're trash," he says. "It becomes its own artifact because it was taken out of its location and put on display."

Travel was occasionally treacherous. After walking about 25 miles on his last day, a dehydrated Anzulewicz found himself in a high-crime area and couldn't get a taxi back to Rome. Luckily, he was able to contact two of his teachers, who took a cab from Rome to rescue him. "I'm only as good as the network that supports me," he says.

In September 2010, Anzulewicz traveled to Tokyo as part of UNCC's art program. "Hands down, probably one of the greatest experiences of my life," he says.

He commenced more work on "Wanderlust" in Japan, but on March 11, 2011, an earthquake hit about 250 miles northeast of Tokyo and triggered a massive tsunami. At the time, Anzulewicz was in Beppu, a city on an island 654 miles southwest of Tokyo. He didn't feel aftershocks, but phone service was unavailable.

"I had no way of communicating with anyone," he says. "I was just worried about all my friends that were in Tokyo and everyone else around Japan."

After several days,Anzulewicz returned to Tokyo, but UNCC officials told him to leave immediately - five months earlier than he had planned.

He will graduate this year with a bachelor's degree in arts with a focus on photography. "Wanderlust" will open in April, with placeholders for what he calls "unwalken paths."

But Anzulewicz says he plans to go back to Japan eventually: "I have some unfinished business there." Reshooting photos and climbing Mount Fuji are high on the list.

When will he make the return trip?

"That's up to fate," he says, "which is kind of what this whole project is about."

This article was created as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, a consortium of local media dedicated to writing about the arts scene.

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