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Holi

 In 2007 I watched an Indian film that featured one of India's rowdiest and most colorful festivals and I decided that one day I would go to India and attend the festival. Seven years later I was in New Delhi roaming the streets with my camera (covered in a waterproof case, mind you) dodging water balloons, 5 gallon buckets of pink water, and more colored powder than a US color run has even dreamed of (side note: the color runs in America have hijacked the idea from this Indian festival). 
I met an adorable elderly lady that cooked me naan and curry over a small fire on the side of the road, then later invited myself and a few friends into her home where she lived with several of her children and grandchildren. We listened to music, ate spicy snacks, and danced (which apparently, they found painfully hysterical). 
As the day progressed, we were absolutely doused in water and color - my hair still has some pink dye in it that won't wash out. Anyway, my point is that I highly recommend this festival. It was hands down one of the most incredible cultural experiences of my life. 

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India (again)

So. We arrived yesterday and I'm so excited that I won't even go into the most ridiculous travel process that Zach and I went through to get here from Uganda (that's for another day, but for now, I'll just say that I DO NOT recommend flying Ethiopian Airways - I think they withheld water from me to intentionally  be mean. I also think they turned the heat on full power for the entire 9 hour flight. Rude. Mean.) Also the computers crashed so check-in and luggage tags were all hand written which was a great lesson for me to think about the archaic days back when computer machines didn't even exist. 
Anyway... INDIA. So my friend Adam visited India a few years back and when I asked him how things went, he said "India is an assault on the senses." I thought that was a mild description of the place. India is unlike any place that I have ever been. There are sights and sounds and smells and wild colors and the people are just overwhelmingly gorgeous. It's like everywhere I look are people wearing the most incredible patterns with the most incredible smiles and you just look at their eyes and get this sense that they have so many stories to share and you just want to sit and listen to all of them. They stop and want to interact. They take time to do things. They make things happen. Also, though the roads are a shit storm of a disaster, few people have road rage. It's great. 
Anyway, we are gearing up to hit the Taj Mahal and celebrate Holi with the locals before headed to the south to meet up with the rest of the media crew that's set to document stories for a small NGO ran by some incredible South Africans that I met in South Korea. How's that for globalization?

Uganda

After a wild itinerary to get to Uganda, our post script was an overnight drive through the bush, an hour of sleep, another car ride to a ferry (which we MISSED), renting a fishing boat to take us to a small island across the tumultuous waters of Lake Victoria (never mind the 12 year old kid scooping water OUT of the boat as we made our way across the lake with our camera gear in tow) and an hour motorcycle ride, we made it to our destination!  The incredible people at The Thirst Project have constructed wells on an island called Buvuma and we were honored to visit that community (among two others) to document the life changing impact that clean water has on a community's development. 

 *Instagram photo!

*Instagram photo!

Nicaragua

A few weeks ago I hopped on a plane for Nicaragua to work in tandem with an incredible org called Project Alianza, they are focused on working with coffee farmers to forge structured systems that provide access to direct trade options (among educating them with best farming practices). 

I was absolutely thrilled to meet such incredible folks that are dedicated to leveraging resources to create bigger and better opportunities for others as we cascaded through the mountains of Nicaragua in our four wheel drive with our security detail. I loved staying on top of a mountain and drinking coffee ALL DAY EVERY DAY, you guys. No access to internet. No electricity (well, there were some solar panels for electricity during the day). It's incredible what time off the grid away from technology can do for a gal's soul.

www.bohemianredimages.com
www.bohemianredimages.com
www.bohemianredimages.com

Simba

Ever since watching The Lion King as a little girl, I've dreamed of going on a safari in Africa to find Simba. I imagined myself peering out of a van with binoculars seeing Simba and singing Elton John at the top of my lungs. So, needless to say, going to Africa really has been a dream come true. Last week, we got to venture out to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. It wouldn't be Africa if there weren't some glitches, but I must say that I was a bit concerned when the water pump went out in the Land Rover in the middle of our safari drive. Our driver told us we needed to get out and push so he could try starting the car - and all I could think about were the YouTube videos I had watched of people getting mauled by lions after getting out of their cars.

We hopped out and pushed the car for a bit and it still didn't start, so we got back in and waited for someone to come and pick us up. Anyway, aside from the car mishap, we got to spend some quality time driving around and looking for giraffes and rhinos and capped the night off with a bonfire and good bourbon. Let me just go on record as saying that there are few things in life that are better than the starry Kenyan sky and story swapping with Maasai warriors.

Uganda

Okay, so. I'm sipping Ethiopian coffee right now, in Ethiopia. At this point, too much has happened to begin to write about, but I'm going to start with my time in Uganda. I got to Uganda a little over a week ago and everything since then has seemed like a whirlwind. I touched down with the fine folks at The Thirst Project for a blitz all over the country to visit communities where they have drilled wells and document the impact that access to clean water can make in an area. In the haze of jet-lag, heat, and road-side break-downs -- we managed to visit seven different communities and dance is almost all of them. It was so. much. fun. The thing that I love the most about Ugandans is their seemingly free spirited approach towards life. Every Ugandan I've met has serious dance moves and seems relatively unfazed by small mishaps like cars breaking down. Ugandans are great at chilling out. Sitting. And relaxing. They have mastered the art of porch sitting in a way that I can only aspire to. I'm learning more and more from my Ugandan friends that there are a lot of things in life that simply aren't important; that there are a few things that are -- and it's best to focus on them. With these experiences, I've noticed that my perspective on life continues to shift. In a good way.

What an honor it was to be a part of these celebrations and have a glimpse into the everyday lives of these Ugandans. I already can't wait to go back.

uganda
uganda

Your eyes tell a different story

Preface: So, I've been traveling throughout Bangladesh for the past two weeks visiting and photographing stories in numerous camps packed with Bihari refugees (stranded Pakistanis) alongside of OBAT Helpers, an organization based out of the USA. The situation is complex and for context you can read more about it here. -----

I can see it in your eyes.

Your joy is contagious and doesn't make sense to me; your resolve is unwavering, and the way you love others is with the type of love that only comes from one place - intense pain and struggle. The conditions of your life tell one story, but your eyes tell a different one. They tell a story of dignity and fierce determination. They tell a story that despite living in hellish conditions, it has not defined you. They tell a story of hope and an unspoken knowledge that there will be a day that things will be better.

Your overwhelming generosity and kindness have caused my heart to burst. I'll never understand how individuals that have so little give so much. And,  in an effort to learn as much about your lives as possible, to create space for you to share your stories, it's you that have taught me infinite lessons and humbled me. I am filled with serious gratitude and inspired by the fight that you have in you.

It's hard to describe the conditions of the camps that we have visited. I heard a story of a man who lived in one of the camps. Someone asked a man if he was concerned about going to hell and he responded by saying, "I'm already living in hell." The camps are overpopulated with around 6-8 and sometimes more people sharing an 8x8 space. There is no privacy. Sanitation is an ongoing issue with hundreds of people sharing toilets and showers, constantly having to wait in lines to use them. Health care is extremely difficult to access and discrimination from the Bangladeshi government is a way of life. Access to education is becoming more readily available and is one of the most effective ways for the Biharis to not just dream about better lives, but to have them.

In the past two weeks, I've snapped hundreds of photos and met numerous people with heartbreaking, yet incredibly courageous and inspirational stories. I listened as one man told me about how a micro finance loan allowed him to open up a small convenience store, which he has steadily grown for the past 10 years and is preparing to move to another, better location. His shop has allowed him to buy a house for his family and he is extremely proud. I listened as one teenager shared her story of her commitment to education and her dreams of going to university so she can earn enough money to move her family out of the camp. There was a young girl who moved from the country to work for an older couple and attend school to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor so she can help others. We listened to the story of another teenage girl who told us about how gang violence had resulted in her home being torched, along with numerous other homes in the camp - and how the only thing that she took with her during the fire was her report card because she had all A's; when we asked one man about his most prized possession, he told us in tears that it is his mother.

As we listened to story after story, I couldn't help but notice a common theme: dreams for a better future and refusal to accept things the way they are. And that, to me, is one of he most beautiful and inspirational things in the world. Things aren't okay, but steadily (and mostly because of education), they are getting better.

Below are some images from these past few weeks. If you're interested in learning more or directly helping the Bihari refugees, please visit www.obathelpers.com

*The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect those of OBAT Helpers.

Revisiting the lovely Juliet of Swaziland

I’m riding in the front of a van cascading through the hills of rural Swaziland and finally have a free moment to think a bit about blogging. This fall was chock full of photo sessions, and surprisingly a lot of graphic design. A few days ago I joined up with the lovely folks over at the Thirst Project in Atlanta, Georgia to commence our trip to Swaziland, Africa. The Thirst Project is an organization focused on sustainable clean water initiatives all over the world. They have chosen to audaciously take on the task of working with the Swazi government to provide access to clean drinking water for all of Swaziland in 10 years time. I’ve been working with them from the beginning and have the honor to document their work and spend time with some really incredibly resilient people who continue to teach me about what is valuable in life and demonstrate the joy is found in the most unlikely of places.

After causing the plane to be held yesterday (surprise, we were running late), we landed in the capital of Swaziland, took a few hours break, and per usual hit the ground running. We went for a visit to one of the nearby villages that we’ve spent time in before – a place we visited a few years ago. As I was trying to not fall asleep standing up, I looked over and saw a familiar face, one of my favorite faces ever – the lovely Juliet.

I met Juliet just over two years ago when I first came to Swaziland with the Thirst Project and have a hard time explaining it, but she has this light and love that pour out of her. After listening to her story, knowing that she had lost her husband and two sons to HIV/AIDS, she was joyfully raising her grandsons. She showed me around her house and we chatted for a bit.

So, as one could imagine, seeing her yesterday was a little bit like heaven. I walked over to her to say hello and she absolutely burst out in laughter and shock because she could not believe that I remembered her name. We got to chat and catch up and she said that her family was doing well and she had been planting a lot of maize but the cows kept eating it.

When we went to her house, she kept apologizing for the mess (hahaha, why do women everywhere do that?) and showed me her grandsons’ room, and I told her that it looked like they needed to clean it or be grounded.

I was so happy to see her and get to spend a bit of time with her – I snapped a few photos, and even snapped some polaroids for her to keep (GOD BLESS POLAROID CAMERAS.).

Here are a few snapshots from yesterday and getting to see the lovely Juliet.

Chasing Rainbows: Life and work and what it's all about (Warning: This is a sad post.)

Usually, I think it's a good idea to not mix personal life and business, but I received news yesterday that greatly impacts me and therefore the way I do business and I'd be remiss to not address it in a public way. A month ago, I was working on a project focused on Burmese refugees. A friend, John Sharp, came in and helped with us with the construction component of the project, volunteered his time, and laughed with us. I didn't know John very well, but he was a magnetic and energetic guy. A hard worker with a bright smile - the kind that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. I got the news yesterday that he was in an accident and died.

I sat in the coffee shop where I read the news and I deeply wanted it to NOT be reality. I was sad, then frustrated, then angry, then sad again. A young guy, just graduated college, ready to take on the world - and it's over. Just like that.

Unfortunately, it often takes tragic situations to cause me and you to stop. To stop and breathe and take a minute to evaluate. To evaluate what life is about, to evaluate what is important, to refocus and step outside of the whirlwind of life and look at it for what it is. It's fleeting, it's not guaranteed, it's unpredictable. It's life. But what do I, what do we do with that? How does it change the way that I live? How does it change the way that I do business? How does it change and shape my perspective of what I want my entire life to look like? More than that, how does it shape each second that I live?

As I started to think about John, I came back to the sobering reality that the only thing really worth any value in life is relationships and the people you have them with. As a photographer, I have a huge responsibility - to capture and tell the stories of people and human relationship.  That's it. For me, if I die with a Pulitzer photo prize or photo published on the cover Time (though, it would be cool), but don't care about and value people, I would feel like a huge failure.

A few years back, I photographed a wedding in the fall. I always try to capture the joy of guests that attend weddings and think it's great for couples to have photos of their friends and family that attend. When I received an email from that client that her best friend had tragically passed away and the photo that I took of them together was the last, I was truly honored. She said that I captured her late friend's personality and joy so perfectly. It took me days to respond to that email.

Last February I was in Swaziland. I've been there several times and developed some significant friendships there. It's starting to feel like home. One of my good friends that lives there informed me that his mother had been sick with HIV for a number of years and asked that we go and visit her. I'd met her before. She had those eyes that you look into and can only begin to imagine the life that she's seen and taken in. The sort of eyes that are kind and communicate compassion. She didn't even say anything. A few weeks after I saw her, HIV/AIDS took her life. The photos and images that I took of her are something that my friend and I will hold on to. They are the memories, of a relationship so valuable, that it can never have a price tag attached to it. Experiences like that continue to shape me as an artist and change my approach.

Earlier this year, my good friend Nick lost his father to cancer. When I went to the memorial service, the main photos displayed were from a family portrait session I had done before he died. They were invaluable because they were the paper and ink that captured the most important thing to the family - their relationship to each other and the person they loved and will always miss.

I really like old people. The super old people. When I was 12, my mom worked at a nursing home and I used to go to work with her for the entire shift and hang out with the old folks. Not too typical for a 12-year-old girl who probably should have been calling boys and putting on make up. But I remember this old lady named Bessie Reel. She was 104 and the oldest person I knew. I remember sitting for hours and talking to her. Though she was old, she was sharp. I remember one day asking her what she regretted about life. She told me three things: That she didn't love more, that she didn't risk more, and that she didn't soak up every moment. Those things stuck with me. It was then that I promised myself that I refuse to spend an ounce of energy in my life chasing the mirages of what life is 'supposed' to be like and chase what I know is real and fulfilling.

So. I'm going to have to get on a soapbox for a minute. Life is way too precious and too short to chase after things that don't have value. Things that, in the end, won't fulfill the human soul. Marketing and Hollywood have done a great job lying to us and simulating value. Telling us that we have to have this type of house, this type of car, this type of hair, this type of job, go to this school, have ______ to be fulfilled.  Then one's whole life is wasted chasing those things, only to find out it's a mirage - sort of like capturing a rainbow. The rainbow can't be captured. One can chase after it, but not get to it. Some of the saddest people I've ever met are the closest to 'capturing the rainbow'.

We live in a culture that doesn't slow down. That doesn't meditate, that doesn't evaluate, that doesn't create space for us to get to know ourselves and understand the deepest desires of the human heart. Our culture doesn't naturally lend itself to constructing an approach towards life that leads to fulfillment and value rather than compelling us to chase rainbows.

Let's not live lives that we will regret. Let's vow to not chase mirages of things that don't have value. Thank you John for your beautiful life and the beautiful reminder of what's real and what's a vapor that can't be captured.

Mary: One of the most legit people alive

I met Mary last summer while she was watering the grass outside of Redeemer Presbyterian. I was in the market for some models for my Senior Pix project. It didn't take long for me to realize that not only was Mary an incredible person, but she has a fiercely loving and progressive personality.

As the head of hospitality at her church, she has mastered the art of making people feel welcomed and at home. I got to do a photo shoot with her and it was an absolute blast. She loved every minute of it. She told me that she googled the phrase "Southern Comfort" and didn't understand why photos of rappers kept coming up. Since we met, we've spent a lot of time together talking about life and mainly she just teaches me really incredibly valuable life lessons. One day she even told me "You don't need to be like everyone else, you don't WANT to be like everyone else, so just get over your fears."

A few weeks ago I went over for brunch and didn't end up leaving until 6pm. As we talked she showed me every piece of her real silver flatware and taught me what all the pieces were used for (you know I have no idea) and showed me her fine china collection and explained what each piece was and where it came from. We decided to hit up some antique shops to look around. As I was checking out different pieces of art, she told me, "Make sure that you tell me what you see that's beautiful so I can appreciate it too."