You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup

For months I’ve asked myself the same question countless times. “Why can’t you just do it?” I’m certain that without saying that outright, several of my friends and family have thought the same things. I’m clearly a very privileged, white woman who has the resources and support system to achieve my biggest dreams. So why was it that no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t find it in me to take the first step?

Coming from a lifetime of believing that happiness was ultimately a choice you made when you woke up each day (hint: sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s a chemical imbalance), I labeled myself as lazy. I labeled myself as a failure of self motivation and determination. The real home run was when I began to label myself as someone who was no longer passionate about the things I once deemed important. This started with friendships, stories and human connection and stretched its way to photography and even culinary arts. Just like day falls swiftly into night, I found it a gruelling task to even get off my couch or hop out of bed some mornings. My life was bereft of the purpose I thought it once had and therefore, the energy I once had vanished too.

I’ve taken a good, hard look at the life I’ve lived over the past five years. It’s been filled with the most spontaneous choices. Some have had a purpose and some have been left to fate. Backpack around the world for five months? Sure! Move to Halifax for no reason what so ever? Absolutely. Attend an internship in Bali? Well, it sure will connect me with some important people. But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t one thing present in my mind during each of these adventures. Photography has always been there. That word has set up camp in my brain and convinced me that if I wasn’t making every life move in the name of my good ol’ career advancement then what did it matter anyway? Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about my passion for photography. I’ve worked with some really amazing mentors and built a portfolio I’m proud of. What came along with those moments were many, many times when I felt like I was failing. Moments when I felt like I wasn’t moving anywhere. Moments when I felt like I wasn’t working hard enough or grinding enough or sacrificing enough. Moments when I felt like I wasn’t good enough. So, when I look back on what I’ve done, I struggle to remember that those leaps of faith were taken to help me grow. Honestly, for one second, screw the whole career thing. What does that even mean to me anyway? Sure, I want to be successful. I want to make a difference but it’s crippling sometimes to think about the metric for success that many of us look up to. Sometimes I think that all success means to me is that I’ve reached the little GIF in my head where I’m strutting around an office wearing heels with a latte in hand. My photography journey so far may not have included a ton of huge jumps upward but it’s certainly provided me with many leaps forward. Personal leaps mainly, but shouldn’t that always be enough?

Throughout the last little while, I, like a vast majority of the population, have been struggling with anxiety and depression. I am unfortunately not a special case. August was especially hard and I felt like every single day that I wasn’t doing anything that I thought of as “productive”, I was wasting it all away. “Each day is a gift, Sam,” I would mumble to myself. That statement is, in fact, incredibly true. What I noticed though was that even on days when I would take a walk to my favourite coffee shop, bike to the library, read a chapter of a good book, clean my apartment or have tea with a good friend, I was still cursing to myself for letting another day slip by. I felt like this a lot when I was in Halifax too. When I spent a day doing simple things that made me happy, it was never enough. It’s almost as if I wanted to be overworking myself. I wanted to be desperate for free time, not wishing I had less of it. Knowing myself, that would have done more harm than good but the comparison game is a fierce beast and I couldn’t bring myself to realize that these simple days mattered too. These simple days are sometimes what life is all about.

I am by far my worst critic. Woah! Shocker. Aren’t we all? I think that fact has taken its toll on me over these last few years more than I’m willing to admit. Yes, I’ve cherished the memories I’ve made and yes, I’m glad that I took those risks. That being said, this ever-present need to be focusing on my photography career at all times has prevented me from seeing the joy in that journey. Taking photos used to bring me joy. Especially before I realized that I wanted to pursue it professionally. The pressure I’ve placed on myself has stopped me from being proud of my photography accomplishments no matter their size and that is a huge problem. It’s taken me far too long to face this issue but it feels like a huge “a-ha” moment in my life.

For the next month, I’ve decided to take that pressure away. It’s crucial for me to focus on loving myself first and believing that I’m worthy of success and happiness. You know that phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup?” Man, that is my favourite sentence. How can you possibly give your best self to others if you’ve forgotten who that is? If your well is dry? Once I realized that the pressure I was putting on myself  to succeed was only coming from me and absolutely no one else, I was able to breathe. Big, deep breaths. If I don’t feel like I have the power to get out of bed in the morning, that’s okay. I can at least scrounge up the power to take that pressure off my shoulders. The steps I take with my photography will never be genuine if I lose myself and my mission in the process.

I just wanted to reiterate the importance of finding joy in your life and in your passions so that the steps to further your knowledge and expertise come from real love and not from the need to feel like you’re making a big enough splash in this world. So the next time I want to spend a day reading under a tree or writing in my journal, it won’t be a waste. It will be a step in the right direction. The rest will follow suit.

Advertisements

Marching On

   I’m usually pretty quiet about my social and political views on social media. Some people, I’m sure, may criticize me for this. Silence is the least effective way to create change, I know. It’s really not that I don’t wildly support feminism and equality for everyone. I absolutely do and I try my best to put that into practice every day. I just don’t often know how to express what isn’t already being said. This is why photography means so much to me. In a way unique to only me, the things that make my heart sing, the things I want to advocate for, are expressed. Only they’re expressed through image instead of word. I’m still working on grasping the kind of writer I want to be but when all else fails, I know how to capture what I believe in and share it with whatever audience will listen and for now, I think that’s okay. The truth is, I’m still figuring out where my opinions stand in this world. As I work on becoming more vocal and more confident in my views, my good ol’ Nikon and I will do our best to be a voice.

That being said, a new kind of energy flowed through my veins as I attended the International Women’s Day march and rally on Saturday. I took the day off work as I was extremely disappointed I couldn’t be a part of the march in January. These moments and unity amongst people deserve to be frozen in time. It was invigorating and eye opening and completely inspirational. Should I have been surprised? Definitely not. The amount of resistance and spirit I’ve seen demonstrated over the past fews months has been incredible and refreshing. I am so proud to be surrounded by people who aren’t afraid to speak up and stand up. I don’t know if much else needs to be said right now. I just wanted to have a little piece of this day to share with the world. There’s a lot going on around us right now worth shaming but amidst all of that, there are moments like this. As unfortunate as it is that they need to happen, I hope they can restore your faith that we can do anything if we work together as a team.

 

DSC_2477

Nanna

The vision I hold of my grandmother, Jessie Polzin (nee Simon) (1924-2017)

Her laugh pierces through my tape recorder like a soft melody. “That’s my favourite laugh,” she says. “Everyone always knows my laugh.” Jessie had, until her final days, brought laughter to everyone she met. I remember her telling me that keeping a sense of humour while growing old was so important to her. Though times became hard as her aches and pains proved to be too much for her to handle, the memories of her laughing in my presence will forever be the greatest and the most telling of who she was as a person.

On a dreary March afternoon, I sat inside my Nanna’s apartment on the living room floor and pulled out a small, white tape recorder from my bag. “Can I interview you?’ I asked her. I had been wanting to sit down and record stories from her life for far too long. At 92 years old, accessing memories from as far back as childhood did pose as a struggle but nevertheless, she was more than willing.

I could tell that some details of her stories had been lost over the years but one thing was always very clear to me: my Nanna did it all. She was a light, a supernova, overflowing with spunk and as she put it, “I was a real sonovagun.” She’d tell me stories about climbing the telephone poles in her neighbourhood all the way up to the top or running around on the foundation of a house being built across the road from her childhood home. A favourite of mine is the day she lined up all the little kids in her neighbourhood and taught them how to march. She was, in my vision of her younger self, a natural born leader bursting with charisma. “I tried everything,” she exclaimed, and boy did she ever.

My Nanna was always a beautiful singer. A passion for the arts runs deeply throughout the Polzin side of my family. From what I’ve gathered, Jessie let her vocal talents sit under the radar for most of her life. She often tells a story of the time she and a friend had a chance to be on the Johnny Carson show and when asked to demonstrate their singing, she completely froze up. In church choir, her contralto voice soared above the others but when the nuns would walk past her and wonder where it was coming from, she would immediately clam up. She laughs, telling this one, and it always did surprise me. For someone who projected such an outgoing spirit in her daily life, she still held one of modesty when it came to her voice. That being said, there was one place where she never hesitated to let the sounds of her voice echo in an empty room. The fondest memory I have of my Nanna is our nightly routine during the years she would babysit me as a child. I can so clearly remember the softly lit bedroom, her back rubs soothing me to sleep and her voice carrying me into dreamland. More specifically, “Shine On, Harvest Moon” by Rosemary Clooney plays in my mind. Over the years, her voice became shaky and some lyrics were forgotten but it never failed to bring me peace. Thinking about it now, it still does.

Another memorable part of my grandmother was the beauty she spread to the world from the inside out. “During the war, I would stand at the theatre as Miss War Saving Stamps,” she told me. “Now, if I could only find that darn book.” I didn’t need to see proof of her wild youth to know that it was true. She knew that her captivating presence radiated throughout the years and was always referring to that time she had long, wavy hair and was “5’7”. She would shake her head when I told her that the beauty didn’t go anywhere with her old age. One moment of our conversation focused entirely on all the boys just dying to take her out in the 40’s. She had no interest in any of them until she met my grandpa, Eddie. An expert waltzer who “all the ladies wanted to dance with” and little did she know, would soon be the father of her six children.dsc_09771941 on her brother Al’s bike

img_2630Her wedding day, approx. 1949

Jessie’s “do it all” attitude was certainly not compromised once she had children. As a mother, she cooked meals for all six of her kids, sewed their clothes and took care of the huge family garden. Today, her successful and passionate children are a true testament to her dedication as a mother. I can’t imagine how she was able to tackle it all but she always found a way. In turn, she became a fantastic grandmother.  She was always up for a game of cards (her and I would play endless games of war), an evening watching the skating competitions with a bowl of popcorn or a trip to the dollarstore where I would pick out a few goodies. There are countless very specific things I remember that made my Nanna so special. The love that she showed for her grandchildren had no bounds.

dsc_0978Nanna and I, 1995

As the youngest grandchild, the baby of the family, I’ve always felt a really special connection with my Nanna. We shared a lot of similar interests and were both born in the sun sign of Pisces. Her love for travelling is how I felt the most in-tune with her over the last few years. Jessie travelled everywhere her heart took her. From trips across Europe to visits with her friend in California and adventures in Hawaii with her beloved bestie, Buzz, she saw the world with the same passion that I feel tingling in my heart before planning a new journey. She was always interested in where I was heading next and wanted to share if she had been there herself. “Keep travelling,” she would always tell me. I’d like to believe that this is where I get it from. Her passion to experience travel makes up so many of her memories and is truly one of the things that defines her in my mind.

During our interview, 2015

I have to say, that telling her favourite stories from the past was something she did quite often. We heard them time and time again and for her family, they quickly became old news. For Jessie, well, those were the stories that defined her life. When the days came to a close and she settled into her Lazy Boy chair with a napkin and some soda crackers and clicked on Young and the Restless (also fondly known as Young and the Stupid), those memories were the ones that rose to the surface. They made her smile and truly depicted her personality of a strong headed, spirited and driven woman whose love for her family was put before all else. She focused on forgiveness and the understanding of those around her. When asked if she had a piece of advice for her younger self, she told me this: “don’t take advice from anyone you don’t believe in. You have to have faith in what you’re doing, no matter what.”

dsc_7521A visit in 2014

Thank you for your sharing your stories, Nanna. They made us all laugh and more importantly, they made you laugh too. A sound that will not soon be forgotten.

Film

Sometimes I miss New York so much it hurts. It aches.

I promise, I am constantly working on being present. I moved to Toronto with the hopes of rooting myself in a new city, new friends, a fresh step toward my career (or maybe to identify my career path in the first place. What does that even mean to me anymore)? So far, it’s been a success. I haven’t booked a plane ticket out of here yet and to me, that means it’s working. Even still, the longing for places I’ve been during this time of year creeps into my brain now and again. Autumn always makes me miss Ireland, Halifax, New York. The scents, overcast sky and chilly air transport me immediately to somewhere that isn’t here. I haven’t figured out how to fix that yet. Do I even need to fix it at all? It’s all a giant work in progress.

I came across these shots recently. I haven’t pulled out my film camera in months but it was something I became mildly obsessed with last year in NY. I was lucky enough to have a good friend and her husband living in Staten Island during my time there and he very generously scanned my negatives and sent me the files to look over. These are entirely unedited, raw shots of a day walking around New York through my eyes.

Digital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital CameraDigital Camera

A Turning Point

The last few weeks have been pushing my limits in more ways than one. Although that may sound like a negative to some, I hardly see it that way. Every day brings me something new. Whether we explore an abandoned building, travel to a new island or take a trip to the fruit market, I’m learning. I’ve experienced so many moments of internal challenge during my time here. Which to me symbolizes an adventure done right. What is travel without challenge and the testing of boundaries? I’m currently finding myself feeling more confident in some areas and less confident in others. Being a part of this workshop hasn’t made me feel like a bad writer. It’s taught me how naive I am about the business, how slow I am at producing work, how much I need to give my ego a good shove while writing pieces and just let go. The list goes on. More importantly though, it’s been filling my brain with all the knowledge and understanding I need to improve in those areas. It’s been incredibly eye opening, but my lack of confidence definitely doesn’t extend to the belief in my ability to change the way I approach the world of writing. That is something I know I’ll take back with me and among several other things, has made this experience entirely worth it.

DSC_6837

This photograph, among three others in this series, was taken on the island of Gili Trawangan at a local market. 

Along with this, I’ve been forced to reflect on the time I need to spend alone. It’s true that nine times out of ten, I want to be around this incredibly kind and talented group of people. But we’re together more often than not and it’s been important for me to listen to my body when I know it’s time to be in my own space. It can be a struggle. The fear of missing out is a very real thing. I think I’ve come up with a pretty good balance but listening to my body when it’s time to slow down for a hot minute has been a challenge all in itself. It always is on journeys like this. Sometimes it’s okay to be still. I’m remembering that.

DSC_7042

I met this man during a Balinese Hindu offering making workshop I attended in Ubud, Bali. He teaches woodcarving there, a craft he has mastered since childhood. I could tell just by looking at his hands. 

DSC_6842

People continue to fascinate me. The colours of every place I visit are breathtaking. I’m not sure I have the time to articulate everything I want to say in the right words. Today has consisted of my fingers typing furiously and almost nothing else. After hours and hours of article writing and tweaking, I was desperate to share something a little more personal.

DSC_6854

How fascinated she was with my camera. Our interaction before this photo was full of laughs and smiles. Somehow, I caught her during a quiet moment. 

Letting Light Win

I find it funny how easy it is to slip back into your comfort zone so quickly after living outside it. Over the past three years since my first backpacking excursion, I’ve found myself continuing the adventure and self discovery every chance I get. I haven’t, however, experienced a culture shock since the month I spent in Thailand. That kind of travel makes for an entirely different experience. It isn’t an experience that I’ll ever forget by any means but I very quickly adjusted to my old and privileged habits after returning home.

For every traveller, it’s a struggle to return from a trip abroad and take with you every single thing you’ve learned, every new outlook you’ve adapted to and use it in your day-to-day life. Old habits die hard, man. I don’t doubt that I change quite a bit with every trip and that I become far, far more aware of my actions and mindset. I just know that I’m human as well and we mould to what we’ve always been familiar with.

It goes without saying that the world has us asking a lot of questions these days. Usually it’s not a struggle for me to look at the positive going on amongst the negative but this time was different. I let the darkness of the world completely consume me to the point where I even considered not travelling to Bali at all. I was nervous to fly, I was nervous to be in an airport halfway across the world. I let it weigh me down. I never want to disregard the reality of what goes on in a country other than my own. I don’t want to turn a blind eye or become naive to the truth of world issues, but letting the fear of possibilities run my life to the point of me not living at all is letting the darkness win. Did I really want to let fear run the show?

DSC_6378

DSC_6179

Thankfully, I didn’t. I now find myself in an area of Bali called Canggu. I’m living in a villa with 29 other eager and like-minded writers. Once again, I am reminded of how much I enjoy Asia and all it has to offer. There’s no doubt that my experience here is extremely Westernized. It certainly has had its moments. But I try my best to look beyond that. I’ve been focusing on the landscapes and nature as much as I can. I’m trying to order local dishes whenever possible. I want to spend more time scootering through the back roads. We’re all taking language classes so speaking Indonesian is a steady work in progress. Through my photography, I love learning more about the people that live here, of course. There are so many things about being somewhere new, especially in a place so starkly different from your home, that I nearly looked past and had forgotten about. I’m remembering how to trust the flow of a journey as much as I used to. Things are falling into place and every day I learn new things from my surroundings.

DSC_5799DSC_5757
DSC_5766

DSC_5848

DSC_6169

Before I left, someone explained to me how important love is. Love at the root of all things can change so many outcomes. In the same sense, it’s important to continue spreading goodness when things seem helpless.

DSC_6082

Without knowing it, you could be consciously missing out what makes the world beautiful, the experiences that represent the light it holds. You could be the light someone needs. In my opinion, those aspects always triumph.

DSC_5770

09.11.

On Friday morning at 8am, I took the A subway train to Fulton street as many others had done 14 years ago. The subway was experiencing delays and we were stalled in one place for quite some time. It was kind of surreal, sitting in that dark and dingy tunnel when the clock struck 8:46. I knew it was that exact moment the first plane had hit the north tower and I sat there in silence while some passengers checked their email and others sat in deep thought staring into nothing. I wondered what that moment meant to them or if it held any significance at all. Either way, we all remember where we were on September 11th, 2001. Whether we were too young to fully understand the severity of the attack or old enough to have it wrench our souls, the lasting effects live on forever in the hearts of so many.

The annual ceremony that takes place at the memorial site was reserved for family members only so I wasn’t able to attend. Instead, I stood outside the gates and quietly observed, photographed and reflected upon the hundreds of people entering the area. I was sure the entire police force and NYFD was present that morning. They were all dressed in full uniform; some more extravagant than others but proud nonetheless. A few of them were carrying U.S flags or flowers in their hands. Family members took time to write messages on the walls of a building nearby in honour of their loved ones. There was a very distinct energy in the air that morning but above the sorrow and sadness that goes hand in hand with this date, there was a feeling of community and togetherness. In a loud and bustling city, things felt a little bit smaller.
DSC_1870DSC_1873DSC_1903DSC_1876DSC_1884DSC_1908DSC_1937DSC_1975DSC_1982DSC_1959DSC_1987DSC_1976DSC_1947

Later that evening, two beautiful and bright lights shot up from the ground in the empty spaces that were once occupied by the twin towers. It was a gorgeous tribute and a true emotional journey to pause and pray for those who were lost and those continuing to cope. You will never be forgotten.

DSC_2041

So Wait, Are You Going To New York?

By now, most of you know the answer to that question but over the past few months it had been a difficult answer for even me to give. It was always laced with maybes and sort ofs and some ways. I knew that I wanted to get to New York City but I didn’t know how. I was embarrassed that my plans had fallen through and I was hesitant to talk about new ones. Lingering in my stomach and stirring around in my heart, I had a gut feeling that I would find myself here regardless and it was primitive that I never give up on that.

DSC_1037

I won’t sugar coat what happened involving my opportunity to attend SVA but I won’t drag it out into a sob story either. Point blank: money foiled that plan. The good news is, money didn’t foil my plan. It didn’t stop me from becoming (continuing to be) a photojournalist, a documentary photographer or an artist. Money issues nudged their way into this particular path but they did not get in the way of the bigger picture and I wasn’t going to let them convince me they had. I think it’s important to remember that there are so many different paths we can take to reach our dreams. It’s super easy to get caught up in one idea and let the possible failure of it drag you straight to the ground. The world is complex and we as people are far more resilient than we believe. Find another way! There is always another way. When one door closes, build a new one.

DSC_1136

I find myself in a Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn cafe. Twinkle lights are hung above me, I’m sipping a matcha sunrise on ice and devouring a maple glazed piece of vegan banana bread. It’s a moment that gives me a glimpse into what my life could be like if I moved here one day. It feels so wonderful to just take my time and blend into the city like I’ve lived here forever.

DSC_1088

Tomorrow, I meet with a well established fashion and lifestyle photographer named Christina Shields. I will be spending some time volunteering and shadowing her while I get to know the ropes of her business as a freelance artist. This opportunity came out of nowhere and pieced together so flawlessly as if it was just waiting for me to come along and grab ahold of it. I’m curious and excited to see what my time with her will be like and what it will bring me. In the meantime and the moments in-between, I have my camera out and ready 24/7. This city is like a canvas. There is inspiration every step and it never fails to instill fire in my veins, I swear. I feel like a superhero here.

DSC_1018

I want to try and make my future blogs less narrative of my day-to-day activities and focused more on my observations and lessons. I’m working on developing a new voice for my writing and a different perspective for my photography. These things will take time but bear with me and enjoy the ride!

DSC_1056

This man was writing in Russian with a sign that said “I write about you. Maybe you could help me?” He didn’t tell me his name but he did tell me he writes about the System. He was very passionate and beside each entry, he wrote the amount of money he was given from a passerby and a little passage about his perception of them. I’ll never know what he wrote about me…

DSC_1108

Louie  stopped me seconds after I spoke to the Russian writer. He was carrying a camera and asked if I had taken any good shots that day. We sat on a  stoop and talked about our favourite captured moments, what we loved about photography and the reason he purchased a camera to begin with. Louie has a lung condition that at one point prevented him from walking. By “the grace of God”, he said, he was able to move again but at a much slower pace. He took up photography so that he could have a motivation to continue walking. I thought that was simply beautiful.

DSC_1114

After spending some quiet time in Madison Square Park, I was stopped yet again by a man named Frank Weston. He noticed my camera (a massive source of attention apparently), and called me over. He said that he loved my energy and that he had been talking to the man who was standing beside him for three hours. This man was a photographer by hobby and stood there very quietly as Frank and I shared an extremely diverse conversation. Frank is a man of many trades.  He studied at NYU in many departments but specialized in Geology. He has written and produced a movie in NYC with a-list actors and written a book called “Do You Have a Return Ticket?” depicting African history vividly and brilliantly (at least, this is what I assume after meeting him). One of the most important things he said to me was that my photos needed to represent the change and gentrification happening in my area of Brooklyn. “There is a cultural and societal shift happening right now and if your photos don’t show that change 20 or 30 years down the road, people are going to wonder what went wrong.” Before we parted, he reached into his sock and pulled out a small plastic case. It held several little rocks and gems. He gave me a little sapphire stone as a memory of our meeting and I went on my way.

DSC_1128

These three individuals aren’t the only people I met that day. In one single day, I spoke candidly to six different people. I met a future Broadway star, a homeless woman who desperately needed me to assure her she wasn’t a bad mother and a man who sold selfie sticks in Times Square who came here with nothing and rose to the top. Some of them I knew immediately wouldn’t want to be photographed so I just listened and absorbed what they had to say. It blew my mind but reminded me why I love to travel.  I hadn’t forgotten, I just needed a little wake up call.

DSC_1097DSC_1182DSC_1163DSC_1157*Shout out to the newest addition of my lens family. The Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art lens is highly recommended. 

Sei kühner! (Be bolder!)


When I was travelling through Ireland, I met a beautiful soul from Germany named Alea. We connected instantly, sharing our emotions, thoughts and feelings so candidly from the minute we met. I knew she was a gem right away and thinking about it now, I couldn’t feel more grateful that we crossed paths. The funny part about this story is I originally met Alea in Killarney, Ireland. We had gone out to a pub with a group of new friends but didn’t have a huge chance to get to know each other one on one. A week or so later, we ended up running into one another again in Galway and were staying at the same hostel, typing on computers next to each other. The Universe really, really wanted us to be friends. I know it.

I love exchanging emails and hearing about her newest adventures. Recently, Alea asked me if I would like to do an interview with her about my experience walking The Camino de Santiago. She is in charge of a magazine back at home called Liaisons. This issue focuses on creating relations between and within cultures. I was honoured to be a featured article and it was a pleasure to see my photos displayed so beautifully on those pages. Thank you, my darling Alea for such an amazing tribute to one of the greatest experiences of my life so far. This is only a small portion of what I could say about The Camino but I am so happy to share the English translation with you all!

Sei kühner! (Be bolder!)

Ein Interview mit der kanadischen Fotografin Samantha Polzin über ihre Reise

auf dem Jakobsweg

Liaisons

What was your motivation to walk the Camino?

The year before walking the Camino, I had been studying at University in a program that I wasn’t happy with and in a city that was far from inspiring. I knew very quickly that something in my life needed to change. It took a lot of strength and courage to discover that there was no one else in charge of my life but myself. I remember the minute I realized that I could choose which way my path was headed and it was such a liberating moment for me. I immediately made the decision to leave after the semester was finished and embark on a travel journey around the world. I discovered The Camino through a dear friend’s Pastor. He himself had walked the 800km journey and couldn’t say enough incredible things about it. We talked about the fascinating people it held, the sights you would see and the lessons you would learn. There was no doubt in my mind that The Camino was made for someone like me. My motivation was walking to re-discover the pieces of myself that I had lost confidence in and to discover the pieces of myself that I hadn’t yet found.

How did the experience of walking the Camino change your view on things?

The Camino is a beautiful and strange little world. It taught me more lessons than I can count. I learned a lot about the true goodness of people, manifestation and necessity. Walking for just over a month has you meeting so many different people each day. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many caring and genuine people I encountered. The beauty of manifestation showed itself in a mantra that we spoke aloud over and over again, “The Camino will provide.” In regards to necessity, it goes without saying that living out of a backpack truly shows you what you need to survive. In fact, a lot of us ended up leaving things along the trail that we didn’t need each day. When it all boils down to it, you need a clean pair of underwear, an outfit, good shoes, a toothbrush and enough water to keep you going. I would wear the same clothes for days and didn’t care one bit! Think about that next time you’re focused on materialistic items. It’s not worth letting them rule you! Oh, and I learned to find the beauty in everything. Every little thing. That might be the most important realization of all.

Did you have moments where you wanted to give up?

Absolutely! Giving up is an exaggeration though because I never truly thought about getting off the trail. I don’t think I ever let my mind go that far! There were certainly moments where I felt like I would never reach the end. They say there are 3 stages to The Camino. There’s the physical stage first which definitely challenged me the most. I felt like the soles of my feet were going to cave in a lot of the time. Then there’s the mental stage. Majority of this happens along a 100km stretch called The Meseta where there are zero trees and a completely open road. That part is challenging in an entirely different way. It brings up a lot of difficult realizations and forces you to face things you might usually suppress. Then, finally, there’s the Spiritual portion which is a lot more enlightening and is sort of that final discovery of what you’ve learned as a whole. I was put to the test physically and mentally many, many times. I have fond memories of just sitting down in the middle of the dirt path refusing to move but in truth, they only pushed me harder and showed me exactly what I was capable of achieving.

How did it influence your photography?

My photography is definitely focused on people a lot of the time but I think the experience taught me how to see landscapes in a different light. So often I am used to having body language or a conversation spark my inspiration. It gives me something to connect to. With landscape, I don’t have that same connection so I was forced to find it through focusing on things that spoke to me silently in the setting. I think I grew a lot in that area of my photography. Looking back on those photographs, I can feel all the emotions I felt while taking them. Even still, I did have the privilege to photograph plenty of faces as well and I was able to connect with these people directly which caused my photos to take on an entirely different energy. I saw things in people that I normally wouldn’t see right away and I’ve worked very hard to transfer this into my future portrait work.

To whom would you recommend the walk, is it something for everyone?

I always say, even if you aren’t an active person, you should walk The Camino. Absolutely everybody could learn something from this experience. There will come a time in everyone’s life when you’re needing to learn something new, needing a change or looking to let go of a burden. This isn’t just a walking trail, it’s a method of self-discovery and it will redefine who you are as a person for the absolute best. I often asked the question, “why are you walking this trail?” and my favourite answer was someone who said, “I’ll find out when I reach the end.”

Even though you had a lot of fellow travelers, there must have been times when you were completely alone. Did you feel lonely or did you enjoy those times? Did you learn new things about yourself?

I managed to stick with a group of about 5 people for most of the trail and that was often quite comforting for me. The alone days were some of my favourites though. As much as I tried to keep my mind silent and focus on the present, I couldn’t help but create these intricate daydreams, sometimes continuing the story on and on for days at a time. I would have these inner conversations with myself and learn so much about my personal beliefs and outlooks on the world. I remember specifically this one moment on the Meseta where something inside me clicked. I made a decision about the kind of person I wanted to be when I got home. I wrote this down in my journal and I look at it quite often now that I’m back in my everyday life. It reads, “Remember first the person you decided you wanted to be on the Meseta. Remember to be honest and kind but speak your mind and don’t take crap from anyone anymore. Be bolder.” I carry that with me all the time.

We Heal In Community

This post has been in the making for far too long but perhaps it was just waiting for the right moment to make its appearance.

This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I think it’s super important that we shed light on these topics and stay educated about the ways it can effect those closest to us but also honour those who have overcome their personal challenges with absolute bravery.

Last summer, I had the privilege of photographing a sparkling, vibrant and truly inspirational soul named Lauren.

DSC_6997

We traveled on a dirt road out to an open field and I watched as she allowed her true self to be seen through my lens. It was important to me and especially important to her that these photos represented nothing but the beautiful person she continues to be beneath the obstacles life has dealt her.

Lauren has spent many years fighting an eating disorder that has challenged her but ultimately, in my eyes, strengthened her will, personality and sense of grace. We spoke over tea a few weeks before this shoot and something she said struck a chord in me,

“I want to see the person I am behind my illness”

As a photographer, I seek opportunities to show people pieces of themselves they may have lost touch with or forgotten and I’ve always seen such a light in this young woman. I wanted more than anything to remind her how brightly it glowed.

DSC_7288DSC_7215DSC_7207

We spent time talking about her journey but most of all, during our shoot, I wanted her to channel the things that made her feel happy and supported and alive. There was a sense of peace in the air with the sound of my shutter clicking away and the energy that filled the space we were in couldn’t be ignored.

DSC_6694
DSC_7123

One of the most beautiful parts of our session was the moment she took out a stone and held it in her palm. I asked her its meaning and the words she used described its importance perfectly:

“This stone is a Carnelian stone. Anyone who commits to treatment in the program at Homewood receives a stone and becomes a part of the recovery community. “We do not heal in isolation, we heal in community”. It represents warmth, strength, healing, and I wear it to keep me grounded and to help me through tough moments.”

DSC_7035
DSC_7024DSC_6958

DSC_6779DSC_6886DSC_6766

Lauren’s story is one that will sit with me for years to come. I am inspired by her passion and commitment to overcome each step in this process. There is so much to be learned from her journey. Her outlook pushes me to persevere through those tough moments in hopes of learning new lessons, discovering pieces of myself and sharing that story to help others.

DSC_7379
DSC_6870DSC_6893DSC_6711DSC_7177DSC_7060

Plenty could be said but I will let the photos speak for themselves. Without a doubt, she radiated everything that stone represents. Warmth, healing and above all, incredible strength.

DSC_7230

*If you’d like to hear more about Lauren’s journey, I encourage you to watch this beautiful video made by Jeremy E Richardson.