The Secret Society of Navigators

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Late last December, I was in California visiting my best friend Danielle, who amongst other curious gifts; has a knack for collecting very special and unique antiques.   I was browsing her collection when I came across a small wooden box that opened upon a telescoping golden spyglass. I felt the hair on my neck stand on end; this was one of the most magical objects I have ever laid eyes on. I promised not to damage it and a few days later I was up before sunrise walking across the sand in Venice Beach, CA, my dear friend, performer, model, contortionist, and apparently sponsored prancersizer, Sarah Llewellyn in tow.

I pinned a sparkly pink dress, five sizes too big on her, had her wade across the cold ocean water and climb up onto a pile of rocks known as “The Breakwater,” a popular surf spot, that keeps the beach from washing away. It was such a magical morning, the soft pink light, the salty air, and just before the sun popped over the horizon, hundreds of birds suddenly surrounded us and then disappeared just as fast. For almost the entire shoot the water was calm, and as we were about to wrap up, a set of waves came through and drenched poor Sarah, but made for an amazing shot. This girl is a trooper, it was now January and that water is not only powerful, but really, really, cold. Even after a hot shower and a few hours wrapped in blankets she was still shivering. Fortunately, I got the shot and it is one of my most favorite images ever; little did I know my Navigator wasn’t alone.

I have been sitting on this photo for a while, not really sure when to release it. I don’t know why I have held off for so long, but in the past week or two, I have seen a whole slew of spyglass images and it brought up a really interesting point. There has been a lot of talk in the creative photography community about plagiarism, versus inspiration, versus the collective unconscious. The first, is fairly straightforward, and I have recently seen some blatant duplication/recreation of imagery that is appalling, the second speaks to sharing your opinion on a similar theme, and I think the third borders on magical. I do believe most of the photographers I follow, are inspired by the same fairytales and have a shared aesthetic, so it is easy to see how our imagery can look a lot alike. So, when we all go out and make incredibly similar images without ever seeing each other’s work, it’s not a huge surprise. For me though, this is something special, because it feels like some deep unconscious connection to this beautiful community. I know we are all trying to make our work individual, to stand out amongst the crowd, but sometimes I feel like this deep unity is what makes this a movement, and that is a really wonderful thing to be part of.

In fact, being the dreamer that I am, I started thinking about all of the navigators out there in these images, as if they belonged to a Secret Society of Navigators.   They are seeking knowledge, leading explorations, scanning for danger, and looking out for each other. I feel like they all know one another and have special underground gatherings to share what they have learned. To me this sounds so much like all of us sharing ideas and techniques, commenting, liking, working hard to help each other, and watching out for plagiarism and theft of images. I for one, feel so blessed to be part of this, and I thank you all. So, in honor of our Secret Society of Creative Photographers, I am putting my Navigator out into the world. She came to be of her own accord, only to find she was not alone, and I am so thrilled for her to join her fellows.

I hope that this post inspires you to keep creating, to know that every photograph has not already been made. To know that we can all have brilliant ideas alone, only to find out later that others shared our vision, and that is something to be celebrated. I think we all know the difference between plagiarism and inspiration, and I often hear photographers in our community lamenting that everyone uses levitation/butterflies/birds/umbrellas/suitcases/floaty dresses/model boats/floating objects/fancy headdresses and now spyglasses, but guess what, that’s just fine with me. If these objects inspire you, let them, and bring your own voice to the party. I look forward to seeing what you create.

To see some other Navigators please follow these links… If you have a navigator you want to share let me know and I will add it to the list.

Joel Robison Photography

https://www.facebook.com/JoelRobisonPhotography/photos/pb.201124293252938.-2207520000.1433969721./986163831415643/?type=3&theater

Katherine Thomas Photography

https://www.facebook.com/kftphoto/photos/a.191894490956585.70568.191483807664320/209688232510544/?type=1&theater

Jessica Drossin Photography

https://www.facebook.com/JessicaDrossinTextures/photos/pb.376557795423.-2207520000.1433970155./10155625420290424/?type=3&theater

Alexia Sinclair Photography

https://www.facebook.com/alexiasinclair/photos/pb.1561692780783449.-2207520000.1433970254./1566484473637613/?type=3&theater

The December Solstice

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The Changeling – As the nights became longer and the darkness thicker, she could feel the transformation beginning to take place deep in her bones. The December solstice was approaching, and her inner animal was becoming restless.

I love this time of year. I am sitting in my office watching it snow and snow, big fluffy flakes. I think I will probably take tomorrow off just to go snowboarding. As the saying goes: no work or friends on a powder day. I live in the mountains of Colorado, and this is really the most magical time to be here. All of the branches of the trees in town are delicately wrapped with lights that twinkle and glow. Red ribbons, wreaths and evergreen garlands drape the light posts, and people are gathering to be joyous and merry. There are parties, food, and drinks, old friends come home, and the town seems quainter than usual. Yesterday, I saw a postman stopped on his route to enjoy a cup of something, looking suspiciously alcoholic, with friends who were lingering on a street corner. Things will get delivered, but now friendship is the only real priority.

In the Northern hemisphere, tonight will be the longest night of the year, the December solstice. Tonight, will also be a new moon. This is a powerful combination of pure darkness and new beginnings. For the next six months things will only get lighter each day. The change is exponential, in that the difference between light and dark grows faster in the spring and fall than the summer and the winter. This is due to the elliptical nature of the earth’s course around the sun. In the southern hemisphere tonight will be the longest day of the year, and holiday parties are more associated with trips to the beach than going skiing. But, I am in the north, and I am feeling the power of this night. The darkness already begins to fall and twilight shadows are creeping at four in the afternoon. I saved this image to release tonight, even thought it has been complete for weeks. I have been waiting for the magic.

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This image is about transformation, about becoming your truest self. It is about contracting and expanding, about the binaries of our inner worlds, about a truth that only you know. From the darkness comes light, and with that all things are reborn. This is why we make our resolutions at this time of the year, as we feel the potential within ourselves for transformation. This is the time to take on new projects, to let creativity flow, to share with friends and family, to feel the divinity of our universe. It is also the time to linger, to give thanks, and most of all to luxuriate in the darkness and dream.

 

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An artist alone in the National Parks

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The Captive – It was such a silly thing, when all those tiny boats approached her. She had only been cooling her feet in the river when the tiny armada attacked. Now, it was too late to escape.

It sounds like the plot of a horror film, or a really tragic movie on the Lifetime network: woman packs up and drives off to spend her summer camping alone in the wilderness. I was endlessly warned about the risks. Hadn’t I read Into the Wild, didn’t know what was out there? Had I forgotten that bad things always happen to the protagonist in stories like this? Didn’t I realize that I was a defenseless, helpless woman, not only camping, but also camping alone? Was I crazy? Surely, there was some man out there waiting to harm me, stalking me like a hungry tiger. At one point I was even recommended to carry a gun. What if I got hurt hiking, or lost? Could I drag my broken body to safety or would I just die alone in the cold dark forest? What about bears? How would I stay safe amongst all these threats? There was so much to fear, so much to loose, was it really worth the risk?

Fortunately, I don’t watch too much television and Cheryl Strayed’s epic tail, Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trial, is one of my favorite books. Of course, like the beginning of any good adventure, there were moments when I thought, “wow, this could go really badly.”   Instead of worrying, I tucked away my fears and started to plan. On a hot July day, I packed my car and headed out to explore America’s National Park system. I bought a season pass, and over the course of four months, I visited ten parks, camping in eight of them. I decided to stay in the public campgrounds, choosing running water, picnic tables, flush toilets, and pre-made fire rings over total isolation in the backcountry. During the day, I hiked and took photographs, in the evenings I read, cooked, and sat by my campfire. I went to bed early, got up with the sun, and although I was always aware of my aloneness, I never once felt lonely.

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Alice – When Alice reached a certain age, she returned to Wonderland permanently. Everything that had been so disconcerting when she was young, she now found quite comforting, or not so strange that it couldn’t be solved by a cup of strong tea.

When I moved to Mexico two years ago, I had many of the same fears about traveling as a woman alone, only to have them disappear upon arrival. Yes, you do have to be cautious in Mexico, but had I heeded the warnings not to go, I would have missed out on one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Fears hold us back in so many ways, but through facing them we reap such great rewards. With this in mind, I knew that I had to trust in my instincts and see what was out there hiding in the woods. Now, sitting at my desk watching the days get darker and the December solstice approach, I long for my summer spent camping alone. Rather than as a terrifying, dangerous trip, my memories of summer are relaxed and carefree. I set out on this camping adventure, not only to breath fresh air and to sleep under the stars, but to change the course of my life and also my career.

I am a fine art photographer, and for the past five years I have been completely involved in creating a series of long exposure self-portraits. Last April, I finally completed the series and exhibited them as The Secret Garden. I was ready for something new, but my inner critic berated my every effort. I can still hear the chastisements, “it’s all been done before,” “nothing you do is original,” “your work sucks.” I believed it all, and I cowered. My anxieties manifested in my life. I cried, I fought with my boyfriend, I got depressed, I gained weight, and I was sure a complete breakdown was imminent. Things were getting really rough, when one day, deep inside my heart I heard the words: “the only way out is through.” At that moment, I realized I had to make every bad, poorly executed, derivative image I could think of, until they were all out of my system. I had to not only face my fears, but to live up to them and move on. This is when I decided I needed some alone time.

The Weather Girl

The Weather Girl – It pleased her to play with the weather. She enjoyed nothing more that watching raindrops splash and make rings in the pond. It was a great responsibility, being in control of the weather, but occasionally she did as she liked.

I packed up my home in Mexico, sold what I could, and gave the rest away. I said goodbye to the man I had been dating for over a year and headed back to United States. I thought it would all be harder than it was, but when I drove into that first National Park and pitched my tent, I felt freer than I had in ages. Every day I hiked, slowly building up from long walks, until one day I actually trekked sixteen miles and climbed and descended over three thousand feet. It took months to get strong enough, and I had some serious trials along the way, including running out of water more that once. Over time, I learned what I was capable of accomplishing. I began carrying a water filter and eventually anything under ten miles was a breeze.  As I walked, my mind became clearer and more creative. I started having to stop and scribble down ideas along the way. My dreams were vivid and detailed. Soon, I was taking new photos almost every day. Not everything was brilliant, but it didn’t matter anymore because I had so many ideas that I could hardly keep up. I tore down my creative block and was suddenly swimming in pure inspiration.

It all sounds a little dramatic, and it was, right down to my car, which became a dress up trunk full of things scavenged from thrift and vintage stores along the way. I had props, wigs, and costumes.  Occasionally, while wearing make up and dressed in a sparkly ball gown, I surprised other hikers as they passed by.  Fortunately, I wasn’t always alone this summer and I can’t take complete credit for my transformation. After years of travel and living abroad, I felt like I had lost my photographic community. I was creating in a vacuum and it was indeed lonely. To remedy this, I reached out to photographers that inspired me and I took their workshops. It all started with the strobist Syl Arena at the Santa Fe Workshops, then I met Jenna Martin and Joshua Malik in Las Vegas, a few months later I became part of the Wild One’s community in Portland, Oregon, and finally, I met the inspirational Brooke Shaden in Hana, Hawaii. All of these teachers and everyone who came to participate in the workshops pushed me and inspired me to trust myself. I now consider them friends, and feel like a whole new creative world has opened up.

The Seeker

The Seeker – They had traveled hundreds of miles from their jungly ocean home. Now, high above the clouds, in an airless desert, they reached the mouth of the ancient crater. As the sun set before her, and the moon rose behind her, she knew that she must descend to the floor of the sleeping volcano and wait for the full eclipse. Then and only then would she know…

Many of the images I took this summer were really complex composites.  This winter, as I edit them together, I get to re-live my summer adventures. These images are far and beyond anything I believed I was capable of creating and I am so excited to share them. I am proud of myself for facing my fears and heading out into the wilderness alone. I had a few adrenaline filled moments including almost stepping on a rattle snake, but when my car broke down, half the campground came together to get it started, and when I decided to stay in a hotel and abandon my camp for the night because it was raining and miserable, the rangers came to check on me the next day. I was safe. Every fear I had, felt unfounded in the end.  Although, I always carried mace and spent many an hour late at night listening for them in camp, I was never lucky enough to see a bear.

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The Seeker #11/52

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Occasionally, I have to reach into the archives and pull something out for this photo of the week project.  This was taken a few weeks back when I was on my family’s organic orchard in Coachella CA.  I wish I had time to shoot every week, alas, I do not, but I am also happy to get to show this image as otherwise it may never have seen the light of day.

9/52 The Beauty Queen

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I have been staying by myself,  at my childhood home in Colorado for the last ten days.  Surrounded by my past, I decided to look around the house and use props available to me to create this week’s image.  The dress I wore to a cousin’s halloween wedding years ago, and the trophy is some antique, team sportsmanship, horseback riding trophy that was on my parent’s mantle piece.  I’m sure someone won it at one time or another, but I don’t really know its history.

The dress is really over the top, and between watching the Oscars this week and the trophy, I just knew I had to portray the runaway beauty queen.  Unfortunately she finds the world is a cold, cold, place.

Thanks to Brooke Shaden for the texture… what a wonderful blizzard it makes! #shadentextures

Princess Buttercup and her Magical Performing Horse 8/52

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I recently had the opportunity to visit my family’s organic citrus farm in Coachella, California.  My parents move out there for the winter and bring their english show jumping horses.  The horse in these photos is my mother’s Andalusian, Penafor or “Pete.” When Pete was young, before he joined our family, he was trained to do tricks for some sort of dinner show in Spain.  Today he will do just about anything for a carrot.  I had the help of my mother and best friend to make these images, as I could not handle Pete and the camera at the same time.  Everything you see here he does for fun and treats.

The idea behind this image was to bring to life the type of crayon drawings little girls do of princesses and their magical white horses.  I wanted to embody every little girl’s fantasy.   Buttercup is a role model princess who is strong, self-aware and poised, but also kind, gentle and loving.

Return to The Ex-Hacienda Jaral de Berrios

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I have already written enough about the Ex-hacienda Jaral de Berrios here, so I won’t bore you with the details.  These are some of the new images I finally got around to editing.  I am trying some new techniques, using textures over the images to give them a little extra sum thin’ sum thin’.  The textures are taken from Brooke Shaden’s texture collection.   I like the effect and I am looking forward to creating a texture collection of my own. Thanks Brooke!  #shadentextures

7/52 The Horror

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Over the past few months, I have been returning to the Ex-Hacienda Jaral de Berio (about which you can read more here), one of my absolute  favorite places to photograph.  Although, I have an ongoing series that generally fits together, this week I veered off from my usual work.  I think in the past I have always, in so many ways, been portraying the spirit that haunts that place.  After shooting all morning, suddenly in the afternoon, I had the urge to be the one that the ghosts were haunting.  I found myself running around, pretending I was in some sort of horror film.  I was hiding, running, trying to survive, and ultimately succumbing to a very Vertigo, moment, when it all gets to me and I commit suicide.  So this week, I have decided not to just show one image for my photo of the week, but a whole little series.  I would love to know which is your favorite, as only one can truly be my ‘photo of the week.’  Please leave me a message in the comments.

6/52 Statuesque

A few years ago, I walked three weeks of the camino Santiago in Northern Spain.  All I carried for a camera was a little Cannon g12, but it served me well and proceeded to kick the bucket just after the trip.  While walking, I tried to stop in each of the little towns, as well as the big cites and do a little sightseeing.  Somewhere, that I cannot recall, I visited in an ancient church that was being renovated.  The day was rainy, but the light was beautiful.  To protect the weathered old statues, workers had covered them in a protective netting.  There was something so eerie and haunting about these figures.  This week, I took these images as my inspiration.  Rather than netting, I chose fabric, but the result is similar.

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