Beautiful Life.

We were jockeying for space at the falafel stand, so many hungry bodies pressing in to claim the delicious, crispy balls plucked fresh from the bubbling oil. While the man beside us didn't say it directly, he made it clear that he was hungry, and without the means to buy a sandwich. Even before he was finished speaking, my friends ordered and paid for a meal, which was eaten just as swiftly. They didn't need time to deliberate. These friends, who have always been so generous to me, are poised to give.

I have a friend who makes coffee for me just how I like it, with a little cookie on the side. She is a master of the kind of details which make me feel cared for.

My roommate is entirely oriented toward giving. Every day she sees opportunities where most of us aren't even looking.

I could go on. The volunteer groups filled with young people on the brink of changing this city in beautiful ways, the global friends who continue to share about their lives even when I'm slow to reply, the taxi drivers who expend energy to understand my attempts at tiny conversations...

Every now and then I have a sudden awareness of my epic good fortune. Standing at a tea stall last night, listening to the city and friends cracking jokes, rain falling just hard enough to make us tuck in closer under convenient shelters, it was almost too much to take in. I am often amazed that I am here, that this beautiful life is mine, and that these beautiful people... they are changing my life in such lovely ways. When so many people around you are oriented toward giving, it cannot help but alter the way you see the world. 

Drink.

Discussing the short film he is making, and the short-short we will make together. Pool, falafels, fermented milk and light forever beckoning.

Thanks.

The Thanksgivings I seem to remember most are those spent away.  

I have vivid memories of a Thanksgiving in Wellington, New Zealand a couple decades ago.  Feeling far from home, I decided to cook a proper Thanksgiving dinner for the motley crew at the Maple Leaf Hostel–until I went to the grocery store, and discovered the only turkey to be found was 8 lbs, $120, and frozen rock solid.  I passed on the turkey, and passed on making dinner.  But we did gather in the dining room that evening.  At a lull in conversation, a young woman drew a violin out from under her chair and played a stunning classical piece.  As she wound down the last few notes, a guitar began to strum somewhere else in the room, and in short order, a dijerido droned the bass.  There was nothing but music and magic for a long time; strangers knit together in that magical way that happens between travellers. 

Today I'm in Slemani, Kurdistan.  This time I don't feel far from home.  I feel like I am home.  I have been split wide open by the kindness of those I've spent time with here. It is the brand of kindness, manifest in smiles and greetings, broken sentences, coffees and pizza, rice and beans, that allows me to be exactly who I am without apology.

It's ironic that many of those who have made this place home for me haven't chosen to come here the way I have.  They've come from away because of war or poverty, and although they're able to make a living here, their longing to return home is painful.

I'll make the rounds of my favourite cafes today, telling the staff that I am thankful for the kindness they've shown to me.  Most won't understand, because my language skills just aren't up to that conversation, but something important will happen in the attempt.

Split open, heart laid bare, I thank you too for stopping here.

Life is so freaking beautiful.  xoxo

 

Landing.


I landed back in Slemani, Kurdistan six weeks ago.  My first two visits here in previous years were brief; just long enough to run workshops for The ONE-SHOT Project.  Having fallen in love with the Kurdish people, my intention this time around is to stay a while.

The boy pictured above?  He landed here a few weeks ago with his family.  They are refugees from Syria, scraping together a life inside a fenced compound.  As I saw when making photographs for a local NGO, their basic needs are being met well.  But for a culture so wired for connection, I wonder what it's like to piece together a new life without the extended family, friends and neighbourhoods that are part of their identity.

Azad?  He just served me coffee.  He landed here ten months ago, another Syrian refugee who came with his family when violence broke out across the border.  Azad was a Masters student studying Strategic Management when life fell apart.  And now he serves me coffee with a huge side order of kindness.

I've met so many diverse people who have come here from other places.  Each arrived out of different circumstances, needing to make a way forward here.  It hasn't been easy; that is obvious.  And yet they still have an immense capacity for kindness toward me.

When we leap, I think we all hold out hope for a soft landing.

It's such a sweet thing when beautiful people make that happen. 

 

Turning the Tide: La Pesca & Change

There is the kind of loss that happens suddenly; the tragic crush that utterly shocks with it’s unexpected swiftness.  And then there is the slow creep of loss, so subtle an erosion that no move is made to protest until it’s almost too late.  Filmmaker Sergio Cañon Rojas is immersed in both kinds of loss.

In 2010, a devastating earthquake rocked Chile’s central coast. The sixth largest earthquake ever recorded triggered a tsunami which further destroyed coastal villages and ports.

Rojas lost his apartment in that earthquake, and most of his belongings. Within days, with his family safely housed with friends, he went south with a team to bring relief supplies: milk, water, diapers. After six hours of driving over wrecked roads they arrived in the coastal town of Iloca.  Iloca was a fishing town.  Was a fishing town. The earthquake and tsunami destroyed homes, belongings, and the fishing boats; this town, like many others, had lost their means of making a living.

Rojas was introduced to the town of Iloca through the shock of a natural disaster.  But it was a more insidious loss that has kept him involved in the community.  He discovered that national laws were changing to favour large multi-national corporations, and would ultimately cripple small, generational, sustainable fishing operations. It’s not surprising that these fishermen have been more involved with the sea than with keeping abreast of the government hansard.  They were not aware of the changes being made that would make them unable to continue to make a living.

Over the last year, Rojas has used his film making skills and personal resources to create a documentary which illustrates the plight of the traditional Chilean fishermen. When finished, the film will be shown at short-film and documentary festivals across Chile. A version of the film will be made with subtitles, so it can be presented anywhere in the world. Rojas will make no profit from this film.  His only purpose is to spread the word about the plight of fishermen, who he has grown to love, and to try to turn the tide...

Sergio Cañon Rojas has become a friend to me.  This is exactly the type of film project that I think the world needs more of, which is why I’m supporting it.  You can watch the trailer above.  And you can click through this link to make a donation. The site is like Kickstarter, but accessible to Chileans.  Just like Kickstarter, if Rojas doesn’t make his $4000 target, he gets nothing. If you click the tab at the top of the screen, you can change the site language to English. If you care about sustainable food or the craft of film making, I hope you'll consider supporting this project.

Neighbours.

She's been calling to me since I first arrived.  I see her each time I leave the house and look north.  I had a brief first meeting with her and her compatriots this morning.  A first look up close.  She's more beautiful than I'd guessed.  They all are.

There is hardly a flat surface left unadorned here in Santiago.  There is the full range of painted pieces, from tagging, to beginner pieces, to art worthy of a curator.  What began as one of the few safe means of political expression has grown into a wider expression of self.

I was warned that I might be relieved of my camera when I go out to make photos, so I took my older camera body and an inexpensive lens.  Rookie mistake.  Just like in any relationship, it's all in or nothing.

I'll go back, and spend more time with them.  Fully invested, just as they are.

Thanks, Brian Hirschy!

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A couple months ago, Brian Hirschy hosted a print giveaway on his blog.  The lucky recipients received a gorgeous print from a collection of images he made in China.  I was one of those lucky recipients, and yesterday I finally picked up my international mail and got to hold this beauty in my own two hands.

The very first thing that struck me was how beautiful it was as a print.  I'm not a fan of glossy paper.  This print has the most gorgeous pearl finish... never seen anything like it.  I popped back to Brian's post to learn more about it.

Brian described the printing this way "We ended up printing on a super -thick paper stock using an ‘Ice Pearl’ paper and a semi-translucent ink which creates a really special effect on the highlights (looks like crystals in the ink, see below images)." The printing was done by the Springfield, AR based company Moxy Ox. Oh my goodness, people... they do amazing work!  This paper + printing method create prints that are substantial and rich. 

I've got a move coming up.  Yeah, another one.  And while I won't be able to take much with me, there is a handful of artwork I'll be shipping to my new place.  Some paintings from an aunt.  And then a collection of amazing photographs from folks like Chip Thomas, Miles Storey, Iain Sarjeant, Jane DeGross, George A. Grant and now,  Brian Hirschy.

Thanks, Brian!  I appreciate your generosity, your skills, and your introduction to a great print company.

We get to carry each other...

Photo by Daniela Kreykenbohm.

Photo by Daniela Kreykenbohm.

"My prayer for you & me this new year: may we realize we aren't able to do this on our own — and we were never mean to."  -Jeff Goins @JeffGoins

Where we go in 2013 isn't nearly as important as how we get there.  Together is the key.  Not too long ago, Seth Godin said "Who you hang out with determines what you dream about and what you collide with. And the collisions and the dreams lead to your changes. And the changes are what you become. Change the outcome by changing your circle.”

We are impacted by those around us, by those who produce what we consume, by those who fill our time.  So as we make resolutions, or intentions, or choose a word for the year, or choose to avoid all of that, it's worth looking around us to see who is making an impact on our lives.

•Are you producing the kind of work you dream of making?  If not, spend less time looking at what the crowd is producing and more time studying incredible work, and having conversations with people who have a great work ethic.  And while you're at it, make more work yourself.

•Are you resonating with the conversations around you?  If not, make some room in your life for new voices. While you're at it, reduce the time spent with folks who are consistently draining, negative, or who have abused your trust.

•Spend more time with people who make you laugh.  As much time as you can make for it.  

•Love.  With abandon.  At every opportunity.

ps.  while putting this post together, I was listening to U2's One, performed by Johnny Cash.  I didn't know he'd recorded a version, and there is something really poignant about his aged voice singing the words 'we get to carry each other'.

Do that hard thing...

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Do that hard thing.

Tell the secret to someone you trust.

The lies you tell yourself to keep the protective wall high? The relationship that is no longer life-giving?

Bring them out into the light.

That song you wrote in secret... play that for a friend.

The painting you made late at night so no one knew... show it.

The writing?  The photographs?

Do the hard thing.  

Show someone.

It's all heavy-lifting, emotional body-building.

And when you find yourself standing on the edge of opportunity, on the very lip of possibility, you will be in the very best position to say yes...

...and to jump.

On Brotherhood, Boards and a Whole Lot of Chill

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It should have been stormy on this November day.  There should have been wind and waves for the Gales of November, an annual memorial held by the Wyldewood Surf Club in honour of one of their founding members, Magilla Schaus.  Instead there was sun and warmth, and a wide expanse of time for these Great Lakes surfers to paddle out into Lake Erie, circle up, pass a bottle, and share memories of the man who still figures prominently in their lives.  A downhill slalom skateboard contest took the place of a surfing competition.  And everyone present, dressed in memorial-black wet suits and skinny jeans, celebrated life.

It was the sense of brotherhood (with a few sisters added to the mix) which leaves the strongest impression on me days later. Folks drove from 6 hours away to spend the day together.  The wide age range and diverse backgrounds of members played no factor in this group. They all came together for a common passion.  I was told that Schaus got his nickname Magilla from a role he'd had in a play–Magilla the Gorilla.  It seems no coincidence that the character Magilla was created as a means to speak against racial inequality.  Would anyone in the club see the connection?  I doubt it.  It hardly matters though. The spirit lives on, past the fictional character, past the real-life character, into the wider community.

I didn't have the pleasure of meeting Magilla Schaus. I hope he knows the beautiful thing he helped to create lives on.

This post is the sixth piece in an experimental project I'm doing in partnership with Spanish photographer (and friend) José Martinez.  It's called 10Years.  For our sixth assignment, we were to make images based on the theme 'cinematic'.  We left it entirely open to interpretation.  'Cinematic' is a rather subjective topic which left lots of room to explore.  

José's take on 'cinematic', complete with shower scene, can be found here.

Necessary Unnecessary Creating

So maybe you're like Ian Ruhter, who had such a burning need to make images in the way he saw in his mind that he built a camera out of a panel truck, and started off on a road trip to document America with no resources other than an epic faith in the images that needed to be made.

Or maybe you're like Lisa Congdon.  Maybe you started a personal project to learn a new skill and stretch yourself over 365 days.  And maybe that personal project turned into a collection of prints for sale, two fonts created, and a book deal long before the project was finished.

Or maybe you're someone like Craig Small, who has a book store in a giant city like Toronto, and lots of odd, used books to sell in a place where people are too busy to pay any notice to the  discount sidewalk bin.  So you build a freaking cool vending machine to make the experience irresistable.

Or maybe you're like Chad Allen, who undertakes creative projects for no other reason that then sheer joy of it. "Unnecessary creating changes everything because it redeems useless time into time spent doing genuinely meaningful things for yourself and others."

Or maybe you're not like them at all.  Maybe you've decided the fear is too great.

"The American Dream video is based on the fear of success, this thought is extremely powerful, fear has the ability to cripple us from pursuing our dreams. The moment I embraced my dreams it was as if the universe had drawn people to help us and share their stories."  Ian Ruhter

The only thing you need to do is start.

Theatre Crisp

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Kyle Petch, aka "HumleHAB"

Kyle Petch, aka "HumleHAB"

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David Cox, tap dancer/percussionist

David Cox, tap dancer/percussionist

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Jay Baty

Jay Baty

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Peter Goertz

Peter Goertz

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Trevor Jones

Trevor Jones

Front row at The Sanctuary, Ridgeway, ON.

Front row at The Sanctuary, Ridgeway, ON.

It would seem to be impossible for a band to create a fresh sound, since so many new artists follow the ruts worn deep by those who came before.  But I was surprised, in the best way, by a band called Theatre Crisp.

They call their sound 'Funk Hop', and that's an apt description for the fusion of funk and hip hop I heard last night.  But they're much more, layering reggae, jazz, and a miked-up tap dancer for an unexpected layer of percussion.  It was the best time I've had at a concert in a really long time.

Theater Crisp was the opening act on a two-band bill, but I would gladly pay to see them headline. The Sanctuary Center for the Arts, a former church in Ridgeway, was a great venue, as the band certainly seemed to feel the effect of playing in a room designed for praise.  The fact that Theater Crisp is a local band, out of St. Catharines, was the best surprise of all.  It's so great to be able to recommend band for their sound, but it's a bit of a rush to recommend a local band for their sound.

The evening was hosted by the Wyldewood Surf Club, to cap-off an annual day of tribute to their founding president Magilla Schaus.  I spent the day photographing a paddle-out (frankly, the coolest memorial service I've ever witnessed) and skateboard event.  These some of the nicest, most open folks I've ever met, and hope to share more of that day soon.
 

Risk.

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The first time I composed text in this space, I began with a warning at the top.  Bracketed by double stars.  Warning that if you were bothered by fat bodies, you might want to pass on this post.

But I've spend too much time doing that.  Decades, in fact.  I hide at all cost.  When working out with my trainer, every set starts the same way: pulling my shirt down over the bulge of my belly.  I don't like to see it in the over-size mirror.  It doesn't ever seem to matter that I've just finished my third set of bicep curls with 30 lb. weights.  it's only the flaws I see.

It wasn't until I started seeing the trainer that I realized how far my mind had retreated from my body.  When I'm asked to isolate a muscle, or a part of my body, I can't do it.  It's like a game of hide and seek that's gone on too long.

The shape of my body is changing.  It will continue to change.  But my skin will always tell much of my life story.  When the rolls are gone, the stretch marks will remain.  When the zits are gone, the skin tabs will remain.  The scar from gall bladder surgery, it's here to stay too.

If these were pictures of someone else's body, I would love them.  I'm fascinated by the shapes and shadows.  I have an appreciation for the texture of stretched skin.  On someone else.

Before I made any photographs, I had envisioned grainy black and white images.  But when processing, i realized that the grain obscured.  it was a curtain I could hide behind.  And that was hardly the point.  I didn't retouch a single blemish.  All the ugly bits remain, recorded.

This post is the fifth piece in an experimental project I'm doing in partnership with Spanish photographer (and friend) José Martinez.  It's called 10Years.  For our fifth assignment, we were to make an in depth reportage of 'risk'.  My life is bathed in risk at the moment, and in my heart I knew that I had to figure into this week's assignment.  But I tried to fight it.  I emailed a few friends to make some other connections.  But in the end, this was the single riskiest thing I could think to do.  

José's beautiful story on a life filled with risk can be found here.

Black Ops Encounter

The front door opened with a crash, slamming against the wall behind, causing the plate glass to rattle.  They burst in, and were clearly shocked to find someone there at that early hour.  Only the look-out made brief eye-contact.  The two others sped behind me to their target in the back.  Their movements were spare, no motion wasted.  This was well-planned.

“CC!  C’mon, CC”  Adrenaline was making them speak too loudly.  I could hear the steady clank of metal on metal, the sound of pounding and calls to hurry up.

“It’s jammed!  I need another 25!”  “It’s jammed!  C’mon!”

“We’ve got to go!  It’s almost here!”  The look-out shouted from the door. 

“It’s nearly at the corner.  There’s no more time.  Go, go, go!!”  And with that last shout the two at the back stood, turned to the front door and ran, quickly stuffing down the contents of their backpacks and zipping as they ran.

In the time it took me to fold my underwear this morning, the contents of a piggy bank had been methodically inserted into the laundromat vending machine.  Three 10 year-olds had just enough time, out of sight of their parents, to liberate all but one Baby Ruth.  They caught the bus just in time.

“If this is not news, I am going to make it art.”

photo by Sarah Fretwell, via TreeHugger

There is a brilliant piece up at TreeHugger called Rape and Conflict Minerals:  Photographer Taken on the Technology Industry Through Art.  It's about work made by photographer Sarah Fretwell, in the Congo.

From the article:

"...multiple magazines rejected my story pitch. They were interested, but had covered the story “earlier.” That afternoon we searched for someone to help respond to reports there were young teens being held as sex slaves in soldiers’ camps. I was baffled by the news media’s lackluster response, because to me the situation was extremely urgent.

Frustrated, I decided “If this is not news, I am going to make it art.” Suddenly the project was clarified for me. I wanted to engage consumers of technology through art. Now the project is getting huge exposure and touches people in a way a news story never could..."

Randomness Ahead...

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Hi!  Giving a heads-up to anyone who follows along via a feed reader.  I've got a bit of an ugly task ahead, merging content from previous Blogger blogs with this Squarespace site.  It may be that I lose all the comments on previous posts.  That might just be a sign that this fresh start is supposed to be a little fresher than I originally anticipated.

I'll slowly bring over some posts from the other blogs, in a wide range of topics.  Consider this fair warning... serious randomness ahead!!

If you've followed me over from one of my previous spaces, you're likely used to that by now.  I appreciate your continued friendship and company along the journey.

Peace.