About owensbyd

Studio Art Student at Michigan State University. Photographer. Writer. Pepper-mint enthusiast.

Adventures in Thailand: ElepHANTS OMG

There are a lot of elephants around Chiang Mai. Not in the wild– there are hardly any left in the wild– but they can be found at elephant sanctuaries.

Did you know that riding on an elephants back hurts them? Most elephants at elephant sanctuaries are rescued from riding camps, logging farms, and circus-type venues. My cousin and I really wanted to see some elephants, but we were NOT down with animal abuse. That’s where the sanctuaries come in. There are quite a few around Chiang Mai, but we settled on the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Instead of taking a ride on the backs of one of these gentle creatures, we spent the day feeding them, playing in the mud with them, and messing around in a river. WAY BETTER THAN RIDING.

AND ELEPHANTS ARE THE GREATEST CREATURES. They were kind, gentle, and really funny. One elephant, his name was Peter, was 4 years old and a total trouble maker. He ate all of my bananas before I could give them to any other elephants, and this little fella (who was the side of a car,) would just charge through wherever he wanted. So lovely.

I didn’t have my typical stash of cameras on me, because I knew I’d be working in the mud for the day, so I only brought my phone and Polaroid Cube along. Granted, not the best tools, but I did get a couple decent shots of my new fav animals.

Seriously, elephants are the best.

Here, have some totally self-indulgent photos of me, courtesy of my cousin, Ashley.

 

This was seriously one of the best days of my life. If you are ever in Thailand, I highly recommend the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, or one of the other sanctuaries. And remember: IF THEY OFFER RIDING THEY ARE NOT A TRUE SANCTUARY AND YOU SHOULD NOT SUPPORT THEM. If we want to save these beautiful creatures, we have to break down the riding industry.

Safe travels and happy shooting!

 

Adventures in Thailand: Bangkok Pt. 1

I’ve been in Thailand for nearly a month now, and it’s been amazing. Thailand is such a beautiful country (if scorching hot in the month of June,) and there is no shortage of sights in the capital, Bangkok.

Currently, I’m staying at an apartment I rented out for the month through AirBnB. I’m location east of the center of the city in the Phra Khanong district (are they called districts here? neighborhoods? uhm?) which is a little ways away from the Imperial Palace and the famous Reclining Buddha. However, the BTS SkyTrain is located just down the street from me, so I just hop on that to get wherever I wanna go.

My first week here was spent exploring the area where I live and the Siam area. Siam has a HUGE shopping center and the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, lots of people, and lots of interesting spaces to photograph. I especially adored the BACC, which had floors of contemporary art (my fav.)

I also went to the famous Chatchuak Weekend Market, on the city’s north side. I totally got lost… Very, very lost. It took me two hours to find my way back out, probably because I wasn’t trying too hard. The market was awesome, with all the tacky souvenirs a person could possibly want. I took lots of pictures, haggled, and just got caught up in the sights and sounds.

Bangkok is a huge place and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. I’ll be checking out the Palace and the more famous temples later this week, so keep an eye out!

Safe travels and happy shooting!

 

It’s More Fun in the Philippines: Manila

When I told people I was traveling to the Philippines, the biggest piece of advice was this: Get out of Manila.

The advice was well intended, as the Philippines is a GORGEOUS country, and it would have been a waste if I spent all two-weeks in the sweltering heat and traffic of Manila. However, Manila wasn’t that bad.

Granted, I was staying in Metro Manila in a nice apartment in BGC, so do what you will with that information. I still had a lovely time though with my cousin and his partner, Valerie. After I went to San Pablo and Banaue/Batad, I shadowed my cousin at his job as a teacher at the International School Manila, which definitely fed my longing to be a teacher, and we also went on a guided tour of Intramuros, Manila’s old walled city.

If you are ever in Manila, I highly recommend going on the Walk This Way tour, led by Carlos Celdran. It’s performance-art-meets-guided-tour, and Carlos was not only a riot, but the tour was super educational, emotional, and just amazing over-all.

I also walked myself over to Market! Market! and took some photos in that crazy shopping center.

Another thing my cousin and lovely Valerie took me to was the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, which is just outside of Metro Manila. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip, as art museums make me so inspired and awestruck and this museum was just filled with excellent contemporary Filipino art that made my heart ache and my hands itch to create.

My trip to the Philippines was amazing, even Manila. However, I am not completely naive: I know I was in a nicer part of the city, and that I saw the bits that tourists were meant to see. I did, however, drive by the not-so-touristy-and-heart-breakingly-impoverished parts, and I forced myself to be conscious. There were beautiful colors, people, and juxtapositions, but I always asked myself “Do I think this is beautiful because it is exotic to me? Am I beautifying poverty in my mind, because I have no idea what the realities of it are?” It was difficult at times because I would see the beauty in these places but have to remind myself that what I was seeing was just the surface. Manila is a complex, beautiful, and heart-breaking place, and I actually look forward to returning to get to know it better.

Shout-out to Steve and Val for being the world’s best host and hostess– love you guys and give the kitties pets for me!

To my readers: seriously– go visit the Philippines already.

Happy shooting and safe travels!

Traveling Solo with an Anxiety Disorder

There are two important things about me, the first being something many people already know: I love to travel.

My life is spent planning for the next big adventure, tolerating the moments between when I return from a trip and head off on the next one. I love going to new places, learning about different cultures, trying out new languages and meeting kindred spirits around the globe.

The second important thing about me if I have an anxiety disorder. I’ve lived with PTSD for years, and even with it in remission I still have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. It makes going out of my “comfort zone” extremely daunting.

Currently, I am traveling solo in SE Asia. I’ve spent the past week in Thailand by myself, but (thankfully) my cousin is meeting up with me tonight. I admittedly need the reprieve from my solo-ness.

The thing about traveling solo is it is extremely empowering. There are moments where I am so overwhelmed with my perceived bad-assery that a smile breaks across my face and I laugh. It’s amazing that I am able to do this, that I was able to get on a plane and go across the globe to a country where I can’t speak the language to live alone and be a tourist all by myself. It’s awesome!

To prepare, I read a lot of testimonies about traveling alone. It’s about reaching out to others, not being afraid to meet new people and just kinda sorta “going for it.” I felt like I could do it. I still believe I can do it.

But traveling solo with anxiety makes it really, really hard to be that person who can go out and be unafraid. Every morning I wake up I have to spend about 2-3 hours psyching myself up to go outside. There is a cycle of guilt: I am in a foreign country, something many people don’t have the luxury to even dream about, and I’m sitting in my apartment talking myself out of doing anything that may make me look like an idiot in a new place.

Sometimes I’m able to trample down the anxiety and leave. Other times I can’t, and I spend the day inside.

This is OKAY.

It is okay for me to spend hours memorizing the train route, learning how to pronounce the names of places I want to go and practicing what to tell a cab driver. It is okay for me to accept that today just isn’t the day to go out and be adventurous, that my brain is wired a little differently and sometimes I need time to get used to a new place. It is okay to tell the guilt to leave me alone, that I know myself and I know my body.

It is okay to travel solo with anxiety. You do not need to push yourself. This is not a blog post about being like “JUST STOMP DOWN YOUR INHIBITIONS AND GO!” Anxiety disorders are not mere inhibitions, but a condition where, no matter how hard you try, sometimes you just can’t. And this is okay.

So, if you have anxiety and you want to travel solo, go for it. I believe in you. But if you do and you feel overwhelmed, try not to feel guilty. That energy is better spent loving yourself and reminding yourself that hey, you’re a bad-ass for doing it in the first place. You will go out and explore the world in your own time.

It’s More Fun in the Philippines: Banaue/Batad

The best decision of my trip to the Philippines was to go to Banaue/Batad. It was seriously the highlight of my trip, and quite easily in my top 3 favorite places in the world.

Researching how to get to Banaue was daunting, but thankfully I had the help from Valerie, my cousin’s lovely partner. She set me up with an amazing guide, Alvin Gabriel, who met me at the bus station in Banaue and stayed with me the 36ish hours I was there.

Since I was only staying one night, we were very busy. When my bus rolled in at 10AM (after being 2-hours delayed after a break-down at 3AM… it’s always something when I travel!) Alvin took me to get breakfast at a cafe with a GORGEOUS view of Banaue. I drank water, ate a sandwich, and kept marveling how I actually made it to such a beautiful place.

After breakfast, Alvin took me to the trail to Batad via tricycle, with intermediary stops along the way for great photo opportunities. I kept saying “WOW,” because it seemed to be the only word I could remember. I said, “It’s so GREEN!” and Alvin told me “Wait until we get to Batad.”

Now, Banaue is beautiful, but oh my goodness, if you make the trip there I HIGHLY recommend hiking to Batad, because it is even better than Banaue. It’s very remote, I had no phone service and the homestays do not have wifi, but seriously, GO. If you don’t go, you are seriously missing out.

It was raining off and on that afternoon, so our hike was broken up between waiting under awnings and hiking the rice terraces. The weather was so beautiful, a mix of clarity and atmospheric clouds. Seriously amazing weather for photo-taking.

Another lovely thing about the rain was I was able to talk to other travelers while we waited for the weather to break. I met two Columbia University students and an older gentleman from Pennsylvania, and a couple from Melbourne. I’m normally a shy person, so meeting others and actually having fun conversations with them was a highlight to my day.

Alvin took me up to the viewing point, which over-looked the entire valley. It was breathtaking and I never wanted to leave.

After going to the top of the terraces, we went down, down, down into the village to get to the Batad Village Homestay. It was there I met Rona, the wonderful owner of the homestay, and she showed me her traditional house. The traditional house looks like a hut on stilts, and she told me how she was born in that house and she lives there to this day. She explained she didn’t like “modern houses” because the rooms are all separate and inconvenient, unlike her single room home.

She showed me some old statues, which belonged to her parents, which were of rice guardians. Rona said she didn’t believe in the old religion, that she was a Christian, and we talked about our love of God for about an hour before I went to dinner.

The power had gone out, so I ate via candlelight and read a book while Alvin and some of the other guides played guitar. I definitely sang along to “Country Road”. No shame.

The next morning I woke up at dawn and looked out my window, and once again was awestruck at how amazing my life is.

Alvin and I saddled up and hiked down to the Tappiya Falls. There were lots of stairs to go down… So many stairs… But the falls were breathtaking. People were swimming in the river but I decided nah, and drew a crummy picture instead (no, you can’t see.) I had a lot of fun relaxing in the sun, listening to the roar of the water, breathing in the fresh air.

Then we hiked all the way back up the stairs, and I cursed myself for spending the past two years of grad school sitting on my butt behind a computer screen, and promised to get myself to a gym or something because dang, that was difficult. Shout out to Alvin for being patient!

After the falls I was actually kinda sad, because that meant we were going to hike out of Batad and back to Banaue. I didn’t want to leave Batad at all; it was so beautiful and peaceful. The hike back wasn’t without it’s nice views, though, and I snapped some pics of interesting things along the way back.

I left for Manila that evening, already planning to come back in the near future.

So, Banaue/Batad? Definitely go, get Alvin as your guide, and you won’t regret it.

Happy Shooting!

 

It’s More Fun in the Philippines: San Pablo

Nothing says “Bye, grad school, I’m sO DONE WITH YOU,” quite like leaving the country not even a week after graduating and running away to the literal other side of the globe.

#YOLO indeed.

Before I gush about how amazing the Philippines are, we gotta talk about the Taipei airport.

So I had a 4-hour lay-over in Taipei, Taiwan on my way to Manila. The funny thing about my trip was I didn’t really feel super excited or even nervous about traveling. Honestly, I think I was emotionally drained/exhausted/dead inside because of the stress that was the end of my school career. Even on the plane I was like “meh.” However, when we were in our approach to Taipei, when I could see the ground coming up beneath us, it all hit me.

I’m traveling to SE Asia, alone, after completing my MFA in Photography.

I started crying on the plane. The young lady next to me was kind enough to ignore me and not to say anything (thank goodness.)

But then I got into the airport and was enthralled by how amazingly tacky the whole thing was. They had themed gates, and my gate was a HELLO KITTY GATE PEOPLE.

What an awesome airport.

BUT ONTO THE PHILIPPINES

My amazing and cool cousin, Steve, let me stay with him and his partner Valerie in their apartment in Bonifacio Global City, which is in Metro Manila. After I got there, we all left to go spend a weekend in the gorgeous San Pablo.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast, owned and operated by the legendary Patis Tesoro. Patis was lovely and kind, and her home is FABULOUS. Patis is very into recyclable materials, so her house is made from recycled woods, second-hand tiles, etc. It’s really amazing.

If you are ever in the San Pablo area, I highly recommend making a reservation at Patis’s Garden Cafe.

Another highlight to my stay in San Pablo was visiting the Villa Escudero. Steve and Valerie took me to have lunch in the waterfall there, where we literally got to go into the water to get our food. It was super cool, and it was fun watching everyone enjoy the water.

It was a great weekend.

Happy Shooting!

I Blinked and I Graduated with My MFA in Photography

How did I get here?

This time seven years ago, I was, to put eloquently, a Total Fucking Wreck™.

I was finishing my senior year of high school, less than two weeks from graduating, and I had no idea what the hell I was supposed to do with my life. I didn’t get into the school of my dreams, which meant I didn’t get into the program I longed for: Classical Archaeology.

There were things I knew I liked doing, like writing and taking pictures. But the summer before I started my undergrad career, I didn’t pick up my camera once. I lied in bed, staring at the wall, wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life. I was 17, confused, depressed, crying a lot, and completely uninspired.

I would like to tell you something inspiring, some sort of turning point in my life where I decided I wanted– no, needed– to become a photographer, but that’s just simply not true. Taking pictures was a lot of fun to me. I was good at it– it was the first thing I had a natural knack for– but I didn’t think I wanted to make my life out of it. About halfway through my first semester at MSU, studying English Lit, I was on the phone with my mom and I said, “I miss making art.”

It was a gentle admission, a passing comment. I was collaging by then, making sketches in my sketchbook and all that, but it wasn’t like high school, where every weekend was marked by a crazy photo shoot with my friends and praises from my teachers. I just kinda missed it, so my mom suggested I get a minor in art or take some classes. It wasn’t until my sophomore year– now pursuing a BFA in Studio Art– that I took my first college-level photography class and realized:

Fuck, I want to do this for the rest of my life.

I knew after that first semester that I didn’t want to be a wedding photographer or a portrait photographer, but that I wanted to teach photography. I loved critique, I loved the theory and the history, and I loved learning. I wanted to pass my knowledge to others. I also knew that the photography I liked doing wasn’t photography in the traditional/commercial/profitable sense, but more academic. I am so, so lucky that I knew what I wanted to be at 19 years old.

What I also knew was I needed an MFA, and that getting into an MFA program was Serious Business™.

When you find your passion, you delve head-first into it. And goodness gracious did I embrace it. I stopped denying that I wanted to be an artist (oh no not an artist how will I eat) and decided to, as I would say in 8th grade, “go balls to the walls.”

My weekends and weekdays were photo shoots with friends. I carried a camera on me at all times. Summers were spent taking photographs every. single. day. It was surrounding myself with people who liked photography as much as I did, browsing forums online and gathering inspiration for my next big shoot. I was submitting to galleries, exhibitions, museums, magazines, anything to build up my resume for graduate school. When the time came to apply, I bused all around the country, visiting schools, interviewing, meeting with professors to go over my application, checking my email every five minutes–

I got a full ride to Columbia College Chicago.

And, somehow, two years later, I have my MFA in Photography.

Holy shit, what a ride.

But I wouldn’t be here without a few people. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my art teachers in high school, or my friends in both high school and undergrad who let me dress them up/make them stand naked in the woods in February/carry my heavy things. My homies who drove me around, let me use their backyards, drag them around zoos in animal masks or get stopped by the police– if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have gotten this far. All the professors who wrote me letters of rec, who taught me how to be a better writer, how to take better pictures and challenge me to think more deeply, to ask the hard questions, them too.

My mom for saying “Why don’t you get a minor in art?” or my boyfriend for all of the countless hours of driving, setting up light stands, cramming balloons in his car or me snapping at him because “I’m in the zone Mitchell shush.” My friends for letting me bitch at them about critique or something some critic said about my work, or those nights when I would be up late crying because “I don’t know what I’m doing how on earth did I get this far?” and their words of encouragement (“Shut the fuck up, deo, ur a great photographer fuck the haters.”) The friend who read my essays and statements and applications and was absolutely brutal in the best way. My cohort for the time spent debating theory (lol or crying about it,) the whiskey bar in Ireland, challenging me and making me think in new ways, showing me how to do things and inspiring me to be better. All of these people helped.

I thought about all of these people as I was hooded and received my diploma case on May 14th, 2017.

 

So, if you ever helped me, no matter how minor, thank you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now, I’m off to go make some waves in the art world with my Masters of Badassery™.

Happy Shooting!