Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 5: Marseilles

If you ever find yourself planning a trip to France, do yourself a favor and go to Marseilles.

My road-trip crew and I rolled into Marseilles mid-afternoon in the month of August. It was warm. It was hilly. It was one of the most beautiful cities I had ever visited.

We stayed at an AirBnB that was near the top of the tallest hill in Marseilles, directly below the Notre Dame de la Garde. Our hosts were very accommodating and great at communicating, and the apartment we stayed in had a view of the port. Waking up every morning to an incredible view-over-coffee definitely set the tone for our stay.

After we checked-in, we walked down the hill to the port to find some dinner. My friend Sean and I were having a blast taking pictures of the sunset over the area, and we vowed to wake up bright and early to get more photographs.

We’re the kind of people who, when on a short vacation, will get up and do as much as possible, so sure enough we woke up at 5AM, drank some coffee and wandered around Marseilles. Sean and I found a playground covered in street art, experienced the fish-market at the port, and explored some back streets. The fish-market was super cool, even if some men paid me some unwelcome compliments in French (eye-roll).

We explored, drank coffee on the docks, and took pictures for a good 5 hours before returning to our companions sleeping-in at our AirBnB, croissants in tow. It was around noon when we left the apartment one more, and headed straight up the stairs near our place to visit the Notre Dame de la Garde. The neat-o thing about this church is how it has a maritime theme, with ships dangling from the ceiling and paintings of vessels on the walls. Marseilles is a port city, so it only makes sense, and it made for some really neat photographs.

 

After the church, we explored the hill top and got lost. We ate apples at a park and wandered some neighborhoods, and finally made our way back down to the port, where a market was happening.

We all bought some souvenirs and continued on our way around the port, before walking in the general direction of the Cathedrale la Major. We totally got lost (again) but we were glad we did, because we found some excellent street art and even stumbled upon some artists putting up some art.

When we got to the cathedral I was exhausted, so I admittedly didn’t take like any pictures and I sat on a bench and took a nap. I’m super lame, but hey, when it is nap time, it is nap time.

We ended our evening at the beach, which was closed and dark, but we still managed to catch the sunset. We walked all the way back up the hill to our apartment, where once again we got lost, but at least this time we stopped and got some ice cream to keep us cool. We might have also picked up some beer to drink as we enjoyed the view from our apartment one last night.

So, if you find yourself in France, spend some time in Marseilles and get lost. You won’t regret it.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

 

Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 4: Tours, Cher River, & Auvergne

If you are ever crazy enough to take a road-trip through France, a good place to stop is Tours. It’s known for the Loire River Valley, which a lot of people stop through to see all kinds of fantastic castles. For us, Tours was a stop between traveling from Mont Saint Michel to Marseilles.

We got in to Tours from MSM at about 7PM, where we found our AirBnB and crashed for the night. The next day we decided to go exploring, walking around and getting lost. We stopped in some small mall to look for a swimsuit and some tennis shoes, and we found the Cathedrale Saint-Gatien, which was one of the most beautiful churches I have been in.

My group and I wanted to see some sort of castle, but we weren’t too keen on doing a castle tour. I looked into our options and I found the perfect thing– kayaking around Chateau de Chenonceau. We booked in advance with Canoe Company. Now, they don’t really have online booking, but if you are traveling internationally and email in advance, they will reserve a spot for you and you can pay on arrival.

We really had a magical kayaking trip down the Cher River. We arrived at around 4PM and the four of us were split into two canoes. The trip towards the chateau was really funny, as we were shit-talking each other and kinda racing. I say kinda because we were actually a hot-mess, trying to coordinate our paddling to move forward. One of the highlights was when we got up to the chateau and were able to kayak underneath it and back. IT WAS SO BALLER.

On our way back, we noticed a field of sunflowers on the shore. We dragged our canoes up the bank and spent a good amount of time frolicking, taking lots of pictures and avoiding bumble bees. The sun was beginning to set so the light was perfect. To top it all off, hot-air balloons were inflating in the distance. It was one of those afternoons where things just got better and better, where everything felt like a dream and my non-stop smile made my face ache in a pleasant way.

Once we docked, we headed back to our AirBnB where pasta was made, laundry was finished, and sleeping commenced. We woke up very early the next morning for our 9-hour drive to the south coast of France and to the gorgeous city of Marseilles– but before we get there, I have to tell you all about a little place off of the beaten path in Auvergne.

Our half-way marker was at the Jonas Caves in Saint-Pierre-Colamine. The caves, also known as Grottes de Jonas, were an ancient troglodyte village back in the 14th century. It was a bit of a drive up the mountains to get to it, but it was so neat to get out of the car, stretch our legs, and explore caves that people used to sleep, eat, bake their bread, and die of the plague in. There were stairs and doorways and windows and lots of picture opportunities. Additionally, there were faux animals along the mountainside, so if you’re into kitsch, 10/10 highly recommend.

If you decide to visit, know that there is a chance no one will speak English. When my group and I went, the lady at the tour office spoke only French, and the signs on the pathway were also in French. It was fine for my group, since 3/4 of us spoke the language. However, it’s very easy to mime wanting a ticket (which was like 3 euros.) Even though you may not be able to understand the signs, it is still a really cool experience and if you’re like me and crazy about photo ops, there are plenty to be had.

So that is the half-way point of our road trip across France. Keep an eye out for our adventures in Marseilles, Chamonix, and finally Lyon.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

Viva la France! Roadtrip Foolishness Pt. 3: Mont Saint Michel

After a long, thoughtful, and educational day at the D-Day Beaches, my crew and I drove the two hours to Mont Saint Michel. We arrived at our AirBnB outside of the actual Mont, in a small sleepy town. We chose to stay outside of the area to cut on costs, and honestly, it was an excellent choice because we met our outstanding host, Christophe.

Christophe was incredibly kind and showed us his garden, let us play with his cats, drank beer with us, and showed us fantastic sunset views of the area. We were sitting on the back patio, drinking beer and listening to his record player and commenting on how lovely it must be to live in such a beautiful area, when he offered to drive us around and show us an incredible sunset view.

We’re adventurous types, so we all agreed and Christophe drove us to the top of a hill where we saw the sun setting behind the distant Mont St. Michel Abbey. I could not get a good photo and I admittedly did not try very hard, because it was one of those views that I wanted to hold dear to my heart and experience without a camera in my face (I know, SHOCKING.)

Christophe also drove us to an old windmill where we appreciated the rest of the sunset and I ran about a quarter mile down the road to get a good shot (see? I’m still crazy about photography.) It was one of the most perfect evenings I have ever had.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to drive to the Mont Saint Michel visitor center/large parking lot. There is a free shuttle that will take you to the abbey, and it is also one of the only ways to get there since cars are not allowed. You can also take a horse-and-carriage, but that’s not free so the crew and I did not even consider it (plus, SLOW.)

We arrived around 9AM during low tide, so we went straight to the surrounding bay and took obnoxious tourist pictures. We then walked the entire circumference of the Mont, taking pictures, shit-talking each other, and climbing over rocks. Later we found out that when people used to make the pilgrimage to the Mont, they would walk around its entirety, like we had done. So that was a pretty cool coincidence!

After our pilgrimage we entered the Mont, ate breakfast at one of the little cafes, and hiked up to the Abbey. It was, expectedly, very crowded, with souvenir shops lining the narrow streets. I LOVED it. I understand some people turn their nose up to “touristy” destinations, but my view of it is obviously a unique place like Mont St. Michel is going to be packed, so instead of getting irritated by the crowds I let myself get swept away and enjoyed the experience. I was in a place I had dreamed of traveling to, and nothing was going to bring me down from it.

We arrived at the abbey and bought our tickets and got to exploring. The abbey itself was gorgeous, ancient, and had spectacular views. We were able to reach the top in time for high-tide and it was so cool watching the water rush in. I think we spent about 30 minutes just watching the water merge and swirl and rise. The inside of the abbey was dark and cool and had many places to sit and soak in the memory of the place.

When it was time to go, I was a bit sad. Visiting Mont Saint Michel is something I’ve been longing to do for years and it was everything I hoped it would be. I know that should the opportunity arise, I will be back.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 2: D-Day Beaches

Lawd, we actually did a road-trip through France.

When my friends and I rolled up into the rental car place and they asked where we were going and we told them, “Well, we’re going to go Normandie, then Tours, then down to Marseilles, then up to Chamonix, then over to Lyon,” I think the poor gentleman who was doing our paperwork was going to have a heart attack. As Americans, we frequently forget that driving for HOURS to get anywhere is not the norm in other parts of the world, especially Europe.

However, my homies and I have done this kind of travel before. So it wasn’t that big of a deal, however we did not insure the car and we were paranoid wrecks most of the time we were driving so, word of advice? Go for the insurance.

Anyway, once our three beautiful days in Paris were over, we got our rental and left the city. After driving for 3-ish hours and stopping for dinner at a place called Marina’s in the French countryside and speaking broken French to our waitress who spoke broken English and much pantomime and communal laughter, we arrived at our hotel where we passed out only to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to the D-Day Beaches.

For my friends who are paranoid like I was about entrance fees and parking: do not worry, there is so cost to drive to the beaches, park, and check it all out. We pulled right up to Omaha beach, parked in a lot, and walked around. The only thing we had to pay for was admission to the Operation Overlord Museum (which was pretty informative and I totally recommend.) There was no admission fee to the American Cemetery.

When we arrived in the morning, there were already people at the beach, sunbathing, swimming, building sand castles, and doing normal beach-things. At first I was deeply unsettled by this, because I was taught in school how many Americans died on that very beach, and it didn’t seem right that people were playing in the same spot where there was so much blood, the ocean turned red.

But, the ground didn’t feel haunted. I’ve been to places where grave atrocities had been committed– Dachau Concentration Camp, World Trade Center Ground Zero, to name a couple– and at those places, everything felt wrong. The energy was off, like the land and air had the horrible memories permanently imprinted into them. But at Omaha beach, those feelings were absent.

And I firmly believe it was because of the children playing and the families relaxing. The people that died on that beach not so many years ago died so that their loved ones and their legacies could have fun on a beach on a sunny August day. Instead of leaving the beach as an empty memorial, it has become a place of enjoyment. The ground holds memories of violence and bloodshed, for sure, but it also has the memory of fun afternoons and laughter.

We walked the entire length of Omaha and ate lunch at a restaurant that had all kinds of D-Day Paraphemalia, such as an Operation Overlord coloring sheet (lol seriously) and I wonderful picture of Eisenhower. In true deo-fashion, I took pictures. Also, brie on pizza is a terrible idea, I do not recommend it.

After our adventure down the beach, we walked all the way back, bought some fruit, and checked out the Overlord Museum and the American Cemetery. The museum was, admittedly, really cool. There were dioramas, maps, figures, historical artifacts, actual tanks, and lots and lots of information. My brain was mush by the end, but I learned so much and had a fun time of it. Well, as much fun as a person can have while learning about a harrowing topic like WWII.

Speaking of harrowing, after the Overlord museum, we visited the cemetery and spent a good chunk of time there, walking among the graves and thinking about the sacrifices made by the brave men and women buried beneath our feet. It was a beautiful day, not too warm, and the cemetery was honestly beautiful. The most emotional part of the day was when someone played Taps. My friend Sean and I just stood there for a long while, listening.

Visiting the Beaches of Normandy was something I had always wanted to do. I grew up as a history buff and read so much about the D-Day Invasion in school that I knew I needed to visit its hallowed grounds one day. Honestly, I never thought I’d get the chance to, that it would be one of those goals that would elude me. It seems like a silly thing to consider as I sit here writing about how I was just there, but the feeling must come from knowing about places of great historical significance and feeling as though they are inaccessible, almost fictional. I’m pleased my friends were willing to visit with me and contemplate the ground we walked on.

Safe travels, and Happy Shooting!

Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 1: Paris

This past month was my third time in France, in the beautiful city of Paris. The first time I went was with family, and I had just taken my first color photography course and was a huge newbie. The second time I went was on a weekend from my study abroad program, and I forgot my camera battery and I ran out of camera film. This time, I was prepared!

My friends and I all met up in Paris for the start of what would be a long road-trip through France. We spent three full days in Paris, checking out the usual sites like the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, and the Champs Elysees. We walked around Montemarte, got lost a few times, ate breakfast from a cafe and were just a couple of tourists.

And I took excellent photos, at last.

 

For this trip to France I brought 4 cameras (which may seem excessive to some, but hear me out, and mind you, when I studied in England back in 2014, I brought like 9 cameras so this was light!) I brought my Canon Powershot (more on that later,) my Fuji Natura Classica (whose beautiful film has been discontinued UGH,) my iPhone, and a Fuji Instax.

The Powershot was okay. It was compact and light, and I brought it with me on my adventure to Asia in 2017, but as a professional photographer I was dying inside. Home girl really needs to invest in a full frame DSLR. Between the Powershot and my iPhone, I took a TON of photos of mediocre quality but awesome content.

 

One of the many magical things about Paris is, no matter how many times I have been, it is always exciting and new. This time when I went to the Louvre, I was able to see it in a new way– the last two times I had visited, I was focused on the arts and antiquities (I mean, as I should,) but this time I was able to focus on the architecture and the sheer madness that is the Mona Lisa gallery. (When my friends were hesitant on whether or not to dive into the fray, I was like YOLO FUCK IT LETS ROLL and man I regretted it but then again I got that fun shot of being totally crushed in the crowd so whatever haha am I right?)

There is something magical about wandering around Paris with good friends. I know Paris isn’t for everyone; some feel it is too dirty, too touristy, too busy. But that’s what I love about it. I got to see street artists making knock-off Disney princesses in the street, and I went into the Centre du Pompidou without knowing it was a library, of all things. I was a total creeper and photographed people unapologetically for probably the first time in my life (and my one friend, Sean, kept saying “oh my God ur such a crEEP”)

Most importantly, when visiting my absolute favorite place in the entire world, Notre Dame de Paris, the bell tower was open! It had not been open the last two times I visited, and I 100% cried.

 

So, I love Paris, with all of it’s tourism and charm. We did a lot of walking because honestly, that’s how you see the quirkiness of the city. We got lost looking for the Metra, found a playground in excellent golden hour light, and by our hostel there were the remnants of a carnival that looked straight-up terrifying and therefore photogenic af. If it weren’t for dragging my less-than-willing friends around the city, I wonder if I would have enjoyed Paris the third time around.

Nah, who am I kidding? I would have loved it regardless. It is the City of Love, after all.

 

I’ve noticed that the more I travel, the more my style as a travel photographer is realized. I’ve noticed I’m keen on patterns of light and shadow and people looking involved in whatever it is they are doing (was that a long way of saying I enjoy candids of strangers? Yes.) I sometimes worry if my work is becoming formulaic, but maybe that’s a silly thing to worry about when traveling around the world making photos. Honestly, just take the damn picture if you want to.

Happy Shooting and Safe Travels!

 

The Jade Plant Project

I’ve been working on the topic of trauma for a few years now. My visual work is all about it, I wrote my master’s thesis exploring how trauma is represented, I’ve read thousands upon thousands of words discussing the topic, and I’ve been through my own trauma and healing. I’ve become a sort-of-pro on the topic of trauma and expression.

I have a fine art practice, which is heavily based on my own experiences as a survivor of trauma. It works, it gets seen, but I wanted to do more. It’s one thing if I used my skills as an artist to broadcast my own story to the masses, and that was fine for a while, but I have this thing inside of me, that has always been there, that wants to do more. Not just for myself, but for others as well.

Back when I was working my agency job, retouching potato chips and Tupperware all day every day, I would frequently come home crying because I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. It’s a vague thing to cry about, because I was, in all actuality, doing plenty: I was working 40+ hours a week at the agency, tutoring weeknights, and teaching photography on the weekends. Still, I was unhappy, all because I wasn’t out in the world moving mountains or some shit like that.

My work, at it’s core, is to get people to understand that trauma is a complex thing that requires attention instead of silence. That is it, that is what it boils down to. So, instead of just having my fine art practice that centered around my own experiences, I’ve been slowly branching out and becoming a more socially engaged artist and activist.

This is why The Jade Plant Project was born. A few months ago, I was denied a grant that would allow me to work with survivors of sexual trauma, to create a book together about whatever it was the survivors wanted. It could have been anything, as the purpose was to lend my skill set to the group, not to control what it was they wanted to make. I didn’t get the grant though, which is never a good time, but I just shrugged it off and went to have lunch with my friend.

Okay, I really didn’t shrug it off– I vented a lot, and I was upset, but my friend was patient and talked me through a lot of my grief. Before I went home, she gave me a jade plant, even though I was hesitant to accept it. I’m great at accidentally killing plants, but my friend just said “Jade plants are extremely difficult to kill. You’ll be fine.”

It’s probably super cheesy that it was her words and her gift that inspired me to create this project, but there it is. The Jade Plant Project became the name of my new project: creating a publication for survivors to submit whatever they wanted, and it would be published. I envisioned photography, writing, doodles, prose, notes, napkin sketches, pet pictures– legitimately anything. And it didn’t have to be about their trauma, but it could be if they wanted it to be. The submitter could also choose to remain anonymous; that way, anyone, regardless of who they were and where they were on their healing journey, could submit to the publication.

I had a call for entry on a couple of different platforms, like facebook and tumblr, and I had a couple responses via email as well. After months of hard work, we finally have The Jade Plant Project Volume One– a collaborative effort on the behalf of 23 survivors of sexual violence. Additionally, the zine is FREE. I read once that if it wasn’t accessible, it wasn’t revolutionary, so here’s to hoping we can make a difference.

A special thanks to Kaiden Dunn, for the gorgeous cover art, Meg Hughey for being my go-to for all trauma resources, and the Agitator Gallery, for letting me launch my zine in their space! Shout-out to the tumblr community for helping me spread the news about the publication (and if you have a tumblr, feel free to follow us here!)

If you are going to be in Grand Rapids on August 25th, be sure to check us out at the Grand Rapids Zine Fest, where you can pick up a hard copy for FREE!

It’s a beautiful zine, small but powerful, and I am so excited to share it with you all.

To access the PDF of Volume One, click here.

P.S.– we’re already working on Volume Two, which is launching in October– only a couple months away! Since the zine is free, we are looking for donations to offset the cost of printing (each zine costs about $2.83 to create.) If you can spare some change, please donate to our Ko-Fi, which you can find here.

One Year After the MFA

It’s been a year since I graduated with my MFA in Photography. It’s been a wild year, full of growing pains, opportunities, and disappointments. I’ll be real with you: the first year after earning your MFA is pretty damn hard.

After I graduated, I ran off to Asia for two months, came home, and then assisted at an art camp in Michigan while traveling to and from Chicago for job interviews. I landed a great job as a professional retoucher and product photography for a top-tier branding agency. I thought it was going to be awesome.

And it was, for a while. I learned a lot from my supervisor about Photoshop (which was great because I thought I knew a metric shit ton, but man, PS is crazy,) and I really enjoyed seeing my photography on packaging. But, after a while, the grind was getting to me. I’d come home from work, exhausted from staring at two screens all day, and get to work on my own art practice. Some days I didn’t want to, but I forced myself.

I didn’t want to be a retoucher forever. I knew that, but I thought it would be a good gig for a few years, while I built up my teaching experience in the evenings and on the weekends. I’ve heard all about the artist grind, working 9-5 at a job you hate, then coming home and staying up late to do the real work. It was awfully romantic.

But, another truth: it’s bullshit.

There’s nothing romantic about the self-suffering. I’d come home crying from work some days because I was so fucking tired. There were evenings when I would be working on a teaching application or putting together a portfolio for a grant opportunity, but I would just stare blankly at my screen for two hours, zoned out. I stopped going to my friend’s art openings because I was either working late on some bullshit for PepsiCo or I was just too tired to talk to anyone.

The job got rough. There was no flexibility– I wasn’t allowed to have night time commitments, which threw a wrench in my teaching plans because I used to teach night classes. After getting time off to speak at SPE in November, I think my job figured out that I was very serious about my art career, and my otherwise fine work environment turned into something highly controlling and cult-ish. It got so bad, I quit via email with no notice.**

Another truth: that sucked, too.

But I was happier. I wasn’t climbing into my partner’s car after work, sobbing because I wasn’t changing the world by editing potato chips. After teaching on the weekends, I went home feeling full, not having this sense of impending doom hanging over my head at the prospect of returning to the agency that Monday for another week of emotional abuse.

I got my certification in substitute teaching, and was hired on-the-spot for both Chicago Charter Substitute Teaching Network and was also hired after a 5-minute interview for Chicago Public Schools. I make only half of what I was making at the agency, but I get to pick my own schedule– AND I’m allowed to have a life outside of work.

(Seriously– they used to get mad because I didn’t want to go to company happy hour. Uhm?)

So now, my life is a lot like this: Mon-Fri, substitute teach from 7AM-4PM. I get home, relax for a little bit, eat dinner, then get to work on my photography. Weekends I teach in the morning and spend the afternoon either making art, tutoring people in the area in photography, getting brunch with my friend of 10 years, or doing something fun in Chicago with my love.

The hardest thing about this past year was that it was everything I thought it wouldn’t be. I thought I’d have a job, come home, make art, have lots of exhibition opportunities and be well on my way to making waves in the art scene. But that’s not what happened at all.

What I’ve learned is that for some people, that’s exactly what happens. Maybe they work harder than you did, or maybe they didn’t. But those other people don’t matter– you have to focus on what you’re doing, on your progress, and on what you can do to succeed.

For me, it’s been excruciatingly slow progress–but it has still been progress! I sold some work this year, been in a few exhibitions, gave two artist talks, and I’m making connections in the arts community here in Chicago. I’ve been working on a book, a zine, and a fresh new body of work. But it is all slow going.

Another truth: you don’t make as much art as you did in graduate school.

That truth was difficult to reconcile. In school, that was my life: making photographs, thinking about art, talking about art. But really, that’s not life after graduation for most people. Most people have to make time for their art. Most people don’t crank out 12 images of conceptual work in two weeks time. Now it’s more like 1 or 2 photographs a month, and they both might be garbage.

But that’s okay. Instead of going to school all day every day, I go to work. Instead of staying up crazy hours to finish editing or writing something, I now go to bed at 9PM. I brainstorm on my commutes. I slowly buy my materials paycheck by paycheck. I’m submitting work I made 1-2 years ago to exhibitions because I’m still working on the new stuff.

The most important thing is to KEEP GOING. Slow progress is still progress.

I’ve been repeating my mantra, “Don’t Stop,” over and over since last May. I’ve been screaming it to myself these past three difficult months. Life after graduate school is such a pain in the ass, but you gotta keep trucking.

So, what’s next? What’s going to happen this second year after achieving my terminal degree?

I would tell you what I’m expecting, but really? Who fucking knows what’s going to happen. All I know is I’m not gonna stop, and you shouldn’t either.

Happy Shooting!

** I don’t recommend quitting your job with no notice, unless you have a safety net in place, like I did. I had a reasonable tax refund, money from my teaching gig on the weekends, and when all else failed, my mother lent me money. I know life sucks sometimes and your job may be toxic, but please, don’t do anything crazy without having a plan, otherwise you might end up worse off than you were before. Make informed decisions! ❤