Surreal Travel Photography

Whenever I travel, I take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

I mean, I’m still editing the photographs from my trip to Egypt almost two months ago! It can take forever and it is extremely tedious after a while, especially if you’re like me and your editing is formulaic.

Usually I just put on a podcast or some good jams and power through. But I don’t want my editing to feel like a chore. I like to play and be challenged. That’s why I’ve been working on something completely different than what my work is usually like.

My favorite thing to do is travel, for many reasons. I love experiencing new things, of getting out of my comfort zone and being rewarded for it with awe-inspiring sights or great food or amazing people. Travel is extremely weird, though; you go to a new place, sometimes where no one speaks your language and you can’t read the signs and it’s a little anxiety inducing. When you travel alone, traveling is introspective and even a little lonely. There are so many weird, surreal feelings you encounter when you go to a new place.

That’s why I’ve started taking a mixture of my travel photography, stock images, and design principles to create a new body of work currently titled “Surreal Explorations”. I wanted to try and capture the excitement and surreal qualities travel affords.

These do take a while to create, but I’m always excited with the results. They are a bit tricky, though, as my impulse is to use maximalism but in some cases, not incorporating a lot of elements does the place better justice. I also need to be conscious of my image choices, as I don’t want to disrespect the place I visited by accidentally making a negative commentary via juxtaposition. Big OOF.

I’m working on more, including explorations of Paris, the Philippines, more of Egypt, and a couple more of Tokyo. Keep an eye out!

Happy Shooting!

 

 

 

Egypt Experience Part Two: Saqqara

If you know too much about Egypt, you know there are a lot more things to see than just the Great Pyramids.

Our second day in Egypt was devoted to even more ancient sites, all outside of Giza and Cairo. We woke up bright and early, climbed on the bus, and headed out to the small city of Memphis, which used to be the capitol in ancient times.

The interesting thing about the drive to Memphis was the security checkpoints and the military police standing along the road from our route from Cairo to Memphis. We asked our guide, Yasser, about why there was so much security, and he explained how as a tour group, we only have access to certain roads. Egypt is extremely protective of its tourism industry, therefore there is a lot of security on the roads tourists travel on. We had extra officers because they knew that an American tour group would be traveling that day (a.k.a., us.)

Disclosure: I never, for a single moment, felt unsafe in Egypt. But man, as an American who has had very little experience with the military or police for that matter, it was quite jarring.

We arrived in the city of Memphis nice and early, and drove through the town where everyone was waking up and starting their day. We saw fresh meat hanging at the butchers, families getting their produce, and students on their way to school. I really wished that I could get off of the bus and wander around with the locals, as there were many fantastic photo opportunities. Alas, we had places to be and giant statues to see, so I just snapped some photos from our bus.

Our first stop for the day was at the Colossus of King Rameses II, one of the most prolific rulers of Egypt. He is responsible for the construction of many of the monuments and tombs that we are familiar with today, like Abu Simbel. Dude built a lot of stuff, especially statues of himself. Yasser explained that back in the day, before photography and print and traditional art as we know it, buildings and statues were regular PR for royalty. So, if you lived in 2000BC and you wanted everyone to know how much of a boss-ass-bitch you were, you had to build a lot of statues.

And since Rameses II is considered one of the greatest Egyptian kings, he built a lot. Including his big statue of himself that was chillin’ in the river for a long, long time. It was found in 1820 by an Italian traveller named Giovanni Caviglia, and today it now resides at an archaeological site with a museum built around it to protect it from the elements. Thing was HUGE. It’s always astounding to me just how BIG the Egyptians managed to build everything.

Go big or go home, I guess.

Just outside of the museum was a small market, where vendors were selling the usual tourist wares. This time, however, there was a dapper young man running around in his adorable suit, and he kindly posed for me. His little smile was the highlight of my morning. We also noticed that there were rugs being sold, which we hadn’t seen at all the day before at the tourist souks in Cairo by the pyramids. As it turns out, there are carpet-making schools in the area… but more on that later.

After our adventure in Memphis, we headed out towards Saqqara. Along the way we saw many goats and palm tree forests that seemed to stretch forever in either direction. And then, suddenly, no more trees, no more shade, just sand.

Saqqara is one of the largest cemeteries in the world and contains the tombs of several kings and other nobles. The oldest pyramid, the Step Pyramid, finds it home there as well. The Step Pyramid of Djoser is housed in a complex, where visitors enter a gate and walk through a roofed colonnade to reach the other side, which opens up to a huge court yard. The pyramid towers over the courtyard, practically blinding in the sunlight.

The pyramid itself was amazing. It is considered to be the oldest stone structure in the world and was a precursor to the Great Pyramids in Giza. Baller.

 

 

After Saqqara, we went to a nearby carpet school, where people of all ages were weaving Egyptian carpets. There were little little kids and older men, weaving away. Some of us had an opportunity to try it, so I gave it a shot. I thought I could do it easily since I’m an artist or whatever, but man. I blew it. Next thing I knew, a little girl was sitting next to me, weaving away and showing me how the pros do it.

They took us into the show room, which was bursting with color. Some of the carpets were so detailed it really blew my mind, with subjects like fairies, souks, Jesus, and intricate patterns. As always, sales people were following us around trying to keep us interested, but beautiful Egyptian carpets were wayyyyy out of my budget! The best part about this escapade was the sales people throwing carpets on the floor to show what they looked like, well… on the floor. They left a huge mess!

 

The rest of our day was pretty relaxing, with lunch at an adorable restaurant, where I met the love of my life, this piece of bread.

Get yourself a partner who looks at you the way I look at this bread.

We also met some goats on the street. Best day ever.

Next time: Karnak Temple, probably my favorite place we visited in Egypt.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

The Jade Plant Project Vol. 3

Volume 3 is now available online and in print! It’s wild to think that we are one issue away from our one year anniversary…

Checkout the PDF of Volume 3 Here.

As always, thank you to our contributors for trusting us with your stories. Thank you to our donors for helping us cover printing costs. And, of course, thank you to our readers. We hope that our little zine is teaching you about the impact of sexual violence.

If you’re in Chicago, you can pick up a copy of Volume 3 at the Chicago Zine Fest this May. We will have a table at the Plumbers Union Hall on Saturday, May 18th, from 11AM-5PM.

As always, if you want a hard copy delivered to you, please email thejadeplantproject@gmail.com. We won’t charge you for the zine, since it’s free, but if you want to give a donation, we’d appreciate it!

You can donate to our PayPal account: thejadeplantproject@gmail.com

Thank you, and see you for Volume 4!

 

Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 6: Chamonix

The crowning jewel of our trip to France was Chamonix.

Chamonix, located near where the borders of France, Switzerland, and Italy meet, is a resort-town. We drove in mid-afternoon and spent the evening wandering around finding dinner before heading to bed for an early night.

In the morning I woke up, made some coffee, and bundled up to go sit on the balcony and enjoy the view of Mont-Blanc, the highest summit in France. Once everyone was up, a few of us walked over to the cable-car that would take us up the mountain. The cable car was cheaper than was listed on the website, and ended up costing us only 15 euros round trip.

If you’re making the hike up to Lac Blanc, I highly suggest taking the cable car to cut time off of your trip up the mountain. The hike up (sans cable car,) is barren, boring, difficult, and quite frankly, a waste of time. You would have to wake up hella hella early to even make it to the Lac Blanc refuge at the end of the hike, and even then you may get there after dark. So, be smart, and take the cable car.

Our early-morning hike was pretty interesting, as it was extremely cloudy. I didn’t mind, and neither did my companions, as the higher we went, the thinner the clouds became and leT ME TELL YOU, there are fewer things as sublime as hiking the side of a mountain and looking over your shoulder to see a break in the clouds and THERE THEY ARE, THE MIGHTY AND MAJESTIC ALPS. It was like peek-a-boo, only epic instead of weird.

The hike up to Lac Blanc Refuge wasn’t too difficult, the hardest part being the incline at the beginning. Now, I’m not the most active person, as I’m just mostly on my feet all day and I run some mornings (I’m not a marathon runner–hell, I’m not even a mile runner,) so when I say it is do-able, I really mean it. There is a part of the hike where you have to rock scramble up, but as long as you have the proper shoes the worst that will happen is you get a nice leg workout.

When we reached the refuge, the cloud cover pretty much cleared up, and we were able to take in panoramic views with our own eyes and cameras.

We hung out at the refuge for a while, ate some granola bars and apples, and took lots and lots of selfies. Eventually we knew we had to hike back down to the cable car, as it stops running at a certain time and we did not want to be stranded in the French Alps. The hike down took a while, as we had to be careful coming back down the rocks, and that incline from the start of our hike became the craziest decline– I definitely slipped on my ass a few times, and I wasn’t alone.

We ended up having to wait in line for about 45 minutes to catch the cable car down, mais c’est la vie. My group and I kept taking turns to hold our place in line to take pictures, and when you’re in the company of friends, 45 minutes waiting for a cable car in one of the most beautiful places in the world isn’t bad at all.

When we got back down to the bottom of the mountain, we walked back to town to meet up with the rest of our group. As we debated our dinner choices, we stopped and saw an aerial performance mother-daughter duo, who were using bungees to do stunts in the spaces between buildings. It was a little thing that made an already special day that much more excellent.

We all stayed up talking before we went to bed that evening, and the next morning we woke up to explore the town some more and do some last minute souvenir shopping. We came across an older gentleman who was selling dog key chains, except they were made out of pipe-cleaners and the man made them himself. I practiced my French a little because I wanted to get his photograph, and I opened the conversation with “Hello, how are you today?” and he just responded with “No, don’t ask me that!” I laughed and he let me take his picture when I asked. Not the best quality image, but still one of my favorites from the trip.

After our shopping trip we had to leave this gorgeous place and make the drive to Lyon. We were genuinely sad to leave and most of us shared that we would definitely make an effort to return and spend more time in the area.  So, if you’re ever in the east of France, check out Chamonix. There are hikes for everyone, skiing, and a charming town with an old guy making awesome key chains.

Safe Travels, and Happy Shooting!

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!