Posts Tagged 'beauty'

Don’t be co-dependent on your story.

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We all have our story.  Pages and pages of stuff we travel with.  Baggage we hold on to.   Each of us with our own piteous little pieces of our past.  Your father walked out when you were little or your boyfriend cheated on you once upon a time.  You never got that promotion you always thought you deserved or  your school marks didn’t reflect how hard you worked.  You were not chosen for the A team so gave up sport. That guy never asked you out and then dated your best friend.  He left you.  She left you.  Little traumas.  Notches in the bark of our souls that make us who we are. We are filled to the brim with them.  Overflowing with them.  You can’t get to adulthood without bags of the stuff.  We carry it around and blame our messy lives on it.

I am guilty.  A father who was indifferent to me at best and drunk a lot of the time.  A shabby english comprehensive that, were it not for the daily register, would not have noticed I was there.  My father’s job that made us move every few years resulting in no roots anywhere,  no sense of belonging, no real home.  These are just aspects of my childhood.  I would not dare to tread publicly into my teen years let alone all the diatribe that followed.  I would not dare to go on pulling out the relentless garbage of my life and laying it out and telling you ‘see….that’s why’. That’s why I can’t. That’s why I’m too scared. I couldn’t possibly because….

Here I am in my very adult years trying to lay down that heavy load of history.  The mountainous pile of the former me that I have dragged around year after year. The relentless hurt that the last few years delivered in breathtaking quantities.  I am trying, in tiny daily steps, to release any co-dependency on my past.  To believe that ‘I can’ despite a life of believing that ‘I can’t’.

It’s not easy.  We are comfortable in our co-dependency.  It’s a beautiful excuse.  It’s a beautiful excuse to stay in our sweet co-dependent state. It’s a reason to not.  A reason to not write that book or start that business or take up that sport.  It’s a reason to not be easy in that relationship.  It’s a reason to not open our hearts to all the incredible possibilities.

As safe and comfortable as this co-dependency is you are not all that has been.  It’s done. It happened but now is now. It’s not who you are in this moment.  Place all those bags of stuff gently down and move on. Let your heart gently open to all the promise and wonder of what life can offer.

You are not what happened to you.

There is so much to come.

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Life will break you..but..

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In all my work I am incredibly privileged.  I get to meet and spend time with an amazing variety of people.   With my camera in hand I meet newborn babies and happy people.  I get to photograph people doing what they love with the people they love.  There is often laughter,  there is often joy and I get to capture it and give it back to them so that they can look at it forever.  Life however is not just filled with happy smiling moments.

There is laughter in my yoga classes too.  Lots of it.  There is laughter and joy but there are also tears.  There are tears and great moments of fear.  There is anxiety and anger and for some reason yoga brings it all out.  People come to class for all sorts of reasons.  The come in search of something, often not knowing what that thing is.  They come thinking they want to do a few asanas, touch their toes and sit in relaxation.  This happens, oh yes this happens, but shit happens too.  Last week a student touched her toes for the first time in her life and along with that moment came floods of tears.  Tears of joy.  Tears of release. Tears of achievement.  In that same class a student who could not find her balance instead found floods of tears in savasana (relaxation).  I held her head as her body shook with the weight of it all.  I watch as people release deep sighs in meditation.  I get to be part of their process of peeling back the layers of themselves.  I get to witness their ahh-aha moments.  I get to be part of their journey and it’s beautiful.

A while back I was asked if I would spend some time doing relaxation and meditation with a lady who was terminally ill.  The sweet, kind, beautiful person was understandably very anxious about the road that lay ahead of her. Once a week I would go to her apartment and for an hour we would talk and then we would sit in quiet meditation with me guiding her to find just a few moments of complete peace.  We would talk of life and death, of fear and trying to really live in the few moments she had left.  I witnessed her sorrow and pain.  I held her hand when she cried and helped her breathe through moments of unease.  I was witness to her most intimate fears.  I heard her stories and sat with her when she needed to find space in those stories and it was a beautiful thing.

Life will break you.  We come into the world devoid of fear or judgement, but life will break you.  Along our journey we bump headfirst into heartache and pain.  We suffer intolerable sickness.  We loose people we love and are brought to our knees by uncertainty.  We fix ourselves with pretend plasters and glue.  We hold it all together with imaginary layers that we think will keep out all the pain….but it won’t.  Life will break you.

I had the incredibly privilege of getting to know a person intimately in the last months of her life.  During our hours together I got to ask about living.  I got to ask her where her breaks had been and where she had built her walls.  I got to see where she had put her plasters and glue and I got to see her layers peel away.

At the end of the day all those layers of ours will come undone.  In the last days of your life each and everyone of those plasters will come unstuck and the glue will melt.  We put them there because we don’t want anyone else to see our pain.  We don’t want to be vulnerable.  We want others to only see the happy pretty parts of ourselves.  What people don’t realise is that underneath all the pretend fixing is where all the real beauty is.

When I see the layers fall and the personal first aid fail I smile.  When I watch in class as the quiet person in the corner finally lets go, I smile.  I smile because the real beauty of a person is in their vulnerability.  The real beauty of the human race is in our connection and when we are vulnerable we connect deeply.  Our beauty is in the layers of who we are.  It’s in our stories and not just the good ones.

It’s hard though.  Taking off the plasters is hard and it hurts.  Something happens though when we do.  When we show another person our pain we free them up to do the same.  When we gut vulnerable we let them get vulnerable too.

Here is the best part of it all.  Like a baby or a person in their last hours where there is a serenity and grace that is breathtaking, a person without all their plasters and glue is the most beautiful thing.

 

 

Happiness is……a secret

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I made a promise to myself a year or so ago when my life fell apart and all that I knew was no longer.  I promised myself that I would be open to possibilities.  That what landed in my lap was perhaps meant for me, despite my own curious dubiousness, and that I would explore what ever came my way.  That I would let life unfold just as it wanted. That I would release my resistance to outcomes and live in the moment. That I would enjoy those moments and treasure each and every one of them however heavy or light they felt.

I am proud to say that I have done just that.  I have braved weddings on my own, seen more movies than ever before, flown around the country visiting friends and agreed to work that I never, ever, imagined myself doing.  The rewards have been great and I am thankful for each and every opportunity to explore both the external world and my own inner self.

So when a week or so ago a dear friend messaged and asked me if I would like to go to Secret Sunrise I agreed, without even a moments hesitation and without even being fully aware of what it was.  I then moved on with my days and having marked the event in my calendar let it rest far in the back of my mind. I had just returned from a long weekend away in the far off provence of Limpopo when she messaged to remind me that out outing was imminent.  I have to admit I did emit a rather large sigh.  Despite my efforts to move out of all my self imposed comfort zones I am still a lover of routine and am deeply attached to my own personal space and alone time. I had just spent five days away with people and had a deep desire to sink back into the coziness of my world.

With a certain amount of weariness my alarm was set for four thirty in the morning and rise I did on an extremely hot and humid morning at the end of March.  We arrived at the city centre location only divulged the day before (hence the name Secret Sunrise) and were each presented with a set of headphones and guided to some stairs leading to the roof of the building.  There on that roof was a veritable wonderland of vegetables and flowers.  A rooftop garden so sweet it would take your breath away.  Recycled items turned into glorious flower containers, a giant chess board, a bus stop and fruit tress abundant with their offerings.  A fairy tale world in the most unexpected of places.

Headphones on we were guided though an hour of dance, meditation and unbridled joy.  To begin with I found myself hesitant. Unsure and self conscious. After all here I am on a rooftop at six o clock in the morning, dancing to music no one else can hear, waiting for the sun to make it’s easy way into the day.  Then I remembered my promise to myself.  To just let life unfold and enjoy all the moments that came my way.  I looked around me and saw nothing but sweet smiles.  The energy and joy was infections and it took only one or two breaths before I too found myself floating around the garden in a state of pure happiness.

I was breathless.  Something that started out with a sigh of regret at my eagerness to say yes turned out to be one of the happiest hours of my life.  The sheer pleasure of moving my body without a care in the world was exhilarating.  Catching my breath as the sun showed it’s sweet face over the roof tops I was deeply grateful to be there in that moment.

So this is how the story goes.  Be open to everything. Release your resistance to the outcome.  Let life unfold.  This was a true lesson from the universe and a very sweet reminder that pure joy comes in the most unexpected ways.

On love….

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I find that themes seem to run through the weeks of our lives.  I overhear one person talk on a topic, then another will mention that same thing in class, then yet another will approach me for advice….and so it goes.  Commonality between us.  Shared energy that bounces from one to another invoking all sorts of stories within us.  A collective energy that brings issues to the surface alerting us to the fact that we are not alone in dealing with them.

It seems that the shops are filled with red.  Red hearts and cute white bunnies with red heart shaped ears.  Red negligees that are made from whispers of material and heart shaped chocolates that wink at you as you walk past.  Desperate reminders of love.  All these commercial trinkets, pretty as they are, remind us only to love others.  They sell us the story that we will be complete once we have a person to love.  That we will be whole when we can fill our shopping basket with all things red and sweet waiting to be passed on to another.  The flaw in all this is that we have forgotten to love ourselves.  Somewhere along the path of our lives we stop loving who we are.  I am not sure where and when it happens but I do know that we do not come into this world full of self criticism.  We are not born thinking our legs are too fat or our hair the wrong colour.  We do not stand as children in front of the mirror and inhale deep breaths of self loathing.

So here we find our common theme.  I can no longer count the number of times a client has told me that they do not like themselves but over the past few weeks this issue has risen to the surface like bubbles in a pot of porridge.  One after the other I hear their words and feel their anger.  A vast number of them living in a state of perpetual self disappointment.   Awash with self loathing they pour their love into others and hide their inner neglect behind layers of denial.  I hear the words echo around the studio.  I can’t…. I will never be able…. I am no good at…. I am no good… I am too short… I am too tall…. I am to weak….I don’t like myself.  Oh so many ‘I don’t like myselfs’.  I see the ‘help me’ in their eyes and I feel the ache of sadness in their hearts.  At the end of class I ask them to think of things they are grateful for and then I ask question ‘did you put yourself on the list’?

I see it when they stand before my lens.  I look terrible in photos they say…. I am so ugly… I hate my hair…. I am so fat… I hear an endless diatribe of I am not good enough, I’m not pretty enough, I am just plain not enough utterances.  Kilos of criticism and hearts heavy with the weight of it all.

Stop being so hard on yourself.  Just stop.  You are all beautiful.  Every single last one of you is beautiful.  How do you expect anyone else to love you if you do not love yourself.  Stop hating your arms that you believe are imperfect.  If they can hold and hug then they are good enough.  Stop hating your legs that you believe are not long enough or thin enough. They carry you where you want to go…thank them and be grateful for them.  So when people ask me how to stop hating themselves I say this.  Stop standing in front of that mirror and criticising everything you see.  Start by liking one thing.  Be thankful for that, whatever it may be and how ever insignificant you think it is.  Then tomorrow find another thing. If you can’t find something to like then just find something to be grateful for.  You may not love your eyes but you can be grateful that they enable you to see.  You may not love your feet but you can be grateful that they carry you where you want to go.  Keep doing this and one day the dislikes will turn into likes and the you will slowly start to see all the beauty that others find so endearing.

I am not suggesting for one moment that we don’t all have room for growth and improvement.  Without doubt we all have areas we need to work on be it in the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual planes of our lives.  There is always work to be done but you can start by being kinder to yourselves.  Get over that initial hurdle and then start working on the things you can change and gradually accepting the things you can’t.  Go back to being that kid in front of the mirror.  The one who believes in his reflection. The one who believes he is invincible and strong and just perfect the way he is.

Loving someone else will never make up for not loving ourselves.

 

 

 

The value of us

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My youngest daughter was recently doing a university assignment about the value of photographers in society. So often photography is viewed as a sort of ‘pretend’ profession. As if what we doing is just play play and we are not serious people doing serious work. Perhaps because for so many it is a hobby and they cannot comprehend that what they do in their spare time is what we do each day. That we don’t share their relentless rat race grind and actually get to spend our days doing stuff that is fun and creative and rewarding.

Lets think for a moment though. To take inspiration from Michael A Singer, we are just tiny specks on a planet that is spinning wildly through space in a vast galaxy that is just a tiny speck in an ever expanding universe so vast we cannot begin to comprehend its size. Why are we taking anything seriously?

Really, just think about that. Think about what is really happening here. People cling to the idea that they are important, that what they do is important and yet if they were to pull back and look at the bigger picture….the really big picture, the huge ever expanding universe picture, they would realize that they are not. We are made up of atoms that were around in the big bang. Some made you and some made me. We will die and those atoms will recycle and the space we left will be filled with another. You are not that important and neither am I.

In my humble opinion we should live our lives with some sort of humility. No one is that important. Loose the ego and enjoy the ride. What ever it is you do it puts food on the table and a roof over your head, but if you look at the big picture, the ever expanding universe picture, you will realize how totally insignificant it really is. I get to share in peoples moments and give them back to them in the form of memories that they can hold in their hands.   I get to have fun on my journey. I get to be creative and see the beauty in everything and that is so awesome but it is not less or more than whatever it is that the man on the other side of the café with the large ego and self important attitude does to fill his days.

Take a moment today to step back and think about this whole big picture. Make a point to let go of your ego and have fun on your journey for that is all it is. You are atoms clinging to a planet that is spinning wildly though space and so am I. It’s like a giant fairground ride so go ahead, relax and enjoy it.

When we forget to see the beauty

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I have in the last three months travelled the 1700km of road between Durban and Cape Town three times. Because of Lesoto sitting in the middle of the country one has to drive half way to Johannesburg before turning down towards the Cape. Starting in Durban this road winds up through the spectacularly beautiful rolling green hills of Natal to the Drakensberg mountains and the winding misty high of Van Reenen’s Pass at 1768 meters. Not long after that one has to exit the main freeway and travel across the Free State to join the freeway that will take you to Cape Town.

Natal with its summer rainfall is lush and green then almost immediately after leaving the freeway one hits the wide open spaces of the Free State. Large expanses of golden grass, fields of sunflowers and big blue cloudless skies. Over the years the Free State has gained a reputation for being ugly. Personally I find those big blue skies and golden spaces refreshingly beautiful.

Eventually this road meets the N1 and so begins the more than 1000km of pretty much straight road through the Karoo. It is almost impossible to imagine that the Karoo covers nearly a third of South Africa given the size of this country. The vastness of this space is overwhelming.  Mile after mile of desert scrub and skies so big they almost seem impossible. When one first sees this the heart cannot help but expand as it takes in the views of this incredible part of our world.

Finally after many many hours one comes over another mountain pass and before you in breathtaking contrast lies a lush green valley of vineyards, so in contrast to the harshness of the Karoo, ones breath is taken away once again.

So you travel this road for the first time and are mesmerised by the size and variety of what lies before you.  Every mile travelled produces yet another gaspingly exquisite scene and so the heart swells and the spirit lifts.  Then you travel the road again.  You know now that it is long and you are not seeing it all with fresh eyes and so the heart closes a little along with the eyes that prefer rest now rather than wide eyed wonder.  Then you travel it a third time and now you are used to the beauty that lies around the next corner and think only of where the next coffee stop is.  You close off to the wonder of it all.  You forget to look.  You forget to see.

We do this everyday in our lives. We live in a place and become so accustomed to the beauty there we forget to see it.  We forget to see the beauty in the people we know. We stop looking at the roses in our gardens and stop inhaling the scent of the coffee before we drink it.

In art we must not do this. We must see the beauty in everything, even the mundane. We must always look with fresh eyed wonder as if we are seeing it for the first time. Shooting stock for Getty forces me to do this. How can I make the ordinary beautiful and interesting. How can I use the light to enhance the most simple everyday scene.

Perhaps though we should not do this just for the sake of art. Perhaps we should do it for ourselves.  When you travel about your world today look about and see it all with fresh eyes. Look at the way the light falls as the hours pass and how it changes what you see.

Do yourself a favour and look again so that you see the beauty in your own world. Don’t close your heart and eyes to this. Open them as if your were seeing it all for the first time and then be grateful for that.

 

 

 

 

 

Making space in art and life

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Space is one of my favourite words.  I love all that it implies and how it relates to our lives and our art.  Do you carve out space for yourself during your day?  A few moments of silence.  It might be with your early morning cup of coffee when you take time to smell the scent of the morning breeze and all that the day has to offer.  Or perhaps when you go to the gym or for a run or maybe even just when you drive to work.  Or in the last few moments before you go to sleep when you utter the last few sighs of your day.  It does not matter how you find your space – just that you do.

In yoga we talk of making space in our bodies.  Before I go into a pose I think about where in my body I need to make space.  If I am doing a backbend I need to make space in my spine and perhaps my shoulders.  If I am doing a forward bend I might need to make space in my hips and between my ribs, and I always, always need to make space in my mind.  I carve out space for myself everyday on my mat or when I go for a run.  With each inhale and exhale I release the old, the cramped and the clutter from my mind and body and make space for the new.  Old thoughts, old patterns and old habits are let go and then there is all that beautiful space for creativity to unfold.  Space allows room for dreaming.  It is when the stirrings of new ideas begin and images already dreamt can evolve towards reality.

I like space in art.  It allows the viewer to linger and imagine.  It allows the viewer to dream.  What they dream of does not matter.  It only matters that they do.  Allow space in your photographs for a sigh from the viewer.  Space for their gaze to wander and wonder.  Make space in your stories so that the reader has room to imagine.  Space for those inhales and exhales to happen.  Even if you are shooting stock, as I do, allow space for words in your photographs.

Space, is to me, one of the most underrated of modern day concepts.  Parents and schools fill their children’s lives and give them no space to breathe.  Children need space to dream.  They need to lie under a tree and look up at all that beautiful space in the sky and imagine.  They need to be allowed to make space in their bodies with movement.   They too need spaces in their stories.

Space is not necessarily meant to be filled.  It can be just space.  Let it be that.

 

 

 

You are going to fall…do it anyway!

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Yesterday  I was working on a yoga pose called Scorpion ( Vrischikasana).  This is a very challenging inverted pose.  It involves balancing on your forearms, head raised and a strong backbend so that your feet touch your head.   This pose requires strength (particularly in the upper arms and shoulders) a supple back, a strong core and a great sense of balance. When executed properly this pose is like a work of art.  It has a beautiful flow.  It has curves and balance and is exquisitely beautiful to look at.

Before I attempt an advanced pose such as this I spend a few moments finding my breath and my centre.  It requires all my concentration to find my balance once I am inverted and before I move into the backbend.  I know that it is going to take me many many attempts to master this pose and that before I do I am going to fall, and fall again, and again.

There are so many beautiful parallels between yoga and life and the lessons I learn on my mat I transfer to my life.  I am going to fall in life too. Again and again, but thats OK so long as I keep trying.

I was alone in the studio at the gym on a quiet sunday afternoon.  I don’t suppose anyone even knew I was in there.  There was no one to catch me when I fell…but I faced my fear and did it anyway.  It took a huge dose of courage and intense concentration to even get myself inverted as I am not used to balancing on my arms in that way. It took an even bigger dollop of courage to bend and lift my head.  There is an immediate tendency to fall down as you lift your head as your centre of balance has shifted.  The only way to stay in balance is to bend in the opposite way to that which our bodies are used to.  I concentrate on my breath.  If you don’t breath you won’t have the strength to stay inverted.

Some people use props when trying a new and challenging pose like this.  Support from a wall or perhaps a block or a strap to keep the arms in the correct position.  Personally I don’t like the use of props in my yoga or in my work.  I like to just go ahead and fall, over and over, tumbling about in all my beautiful ridiculousness until I find my way.

So how does this pertain to life and our work as an artist.  Well it’s pretty simple really.  You are going to fall.  Probably a lot of times and if someone is always there to catch you then you will never really master things.  It’s OK for a bit but eventually you just have to go ahead and do it on your own.  You are going to make mistakes that’s for sure.  You are going to mess up and and look silly for a while but guess what….no one is watching.  They are all too busy messing up and falling over themselves.

You need to keep doing it until that sweet moment arrives when you find your balance and your work of art is finished. If you don’t keep trying you will simply never master it.  Go ahead and fall.  It doesn’t matter how many times.  Take a thousand photographs before you find one that has all that perfectly balanced light.  Write a thousand pages until the one before you has all the right curves and sweet spots.

You are all alone in your studio and no one is watching.  Go ahead and fall but but please just do it.  Face the fear and fall because one day you will master that art and the world will gasp at it’s beauty.

 

 

 

Let’s get vulnerable

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Why do we have portraits taken?  I believe it is because we want a witness to our lives.  As proof that we existed and that we were here on this earth, even if just for a short while.  There is a vulnerability in the very idea that we want witness to our physical experience of an impermanent life.  It surely won’t matter once we are gone but we feel a certain security in thinking that our children perhaps will show their children or grandchildren a photo of us.  That they will tell stories of our beauty perhaps, or our courage or whatever part of us we want the world to most admire.  It makes us feel a little immortal. That a small part of us will stay here and be remembered.  That we will still be talked about and mentioned in occasional whispered conversations on a starry night.

In truth we are all a little frightened of being insignificant, that our lives will have been pointless sequence of breaths, devoid of meaning and all too quickly forgotten.  So while we are here, bound in our earthly bodies, we take photographs.  These photographs witness our daily existence.  They mark our happy occasions and show the world the part of us that we want it to see.  We are reluctant to reveal any part of us that we feel is not perfect, or in our tender eyes what we presume others want to see of us.  People are afraid to show their vulnerability, perhaps in fear of being judged, but we are all vulnerable to some degree.  Even the most confident of us.

There is sometimes a moment, when taking a portrait, when the subject has relaxed and has formed an easy relationship with the lens.  That that need for proof subsides and they go somewhere quiet and shake hands with their soul and suddenly there is all their beautiful vulnerability in your viewfinder.  It is usually at a time when they think you are not looking, when you as the photographer make a play for time and lay claim to changing your ISO or getting your focus right.

This vulnerability often presents itself in the beginning as nervousness. Tap into it.  The art is in allowing the subject to loose the nerves but retain the vulnerability.  It is so extraordinarily endearing when people are vulnerable, when they show a little more of themselves,  a little of their shadow self.  These are the portraits that turn my head and make me linger.  Our social media is awash with photographs of people showing their superficial selves.  It’s boring!  Give me a portrait that has humility and vulnerability.  Show me something of the subject that I don’t normally see.  Present me with a glimpse of their shadow self and make me gasp at the beauty I see there.

Find a way to make people linger over your portraits.  Make them want to stay awhile and pause there. Make them curious about the subject and most of all show them the unexpected.

On the beach with Ellen

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This is my beautiful eldest daughter Ellen.

She is currently living in Cape Town working the modelling season there.  She is represented by Ice Models in Durban and Cape Town.  The Durban office asked me to take some natural, no make up photos of her for her portfolio.  Now I don’t normally get to shoot Ellen much so this was a rare privilege.

For the months that Ellen was home before her move to Cape Town we would head down to the beach every morning to do our yoga.    I have cherished this time with her. Our quiet mornings watching the sun rise.  So many moments of laughter and joy and an equal amount of moments with tears.  It has been an absolute privilege to have watched her grow and mature during this time into this amazingly self-contained, self-assured beautiful young woman.  Yoga has a way of doing that to people but more on that in another post.  Always beautiful on the outside I have seen her inner beauty develop beyond that which I thought possible at such a young age.  I envy her this journey.  I wish that I had travelled this road years ago.

After our yoga we headed down the beach to near a lagoon where there are some wooden steps coming down from the dunes.  The light was already quite harsh by this time so we did not have ideal shooting conditions and she was facing into the sun.  Most of us would look dreadful right!  No make up, post exercise, harsh sunlight and facing into the sun.  I love this photograph for many reasons but mainly because of all those reasons.  This is Ellen in all her glorious bare beauty.  She has, in her eyes, a look of such contentment and determination.  What a wonderful combination.

Her sandy coloured cardigan blended beautifully with the wooden steps and her hair naturally bleached from our mornings on the beach just added to the muted tones.  I did a Scott Kelby process on this photo.  If anyone wants to know how to do this it is in Scott’s photoshop book and is a lovely, slightly desaturated look that works so well here.

I still do my yoga every morning, continuing with my own journey through this messy thing called life.  I miss her presence beside me.  She pushed me to achieve things I did not think I would, she encouraged me to be more, as I hope I did her.  We have both grown enormously in those hours side by side in the exquisite morning light.  She has far to travel and what an incredible journey it will be.

 

 

 



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