Ephram

"Ephram...like in the Bible", he said when we asked his name.  When we moved in to the Farmhouse, our friend CaspersMom (the sweetest lady, but I can never remember her name, so she is just 'caspersmom') sent a garden boy to help clean up the garden.  After a few hours, Ian asked Ephram if he was looking for work.  "Yes" he replied.  "Are you married?  Do you have kids?"  "Yes" he said once more.  "Come by tomorrow with your family and stay the week."  We liked Ephram, he worked hard and seemed like a good soul.  He showed up the next day with Colleen and little Smanyilay.  She was a tiny thing, and she screamed her head off every time Mona came near.  

It's strange for me to have 'houseboys' and 'maids'... It just seems so colonial, so not me.  But here in South Africa it is the norm, and I just tell myself that I will treat them with the upmost kindness. One can get very used to it as well;  floors are cleaned daily, the garden kept, leaves raked, chores done, dishes washed... "It's just you two here?"  Colleen asked.  "Yes, just us..."  "No kids?"  she asked, perplexed.  "No..."  and I added "not yet" to make us both feel better.  This is a four bedroom house, too large for just two people, especially in their eyes I'm sure. They are three, living in a space the size of a modest bathroom, yet within two days, they turned it into a quaint room, humbling me as I saw the pride they took in making it a make-shift home.  

They went home to their other home for the weekend...I wonder what it looks like, what they are like when they are not at work for the mlungu.  Before they left, I asked them if they wouldn't mind taking some photos, a family shot.  They agreed, and just before hopping in the car with Ian to go home, I got to see them for a few minutes as a family.  

Ephram & Smanyilay

Ephram & Smanyilay

ephram_72-2.jpg
small-1.jpg


Tagging along to go tagging: Impala

One of my favorite days on the reserve so far has been tagging along with the men on their mission to tag one of Joe's female impalas and move her to another camp within his farm.  She had jumped the fence during a fright from a storm, and now they needed to get her back, as the cold was about to set in and she was terribly frail.  I showed up with Lara, the little beagle pup I was sitting, and we all had coffee while the boys contemplated strategy.  Joe got the syringes ready, loaded up the dart gun, and made his plan.  "It takes eight minutes once the dart hits her, we have to move fast"  he said, eyes squinting with a stern calm.  

After about thirty minutes of slowly preparing, everything moved in warp speed.  Joe shot her through the bathroom window, we roared towards him with the truck, swooping him up, all eyes on the target and where she bolted off to.  "There she is!" shouted one of the guys, "don't lose her!" and we sped over the bumpy road through the bush on her trail.  "Six minutes."  Joe said calmly, but you could feel the tension filling up every inch of the cab we were sitting in.  We had her in sight, and saw her start to wobble as she tried to walk.  "Seven minutes..."  She was frozen now, her gaze in our direction as our eyes darted back and forth between her and the clock.  I was amazed that right at eight minutes, she fell.  And not two milliseconds later, Lara and I were alone in the cab, watching the boys dash out to grab her.  They picked her up and carefully walked back as fast as they could, laying her down in the back of the truck, one stayed in the back cradling the impala while we sped off once again to make it to the other camp.  "We have only a few minutes to get her there before she starts to come to, and she's very fragile right now", Joe explained.  Along the way, we heard a yell from the back, "She's going into shock!", we saw her convulsing, and time seemed to go in slow motion.  We made it to the camp, the truck was not even stopped before Joe popped out and began to assess his girl and administer aid to her.  My heart was pounding!  Was she going to be ok?  We were racing against the clock, both for the dart to wear off, and for her own little body to hold out long enough for Joe to help her.  He gave her several shots, and her body started to recover, her piercing eyes started to open, groggy but alright.  It seemed we were in the clear.  Little by little, she showed more signs of life, I stroked her to say it's okay, and her big brown eyes shone into mine;  I was overwhelmed with appreciation that I got to feel the magnificence of this being.  

There are so many people out there who pay to come to Africa and kill.  I am lucky to be on the side of those whose aim is to protect and care for such beautiful creatures.  When you see and feel these animals close up, you absorb a piece of them into your soul, and you are never the same.  I may have given up some of the creature comforts in life to move to Africa, but what I receive here is beyond what any fancy new app or hot new happy hour can ever give, and I am grateful.  

seven minutes...

seven minutes...

Following Richard's top 10 tips for success...

I am excited to say I'll have the pleasure of meeting Sir Richard tonight as I photograph the screening and panel discussion of his documentary, "Breaking the Taboo" here in San Francisco.  Richard, I hope you enjoy this post, inspired of course by your article in the BBC on March 14th.  Please leave me a comment & let me know what you think!  Cheers & I hope SF is giving you a warm embrace! 

Follow your dreams and just do it!

 

My dream last year was to bring photography to the children of Dumphries, the village that borders Richard's private game reserve, Ulusaba, in South Africa.  Sure, I was afraid... What if I failed, what if I can't raise the money, what if I all of the sudden couldn't take a good photo anymore, what if, what if, what if... I just put one foot in front of the other, made a commitment to myself and to others, and did not let intimidation change my path.  My reward??  THIS!  These amazing kids, memories that will make me smile for a lifetime.  And, what a bonus that I got to help raise money for these incredible people who stole my heart over and over again.  

Shelly with the kids at Dumphries, January 2014.

Shelly with the kids at Dumphries, January 2014.

Make a positive difference and do some good!

 

I searched for a long time within myself to find the path I wanted to take within the photography field.  I tried it all:  Portraits, weddings, photo booth, head shots, travel & lifestyle... until I finally found my purpose.  A business that makes a difference.  Photography that changes the world, even just a little bit, through the connections it brings.  Doing good, sharing souls.   

Connecting with the teens at Mawewe high school.

Connecting with the teens at Mawewe high school.

Believe in your ideas and be the best!

I am trying, Richard, I am trying!!  I DO believe in my ideas, I have so many of them and try to catch up with them on a daily basis.  It's difficult to get past the monkey mind that tells you 'you don't have time', 'someone else will do that, you can't', or 'what makes you think you can do that?'.  But, day by day I get past small obstacles in order to persevere, so I think being the best for me right now equals 'being the best I can be today, right now in this moment'.  

Shelly in Tulum, Mexico for her 40th birthday celebration!

Shelly in Tulum, Mexico for her 40th birthday celebration!

Have fun and look after your team.

Paju and I did a photo shoot together for an audition he was going to.  He called me the day before and asked if I had time, and I was honored to be the one to photograph such a gorgeous man, both inside and out.  To start the shoot, we streamed Beyonce on the JamBox, poured a glass of sav blanc, and then got to it.  Of course, we had to end the shoot hugging an jumping.  This kind of fun is what makes me believe even more that I am on the right path! 

Shelly having fun during a photo shoot with the one and only Paju Munroe.

Shelly having fun during a photo shoot with the one and only Paju Munroe.

Don’t give up.

The way I've gotten to this place now is that I have never given up on trying.  In the words of someone I adore and respect, ehem, "If you don't try, nothing happens."  So, I keep trying, keep getting excited about ideas, and learn from the failures and the trials that have come with them all.  And at the end of the day, nothing is ever a failure, because I took a risk.  That's what life is all about, and the uncomfortableness that comes along with it is truly precious.  

Taking it all in... Sedona AZ

Taking it all in... Sedona AZ

Make lots of lists and keep setting yourself new challenges.

Black Rock City has given me the opportunity to challenge myself in ways I never knew.  It goes deep into your core and brings up all of the things you try to suppress in the default world, then it sits and watches you try to get out of facing them.  If you let it in, beauty and truth arises.  The challenge is in not running away from it, and even more, in welcoming the demons to dinner so that you can have a conversation over a bottle of wine that has almost turned.  The freedom and growth you feel afterwards carries you off the Playa, and gives you strength to keep making those lists that feed your greatest challenges.

View from the temple, BRC 2011

View from the temple, BRC 2011

Spend time with your family and learn to delegate.

I don't get to see my family as much as I'd like, but when I do, I dive in and get dirty.  These little guys can tackle me in the grass, soak me with a hose, and pull my arms off, I don't care, I love it!  My goal is to spend the most quality time with them when we are able to be in the same place, and let them know that they should be very excited when Auntie Shelly comes to town!  My plan for the future involves a lot of travel, so I will have to learn the art of delegation and choosing projects wisely.  I know how fast time flies, but seeing how much others can accomplish with way more on their plates than me is an inspiration that keeps my sights high.  

Shelly and her nephews, getting down 'n dirty!

Shelly and her nephews, getting down 'n dirty!

Try turning off the TV and getting out there and do things!

This one, I have zero problem with.  TV is not my thing, although I do have my secret infatuations with certain actors, and can be captivated by any number of "top tatoo/chef/designer/insert-any-word-here show" if you catch me on the right day.  I don't have many regrets when it comes to the things & places I've gotten out to explore, but when I think of just how many more experiences there are out there left undiscovered by this blonde girl, it kinda makes my head spin - and gets me planning!  Now, if I could only get myself off of this laptop more hours of the day... 

Exploring the streets of Paris, 2013

Exploring the streets of Paris, 2013

When people say bad things about you, just prove them wrong.

Just keep going, let it pass through you, know that you can't please 100% of the people all of the time, and give them your inner "roar!" of awesomeness to show that you are amazing no matter what anyone else has to say otherwise.  This photo was taken on my 40th birthday!  Who says you have to grow old?!?!  

Lucky 13 bar in San Francisco, 2013

Lucky 13 bar in San Francisco, 2013

Do what you love, and have a sofa in the kitchen.

Whether it's a sofa or the ground, cuddle with friends!  My love of creating different photo opportunities has led me to capture some of my favorite moments with those I adore & love.  This project at Burningman was to capture people in cuddle puddles from above.  It was one of my favorite projects, and whenever I feel like connecting with friends, the camera always comes out... whether it be on the couch, in the kitchen, or totally dusty!  

The "above" photo project, Burningman 2011

The "above" photo project, Burningman 2011

Narita rest house

I was not expecting to have the first stamp in my new passport be Japan.  But then, as they say, "The best laid plans...".  My trip started out close to perfection;  I got a ride to the airport from a dear friend, there was no line at check-in, I got the priority line at security, flight was on time, and I had met the captain who was flying me to Tokyo the day before when he was commuting on the flight I was working.  Serendipitous!  To top it off, when I boarded the plane, I realized that I knew part of the crew as well, they were friends of my good friends who I had been out with before in the city.  Small world.  As I settled into 17F, "comfort economy", the woman behind me says "Hello again!".  She was the one beside me at the ticket counter, I noticed she was a very friendly, savvy frequent traveler.  Her name was Mirabel from Manila, I kneeled on my seat facing backwards to her and we started chatting about the places we were going, and some places we had been.  In the midst of it all, we found a very special connection, and both feel that we were destined to meet.  As I was sending off my last texts, I heard another voice form the aisle, "I think we have a seat for you up here"  she said, and I grabbed my splay of belongings, trying not to let them all fall out of my arms as I followed her to the first class pod.  "I'll come find you later!"  I said to Mirabel, and we both smiled at each other in gratitude.  During the flight, my new favorite word became "lie-flat-bed".  My God, what a difference!  Sashimi, Rioja vino tinto, soup, flan... I was in heaven!  It was the best flying experience I've ever had, and again my mind knew I was destined to be there.  Side note, I have always been afraid to fly Delta due to a recurring dream I had when I was younger.  Like Ritchie Valens.  So I never booked a flight on Delta.  Ever.  In all my years of flying.  Wait, there was one hop from Boston to New York, yes, and I remember holding my breath the whole way, but since I escaped doom on that flight, I thanked the Gods and never booked again... until yesterday.  "Time to get over this!"  I told myself.  So all of my luck on the flight was like my angels guiding me safely, helping me to feel calm, protecting me.  I guess there was just so much goodness and luck packed into that flight that my luck ran out once I reached Japan.  At the Delta guest care desk, they informed me that I was not allowed to fly internationally on them, that we had no agreement and there was nothing they could do. My flight was supposed to leave in an hour, there was only one more flight to Bangkok that night, and it was on another airline that I was not allowed to fly!  I felt panic rush through my veins, I got a little light headed and my world shrunk into a little circle of "Fuck."  I was now stuck in Japan, no airlines that I could fly were going to Bangkok, and I was afraid I wouldn't even be able to get back to the US.  In come three amazing and stunningly gorgeous ANA airways ladies who all seemed like it was their mission from above to help me.  I found a way to rebook via Cathay Pacific the next morning (thank God, they were the only ones who I could purchase a ticket on-line with), and I set out to find a hotel.  I remember at that point thinking back to when my brother and I were traveling around Europe and we missed the train from Madrid to Paris.  He had the panic in his eyes that I had felt tonight, but I knew that we would be ok.  Things always worked out, sometimes even better than the original plan. 

This little hotel room is just how I remembered Japan.  Everything is small.  The ceilings are low, there is a kimono in the drawer, green tea with a tiny cup on the table, slippers, and a heated toilet seat.  Instead of the bible, there is The Teaching of Buddha (which, I really would love to take with me...along with the kimono...and tiny cup...)  Opening to a random page, I like the following passage:  "There are three kinds of people in the world.  The first are those who are like letters carved in a rock; they easily give way to anger and retain their angry thoughts for a long time.  The second are those who are like letters written in sand; they give way to anger also, but their angry thoughts quickly pass away.  The third is those who are like letters written in running water; they do not retain their passing thoughts; they let abuse and uncomfortable gossip pass by unnoticed; their minds are always pure and undisturbed." 

So, as I continue on this journey, I will try to have my letters written in water, and take things as they come, knowing yet again that it is not only the destination, but the journey that teaches you along the way.  

storyboard136.jpg
storyboard139.jpg
storyboard140.jpg
storyboard142.jpg
storyboard141.jpg

Honored to be featured with Virgin.com!

Today, I woke up to my dream of having my journey in Africa featured with Virgin!  What an honor to be connected with such an amazing group of people, out there helping others to change the world!  If you've clicked through the article and landed here, welcome!  I invite you to scroll down through the lions and elephants to take a deeper look into the month I spent with the communities in South Africa.   I love and appreciate comments, and look forward to having conversations with you, so enjoy the posts, enjoy the photos, and come back often!  If you haven't read the article yet, here you go!  http://www.virgin.com/unite/our-community/changing-the-world-through-a-lens

Much love,

Shelly 

 

The Kingdom of Swaziland

Re-u-ni-ted, and it feeeels so good!... The song is stuck in my head this morning as I return to my blog, I did miss it, like a new puppy that I haven't seen in too long and comes to give me wet kisses.  

I sit here a bit dazed however, trying to think of where to start, what to say first, which photos to post, how to describe...  My world has been thrown off its axial tilt, and I am in love with its new orientation.  I'll start with the kingdom of Swaziland...

"What do you think about going to Swaziland for a few days?"  he asked, as we started to plan our five days together.  "Sure, I'm up for anything!"  I had no idea what or where this was, but apparently it was awesome.  Just 120 miles by 81 miles, Swaziland is a tiny, but breathtaking monarchy which sits inside of South Africa, bordering its north east side with Mozambique.  It took us a little over three hours to drive there from the backpackers in Nelspruit where I was dropped off by my new friends Sue, Lisa, Prince, and Mbali.  I walked into Funky Monkey slightly nervous to find my travel companion, as we hadn't seen each other since our wedding over a year ago. (Yes, I will remain cryptic for the time being, but don't worry, you'll get the whole story soon.)  As we saw each other, smiles filled us and we came together in a hug that said all was well, arms around each other we walked out to say goodbye to the gang as they wished us a happy journey.  I found myself having a hard time looking away from him, as it felt surreal, almost like we had been here all along.  We sat poolside and chatted with his friends, telling our story in brief and sipping on Castle Light beers.  I was happy to be on yet another adventure, having no clue as to where we were headed, and not having a care in the world about it.  I knew I was in good hands.  I loved these people around me instantly.

I'd never been in this part of the country before, we were headed towards the eastern plateau, the Highveld, which rises to 5,700 feet.  The drive was like nothing I had expected, there were layers upon layers of mountain range silhouettes in the distance, soft, green rolling hills scattered with granite and occasional farm houses, waterfalls peeking out from the valleys.  The DJ had a perfect soundtrack playing, and I was mesmerized by everything my eyes were taking in.  He said, "Just wait, you're gunna be blown away by this place..."  As we soared around the last curve, he showed me, "There!" and pointed to the speckles of huts on the hill ahead.  My jaw dropped as we slowed down to turn onto the dirt road, as I wondered how I got so lucky.  

 

DSC05920.jpg
DSC05917.jpg
DSC05916.jpg
DSC05932.jpg
DSC05930.jpg
DSC05927.jpg

The Fantastic Four!

Let me introduce you to my young photo prodigies, Mavis, Nthabisang, and Gerald.  I have been with them for three days now, and they are slowly stealing my heart.  We've had so much fun wandering around Mawewe finding photo subjects and playing with our cameras.  They are super sweet, eager to learn, and they are taking their photography course very seriously.  I absolutely love watching them in their elements, composing shots, posing their teachers, sharing what they have shot with their friends.  It's so cool to see, and I am so grateful that Mr. Sibuyi hand picked these three lovlies for me.  

Then there is Trevor.  I met him when I first arrived at Mawewe last week, he was tutoring a girl in the library.  He impressed me with his cobalt blue suit and deep pink button down shirt.  Every day he has been dressed to the nines, even though it is hot and horribly humid out.  I learned that he recently returned to his community after spending six years abroad in China at University.  He wanted to come back home to teach the children of his town how to excel in life and share his knowledge, yet he still has grand plans of more studies and changing the world.  When I told him what I was doing here, his eyes lit up and he wanted to be a part of it.  This made me feel so much better, as I now had someone I knew could carry on the program once I leave.  I've been giving him more detailed lessons about photography, as I know he will be able to relay the information well to future students.  

One of my teacher students Ntombi and I were standing out under the tree chatting today, and she looked at my shoes and said, "You must give me your shoes, I love them, you must give them to me...!"  I looked at her and smiled, and if they were any other shoes, I would have taken them straight off and passed them over, but they were my espadrilles from CapeTown and were my favorite shoes of all time.  Now, yes, I did feel guilty and selfish in not giving them to her, but I did promise that next time I came I would bring her some.  This pleased her and she said, "When are you coming back?!"  I asked her size, and jotted a mental note to get some espadrilles for Ntombi in a size 7.  Just then Trevor jumped in as well with "And you must bring me my nice camera!"  I looked at him, smiled, and motioned for him to follow me, leading him back to the library.  Reaching into my camera bag, I wasn't planning on leaving my G12 here, but this definitely felt right.  This camera was for Trevor, my gift to him for taking care of my program for me.  "Here, this is from me to you, I hope you enjoy it and learn a lot with it!"  "Ahhh, I will be taking five hundred photos today with this!"  He said, his smile wide and wrapped me in a hug.  He tells me, "The kids, they really love this; they are so motivated to learn and think this is the best! Thank you so much!"  Even though tomorrow will be my last day with Mawewe, I feel that I have at least created inspiration, and that, along with my heart felt hugs, is priceless.  

 

storyboard071.jpg
storyboard069.jpg
storyboard070.jpg
storyboard073.jpg
storyboard078.jpg

Epilogue, Portrait Project.

As i was walking down the street the other day, my mind flinched,  I felt oddly naked, empty handed, and startled, realizing that i did not have my camera anywhere on me.  It was the first time in over 70 days.  I reached for it, almost gasping, then remembered my project was over and I was taking a break.  It was a nice feeling knowing that my compadre and I had become so close, yet it was also sad because I missed the edge that my project gave to each day.  Some days, I sigh a breath of relief knowing that I am not responsible for creating anything today.  Other days, I see people on my path who I desperately want to photograph, but instead just watch closely out of the corner of my eye and admire.  I wonder if this project got seeded deep enough in me to release the grip of fear that I was holding onto for so long.  I hope so.  I think right now, in the first week after, I am just taking deep breaths and appreciating what I accomplished.  I look back and see how the project was not exactly as I had planned, with glitches and bumps, and I am so incredibly blessed for that because in the words of one of my inspirations, Richard Avedon, "If you get what you expected, then it's a failure.  You have to be surprised for it to be magical."  Yes, Mr. Avedon, indeed it was magical.  I learned a lot about myself, not only as an artist, but as a person.  I came across triumphs, and I also sulked at my failures.  Over all, I not only got a portrait of 70 different people out there, I also got a portrait of myself and how my mind spins around inside my head.  

I really have to thank two people who directly and indirectly were responsible for my leap of faith to do this project in the first place:  Rob Novotny, and Scott Finsthwait.  Scott, for inspiring me with his '100 days of abstracts' project that he was creating when I first met him, and for always being my biggest fan.  And my dear Rob, who, when delving into our friendship, was my doorway to being able to talk of my dreams and fears with candor and rawness, and who encouraged me to take a risk.  

So, this project is officially "over", but it will remain with me every day, and I am already feeling the tingling of a follow-up project soon...  Thanks so much for everyone who tuned in daily to read the latest.  I absolutely loved hearing your feedback and feeling your support!  Mwuah!!!