three weeks on the road: Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Mexico.
flight home now with a young boy next to me asking many questions, whining.
“what is that?”
“a football stadium”
“why can’t I go there?” (whining & flailing)
“because we’re on a plane now.”
i stare blankly at the blue seat in front of me, my elvin hood dimming the reality of the incessant child beside me. too tired to find ear plugs, missing my puppies, envisioning lying in the grass with them, hoping to have energy to buy blue iris for brady before he comes home from work, i’ve missed him so. these trips take so much out of me yet to travel is a delicious and priveledged vortex, a reminder that i need very little to be happy. some clothes, time with friends, inspiring people to aim my camera at. i used to believe that being older meant amassing objects and ‘having’. having routines, saying “i used to…” a lot, trailing off while wishing for a someday.
on the road my ‘somedays’ are vivid, fleeting yet fully present rooms that i stumble upon on purpose. i plan the logistics of each city for months, and then my kerouac spirit takes over and i find myself driving a car on the sidewalk in georgia with people i just met, on a giggling hunt for a hot tub on a boat in the middle of the gulf of mexico in 10-foot seas, pushing on walls to remain upright… and this is my job. these are the moments before and after picking up my camera.
when i agree to an experience, i want it all, every last drop. i want to capture the essence of who i am with, to know who they are truly, be it friend or stranger, to be the mirror for their 80-year-old selves. i look for ‘familiar’ so that I can revel in ‘new’. i plan things out so that i can release it when i arrive. setting coals in the fire so that i can continue this way of life. knowing that even if it all stopped one day, that i will always be ok.
i arrived into atlanta with a heavy heart, having spent four months at home in los angeles. it took some patience in the detachment process, tearful as i focused on the threshold, not the journey. annoyed with extra fees, my bags, traffic in georgia, absorbing the reality of how long i agreed to be gone. curiosity is the drumbeat that pulls me in close and whispers “…this will be fun.”
wheeling in my traveling circus to the hotel lobby at a belly dance event, called TribalCon. paloma, a dancer from france, greets me, a new friend, my roommate, on hiatus from motherhood. it is valentine’s day and we are the only same-sex couple dining in a local thai restaurant, dim lighting, sidelong glances from other patrons in a small town.
while she was at dance workshops i removed the furniture except the bed and changed the room into a photo studio. 12ft x 14ft is all I need to build my sandbox. Poof & done! an endless stream of clients arrived over the next few days. the bed was my trampoline, bouncing while celebrating the best shots. 25 degree weather kept me tethered to the hotel. Friends & clients from all over the country were in one place.
i bought large glitter flowers for my hair from Diva Dreads and spent the day excited about them. People in elevators called me Frida. “minus the uni-brow’ i would correct them.
tribalcon was awesome. even better, i got to enjoy the show and not shoot it. instead i spent meaningful time with people, as usually happens when i have my camera put away. i kissed Zoe’s hand and told her that she is still my favorite. strangers beamed at me, some held my hand and told me they love my work. lunch at farmburger with april rose and mavi who protectively walked me back to the hotel afterwards where i spent the last day alone doing a shoot with a pin-up hooper client, who expertly prepared for the shoot with adorable 1940’s outfits, victory curls, red lipsick, such a perfect send off. all my dancer friends had gone, furniture put back into place, feathers and sequin shrapnel discarded and onto my next city: Miami.
much warmer, a friendly face waving at me curbside. steph, my bollywood dancer friend from an event in georgia from years past. she had given me a painting of a lotus flower that i treasured and always hoped to spend more time with her. we drove that night thru a jungle safari, passed a lion sanctuary to her childhood home in loxahatchee florida. a gated community, vultures & alligators & tales from the hurricane flood there. three large protective dogs in the yard offering coconuts, a separate kitchen patio for cooking indian food with spices, wide open space filled with trophies, intricate furniture, framed images of Jesus in each room, a garland of flowers adorning photos of deceased loved ones, peaceful, loving, quiet.
a sleepless night anticipating my first underwater shoot, lying in bed visualizing feeling safe in the water. warnings of sharks, barracuda, stingrays, manatee laws warning me not to ‘molest the manatees’ and various other doom vibes sent my belly into flip-flop spins… and me into a fight with myself. pre-dawn skulking to the living room to set up my gear. cleaning the lens, reading my camera manual hours before the shoot, silica gel packets to absorb moisture in the waterproof housing, fastening the lens mount securely with the housing, batteries charged, a silent prayer and a tightening of the screws.
waiting anxiously for the sky to churn and the day to begin. steph couldn’t swim so kayla offered to assist for the day instead. a fearless woman with a passion for photography. our mermaid, sirenia solaris, arrived adorned in seashells, starfish, netting and a tail taking up most of the backseat. we drove to lake worth inlet where she flopped worm-like on the sand towards the shore. my hair, tied back into braids, river shoes, snorkel gear, kayla on reflector.
the water was cold, my heart racing, hovering my baby, ‘mad max’, my canon 5D mark III with 24-105mm lens over the water. it felt wrong to plunge it beneath the waves, but i did it… and then promptly held it up to the sun to check for leaks. a new harrowing experience. i bit down hard on my breathing tube, pushed my mask to my face, took a breath and went under the water, instantly disorientented. so much to juggle. the inconvenience of having to breathe, the water seeping into my mask, the strong current pulling us towards a bridge. not to mention actually directing the shoot, cuing my assistant with a 5-in-1 reflector in the water.
but i looked up and my mermaid was celebrating dolphin-esque in her ocean world. the panic stopped. i coughed up some water, pressed harder on my mask, closed my eyes, undine thoughts, a quiet growing inside me, ‘trust’ being my mantra, trust the ocean, trust my camera… and then like a piercing laser, my mermaid came into view, a rush, a guessing and a click… and then another, and resurface for words exchanged and then back down, quiet:quiet, the hawk-like searching for my mermaid, willing her to be still, serene, for her to want me to find her by thought alone. i had no clue if anything was in focus, exposed correctly, composed in frame at all. i just followed blips of light and hoped for the best. the distant echo of my shutter release was in a fury…and then it was over.
my first underwater image
we sat shivering on the beach. i wanted more. her eyes were bloodshot. there would be no more. just a taste, just the beginning of a new genre coming to claim me. in the shadow of the bridge i freed max max from his housing, completely dry. we all gasped as we reviewed the images. ethereal, unreal. we all just smiled sitting in the sun trying to warm up, apparently getting sunburnt in the process. back to steph’s jungle safari home to wash away the salt. and there it was, bright red skin on my back. steph tore off some aloe leaves from plants in her yard. her and kayla were quick to apply it, concerned glances. ‘guys, this is way above and beyond the call of assistant-hood’ such caring, i adored them.
sirenia drove me two hours south to palmetto bay. i set up my studio in the living room of portia’s home, from belly motions. tribal dancers, classic egyptian dancers, fitness, zumba, fit bodies. make up and hair artists arrived, the lady gaga was flowing and everything turned fabulousssss. studio shoots brought me back into my comfort zone, back to my element. recovering alone on the floor between shoots, pacing my energy, late nights sharing stories with portia, a like-minded strong business woman, a gorgeous home. i slept in her decadent bed with flowing orange scallops and tropical wood.
steph came to collect me a few days later, drove me to palm beach where i shot her in a gorgeous bollywood costume in an old gothic church. she had the most amazing henna on her hands and it was one of the most elegant dancer shoots i’ve ever done. a courtyard, a garden, archways, bougainvillea. it was a day of superlatives.
we had lunch in a perfect french cafe, then a drive to spanish river park in boca raton where i shot a sweet family. two little blonde girls in ringlet curls running on the beach. i chased them instigating games, retreating into the most childlike part of myself, joyous, silly. the wind was strong and we all ended up covered in sand.
the next morning brought a 5 hour roadtrip to tampa. an old friend’s mother happened to be driving on the same highway in the opposite direction. i hadn’t seen her in years and our game turned successful on a flat road in the middle of nowhere. 5 minutes of laughing at how surreal it was to see each other this way…and back onto our respective journeys.
i arrived to jen’s house on a humid afternoon, my best friend for over 25 years. wine, dinners together with her sincerely amazing boyfriend Joe, horses in the neighbor’s yard behind them. i let their couch hold me captive for an entire day & played crocodiles with her 4 year old son at night. we soon made our way to the port of tampa where we boarded a cruise ship for a few days as part of a belly dance cruise.
on the cruise i played drums until my fingers turned numb, drank enough champagne to compromise a horse and ‘won’ a thumb wrestling championship complete with gloating, however unearned. oh and i worked some too.
a whole day of roaming around cozumel, mexico. we spent most of the day at hotel barracuda. monumental sharing in a tropical wonderland. delicate palm fronds, strong breeze, a yogi in the sand, such an oasis we found.
“do you love me?” jen asks
“oh so so much! you could murder someone & I would help you bury the body, no questions asked.”
on our last night on the boat, genuine connection with carmine, kaeshi, brad, theresa & eddie. so much fun. jen’s nightly anticipation to discover which towel animal adorns our turned-down bed each night was adorable. after dinner searches for an actually HOT hot tub were in vain, so we retreated, running in bikinis back to our room, trying to stay awake past 9pm. that goliath of a ship & it’s deep slow rocking rendered me narcoleptic. i had no thoughts, just images swirling with no thoughts attached to them. out into the world they go….