Ever since living and working in BC, I seem to need more time immersed in nature. I've taken a few short winter hikes lately to try to alleviate this desire and break up the long quiet days at home. On Family Day, I found myself carefully strolling up Grotto Canyon's icy creek bed with Ian Busby and the Canmore based adventure/comedy videographers Mia Mucci & Randi Wardle (Aka "Gurl Guides"). Admittedly, I may not have attempted this hike on my own accord given the sheer ice and my lack of proper footwear, (I didn't want to fall, and boy did I ever) but it was completely worth it. The pictographs, frozen waterfall, and caverned gravel formations make for a short hike with a lot of character. Be sure to subscribe to the Gurl Guide's YouTube channel to see the upcoming video, which I'm sure will feature slow motion cuts of our epic icy falls. :)
My studio has been a bit neglected as of late, as I've been mostly working on graphic design projects. Decided to shoot a still life today, inspired by the holiday and some Van Gogh paintings I saw in a book recently. Happy Valentines Day to all! :)
About a year ago, I came up against a wall that didn't seem to want to budge no matter how I came at it. I was depressed and unsatisfied with my life, and I found that no matter how much work, or distractions, or weekend getaways, or glasses of wine I had, I never seemed to feel any more fulfilled. I never seemed to be moving forward. The thing about depression is, that it can sneak up on you, and surround you like a thick fog. So much so, that you forget that it's possible for things to be better. You forget how to hope, and you don't always realize how your own behaviour is affecting those around you. Looking back now, I can see that I was completely lost in that fog. At the time, all I knew was if I didn't start making some changes now, things would only get worse.
So what does one do with this information? First off, I had to admit that I needed some help. I couldn't seem to calm my mind enough to think logically anymore. I felt like I was constantly running away from one thing or another. I needed to learn to cope with my reality. Secondly, I decided to take at least a 6 month break from alcohol. If I was going to learn to deal with my emotions head on, I would have to do it without my good friend the wine bottle.
I was lucky enough to find an amazing counsellor who I instantly connected with, and who made me feel completely safe. He would listen carefully and gently encourage me, slowly unraveling the panic that shrouded my eyes. He didn't talk often, but when he did, he would touch his fingertips to his heart and speak with such clarity and compassion that it made me start to feel hopeful again. As the weeks passed, I felt calm enough to allow all kinds of buried emotions and memories bubble to the surface that needed to be felt and reflected on. Old hurts that had never healed, life failures and choices that left me feeling ashamed, and one abusive relationship that changed me in a way I wouldn't wish on anyone. I started to digest this pain slowly, cried often, and called my Mom almost everyday. But slowly, I started to feel stronger, and more at peace. I remember telling my counsellor that it felt like I was finally coming up for air. It was in that session, that I saw the bright yellow daffodil photographs that hung on his wall for the first time. I hadn't noticed them before. I literally couldn't SEE something that didn't match my own vibration/perspective. Sadly, I had to find a new counsellor eventually, as this special person passed away soon in our working together. It was a horrible jolt to work through at such an emotionally vulnerable time, but it cemented into place my drive to work through the pain of my past, and finally leave it behind me for good. I started thinking about the birthplaces of some of my destructive behaviours. At what point did I decide that alcohol would improve my life? Why had I been choosing to distract myself from my pain rather than work through it?
A few months later, I decided to hire a life coach to start working towards creating a new future. My life coach, (or my fairy god mother, as I like to call her) first asked me to tell her what my life would look like if she had a magic wand and could create anything for me. Now this sounds simple enough, but in that moment I realized how long it had been since I had asked myself what I truly hoped for. I hadn't actually allowed myself to hope for a long time. At some point I felt like my dreams had been shattered by my life experiences, and I had been simply drifting along looking for something to ease the pain of that loss. My answer to her question surprised me by its simplicity, but also by the fact that it sounded possible. Simple ideas like self employment, freedom of expression, family, home, and community poured from my lips. I wasn't really asking for much, and these were my greatest desires! In many ways, I had already begun working towards this future. I just needed to keep that vision in focus and start running after it.
My life coach loaded me up with all kinds of tools to improve my life. Breathing exercises and positive affirmations to calm my body and mind, vision boards to start aiming at goals, and she showed me how to address emotional pain within my body. I felt silly sometimes doing these things because they seem too simple to be truly effective, but the truth is every one of them improved my state of mind, (literally the structure of my brain) and therefore the state of my life. I was surprised by how happiness was literally at my fingertips at all times. How little effort it took to simply brighten my own spirits instead of drowning them or waiting for something to do it for me. Often, if I struggled with something she would ask me "What would you choose to feel instead?". And the biggest miracle of all? When I changed, my life changed with me. Within the first year since asking for help: my career path has changed, I've lived in a different city for the first time in my life, my friendships flourished, and I now feel like my dreams are no longer far fetched or shattered, but actually achievable.
It can be hard to ask for help. And even harder to just stop the rat race just long enough to listen to that inner voice that is crying out for change. I had to hit bottom before I was ready to hear it. The first few steps can seem long and painful. I know I spent more than a few nights lying in my bed staring at the dark ceiling wondering when the pain would stop. But the amazing thing about time, is that it truly does heal. I would encourage anyone who feels like they need to start making changes in their life to start right now. Even if it's just taking one tiny step every day. I promise you that these steps will start to gain momentum. I never could have imagined how much my life would improve, and now look back at those years as "the dark time" in my life. I'll admit that I still battle with some of these emotional struggles and triggers. Some scars will take longer than others to heal. But I now know the most important thing is to not give up hope. We have the power to change our lives. And there are people out there who want to help us find our way, if only we are willing to ask.
This is part 2/2 of "When Real Life Becomes an Adventure" - To read part 1 of this blog post: Click Here
As life in my new BC home finally became normal, the days started to fly by. This being my first time living away from my hometown, I had this overwhelming feeling that I really wanted to make the most of my time, and didn't want to miss out on any of the invitations for adventure that were constantly happening around me. About two months in however, I came home one day feeling like I was running on fumes. I felt I had created unrealistic expectations for my experience and my exhaustion had me questioning my own motives for being out there in the first place. I felt I needed some time out and craved a place to recharge, but felt I had nowhere to go in the small town, yet crowded house I lived in. Out of options I found myself on the side of a highway calling home. The compassionate voices on the end of the line both welcomed me to come home if needed, but were supportive in my convictions to stick it out.
Living in a small community was very different than the city life I left behind. I loved the simplicity and the closeness I felt with the people around me, but found certain aspects were very challenging. I learned early on, that I really couldn't hide from who I was due to the close knit circumstances I lived in. I had to face myself in the reflections of my constant companions at every moment of every day, which was in stark contrast of living and working alone as I did in the months prior. My insecurities became far more apparent, which surprised me at first. The pressure I put on myself to have the "perfect" summer experience was exhausting and created a hypersensitivity in me that made regular day to day stresses seem barely tolerable. I knew this was unsustainable and something needed to change. I had chosen to be here, and needed to take responsibility for the role I had played in how I was feeling. Most importantly, I needed to remember that I had the power to create a more positive experience for myself.
I had always wanted to strike out on my own and live somewhere new, but now that I was here I realized I hadn't been approaching it in a genuine way. I spent most of my time worried about perfecting my photo work, and the rest chasing adventures with roommates instead of doing some of the things I had once hoped to do. I had really been looking for some peace, but found myself overstimulated and completely stressed out! It was as if I feared that allowing myself to walk to the beat of my own drum would somehow isolate me within my community. This ultimately placed my personal happiness in the hands of the people around me, and left me in a fragile state. Creating the experience I initially craved meant that I needed to honor who I was first, no matter how that might affect what was happening around me.
I went out to BC looking for an adventure of sorts. I was tired of the same old that came with my comfort zone. But I decided that maybe my adventure didn't need to leave me feeling so drained and outside myself. It didn't need to look like anyone else's idea of adventure either. I decided to slow down a bit. I started turning down connections and experiences that didn't really feel true to who I was, and started to focus on the things that made me the happiest. I remained open minded to new experiences, but when I really needed to I would make time for myself, often by taking my guitar to a beautiful lookout on a hill close by and playing my stresses away. In a few short weeks I felt my reality shift into a very different experience. One where I enjoyed my work more, handled stress better, had far deeper connections, and felt far more comfortable in my own skin. I also began to make new friends outside of my community, which continued to enrich my summer by leaps and bounds. All the external stress that seemed to be intolerable soon became mild irritations that I could easily take on by slowing down and trusting my instincts. I continued to practice deep breathing and affirmations when I felt myself getting overwhelmed. I started to realize I could feel right at home in any situation, as long as I mindfully respected the choices my heart wanted to make, and accept that not everyone would want to support me in those decisions. The happiness and comfort of others was simply not my responsibility. My happiness however, was.
These days it seems when I hit one of life's speed bumps or detours, it's often because I haven't been honoring that inner voice that is trying to guide me. Which leads me to believe that self trust and self love is the most valuable thing a person can bring to the table. Our personal power seems to be rooted in our truth, no matter what chaos may be happening around us. When we start to honor and support ourselves, our power is far more attainable as we are not constantly draining ourselves trying to please others. We therefore have more energy to share with the people and causes that matter most. And although this commitment to ourselves may not guarantee acceptance by all of our daily audiences, we will surely create a far greater probability of being welcomed by the kinds of people that match our vibe and perspective. I know that the idea of self love, trust and acceptance is a lifelong commitment that will most certainly challenge us all from time to time. But I cannot deny that even with the small steps I personally took towards it, life seemed to open up into a far calmer flow. And I was so ready to step into it. It was a far better option that running away from myself, and therefore the parts of myself I was meant to share.
When you first meet Mary, a raft guide, mixed martial artist, yogi, motorcyclist, firefighter in training, and soon to be stunt actor, you can't help but feel slightly intimidated. Not only is she accomplished, but she also seems to balance her strength and fearlessness with a soft feminine sensitivity and depth of intelligence that makes her even more impressive. At just 31, it's exciting to think of what other goals she'll surely crush over the course of her life. We had a blast shooting just outside of small town Lytton, BC before I departed back to Alberta.
Once in awhile us photographers bear witness to something very real that makes us take pause. This kiss felt particularly magical to photograph. And I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful fall day. The sun was shining, and the leaves were just the right color. Ruz and Sheila got engaged last fall, and are planning a lovely summer 2017 wedding in Penticton. Congrats to this absolutely stunning couple!
Last week a friend and I wandered down a winding Highway 1 to visit the exquisite Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, also lovingly coined the "Othello Tunnels" near Hope, BC. The retired train tunnels which now remain as stunning tourist attractions of the the 3.5 km return trail along the Coquihalla River made for a perfect backdrop to Cori Baldwin Paquette's magical beauty. 20 year old Paquette is a Ontario born dance/communications major currently studying at SFU in Vancouver. (Instagram - @coriabp)
(Click on the arrows above to see the entire photo series.)
I arrived at a beautiful remote BC resort with a full car of belongings, and an open heart. What more would I need to begin a new summer job among the stunning rugged wilderness? I happily settled into the comfortable staff accommodations and was welcomed warmly by my new roommates. Once I finished unpacking however, I felt my excitement slowly twist into a dark storm of anxiety. I was suddenly faced with one too many unknowns at once. In fact, there was a summer full of unknowns ahead of me, and my imagination was running wild in the worst possible way. I had kept myself preoccupied with planning this trip before I left, and now that I had arrived my new reality was slowly sinking in. My mind circled around thoughts of my new job, and whether or not I would be up to snuff . It was the first of many things that I have been learning here about myself. The threat of failure can sometimes wreak havoc on my mind. I'm aware of my tendency to be overly critical of myself and have a track record of shying away from things when I am unsure of how I will perform. It's been mostly detrimental for me, and I've had to push myself outside of my comfort zone to try and break this cycle.
Fear can feel like a brick wall. It can stand between us and the things we truly want. Sometimes it makes us take long detours in life that we believe to be "safer", and next thing you know the universe is karate chopping your ass back onto the road you're meant to be on. This can be painful, and having been down the snakes and ladders more than once, I've been trying to be proactive in being true to myself despite it often scaring the hell out of me. When we feel fear, and move directly from it, it becomes far too easy to judge ourselves. I'm often guilty of expecting the worst of situations. It hasn't always dawned on me to expect the best. The day before I left for the resort I said to a friend: "What if it's horrible?". And she replied quickly saying "What if it's amazing?". And I couldn't argue with that. And now here I was, at my amazing new summer home, and yet still allowing myself to get sucked down the rabbit hole of unknown anxiety.
So how do we embrace "the unknown"? How do we see it as a gift, rather than a curse? Over the last 6 months I've learned a lot about the power of thought. I started to practice things like positive affirmations, visualizations, and deep breathing. Quickly into this practice I found myself feeling hopeful again. I'm not sure I would have felt confident enough to even apply to this job if it hadn't been for all the new things I had learned about self empowerment and positive thinking. Once offered the position, planning to make the move was easy. But now faced with my own anxious tendencies, I had to put these tools to the test!
The first thing I decided to do was try and focus on how I might feel in a few weeks time. I imagined I would be somewhat comfortable in my new position. I would have established a daily routine. I would be learning and gaining new skills more and more everyday. And as I got more comfortable, I would be able to enjoy myself more. I tried to imagine myself coming back to the staff house after a hard days work feeling accomplished. Sun kissed. And happy. I clung to this vision.
Next, I had to remind myself that although I had never done this kind of photo gig before, I had plenty of other training and life experience that would help me along the way. I would have to trust the journey and have faith in my ability to stay open and teachable. At the end of the day, the one thing that was known, was that I would strive to do my best. What more can one do?
Now that a few weeks have passed, I look back at my vision and realize that not only was it right, it's far better than I could have imagined. Every day I have moments of pure bliss and gratitude for the wonderful people I work with, the stunning surroundings, and this amazing opportunity. I still don't know exactly what lies ahead of me this summer, but maybe that's ok. I need to remember that my life has the potential to be incredible, and I have the power to make it so. Perhaps the shadow side of the unknown is fear, but the brighter side holds endless potential for surprise, delight, and self discovery.
As I walked into Slaughterhouse Studios to meet with emerging band "On The Bones", I got hit with a rush of nostalgia fuelled envy. How I wish I had known more about this place back when I was still playing in a band! A Slaughterhouse rep welcomed me, and seemed to know that I was coming. He walked me through a dark room with high ceilings that looked like a small private rock club. The room was decked out with a bar, a full instrument set up, and rock memorabilia sprawling across every inch of the dark carpeted walls. Around the corner I noticed a pool table and scruffy looking cat who looked like he had seen his fair share of rock n' roll life. The man opened a huge metal door that reminded me of a commercial freezer, and I followed him inside. (They don't call it Slaughterhouse for nothing.) We entered the aptly named "Killing Room Floor" rehearsal space, where the band was setting up. For me, musical spaces always seem to bring on a noticeable dizzying shift of energy. These spaces are often covered with sound absorptive treatments, so already you feel the increase in audible sensitivity. But they also bring me back to years of rehearsals, writing sessions, and ultimately, freedom of expression. I am beyond excited at this point.
I've known several members of "On the Bones" for a good chunk of my life. Some from common circles, and others from the music circuit from when I was playing shows on the regular. They had seen some of my digital collage work, and was looking to create some promotional material that stepped a bit outside of the box in regards to what one might think of as traditional "rocktography". Any time a client is looking to add an artistic twist to their portraits, I welcome the challenge. In hindsight, the collaged pieces were a bit more time consuming than I had initially expected, but so much fun to put together. Overall, it was a fantastic learning experience for me in more ways than one. I felt like I had a chance to push some of my artistic boundaries, and learned a lot about managing my time better. I've done quite a bit of live music photography, but I've never had the option to use my lights and have free rein on stage. Having lighting control, and freedom of angles prompted more than a few severe "I love my job" moments.
As I snapped away throughout the afternoon saturated in delicious rock soundwaves, I was continuously impressed by their musicianship, and in awe at the level of appreciation they had for their craft. On The Bones has been working hard over the last several years in a slow deliberate climb to create a striking repertoire. Its a kind of dedication you know comes straight from the heart. I look forward to hearing they're first release, which I know will not disappoint.
Fun in the studio with actress and yoga instructor Hailey Carr!