I was so happy to be able to sneak a few days to go and hang out with my family in Jersey last week. It's my family home and I don't go back nearly enough. The house is always full of people and there is constant noise and energy. My parents had me up at 7am every morning for a long walk around the cliffs. Here are a couple of pictures from one evening at St Ouen's. I'm not so big on landscape photography as I prefer to just enjoy the grandeur of a sunset with my naked eye but I got quite excited at how the light changed every second during this sunset and towards the end the light picked up beautifully on the sand.
I am very lucky to have a number of people in my life who act as mentors and guides. When you work alone as a business sometimes you need a little push and encouragement, someone to tell you are doing the right thing - or the wrong thing. Someone to bounce ideas off and offer inspiration and guidance. One of these people is Samir. We met when he came to Electric House to give a small talk to a number of small business owners in the creative sector on Creative Business Mentoring. They ranged from PR to dress makers. It was a small and intimate gathering and gave us all the opportunity to ask a few questions. At the end of the session he kindly offered further help should we want to follow up.
Samir has a fascinating career history, with a masters in mathematics, was CEO of an airline company at 29, worked for the Ministry of Defence, guest lectures at Oxford and King's LSE, founded several successful companies including Debut Contemporary, worked with Bosnian refugees and other charities such as Repossession.
Never one to miss an opportunity to engage with someone inspiring of course I followed up and at our first meeting one of the most provocative things he said was that I needed a manifesto for life (he pointed me in the direction of Vivienne Westwood). I needed a purpose and to give something back. I went away with this very much on my mind. Maybe a week later Keith, the brother of one of my very dear friends from Kenya, contacted me to say that he had set up an volunteer organisation called Gap Creative to provide art, drama, music and photography programmes for a number of orphanages near his home town of Nakuru in Kenya (coincidentally the same small town that my father was brought up in!) and asked if I would be prepared to get involved in setting up the photography arm of this.
'No' is not generally a much used word in my vocabulary, particularly when it comes to travel, adventure or photography - and particularly those three in combination. So, my flight to Nairobi is booked for a week Monday. I am booked in for my jabs. I have had pledges of over £300 from kind friends and family to purchase some cameras, printer and inks and will be setting off to spend a week with Keith in Nakuru meeting with the orphanages, talking to the kids, devising a workable programme for the volunteers who start coming out in January and making a short documentary about the work that will be happening out there.
I'm meeting Samir next week and can't wait to tell him all about it. But as he sagely said; when we open our eyes and mind to opportunity it comes knocking.
This was an email I received about 6 weeks ago:
Back in January I blogged about the inaugural Perrier-Jouët Arts Salon Dinner which was meeting for the first time to launch a prestigious arts prize. They came together again at the end of March to discuss the shortlist and make their selection of the winner. I can't tell you who won as it hasn't been officially announced yet but the committee enjoyed a delicious food and champagne supper at the Royal Suite at the newly refurbished St Pancras Hotel in London. It's not something I do much of but my clients Campbell Bell asked me if I could film a bit of the event for a small showreel - here are my efforts. I quite enjoyed it and look forward to incorporate film into my events offering in the future.
With two days to spare I managed to grab last minute seats on Ryanair to get me to Ibiza in time for the first retreat held by Formentera Yoga and Jax May Lysycia at their new country house over Easter. Having followed Jax for her yoga instruction from London to Morocco to Formentera I was keen to try out their newest venue up in the North West Hills of Ibiza; a finca set in 20 acres of fruit trees and scattered with sheep and goats, not overlooked by a single neighbour and only a 45 minute walk to the beach. The perfect escape to unwind and recharge. What attracted me to this trip was the combination of early morning silent walks; deep, sensitising yoga; meditation and the opportunity to explore another side of the island on two challenging 10km hikes around the coastal paths, led by the very entertaining and knowledgeable Toby of Walking Ibiza who introduced us to the flora and fauna of the white isle (white for it's salt...) The food of course is very important on such trips - you can't demand so much of your body without putting something back in, but the team included Guici the Italian chef who delivered mouthwatering Ottolenghi-style vegetarian food each day.
We were blessed with the most beautiful weather for the entire trip. Clear blue skies and warm breezes as we stretched out on the deck overlooking the sea as the sun rose and cooler air as we climbed through the pine forests in the afternoons. Not quite warm enough to enjoy the sea (with some exceptions!) but we sat in a circle on the beach at the end of one day for an evening meditation to the sounds of the waves.
I met some amazing people on this trip, strengthened friendships with others and connected with an energised and more whole self. I can't do trips like this every month (sadly) but I can take with me the tools to look after myself in day to day life.
So we had our hearts set on Cuba - 3 and a half weeks through January to get us through the new year post-Christmas blues. We were to arrive on New Year's eve. But life gets in the way of the best laid plans and at the last minute we changed our adventure holiday to the more relaxed option of ten days in Sri Lanka with nothing more challenging than a gentle cycle with Idle Bikes through the paddy fields outside Galle, a deep back bending yoga class in the outdoors with Christophe at The Galle Spa, a sunset meditation at Yatagala Temple and of course lifting our arms to request another cocktail at the Frangipani Tree or the Dutch House - the two fabulous places we stayed. With both Christian and I being photographers it becomes incredibly difficult to enjoy beautiful experiences without the strong urge to capture it in all it's glory. Sometimes though it's nice to drop the camera from your face and be fully present in the moment. I did however get quite excited when I spotted some Sri Lankan bridal parties around the Fort - see my blog here.
So here is a few pictures but by no means comprehensive of the trip. A little taste of the wonders of Sri Lanka. We certainly plan to go back and more of an exploration of the interior of the island and enjoy more of the temples throughout the country.
I've recently got back from an incredible 10 days in Galle, Sri Lanka. It was a country I had always longed to visit and finally after an aborted attempt to go to Cuba in January we booked a last minute trip and were on the plane within days, furnished with a handful of contacts and friends of friends to visit on. I'm going to write more about the trip and the places I stayed in my next blog but this one is a pure celebration of the beauty of the people. Christian left before I had even woken up one morning to go on a jog around the city walls and came back to bundle me into a tuk tuk to hurry down and witness the mass of gorgeous bridal parties who were being guided around the city walls for their professional photographs.
Weddings vary according to religion, region, caste, ethnicity and language and the costumes that they wear reflect this - particularly in the variety of outfits the men were wearing.
Bride: Wears four silk saris (they can vary from the Indian to Kandyan Style) for the wedding celebrations. She also wears a nalalpata, a headband with a gold gem-studded forehead plate, traditionally worn by royal rulers. A mass of chains is worn around her neck. Padakkam (pendants) are an important part of the chains, each having a name – peti malaya, the agasthi malaya and the seri valatu. The earrings, known as dimithi, have the shape of an overturned cup with tiny pearls dangling from two ear studs. Some brides wear armlets to ward off bad luck.
Groom: Wears a traditional nilame (or mul anduma) suit over his sarong and shirt, and atamulu thoppiya (eight-cornered hat).
Back when I was 18 I was offered a place to read English at St Andrews university but I ended up choosing English and History of Art at York, at the time I didn't know how heart-wrenchingly beautiful Scotland is. But hindsight is a wonderful thing! I never made it up to St Andrews for a visit so this September I was so happy to have the opportunity to finally visit Scotland's first university. I arrived the evening before to attend the rehearsal and meet Mark and Emma for the first time. I was overwhelmed with how lovely the area was and St Salvator's Chapel was just stunning. Emma was radiant and as you can see from the pictures didn't stop smiling all day. She beamed her way down the aisle and the service was one filled with laughter and love. After the ceremony the guests headed back to Carphin House where the bridal party were staying for canapes and champagne. The weather stayed so fine that everyone was able to stand outside on terrace and enjoy the views over the hills of Cupar.
As the sun was setting and most of the guests had departed I took Emma and Mark off for a quick walk around the grounds for some final pictures. They didn't stop chatting and laughing the whole way around. I am sure they are destined for a very happy future together and I'm grateful to have been a part of a very special wedding.
I don't usually enter competitions, although I should, but I was tempted by this one currently being run by Adidas. They are looking for someone to photograph David Beckham - what's not to like? I prefer shooting women to be honest but I guess I could handle having Mr Beckham in front of my lens. I've only been able to enter one picture and I chose one that I took of Jax on the recce shoot we did in Formentera recently. The theme of the competition is 'Take the Stage' and I love the sense of freedom in this picture as Jax is taking the stage in a very intimate, expressive way. If you like the picture please help me have a chance in the competition by voting for me here before the competition closes on 27th May - you don't need to register, just enter your email address and dob.
I really questioned whether I should write about something as private as a meditation retreat in such a public forum, particularly one billed as a photography blog. After all, it's not called 'What Helen did next...' However, after pondering, I realised that I am not some corporation. My business is me, that's all I have to offer and the more I develop who I am; through travel, literature, art, film, people and spiritually, the more I bring to my photography and those who experience it. So here goes...
In my second year of university my best friend Emma and I signed up for a one day meditation course on the outskirts of York. We hated it. Hard as we tried to absorb and understand we were bored and felt out of place. Fast forward ten years and the appeal of meditation still clung. I knew there had to be something in it. A few friends of mine had been on Vipassana courses and come back enthused about it, but for two years I sat back and made excuses why I didn't have the time or the money to attend. Through a friend I attended a wonderful yoga retreat in Morocco in January and we practiced some meditation as part of the course and so finally I committed to attend one of the courses run by meditation teacher Burgs (a disrobed Western monk), at a course run by the Art of Meditation.
Jax (my yoga teacher) and I arrived flustered after a long journey taking much longer than expected and finishing in the dark, reversing into a hedge and stumbling in the darkness into the house where the other attendees were serenely supping their evening soup. I looked every inch a blonde city girl in need of spiritual salvation.
The house itself, Poulstone Court, is tucked away in the Herefordshire hills. A beautiful part of the country only 15 miles from Wales. The red brick mansion house is home to numerous spiritually based retreats from Shamanic Healing to writers retreats - clearly catering for a range of tastes.
After an introduction on the evening of arrival, allocation of bedrooms (I was sharing with three other women) we took our vow of 'noble silence' which would hold (other than to ask questions during teaching discourses) for the next 6 days. I found it wonderfully liberating to be able to truly meet myself away from the usual day to day distractions. We ate our food (some recipes here) in a contemplative silence, enjoying and savouring each mouthful. The days were gently regulated with the tinkling of a bell which woke us at 6am and sounded for the final discourse after supper each day.
I was surprised to find that at least half of the 32 attendees were returning for their second, fifth, twelfth time. Having been expecting to walk away from my first time retreat 'fixed' I soon realised that I had taken what is in fact a very small step on a journey that will last a lifetime. Initially I found the sessions daunting. We started with sitting for 20 minutes, cross legged on our cushions, at a time and worked up to 45 minute 'sits'. The discomfit my body gradually lessened and the deeper I fell into the rhythm of my body the less I felt in pain. The twice daily practice of Chi gung helped to realign the body after the sessions, with it's combination of rhythmic breathing and mindful movements.
A blog entry is in no way sufficient (without outstaying my welcome) to convey the experiences I went through or the fascinating teachings that I had the privilege to have the opportunity to learn from Burgs. He is a teacher of great skill, presence, depth and humour. A rare combination and an inspiring one. We literally hung on his every word, drinking up the simple suggestions for a more peaceful and happy life. I look forward to the next retreat in six months.
“If you can quieten the mind enough to begin to listen to the heart, you will find that you already have the answers you seek.”
A little treat on Valentines day - some cute girls in their smalls.... I had a wonderful afternoon in Brighton last week at The Proud Ballroom shooting some very gorgeous and very talented burlesque dancers on a shoot organised by Melissa Love Design and Tigz Rice in conjunction with Joanne Fleming Design and She Said Boutique. Hair and make-up by Miss Honey Bear.
To ensure that I was fully in mind and body to start the wedding season of 2012 I kicked off the year with a friend at a yoga retreat on the coast in Morocco. This was the first retreat I had ever been on and so I arrived with an open mind and willingness to embrace whatever was on offer. Needless to say the excesses of the holiday season had taken it's toll and I was happy to cut out alcohol, caffeine and meat. Our group of 10 were effectively guinea pigs for the soft opening of the resort and so we had the run of the place. The resort itself, Paradis Plage, sits just along the coast from Tagazhout, a surfing town 40 minutes outside of Agadir, the nearest airport and has billed itself as a 'surf, yoga and spa' retreat . The tiny fishing village sits along side hills that ripple softly like fabric and the earthy coloured buildings squat low to the ground.
The rooms are all spacious apartments, simply decorated and with stunning views of the sea. The yoga sala was perfectly set upon the edge of the sea with 240 degree views of the coastline. Jax May Lysycia the instructor is the most beautifully honed woman whose body is an inspiration! She led us through 4 hours of yoga and meditation each day; two hours in the morning after a silent beach walk during sunrise as the long shadows reached across the textured sands of the empty beach, and two hours in the evening as the sun dropped into the sea in front of us. Under her reassuring guidance I found myself able to discover a flexibility in my body that I never knew I had, leaving me feel strong, supple and graceful before the end of the week and with a craving to do yoga daily.
We were particularly lucky to have had a group of 10 who bonded immediately and we spent a blissful week relaxing in the gorgeous winter sun, surfing, trekking in the dusty but aptly named Paradise Valley, paddle boarding on lake and enjoying a hammam in the spa.
And then the drive back to Marrakesh for two days of city (and excessive eating!) with new and old friends and staying at the spectacular Villa Filali with it's eclectic mix of traditional Moroccan style with flashes of kitsch.
The retreat was organised by Formentera Yoga who are based in Ibiza and run retreats throughout the year. I can't wait to book onto the next one and it will be without doubt and ongoing pilgrimage.
I haven't blogged at all this week and that's mainly because I have spent the bulk of my time, since Monday, on an aeroplane on a crazy route that has shown me (or at least seen me touch down in) Jordan, Ethiopia, Israel, Portugal, America and finally I am on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. I didn't get much time for photography but I did steal a few hours in Luxor, Egypt and made a visit to the temple ruins at Karnak, on the edge of the Nile. Whilst I love the architecture, for me the people give these places character and provide a context for a story, a history and point of interest. After I left the temple I walked slowly back to the hotel, enjoying the street. It's pretty quiet in Luxor at the moment, the hotel was virtually empty, because of the recent troubles in Egypt. I found the people very friendly and warm and overall receptive to my camera.
I'm very lucky to work with a fantastic boutique travel company called Canopy and Stars, an offshoot of Sawdays, who specialise in luxury camping. I met Tom who runs C&S down in Bristol after shooting the Yurt at Inshriach House and have subsequently done a number of their sites to provide images for their websites and national media. In the summer I turned up on the train to meet Tabitha at Penrith Station who took me back, settled me in to my gorgeous shepherds hut, one of three they currently have dotted through their forest. Each camp has handcrafted traditional shepherds hut with (a very effective) woodburner, a cosy wooden kitchen and bathroom block and compost loo and firepit. My site had a wooden deck, complete with deck chairs perfect for sitting and gazing out over the spectacular North Lake Fells.
I luckily got to spend two nights there, slept extremely well under my feather down duvet and could happily have stayed a week in such amazing peace and tranquility. I hope to get back there next summer although I intend to work my way through a few more C&S sites. I've got my eye on the treehouse next...
So after my epic adventures in America I then retreated up to Aviemore, via a small wedding in Perth (to be blogged about soon), to stay with Walter and Lucy at Inshriach House in anticipation of a wedding I was covering there at the end of the week. Lovely Polly (who owns The Dell of Abernethy cottages which I blogged about here) asked if I would photograph the latest accommodation addition at her parents place, the Lazy Duck at Nethy Bridge, the Woodman's Hut. The cottage is super cosy with a wood burning stove and a cute box bed which can be closed up at night and has a skylight for stargazing, and windows out into the woods and across to the Caingorms for lazy mornings in bed with a cup of tea. I had almost finished up there when the sun came out in a last blaze of glory before dipping down behind the mountains and it was absolutely lovely.
A blog about something a little different today... I've just returned from an incredible trip covering America, Canada and Mexico with my father which saw us touring Vancouver, cycling the Golden Gate in San Francisco and visiting friends in Los Angeles to climb to above the Hollywood sign. The highlight of the trip was the opportunity to photograph at the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport, Spaceport America near Las Cruces in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin in New Mexico. Last week saw the opening of the new terminal building, a collaboration between Virgin Galactic and the State of New Mexico.
The launch event was attended by the world press, celebrities from Kate Winslet to Buzz Aldrin to Princess Beatrice, along with 150 of the nearly 470 'future astronauts' who have already parted with $200k each to be the first space tourists.
It was a tremendous privilege to be able to see the site, watch a flight demonstration of Spaceship2 and Whiteknight2 and to hear speakers including the ex second in command from Nasa, the govenor of New Mexico and Richard Branson among others.
My new aims after such a spectacular trip are to start flying lessons and hopefully one day (when the price comes down) purchase my own trip into space. The whole experience moved me far more than I anticipated.
As chilled out brides go, Laura probably rates as the most chilled. This is a bride who, when her car with her and her bridesmaids broke down on the way to the hairdresser in the nearby town, rather than waste time waiting to be rescued simply stuck out her thumb and hitched with the first passer by. Despite arriving 40 minutes late back at Ardanaiseig Hotel she was super cool and relaxed and remained that way for the rest of the day. Ardanaiseig Hotel is one of the most spectacularly located venues I've been to recently. A romantic and luxury hotel tucked away at the end of a 6-mile one track road on the edge of Loch Awe on the West Coast of Scotland, furnished eccentrically by the owner, a London antiques dealer. Jon and Laura had exclusive use of the venue and grounds which include a boathouse where Laura was getting ready. It wasn't until the penultimate moment that the decision to ignore the morning of torrential rain and risk holding the wedding outside in the amphitheatre by the loch was made, and the staff scurried around to make it happen (admittedly the alternative great hall looked beautiful but who could resist an outdoor wedding, in Scotland, in September?)
As the guests tottered across the grass in their heels Laura was peeking over the balcony of the boathouse to see them arrive. Finally it was time, and escorted by her mother, Laura was piped into the opening for the ceremony.
The reception was held back at the house and I hung dangerously onto the top window to get the group shot before arranging family and friends for the family shots with the almost surreal landscape of Ben Cruachan behind them. The location was such a treat to photograph in and Laura braved the damp in her heels to wander round the grounds.
(If you were a guest at this wedding you can access the full album and purchase prints here and the password is Jon's surname).
My favourite touch in their decorations of the marquee was the booklet, laid out for each guest, with a short paragraph about every one of the guests to get the conversation flowing. As Jon pointed out in his speech, when you have everyone from a high court judge to a onion farmer in the party you can't fail to find someone to engage with!
I'm just back in Surrey after a wonderful few weeks in Scotland. I like to combine work and pleasure where possible so I meandered up North after Tara and Folarin's wedding in Bedford for a couple of Glasgow weddings and finishing up in Aviemore at Inshriach House - one of my favourite places in the world. I'll be blogging about the wonderful home-made wedding that Lucy and Simon had up there on Saturday night but I thought I would post a few pictures of the delightful Inshriach landscape taken for the Location Scotland website - taken in between hoovering the house ready for wedding guests, washing a smelly Monty-dog and cooking for Walter and Lucy to earn my stay in the 'Summer Palace' (see the last picture for my cosy home for the week). I shot a fashion story up here last autumn and the place is just brimming with amazing locations including the Spey, numerous bothy's, a squash court, a victorian dog shed , vegetable garden and a mini loch - all within a stone's throw of the main house. It's also home to the amazing Insider Festival in June. Many thanks to Walter and Lucy for their hospitality, wine and for turning my electric blanket on full in anticipation of my late night arrival :) From top: Cottages, loch, squash court
From top left: Squash court and bothy, river Spey, Victorian dog shed, 'Beer Moth'
Before leaving I popped in to The Dell of Abernethy to take a few pictures for Ross and Polly of their new home which they have taken over running near Nethy Bridge. It has six stone cottages attached to the house which you can visit all year round and is an awesomely quiet and beautiful spot perfect for exploring the Caingorms.
I get asked a lot how I got into photography and I was recently sorting through my files and found my first publication. It was a series of happenstances that has got me to this point but it was an idle idea about 4 years ago, at the height of the recession and when friends and family around me were all losing jobs, that the thought flashed through my head; if I get made redundant I'd like to be a photographer. I'd already signed up for a photography holiday in Morocco with Creative Escapes when the inevitable happened - my company had a massive downsizing and all the middle management were made redundant. I knew I should have been upset, but secretly I was thrilled. Although I really enjoyed my job as a marketing account director working on amazing brands such as Jack Daniel's, Lynx, New Look and Paramount, I just wasn't excited by it any more. However, despite being thrilled, initial money concerns made me worry that dashing off on an expensive photography holiday was probably not sensible. I tried to cancel or at least postpone and in response had an email from an old colleague and photographer, Colin, who was now teaching on the course, which persuaded me to go anyway. So, the trip was fantastic - better than I could ever have imagined. I learnt enough in those 10 days to skip a year of college, which was what I decided to do on my return, and met inspiring friends whose ongoing support has been invaluable (thanks Dawn).
As the icing on the cake, at the end of the trip we were asked to submit some of our pictures to support an article that a journalist had been writing about Morocco. I didn't get around to it but they found my pictures anyway and when I opened the PDF of the article I was stunned to see that one of my portraits had been used as the leader image (taken as a result of spending an entire day photographing the stinking chicken yard and sharing tea with the chicken men). And so that was the beginning. Since then there has been 2 years of college, awful waitressing jobs, endless unpaid photography work, many collaborative test shoots and now finally, feeling like I have made that fleeting thought a reality.