Ever heard about the horrors of finding a place to live in New York? Here’s my story, which apparently is really normal and average. Kind of hard to believe, but people’s apologetic reaction to you telling them you’re apartment hunting supports that notion. I’ve learned that sometimes you really have to just laugh it all off to survive and keep going. So I’ve been laughing a lot lately.
Last year, I had the opportunity to work alongside a phenomenal crew on a film that documented men on either side of the poaching crisis in Africa. While the crew ventured into the ominous territory of poachers and ivory traders, I spent my time learning about the men that offer their loyalty and protection to the magnificent animals on the blade of extinction. I created a portrait series, Watchmen 20, which paints a glimpse of these rare animals and their protectors. Although there is no tangible object that can capture raw conflict and emotion, I hope that the photos help to transport viewers’ minds across the globe where this crisis is a daily reality. I designed and self-published a book of this series, which has found a home on many coffee tables of those who share our passion.
Paris was arguably my favorite city that Natasha and I went to. I was surprised to find it much like New York in its artistic and rugged culture. Bicyclists and cigarette butts may outnumber even the pigeons. Paris holds a key to the wonders of some of the most iconic artists in history — from genius works at the Louvre to the stories kept alive for centuries on the cobblestone streets on which some artists were bred. I had never been so awestruck by a work of art that I was brought to tears until I saw the Winged Victory at Samothrace at the Louvre. It was the most stunning sculpture I’d ever seen — I felt so overpowered, and even submissive, simply by the majestic strength that the figure exuded.
Nestled at the cozy base of Paris’s highest natural point, Montmartre is an artsy neighborhood that lives gladly away from the touristic rush of Paris’s most famous areas. Women crossing the street with fresh baguettes in hand, quaint flower shops and the best-dressed men you’ve ever seen riding bikes on the cobble stone streets are just a few of the things you’ll be sure to see when you’re in this hood. I could feel humility and passion in each shop we went into, from chocolatiers to boutiques to bars. Everyone knows everyone. People seem to know how to slow down and enjoy a slower pace of life away from the rush, enjoying cigarettes and red wine knee-to-knee on the sidewalks outside of cafes. It’s a place where the waiter on the street corner becomes your person you wave to every afternoon, where you order the same brunch spread every weekend at your favorite spot, and where you can get fresh produce on the street side every day to fill your kitchen.
My beautiful best friend moved to London this year. She’s there for just a year, so before life got out of hand, I promised I’d come visit her. After a long day of hauling around my bags through cold airports and bustling trains, I felt comforted to arrive at this cozy home in the Clapham area of London. Natasha being there in all of her hospitable glory is what really made it feel like home. After a few hours of unplanned sleep, I awoke to freshly appreciate this historic little flat’s charm on a rainy day. It’s happily tucked in a long quiet row of identical white houses that each have a different color front door. Natural light breathes freely throughout each spacious room, and the lush green garden warmly hugs the house, inviting what’s inside to come out. In the calm of the mornings, we drank hot tea in the natural light that softly fell through the french doors, just before we headed out to explore London or work in coffee shops. At night, we had some of the most fun times over dinners with her multi-cultured European roommates — dinners that usually involved floods of red wine and champagne, dance offs, and theatrical accent imitations.
We woke up in dry, red Utah and hours later drove to this thirst-quenching turquoise gem, Hanging Lake, near the top of a mountain. T was worried we wouldn’t make it in time to have a place to park, and she was right. We ended up having to backtrack on the highway to park at the exit before, and we walked through the Glenwood Canyon for three miles just to get to the trailhead to start the hike. It was actually more exciting that way; canyons are one of my favorite landscapes so it was so refreshing to walk alongside one for three miles before hiking up. The lake itself is so magnificent and extremely colorful. You’re not allowed to swim in it in order to maintain the integrity of its rare properties which give it the vibrant color. It was so tempting though, I was salivating looking at it. On the way back in the canyon, we got caught in a crazy thunderstorm and sprinted through the rain and thunder to make it to cover, which wasn’t all that close. It’s ok, running through a storm happens to be one of my favorite things to do. After driving and seeing a full double rainbow, we drove to Loveland pass. It was so high that the air was a fresh, cold blast, chilling us into believing it was already fall.
It was crazy to see how abruptly the landscape changed once we headed west outside of the Rocky Mountains. We started near Vail and before I knew it we were in the desert. The deeper we got into Utah, the more intense the red rock landscape got. We were amidst miles of completely fat, dry land, with some red plateau looking mountains in the distance. It made me want to go to an old-west saloon, drink whisky and eat salsa. Our main objective was to go to Arches National Park, the site of all the famous red rock arches. T and I sprinted our way through the park, not because of time, but because we felt really free and energized by such a wild and unique atmosphere, and it just feels good to be alive and healthy. We camped by a river in Moab just outside the park, which was really fun. A mouse had fun walking on me all night through the other side of the tent, but weirdly I didn’t care. I just shined a light on him and saw a silhouette of his little mouse feet pressing down on the sheer fabric. That’s how it is with T; we are both low maintenance and just go with it, however non-glamorous and exhausting it may be. No complaining, just go with the flow. I love that.
My best friend in the world moved to Colorado a couple of years ago, and I finally made it out to visit her in this wild and beautiful state. We have been best friends for 13 years, and have gone through so many huge phases and changes together, both difficult and incredible. We met on a club volleyball team in 2002, where we quickly earned a reputation of being a boisterous and crazy duo, laughing constantly at everyone and everything around us. With that, our parents gave us the appropriate name “TNT” (Tierney and Tami) because we were like dynamite together. It’s impossible to have a dull moment or conversation, unless we are focused on watching Harry Potter, then there will be no talking. We still talk basically every day, blowing up each other’s phones with text rants about our aimless inner dialogues, and often super deep and meaningful, soul-connecting, life-changing thoughts.
Being on a film production was a new experience for me, and I loved it. The collaborative dynamic felt like something that I was designed for. The project was an incredible opportunity, and I hope to do a lot more of this kind of thing in the future. This particular story and setting, as well as all the moving parts involved, were so energizing to me and right up my alley of passions. I also love how our team was so young but so dedicated and mature in their roles. It was so special to meet a lot of the wildlife rangers from Big Life Foundation and Ol Pejeta, and of course Sudan, the last male northern white rhino in the world. I’m a huge animal lover, to the point where I can’t vocally keep it in; I just melt. With the time I spent with the rangers, I got a taste of some of their backgrounds and stories and got to know their personalities. I wanted to pour as much warm attention and passion into our time together, whether it was a few hours or a few days. We had a lot of fun.
Bucket list…check. Machu Picchu was magnificent. I couldn’t believe I was standing there. It was so much bigger than I was expecting. Honestly, I was so exhausted by the time I got there, as was everyone else. We had been hiking for four days, which was not an easy hike. Sleep was also hard to come by at night being in a tent, and that morning we woke up at 2:30 to hike in the rain downhill for 5+ hours before arriving here. When we got there, it was cloudy blocking the famous views, but cleared up a little later right before it rained. Unfortunately, sleep and putting my feet up were the main things on my mind, so I was a little checked out of the history lessons. Being there was enough! The fact that people built this incredible civilization hundreds of years ago on the top of a mountain so steep is mind boggling. The views from Machu Picchu out are stunning, making you feel incredibly small. Next time, I’ll take the train in and soak it in more. So thankful for this exposure and experience in beautiful Peru. I want to see more of South America!
On our way to Ollantaytambo, we made another stop at at the ancient ruins of Pisac in the Sacred Valley. I didn’t realize that there were so many other ancient Incan sites in Peru that had the same structure and character of Machu Picchu. After spending about an hour here, we went to this amazing little restaurant, called Parwa, in the middle of nowhere by a river in the Andes mountains. The restaurant was like a greenhouse; all the walls were glass and it had a huge opening so it felt like it was outside. The food was prepared at an outdoor wood-burning fire, and delivered by traditionally dressed women, and served family style. There were a few alpaca calmly roaming and grazing around the property, as well as a spotted pig who got loose and ran out of the gate, haha. When we were eating, a thunderstorm passed over and the rains pounded down, soaking the poor alpacas outside. The food was unbelievably delicious — I could not stop eating.
As we made our way through the Sacred Valley from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, we stopped for a couple hours at a Planeterra-supported women’s weaving co-op. It was a beautiful and humble village, nestled in the country side in the lush mountains. The colors of the buildings and clothing of the people painted the scenery with bright contrast. We met women who make a living by making traditional weaving textiles, and learned about their different dyeing techniques and the meanings behind the motifs. The alpacas that the women used (for their fur) for the weavings were all hanging out nearby, waiting for the next visitor to hand feed them some grasses that the women were passing out.
Cusco is a vibrant, cultural city in Peru situated at the base of a group of modest mountains a few hours from the beginning of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I only spent about one day here, which is not nearly enough time to experience it even from a passing-though tourists’ perspective. However, in that short time my group and I experienced some unbelievable Peruvian food, chill traditional live music, and came across some goofy/adorable alpacas. Many of the people here dress very traditionally, wearing a lot of bright hand-made clothing. Women and children sit at street corners selling spices, fresh produce, or hand-made products such as wallets, musical instruments and purses. It’s surprisingly large and it’s full of rich history. I would have loved to spend at least 3-4 uninterrupted days here to take my time walking through different parts of the city, talking with local people and grabbing more in depth photos.
After our three or so weeks in Bethlehem, we took a road trip across the border through Jordan to close out the trip. Our first stop was at the Crown Plaza Hotel on the Dead Sea, somewhere in Jordan, I never even knew what city it was exactly. My group was in the pool that night, but I went out at sunset alone down to the “beach”, and just floated in the water for about 30 minutes with my hands behind my head looking up at the empty sky that was slowly turning a soft orange. I brought a little bottle with me to take some water back home, and during the bottling process, somehow I splashed water in my eyes. Holy crap that hurt haha. I felt pretty much hopeless — I had nothing to wipe down my eyes with because I was submerged in this crazy poisonous, salty, acid water.
If being around Rakesh, Sonali and their family was not enough of a blessing, I was given a really special gift from Abel, Sonali’s brother. He works in the precious stone business, which India is a world-leader in. He took me to their old factory in Jaipur where they have been making jewelry by hand for over 100 years to show me how they do it. When you look at the finished products, it’s really hard to believe that they are made by hand. The precision of the cuts are just like they came from a machine.
I spent a few days in Varanasi, India with my friend and brother, Mahesh. Mahesh is a missionary with Rakesh and Sonali’s ministry, and he does a ton of things including being in charge at a boys’ hostel in Jaipur. Mahesh came to protect me, because it would be a terrible idea for a white, blonde, foreign girl with a hat and camera to go to Varanasi alone, haha. I had an interest in going to Varanasi because one of my favorite photographers, Joey L, did an incredible series on the religious men there. I definitely had no expectation or plan to capture the kind of photographs he took, since he’s quite the master and I know he did a lot of crazy planning for those photos. I really just wanted to go to see it, and capture what I could in a more documentary way, and observe how they lived in an extreme religious pursuit. In order to get the opportunity to work very closely with people, it’s best to dive into their culture head first, and I knew that wasn’t something I was going to do in this particular place.
With the downtime we had in Jaipur, Rakesh and Sonali were so incredibly sweet to take me around Jaipur to show me all the cool places. Jaipur is known as the “pink city” because it has a ton of ancient palaces, and an old part of the city that are all made from a pinkish material. Many kings of the past have lived here, and have fought battles from way up in the mountains from huge fortresses. The world’s biggest cannon is actually in Jaipur. There were some really beautiful, extravagantly designed palaces that we visited.
I took a few personal days to NYC to get a much needed city fix to see my cousins and friends. I almost forgot how the rush of a big city makes me feel. My heart begins to race the moment I’m standing on a street corner and hear sirens, cabs honking, cars breaking and see thousands of people rush to their next destination. A friend told me that NYC people are not trying to be famous, they’re just trying to be awesome at what they do. I can totally see that. Things I dream of doing all of a sudden really seem possible, as predictable and naive as that may sound, haha. The people of New York. Each one of them has a story, and that part intrigues me. At a glance, they all seem like a shallow part of a massive population, but really they are just like you – humans – with families, dreams, crushes, insecurities, and likely come from a small(er) town. They all love someone and are loved by someone, doesn’t that make them seem a little less distant? Even though they all seem really hard, they all just want acceptance. That’s usually what I’m thinking when I people watch. Some element of intimidation is removed.
If I had to describe my experience in the Holy Land right off the bat, I would say that it was a very intense trip, but full of a very real passion. I didn’t come away feeling refreshed and renewed like I imagined after having done something like swim in the Galilee. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Rather I came away much more burdened and awakened to the world, but in love with the people I met. The awareness can be bitter at times, but I’d rather do life (share pain, encouragement, struggle, love and joy) with people in very real situations than live in a safe zone my whole life, unaffected by worldly affairs as I carry on in my air-conditioned and predictable lifestyle.
In March of 2013, I had the extraordinary privilege to go alongside Dr. JL Williams and his wife, Patt, with a small team of Americans to document a unique trip in remote parts of Kenya, including the villages of Kurungu and South Horr. JL Williams is a missionary who has been traveling to Kenya for many years, along with countless other countries across the world. His key focus on relationships has enabled him to have great influence and impact in each place he visits. This particular trip to Kenya was unique because for the first time, in collaboration with local Kenyans, they were holding a conference specifically for the women of the Samburu tribe. I was the lucky girl with the dream job of documenting each moment.