2016. What a year, right? The year Brussels was attacked by terrorists, we lost several musical heroes, and a mysogynist/ racist bully was elected president of the USA. Just to name a few things. But to me personally, the past year has been rather kind. Actually, in comparison to 2015 – where I was basically just trying to stay alive – and the absolutely excruciating 2014, twenty sixteen was a walk in the park.
One of the biggest things to influence my year was actually a new year’s resolution: to enter my photos into a photo competition. I did enter a few photo contests years ago but never got anywhere so I kind of got discouraged and gave up. Then in January, I was reading Focus Magazine, a Dutch magazine on photography, and I noticed a big ad showing the Northern lights. It was an ad announcing the Canon Grand Prix, a photo competition where four finalists would be selected to go to Iceland to battle for the final prize. I admit, it was the Iceland part that drew me in. Ever since I visited the island in 2015, and felt a second of joy for the first time after the passing of my fiancé Christophe a year and a half earlier, Iceland has had a hold on me. I feel an emotional connection to the place like I do with almost no other place on earth (only the cherry trees in my street in full bloom). It was a sign I could not ignore and sure enough I entered some photos to then not think about it anymore, presuming I sure wouldn’t be picked, as per usual.
Behind the scenes in Iceland © Mich Buschman
But then I got a call. A publication in Focus Magazine followed. And then I got to go to Iceland with three other lovely and talented finalists. Once there, I gave it my all. I froze my butt off as I had the genius idea to make self portraits wearing summer dresses. But Iceland always makes me feel like I belong. And perhaps that was what people saw in the photos I sent in for the final. Then in late August, I was declared the winner (who with the what now?) and had a spread and even a cover on Focus Magazine. It was a strange thing to suddenly feel people ‘got’ me and my photos. I didn’t feel like I had to hide or defend it anymore. After that I also got my first exhibition in my birth town. I decided photography should be more than just a ‘hobby’. I want more. And in the past I have always ignored that voice inside telling me that, out of fear that I couldn’t do it, out of fear that I would fail at my biggest dream and end up with nothing.
Behind the scenes in Iceland © Rick Van Dorst
Behind the scenes in Iceland © Marcel Kerkhof
So one of my biggest resolutions for this year will be to try and get professional with my photography (even if it’s just as a side-job). I want to move people. I want to tell stories. I want to see my photos displayed on walls. I get overwhelmed by the practical and administrative things I need to get in order for this to happen, but I know I should just take a deep breath and do it one step at a time. I still get scared. I still sometimes wonder if I should really go for this. What if I fail? But then that little voice comes back again, whispering. What if you never try? Then you will always wonder if perhaps you could have lived your dream.
I love this quote by Mother Theresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
So here’s to doing what you love. I hope you have a wonderful 2017.
Until December 3rd you can go see an exhibition of my self portraits in Iceland at the library of my birth town Geel (Belgium). :)
I recently thought of a new category for my blog: ‘The story behind…’. On Facebook I saw this post showing what is really going on when a beautiful photograph is made. It’s funny to see but I think it’s also important people realise the world of photography is not always as glamourous as it looks. I can think of at least a couple photos I made where I knew the model (or myself) was not at all glamourous or even comfortable during the shoot but then it all turned out to be worth it in the end. I guess I’m a kind of a believer when it comes to the idea one must suffer for their art. Not that I intentionally make people suffer. Ahum. I just mean that, when you have something in mind and you want to create something special, sometimes you have to do things that are uncomfortable. Or weird. Or maybe even a little bit crazy.
Throwback to a few months ago, when I was in Iceland with Focus Magazine and Canon, and three talented and lovely fellow competitors for the Canon Grand Prix. It was a little before noon and we arrived at Jokulssarlon, a gorgeous glacier lake in the south of Iceland. I think each and every one of us was a bit stunned when we first laid eyes on this wonder of nature. And we weren’t alone. There were… – dun dun dun – tourists! Lots of them. Kids too. And then there I was, with a photo idea in my head which involved me being half naked while wearing a hat! I mean, it’s one thing to have these silly ideas in your head, it’s another to make other people become witness of your silliness! I told Mich from Focus Magazine about my idea and my worries, and he replied ‘So? Just do it!’. He said it like it was the most normal thing in the world.
And that was exactly what I needed, a little bit of encouragement to get over my own fears. Or maybe it was just a relief that someone didn’t think my idea was all that silly. The rest of the story involves me taking of my clothes in front of people (also, did I mention there were boats?), with a towel to cover the necessary bits (really no need to traumatize the kids) and running back and forth between the camera and my spot. But just as soon as I started doing all this, I forgot everyone around me, except for Mich who really helped me out with my coat and focussing, etc. Photography can do that to me. Make me forget all my worries and focus on just making this one thing a reality. And I’m very happy that I did so in this case. Because what if I hadn’t? I’d just have gotten home, beating myself up about it until the end of times. And that is quite a long time, believe me.
© Els Vanopstal
As an animal lover, it is always a treat when I get to meet some furry friends. Although Iceland may be best known for its horses, there are also other animals like reindeer (which we saw but I didn’t get to photograph as they were on the side of the road where it was impossible to stop), puffins (although I’m not entirely convinced they’re not just a legend), seals and dogs!
Check out this cutie patootie horsing around:
At Jökulsárlón, Iceland’s famous glacier lake, I crossed path with this seal:
And when we got out of the car to hike to a ‘secret’ waterfall, this fluffy chap showed up and lead the way – a bit like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. He stayed with us the entire time, all the while running through the river, rolling in the dirt, barking at birds, and simply sitting happily. When we left, he also left with us. The fact he stayed with us, and that there was no one else around for the majority of the time, made the entire afternoon magical.