A day at sea

The past few months, and August in particular, have been massively eye-opening for me.

What is this whole photography thing? Why have I been fairly obsessed with it for over eleven years now? What do I want it to be? But most of all, what do i need it to be?

Photography has been many things for me. It has been a search for beauty and knowledge, going over finding love and unexpected connection, to ending up what it has actually always been: a way to express myself in a way that I fail to do so in real life, as I assume is the case since people keep insisting on calling me ‘mysterious’… There is just something comforting about pouring myself into a picture, fragile and imperfect, and finding that people are interested in seeing that. And that I am not afraid.

I am generally so afraid.

I want my photography to be emotional, personal, physical. I am less interested in capturing perfect looking models in their most attractive ways. It is nice, I admit. There are some unbelievably beautiful people out there and yes – if you pair them with an interesting location and some good hair and makeup, some proper styling, then boom – you’ve got yourself a picture. But does that picture make you feel anything?

What is it that makes a photo truly unforgettable?

What is the world you want to create?

I want a world where this crazy, introverted (one doesn’t exclude the other) 34-year old female can express herself. A world filled with color, emotion, intimacy, simplicity and flaws. Or as Shannon L. Alder said: “There is no perfection, only beautiful versions of brokenness.”

a-day-at-sea-by-els-vanopstal

Bathing in the purple rain

If you know my photography a little bit, you might know I have a thing for flowers. It wasn’t always that way though. Back when I was a teenager, my parents had a flower shop and I, well, I wasn’t very fond of it. I remember sitting in our living room filled with flowers during holiday season and absolutely hating it. Now I think I would have loved it and would have spent all day photographing it. People change, I guess. Well, at least I have.

So after visiting Iceland three times (obsessive much?), my next mission was to get there during lupine season. Nature is fickle so you can never be sure of anything to be a certain way on a certain date… But I got lucky. When I went there with three friends a couple of weeks ago, everywhere we went we saw fields and fields of these purple flowers. I guess that’s another one to cross of the bucket list. :)

An eternity of memories

Three years ago today, I lost my fiancé Christophe to cancer. Just three years. Three already. The idea is absurd. This time feels like an eternity to me, as well as a blink of an eye. This all happened yesterday. But I’ve been missing him now, for so long. I cannot comprehend this time, and I cannot explain it. I cannot tell you how my heart feels today or how my stomach still turns at the thought of what he had to go through. And I cannot imagine how I’ll feel a year from now, or five, or ten. But by now I know one thing: time cannot heal all wounds. Sometimes we just get strong enough to carry them around. Even though there are times when we feel weak and broken, undeserving and scared, if you are reading this, you are still here. We are here. We are here. And I for one, am keeping all the memories.

Looking back on 2016

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.