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.
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). :)
In July I finally visited one of the regions that has been on my bucket list for a long time: the Italian Dolomites. The place is filled with uniquely shaped mountains and lakes and forests and… Well, you can understand how it ended up on my bucket list. Since I was going to spend my holidays with friends and family in Udine, which is near the Slovenian border, we only got to pass through the Dolomites on our way to and from Udine. A famous place in the Dolomites is Lake Braies (aka Lago di Braies aka Pragser Wildsee) which is a gorgeous emerald coloured lake surrounded by mountains. As we were driving towards Udine, we visited it for the first time. The sun was shining and goodness was it gorgeous. And subsequently filled with tourists. There were people everywhere: walking, having drinks, sitting in boats… There was no way I could have made a self portrait then and there without other people in it. So I didn’t. And afterwards I kept thinking about it.
Fast forward to the end of our holiday, when we drove homewards through the Dolomites again and I noticed the sign saying ‘Lago di Braies’. Casually (*cough*) I mentioned it to my friend behind the steering wheel. He said “Do you want to go?” and a little bit later we saw the lake for the second time. This time it was raining and this had cleared out a lot of the tourists. As we got closer and closer to the lake, it started raining harder and harder. Boats were brought to the side and every sane person there ran frantically from the rain and sought shelter. Enter Els! After some other self portraits, I found myself on the other side of the lake, climbing a slippery rock, while my friend helped me out at the tripod with my camera. And helped me off the rock in order for me not to die. This wonderful place suddenly belonged to only us. To me this is a beautiful memory and a sign of true friendship, when you have someone there who enables your crazy obsessions, especially when these obsessions involve running about in the pouring rain.
I’m very happy to announce… I was named the winner of the Canon Grand Prix 2016! Also, my photo is now on the cover of the September issue of Focus Magazine. Couldn’t be happier. You can find the photos I made for the competition in Iceland inside Focus, or on my website! Thank you so much: Canon, Focus Magazine, and my fellow finalists. It has been an absolute honour.