Touching Lives As You Gently Pass By

When was the last time you were able to step back from your daily madness and look at the lives that you touch along the way?

A couple strolls through Paris on a summer afternoon. image by cstreet

Have you been blessed with the knowledge and the wisdom to recognize your role in this world and create the opportunity for your beauty and your energy to touch others as you pass gently through their world?

Do you wake up each morning, slightly curious about who will cross your path and what energy or experience you may share with that person? Do you contemplate the possible ripple effects of your random interaction with a stranger- or your loving advice to a dear friend?

Can you look back at your work, your passion and your presence in this world and see- with clarity and definition- the positive influence you’ve had on the people around you? Or on the souls you’ve never met?

I’m asking such questions because I am blessed enough to be able to answer all those questions with positive answers. I’m fortunate enough to have built a platform to share my experiences with a vast world of people I may never meet, yet can touch gently as I pass through their radar and as they float through my art. I’ve had the wisdom to recognize that my talents and intuition play a larger role than just effecting my life. The work I produce, the art I create, the lives I hold closely to my own- they all have been effected by my presence. Some in tiny little minute ways and some in massive life-altering manners.

Not blowing sunshine up my own ass here- I’m just verbally reflecting on the past two days of my life. My nomad world has been a whirlwind the past couple weeks. So much so that I’m not even sure what day it is, what month I’m in and this morning I woke up thinking I was in a different time zone. Hell, it felt like a different dimension. In this time frame, some beautiful opportunities and people have entered my world- and I’m contemplating my current nomadic path and if I should possibly merge it with a more sedentary life that gives me more strength and stability to leap from.

One of my lovely travel companions in Europe.

During this reflection period and before it, I was questioning my role as a “blogger”. I really don’t see my work in that genre- even though I publish a blog. I see where this has evolved into so much more- but I was beginning to question the why of my online writing and if it even had the impact that I envision. I don’t write list articles to garner a larger audience, I don’t structure articles to boost traffic, build my email list or even include keywords or metatags in my posts. Hell, I can barely get a damn newsletter out once a month.

And over the past month or so, every time I log onto Twitter and scan the conversations across my lists- I feel redundant. I feel as though I am seeing the same shit over and over again. And I felt like I was writing the same shit over and over again.

So, I took a step back. I re-evaluated and I went silent for a bit. I ate my way around some major cities in Europe, I documented a beautiful family vacation in France and Italy, I worked on a large multimedia project and I fell in love. I lived, and am living, and it is fantastic.

Yesterday I finally had time to spend with my online world. I published the photos I took in Italy and France, I sent out my private newsletter with a story about my little 6 year old travel companion in Europe and I sent out my monthly newsletter to my lovely readers from this blog.

And the response was overwhelming. It was humbling. And I was and am moved. People I’ve never met wrote me personal emails telling me that my writing brought them to tears. Readers told me how moved they were by my stories. One reader emailed me for advice about a personal topic of a deep nature that I had written about last month. Another reader, Debbra, sent me this little poem:

Risk more than others think is safe.
Care more than others think is wise.
Dream more than others think is practical.
Expect more than others think is possible.

And my loved ones sent me letters and told me how touched they were. My mother even sent me a lovely email and she had actually looked at my writing as a reader- not a mother- and she was moved as well.

And just now, I opened an email from one of my oldest and dearest friends and she told me our recent time together had rubbed off on her and she some major life decisions that opened up a world of joy for her that she needed to explore. And she was happy for it.

I feel as though I have too much joy in my heart in this moment- and this joy is present from the people in my life who connect with my energy, my love and my art. And my life would be a total void without them.

So, I guess I’m posing the questions here of how our work influences those around us- both total strangers and the people we’ve known all our lives. How does our wisdom and energy effect our lovers, our children, our co-workers and total strangers? How far is the reach of your work and can you touch lives from a distance- with the same gentility and passion as you would someone standing in front of you?

Is your work touching this world gently as you pass through or are you merely walking through this world without sharing your soul as you travel by? If the latter is your answer, I implore you to step back from your life, evaluate all that you embody and begin to emanate the beauty you wish to behold in this world. Be the beauty you wish would find you- and I’m sure you’ll realize the power you have to touch this world during your time here.

And if you have a platform to influence others- if your work and your passion are already living in this world and touching people as you pass by- I commend you. And I celebrate the wisdom you cultivated and protected from the crushing influences that society can place upon us. You stand before the flames and declare to the world that no matter what, you WILL touch people gently as you pass through.

And you sacrifice and fight for the privileged and the ability to continue touching humanity as you walk among us. You, dear warrior, are the reason I have hope in this world. So, I thank you.

ps- the comments are off, but the conversation is on- hit the Twitter- @crystaldstreet

pss- All the pics in this essay are from my recent trip to Europe. You can buy prints at my gallery or just click on the photo and start shopping! Go on, you know you want a little more beauty on your walls.

A Smartphone and My Happy Place

I discovered a key to my creative happy place- a place I haven’t seen in some time- or at least not in this capacity. This happy place can live in my pocket and can translate my vision- with the touch of a single button. The key to my happy place? A smartphone.

I purchased this savvy device at the beginning of my recent photo assignment in Europe and downloaded an app that replicates the Holga film camera. I had a vision for part of my assignment and the Holga had to be a part of the total body of work.

 (Crystal Street)

Dinner should always have such ambiance. Riva Del Garda, Italy

Several years ago, while taking a logic class at UNC, I began to see things in squares. I know this sounds insane, but while learning to understand logic- my creative mind was trying to learn to see in medium format. Let me give that statement some context.

I see in rectangles. I see in black and white. I see light and I see shadows.

My world has been immersed in 35 mm photography for so long, that I see everything as a potential composition- even if my camera is no where to be found. That’s my world. That’s how my mind works.

And has been working for over 20 years.

Strolling through Riva Del Guarda.

When I shifted into digital almost a decade ago, I lost a part of the joy of my passion. Things became technical. They became complicated and they began to be measured in pixels. And unfortunately, the cameras I enjoyed, the instruments that truly sang to me, were film cameras.

Last year I took a step towards satisfying my passionate needs with an amazing professional digital camera, which has one major drawback. She is a massive beast of a tool. She’s amazing and when I lift her to my eye and interpret the world through her lens, I find joy, peace and flow.

But her size and weight prohibits me from truly engaging in the creative outlet that makes my heart sing- street photography. Simply documenting the tiny slices of humanity that I encounter when I wander through the world. My professional companion is amazing for commercial work and outstanding for intense photojournalism or documentary projects, but when the time comes for me to embrace my inner Henri-Cartier Bresson, the sheer magnitude of her power inhibits my art.

An afternoon in the park in Annecy, France.

After the summer when I began to see squares, I purchased a Holga, the lovely 20 dollar toy camera that shoots medium format film. I lugged her to Palestine, Jordan and Indonesia. And fell in love with the odd, dreamy, mystery square that I created with her.

A Holga is truly a piece of masterful shit- really. She leaks light, has only one exposure setting, focusing is more of an abstract concept rather than a precise technical skill and you get 12 shots a roll and that’s it. I actually close her shut with electrical tape, so changing a roll takes at least 5 minutes. And you never know what you’re getting- which is part of her charm.

But now, technology and my passionate needs have collided in the most unlikely of places. An unlocked, Italian Droid smartphone with a Holga app. Go fucking figure.

For the past five weeks, while shooting a documentary assignment in Italy and France, I have kept that damn phone in my hand the entire time- even while shooting with my lovely professional beast. I must look like I’ve lost my mind- standing next to the Notre Dame in Paris, a $5000 camera draped over one shoulder while obsessively shooting with a $200 smartphone. I feel like I’m cheating on my lovely pro companion, but I just can not help myself.

I am the proverbial kid in the candy store.

Standing outside the Pantheon in Rome.

Yes, its a smartphone, and yes, its a computer app. But this new tool pushes me to translate the world the way I truly see it- and try to capture the vision in tiny slices of time.

The smartphone allows me to strip away the complications and get back to the basics of composition. I can simply look for light and wait for my subject to step into that light. I see a visual metaphor unfolding before me and simply wait until the right moment to capture it.

I can simply sit and watch. I understand how this computer application in my phone reads light and I compose my images around these methods of interpretation.

I can return to simply reading pockets of light, long shadows and contrasting objects of black and white.

I can return to the core of my art. Composition. Joy. Flow.

Can You Sit Quietly With the Intensity of Your Emotions?

For better or worse, we humans were blessed- or cursed- with the ability to reason. We have the full gamut emotions and we experience them every moment of everyday.

In a church quietly watching the light dance across the artwork within. Annecy, France.

And here’s the tragic irony of it all- our society dictates to us which emotions we are to embrace and the ones we should be embarrassed by or simply ignore as irrelevant or a sign of weakness.

How many times in your daily life has an emotion risen and you dismissed it as a sign of weakness?
How many times have you shunned a feeling or a true, authentic emotion- because that voice in your head (not really your voice, but some father-figure or mysterious masculine identity from your past)whispered in your ear that you were a complete pansy for even letting that thought cross your mind?

I ask this because over the past few months- or even years- as a nomadic gypsy, I’ve crossed so many paths with so many people. I have met both the enlightened souls who willingly embrace their emotions and the tortured souls who run in fear from the very feelings that dwell deep within.

Yet the conflicted one, the ones who come to me at some point in time- usually in a personal capacity- who need a catalyst and are seeking some drastic change in their lives to help them step into their own, are tortured by their emotions.

The conflict is so easy to witness from the outside and as a person with a strong sense of intuition, I can immediately recognize this tortured soul. Their actions do not match their words. At the first moment of emotional engagement, they disappear. And I may not hear from them for months, sometimes years.

It breaks my heart because somewhere during their life, some voice or some person took this soul, at their most vulnerable and exposed moment, and told them the emotions that engulfed them were not supposed to be present. This poor soul was crushed and smothered and told that the pain and turmoil that was real and thriving inside of them was wrong and they were weak for even possessing such an emotion.

And now, this person stands before me as an adult- unable and unwilling to sit with the discomfort that life presents before them. I can see their true self, buried beneath all the emotional garbage they’ve harbored for so long- and that true self is so beautiful, lovely and in such pain. Yet reaching that true self is not possible if the person can not touch the pain and the turmoil the lives within and keeps the soul imprisoned.

For to truly live in this world with your eyes wide-open- to see all of life’s beauty and all of its sorrow- you MUST be able to sit with the entire gamut of emotions.

You MUST sit comfortably with your anguish. You MUST embrace your sorrow with the gentle arms of a longing lover. You MUST recognize your vulnerability and then hold it out for another person to witness and recognize- and respect. You MUST greet your pain with the mutual understanding that it demands and simply be one with it- for however long it accompanies you.

You must walk along side your sadness and feel its every caress, its every whisper and its every kiss until the day when you are simply able to part ways with it, with the respect and the admiration that it deserves.

Annecy, France.

There are no pills to remove these emotions. No drink nor drug can take the intensity of these feelings and remove them from your soul- such distractions will only prolong their presence in your life. Ignorance, in this instance, is not bliss. It’s a waking death.

I parted with my long-term companion several months ago. My sadness, who walked as a quiet companion for over a decade finally told me it was no longer mine to bear, and it simply left. Clearly and distinctly, like someone was whispering in my ear- it said goodbye. But to get there, we traveled many roads and many years together. It’s a sadness that I had come to understand and truly, had come to welcome in some moments. It was my familiar. And that’s not to say that over the past 12 years I haven’t had moments of pure joy and ecstasy- that I haven’t lived a life that was filled with the experiences and moments that others dare to dream of- my life is all of that. Yet, sadness was always riding in the backseat. And that’s OK, I understood its presence and it was warranted.

Annecy, France

But since we parted ways- with the inevitable understanding that we’ll probably cross paths again at some point in life- people have entered and re-entered my life who embody all that I was seeking and all that I knew existed, but was unable to see clearly enough to bring them into my life.

In the past few months, I’ve had the blessed pleasure to have men (and some lovely ladies) enter my life that not only recognize the full gamut of human emotion- but they are not afraid to embrace their presence. And the refreshing relationships that have ensued just make my heart sing. Finally- men who are not afraid to actually feel the emotions that society ignores or degrades. Finally- men who will sit with their vulnerability- and mine- and not run screaming like a banshee in the other direction.

Finally- men who harbor the maturity, compassion and wisdom to recognize both the joy and the sorrow, the pain and the sadness, the beauty and the fallacies of being human.

(side note- we women carry all of these emotions as well- and ignore them in just the same capacity, I’ve just been able to bring a handful of powerful, strong and beautiful women into my life over the years already)

And this gives me hope. Knowing these souls exist and are part of my life now gives me joy.

Enjoying a stroll through Paris.

And while I’ll always be there to try and guide the lost souls who are seeking a different path in life and I will try to translate my perceptions of the world into something that can act as a catalyst for them- it is truly invigorating to have beautiful people in my world to share this lovely and arduous journey that is life.

So I ask you, lovely reader, are you able to sit with your emotions? Can you embrace all the sorrow, anguish and joy life has to offer and understand why it exists in your life? Can you grow from these intense feelings- or do you hide them away in fear and disdain?

For if we are to truly evolve into the enlightened beings that the world now needs- and is demanding from us- we MUST understand, recognize and embrace all of who we are and what we feel in this world.

The comments are off- but the conversation is on- hit the Twitter!!

The images in this essay were taken on my current assignment in Italy and France and you can purchase a print or just see more from my travels at my gallery or just click the image.

Owning Your Fabulous Self

What do you say when someone asks these dreaded three words- ‘what you do?

If you’re like me, it depends on that particular moment in time, my geographic location and the actual work I’ve done that week to pay the bills. My response also varies based on my mood and the energy of the person asking the question.

This man owns his job- and everyone on his bus! Our bus driver on the Hipster Tour at WDS!

My recent time at the World Domination Summit really brought home my ability- or inability- to clearly state who I am and what I do. Hell, for the first two days I failed to even state my last name during an introduction.

That’s right kids, I couldn’t even own up to my own full name.

Wow- that’s some serious insecurities and uncertainties right there.

For the first two days, I would stutter over my actual description of what I do. I even had a hard time articulating my simple and short elevator speech- “I’m a documentary photographer, commercial multimedia producer and I publish my essays at the”

Simple, right?

Apparently not, because even listening to myself try to say those words was embarrassing. My out of body experience during those awkward introduction moments was downright painful- and I was the one speaking!

Something shifted that weekend and by the end of my time at this summit, I was able to articulate with clarity and confidence exactly who I am and what I do.

And then something fabulous began to happen.

As Danielle LaPorte mentioned several times during her presentations- you have to own your choices. Not only that, I need to own exactly who I say I am. It’s really that simple. So, from that point forward, I made a conscious decision to own the statements of who I am and what I do.

Prior to this point, as soon as I would utter the words- or simply spit them out of my mouth like a wad of rubbery, rock-hard chewing gum devoid of flavor- a little voice in my head would immediately attack the validity of my statement of self. That’s right, my inner-gnomes immediately attacked the very statement of who I am and what I do. It sounded something like this:

“You’re not a real multimedia producer, you don’t even have a physical studio.”
“Yea, you completed a project for Nissan North America, but landing it was just a fluke.”
“Documentary photographer? Really, when was the last time you documented anything? You don’t even carry a camera with you all the time.”
“Writer- seriously- do you see a book with your name on it anywhere?”
“You’re a commercial producer, really? Have you seen your recent bank statement?”

And on, and on, and on.

By the time I was done telling anyone who I am and what I do, I was ready to curl up in a ball, start suckling a bottle of single malt and escape to my happy place. Or just go back to bartending- at least there I didn’t have such intense insecurities about my work- I can make a martini that will blow anybody’s skirt back and shuck a dozen oysters in my sleep.

And since that moment, several weeks ago, when I decided to simply OWN my definition of self and OWN the actual art that I produce and truly EMBRACE the truth of who I am and what I do, the Universe has responded in kind.

Projects are moving forward, new clients are stepping into my life and I’m truly standing in the exact place I envisioned so many years ago. I AM a documentary photographer- I AM a commercial multimedia producer- I AM a writer- I AM a nomadic professional diva.

Another shift that occurred with such ownership is the ability to finally charge what I’m worth and not get squeamish when dealing with money issues attached to my work. And yesterday I was able to take that new found confidence out for a spin. It looked something like this:

A friend and sometimes quasi-client asked for some photographs for an upcoming project. We’d talked about the photos he wanted for several months- usually just in passing or casual conversation. Time to put the big girl pants on and send out the numbers! So, several days ago I sent an email stating my rates for the project. I even attached the friend discount. The following day I was standing in line at the Starbucks (only coffeeshop in town, located at a resort, and many of my local folks congregate there for business and brainstorming- and the baristas are a riot) and my friend jumps in line. We chat and he goes, “your prices are too high, the girl down the street charges $50 bucks.”

I placed my sassy smile and one-eyebrow raised face on and made the following statement without hesitation:

“Of course she does. I am a national award-winning photographer. I charge way more than $50 bucks.” And I turned to another business colleague who was also in line for some java and asked him, “Isn’t my photography worth every penny?” He looked at my friend without hesitation and said, “Absolutely.”

And while I love my friend and all his charming Southern ways, I know he’s not going to hire me. (Particularly if he reads this blog- you know you still love me, darling!) But, in that moment, in line for coffee, I finally stepped into myself- without hesitation or apologies.

I am worth every dime that I charge- and I’m not cheap. I’ve worked my ass off to gain the pure talent and creativity that I bring to every assignment, commercial project and moment that I document. I do not, and will never again, apologize for what I charge and truly stand behind the value of my work.

And just that tiny little shift, that tiny little moment of ownership has brought my worlds together and placed me in a position of leaping forward into everything this Universe has to offer.

So, I ask you, dear reader- are you owning your work?

Do you stand confident before someone who challenges your worth and tell them why you are deserve every dime you charge?

Can you answer the question ‘What do you do’ with confidence and complete ownership?

Because I have to say, it feels fucking fantastic when you can finally step into your own.

The comments are off- but the conversation is ON~ hit the Twitter!! And if you enjoyed this essay and would like to dive deeper with my private newsletter- please sign up here!

Finding the Flow Through Rhythm and Movement

While exploring Eugene with my new friend, Tamara, we ended up at the weekly market- complete with a full drum-circle on the front steps of the town hall.

A woman takes a moment to smoke a cigarette in downtown Eugene, O.R.

Vendors sell a variety of items adjacent to the drum circle; from glass pipes and water bongs to crystals and handmade sandals.

A weekly drum circle convenes on the the steps of city hall during the Saturday market in downtown Eugene, O.R.

The drum circle attracts participants of all ages and backgrounds as the rhythm fills the air and moves people to action.

Finding a rhythm at any age.

Finding the flow.

A dancer takes a pause during the drum circle.

The group takes the rhythm to new heights.

And the Flow keeps on going.

These images are available for editorial usage with rights managed licensing. Please click the image to check the availability or to purchase through the Studio.  Additional images from this shoot can be viewed here. And, as always, I’m available for national & international editorial assignments, NGO projects and commercial documentary projects.