Read about the origins of Chloe
The moon soaked us with its gaze. The brush of skin, the soft pressure of lips battling for their place in space but a destitute universe between us
What have I done?
His call shook me. All of me. After so many years the simple sound of his voice and I reverted to yesterday. Thousands of yesterday’s past.
A glimmer, my light. Alfe wants to fill the dark spaces, my dark and vacant spaces and the ignorant, pleading side of me wishes he could but I know better. Only I can fill my void. I battle my own darkness.
My world feels empty though. I feel empty. I am empty. How do you fill emptiness with more empty and light the darkness with more dark? Why does the heart always sloth behind will, intentions and desires? The heart…the perpetual tortoise to the mind.
I walk alone, shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowd, the entire weight of the ocean fixed atop my chest, stealing moments of life with every suspended breath.
To wade out. Into it. Submerged whole until I’m left with only the beating vibration of my heart pelting in echoes the entirety of my head.
This. My new desire.
The sun balances on a haze so thick you taste it, encapsulated in a swath of life from below. Smoke rises from the earth sending flavors of masala, the previous day’s used and discarded plastic, the sweet smell of sandalwood and the unmistakable aroma of charred flesh to swaddle the ball of heat attempting to cook everything below. In Varanasi, India, the holiest Hindu city along the banks of the Ganga, a cacophony of stimuli envelop every sense a human possesses. The chaotic orchestra of Baba’s chanting mantras from along the Ganga shores, temple bells echoing from every corner of the city, chai wallas and street peddlers shouting their days merchandise options to those resting along the ghats, childrens’ laughter and infant cries penetrate straight to the heart as you inhale the smell of a beedi from the businessman leaning against a wall and spot the thick red splat of betel projecting out the door of a tuktuk as it honks its way through the obstacle course of people, cows, cars, motorbikes and vegetable carts fills an entire soul.
Amidst the potpourri of sensory overload a life altering experience unfolds as Stephanie Lane, a former philanthropy and fundraising student at NYU and half of the inspiring duo from the non-profit Silent Tapes, walks the shores of the holy Ganga. She pauses to take it all in as a dog comes to her feet and starts tugging. As she looks down she sees him digging through the rubble of unidentified ashen mess at a pile of human bones to chew. “I just knew! Wow, this is what we become. For a moment I felt all of my insignificance and that our physical bodies are entirely meaningless in the realm of bigger things,” Stephanie says.
Those bigger things amass to using her newly realized, impermanent vessel of flesh, in partnership with her husband, Francis Lane, as a vehicle to change the world one slum at a time. She brings to the table a solid foundation of truly knowing herself and what her purpose is in life, having trudged her own infinite path to self-discovery, self-realization and self-acceptance. Having a yoga practice made her learn to accept all the parts of her, “mostly the bad things,” she says. “Without the realization of those horrendous truths about myself, it’s possible I would have never embarked on the path I’m on now. The most important thing for any person to do is really embrace and accept their faults. Without that step, there is no way to become the greatness we are meant to be.”
Growing up below the poverty line in America, which she knows from experience is vastly different from other parts of the world, gave her a unique perspective on the choices we make. In a community riddled with the typical challenges of those under dire financial stress, like crime and drugs, she made a conscious choice rooted in her passion in the arts. “Art gave me a safe place, an outlet to express myself about everything that was going on around me. I had a choice to either end up in jail in my teens or dream of sharing my art one day. I chose the latter and not only because I loved art but because I wanted a voice. I wanted to live.”
The seed for Silent Tapes blossomed from that foundation and Stephanie, and Francis, decided to use their combined talents and love of travel, philanthropy and photography to provide the gift of a voice to the children in slums around the world. “Our vision is to have these pockets of empowerment all over the world. I know it’s a big dream to rid the world of poverty, disease, child abuse and so many other things but the least we can do is try. I feel strongly about having a social responsibility and a commitment to helping others,” said Stephanie.
Their philanthropic work originated in Klong Toei, Thailand, at the orphanage Stephanie volunteered at while she and Francis were living there. “Bangkok is very strange in the sense that one of the largest shopping centers in the world, with all the riches you can imagine, is just down the train tracks from 300,000 residents living in a notorious slum. The juxtaposition is really unique and interesting.” Their original efforts were focused on volunteering for an established organization and using funds from their own photography to donate to the local day care, which provided children with a meal plan, basic care supplies and a safe environment to stay while their parents worked.
Their latest project, slated to take place this summer in Fortaleza, Brazil, coincides with the World Cup, where $400 million USD, in Fortaleza alone, has been spent and 200,000 residents displaced for the sake of tourism, in a country with over half a million child prostitutes and 16 million people living on less than $1.30 a day. In Fortaleza they have partnered with a local organization that will help them organize efforts to provide 50 children with a 5-week photography workshop focusing on the basics of photography and how to capture varied emotions. “The aim is to have the children capture their surroundings and also capture how they translate their personal emotions into what they see visually around them. There is so much the heart can feel that the eyes don’t see, so we are hoping that with clear and simple guidance, they will be able to communicate those feelings with their cameras,” Stephanie said. “There are so many things that we would never be able to capture ourselves that are in the hearts and minds of these children and we want to guide them through the process of finding their voice.”
An exhibition in New York City, later this year, will showcase some of the selected photographs from the project and books of the children’s work will be published and distributed to selected school libraries and community centers in the twinned cities.
Want to help with their efforts? I know you bunches of supporting and loving people do! Stephanie and Francis are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds necessary to run the project and the mobile photography community has already come out in droves to support them. “So far the response from Instagram has been mind-boggling. We really had no idea everyone would be so supportive and are running out of ways to say thank you! It’s been really surreal.” The campaign has 2 days remaining and while their original goal has been shattered, they are in the process of working on a stretch goal that will allow them to work with an outside group and film maker to produce a documentary and provide a platform for wider distribution.
“I am very blessed to have the basic things I have. I don’t need anything else. I guess what I am trying to say is to love selflessly, live fearlessly and spend time contributing to this beautiful world we are all born to share.”
From Jessii: It’s with immense gratitude and appreciation that I thank Stephanie for taking the time, during this very busy period, to have such an open heart and speak so candidly with me. It’s been a wonderful few weeks getting to know her and I’m overjoyed to see what sort of success and changes she and Francis will bring to the world and those we all share it with. Please take a moment to view the video below for their Kickstarter campaign, which ends Saturday, May 3 at 10am PST.
Kickstarter / Website / Instagram / Facebook
An Untranslatable World: A Collaboration By Jessii Powers and Anna Cox
We don’t know even know what our story is…how can you capture an unknown story?
Sometimes there are conversations that must be had, things that must be said, and emotions that need to be validated. Recently,Anna and I had one, okay actually a few, such conversations. I love when two hearts and heads collide and somehow, in the end, a subject that had plagued you finds resolution or the start of one.
Anna and I have both recently moved to drastically different locations from our previous addresses. I recently moved back to Seattle after living in India for 2 years and have lost a connection with a people and culture I thrived in so beautifully. Anna moved from rural Kentucky to Houston which happens to be the land of the strip mall and cityscapes. We are both at a loss creatively and have found it hard to capture anything that speaks to us in our new homes.
Together we chatted, grumbled, and grieved over our moves and ultimately decided to write a series together that would explain our struggles, conclusions, and our journey through this period of our lives. Throughout this article will be pieces of our actual first conversation so please forgive the rawness. Our assumption was that if both of us were going through this then others were also. And if that is so, perhaps our conversations will help others and in turn help us.
A: Jessii before we really dig in will you share a little about India and what made it so special to you?
J: India is so raw, so honest and so different from anything else I’ve ever known. It wasn’t a love at first sight experience, how could it be when I flew into Delhi at midnight and was immediately thrown into a taxi that proceeded to play 8 hours of chicken as my friend and I headed to Rishikesh? There is a certain surrender that needs to happen if one is to truly embrace India though because if you don’t, if you fight ANYTHING India throws your way, you will get spit out and it will not be pretty. I met a dear sweet friend from Darjeeling while I was climbing, alone, in the Himalayas about a year ago and he said, “India is an assault on all of your senses” and he couldn’t be more right. Within a fraction of a second you can go from smelling rotten garbage and poop to the most fantastic, mouth watering food, layered with some ridiculous sandalwood incense and that’s just ONE of your senses getting hammered. It’s a country of immense contradictions, a country that seems to have calculated inefficiencies to keep more people employed and it’s the country that completely shattered my views on what’s “right” and what’s “wrong.” Everywhere I looked there was a story, every person I met had some nugget of philosophical wisdom to impart on my soul, people talk of balance in their own state of being, no one complained, EVER, and everyone I met had a loving glow radiating from their eyes. Ok, well maybe not everyone but a helluva lot of people. I experienced the most love in my life in that country and also the most terror and I wouldn’t have changed a single experience because it all helped me grow into who I am today.
J: What was it about Kentucky that ignited your creativity? What drove you?
A: Kentucky for me means home, family, roots. I adore the fact you can drive ten minutes from my door and be in the middle of nowhere. The wide open spaces speak to me. I adore the graceful hills and the rich farming history. It is events like the summer time tobacco cutting contest that make my heart smile. Kentucky is unassuming but at the same time has a unique arts culture with Berea being the epicenter for the art community and a thriving horse industry with Churchill Downs and Keeneland. It has everything from city to country and a little of everything in between.
Our conversation started like any good conversation does – a back and forth, stream of consciousness.
A: Maybe this has to do with a photography niche and how that can be really limiting?
J: Oooo… yeah. So many people try to aim for a niche and what happens when they can’t capture what they are comfortable with? So many peeps epitomize their location with their shooting
A: Perhaps the real aim is to be well versed in shooting different things?
J: Maybe not so much shooting different things but like…being open and more accepting of smashing open your genre. Technically, I’d probably be considered a travel photographer and what does a travel photog do when not traveling… And you are the master of picking the beauty in all its forms in rural america so what do you do when you’re surrounded by manufactured urban pretty and concrete? It’s not so much the things as the space. Am I making any sense? I’m not feeling like it
A: Haha! No you are. It’s easy to pigeon hole yourself and you are saying to open yourself creatively to other genres in the event what you normally shoot isn’t available. If you are creative there is a burning need to do just that- create. And what do you do if your personal inspiration is unavailable?
J: Yes! That!
A: I mean what would a street photog do if there were suddenly no people?
J: Or an architecture fanatic if there were no big buildings?
It’s not even the stuff or the place, now that I’m pondering this more… it’s the stories we like to tell
A: BRILLIANT! That is exactly it. It’s the things we identify with. The things that speak to us. I could shoot landscapes all day here but they don’t speak to me
J: I have an attachment to India and the stories I was fascinated with there…even just the visual story and I’m not ready to let go of that attachment yet so I’m stunted in the US, creatively, because I’d still rather be shooting something else, somewhere else…and when I finally let go of that attachment, I’ll find what drives me here. I’m getting all philosophical about this! And I shoot the stories around me that fascinate me…usually when I’m open to that story or don’t identify with it but want to explore more
A: Hahaha! I like philosophical. I am more on the emotional side. I shoot what narrates my story or where I am heart wise
J: I got it! You and I have been uprooted from our stories! Now we don’t know even know what our story is…how can ya capture an unknown story?
So that’s our challenge.
How do you capture a story when you don’t know what to look for? And how do you find your meaning in an untranslatable world? So much of the time we are deeply rooted within our location, so much so that we don’t even realize how MUCH we depended on it to fuel our creative drive until it is no longer available.
Anna and I answered our questions in different ways but the core is the same. We are both set, ready, and waiting for our creative muse to come back and visit
How do you capture a story that speaks to you when the world around you seems silent?
A: I’ve been a part of the IG/online community for over three years now. In the beginning, it pushed me and taught me but somewhere in the last year it has begun to be a hinderance. I feel the bar that I set quite high for myself has lowered based on the “need” to post images. This need, of course, is just imagined. No one NEEDS to see my photos. They are supposed to be just for me, right? They are an expression of my creativity, they are personal. Yet there is this imaginary pressure to post or die. To be unknown, unconnected, unseen translates into a sort of creative death. And in the process, my photographs have become lazy, sloppy, and boring. I’ve been tinkering with the idea of going off the grid for awhile. Just leaving all platforms and pursuing my endeavor off line, away from eyes. I feel the need to grow, to redefine, and I feel I need to do this away from the barrage of images and information. So for me, the end of the journey (or perhaps the beginning) starts here. The funny part is that since Jessii and I started this article I moved back to Kentucky but I am still going to follow through with my idea and grow away from the public eye for the most part. The amazing part is that I took photos of people more in Texas than ever before and really enjoyed it so that is definitely something I will pursue further
J: I spent 2 years in India learning all I could about yoga and the core principle behind the entire practice is acceptance; acceptance of reality, acceptance of where we currently are as individuals and to honor that, respect that, and to just observe and watch as everything in this life passes, whether it be the irritability that builds on the yoga mat that brings a flood of tears while you’re balancing in crow pose, to watching the love you made in your own heart and shared with someone else leave to go reside in another part of the world. What was wonderful about my time in India is that everything I did was practice without the effort. Nothing felt like work and there was a flow. The stories I digitally captured and shared just… happened. It was truly the first time I ever experienced “being” and understood exactly what it meant to “be.” Any frustrations I have with my photography now is just fighting against something that doesn’t exist and I’m trying to force something that maybe isn’t meant to be, right now. I have learning to do, I have teaching to do, I have writing to do and I have a new life to figure out and if my eye isn’t drawn to capture any of my surrounding moments, that’s ok. I knew that wonderful streak wouldn’t last forever, but I also know this uprooted dry spell won’t either. I’m just going to enjoy being wherever it is I’m pulled to be right now and be patient with myself as my new story unfolds and isn’t that what happens, always, if we let it. It’s fighting the development of our story that causes us such immense heartache. Who knows where it will take me, but I’ll be glad to be wherever I am, or at least that’s the practice that lasts a lifetime, or 23,574,234 lifetimes, give or take a few years
What is the answer for you?
How do you capture images when your world is on it’s ear?
Leave us a comment so we can start a conversation and grow with one another.