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In our Essence

One of the most powerful and challenging aspects of our From This Place project was the Essence shoot where we asked each artist to work with us to curate their own unique portrait for the book and exhibition.

As we explored what From This Place was actually about, it became clear that ‘being seen’ and ‘being heard’ were key themes. At times this was an uncomfortable prickly space for all of us and I am so humbled by the bravery these women showed as they supported our vision.

The Essence photo was born from the feeling that there was something more, something unseen, something held in the inner life as a secret ambition or vulnerability. In the sharing  of that inner and most soulful place, the artists of From This Place have shown us their ‘essence’ the thing that makes them who they truly are.

And from that place, we view these portraits as expressions of magnificence and beauty. These are not glamour portraits, touched up to make people look impossibly appealing, these are real and honest, and they are portraits that have the power to move you.

What we didn’t realise when we started these shoots was how much the artist would bring themselves to the shoot, how much their individual creativity would shine through – the ceramicist painted her body in slip clay, we had golden water nymphs, magical goddesses, women of the forest and cups of tea.  In each portrait, their art was truly present.

It wasn’t easy for many of them. Most of us are uncomfortable in front of a camera and being the sole subject matter only amplifies the discomfort.  There were reservations, and transformations around body image and the impossible pressures of the standards of beauty in our world. There were slow intricate steps from wanting to hide behind to being seen and for many of the women this represented a profound shift in how they felt about themselves. Who are you without special effects, makeup, Photoshop, a carefully mediated image? The answer is you are you, and there is no place to hide.

We couldn’t ask others to do what we weren’t prepared to do ourselves so both Angela and I also had an Essence portrait. Angela’s truest self created a ritual around shaving her head and all that represented for her in moving forward in life. I put my portrait off again and again while I tried to figure out how I wanted to reveal myself. Every time it started to feel too complex, too many props (I didn’t really need my antique typewriter surely), too much posturing (I want to be seen like this but not this, left not right, from behind not in front), in these clothes, or maybe these or these, I had to capture myself and strip it all right back. In the end it was a rainy 10 degree day and my only desire was to be outside in nature with my horse. I ended up in the dam in the paddock where my horse lives (she wasn’t having anything to do with the light reflector) covered in mud. A kind of primal birthing out of the waters, at one with the earth, the water, the sky. It carried the same feeling as when I first walked out of the desert near Alice Springs having spent 5 days alone vision questing. Dirty but wanting for absolutely nothing, so full and happy and alive in my skin.

Angela rang me late that night after she had previewed the photos. As we chatted she sent me image after image until there was one that both of us fell silent on.

That’s the one.

We knew it instinctively. This portrait we chose for the exhibition makes me think of conjuring water. It feels right on the edge of uncomfortable for me but that is what makes it real. Later that night I revisited a short piece of prose I had written about ‘the water writing my hand’. I’d written it months before the first artist interview for the book after taking a walk beside the Yarra River in Warburton. I’d had no intention of including it in the book but suddenly I saw those words and this image in perfect harmony. Something had worked magic under the surface and I couldn’t deny it. That prose became the preface of our book From This Place and it gives me pause every time I read it.

How deeply our stories run beneath the surface, not just for my portrait but for every Essence portrait in our book. Angela has a profoundly beautiful way of capturing women in their fullness so that the world can bask in the knowing that we are all amazing, gifted, powerful creatures of life. I stand in awe of her and all the women who said yes to sharing their most essential self with us.

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With dirt on my face

There is something profoundly satisfying about having the earth ground into my skin. A primal feeling, a recognition of where I came from and where I am going.  Dirt is realness, an unmediated, unedited offering from under our feet, without which we would die. When I imagine being born, I feel the body emerging from deep crevices in the earth. Dying is a scattering that returns to the same place. In between is life, and it is dirt that makes me feel equally humble and powerful.

When photographer Angela Rivas and I were conceptualising our From This Place project we asked each of the artists to cultivate their own ‘Essence’ photoshoot, to be seen the way they wanted to be seen. And we also realised we could not ask this of others without being prepared to do it ourselves. It actually took me many months to gather the courage to do my Essence photoshoot. I had many ideas, but as soon as an idea started growing in complexity, I realised I was trying too much and wasn’t finding my Essence. The question ‘who was I without anything else?’ lingered, and I recalled a time years ago when I had come walking out of the desert near Alice Springs after a 5 day Vision Quest. The was the closest I felt to me, covered in red dust, unwashed, unkempt and feeling expanded beyond myself. I was wild.

I was home.

Yet even on the day of my photo shoot, knowing I needed this ancient wild, dirt covered woman to emerge, I had ideas – ideas to involve my horse somehow as my wild companion. Of course, my horse had other ideas, the light reflector being way too scary for her to stay in the frame. And the day loomed ominously. The weather rainy and struggling to reach 10 degrees.  So I took a deep breath, stripped away my preconceptions and walked into the dam in the paddock my horse lives in, covered myself in mud and faced the camera.

There she was.

These photos can be seen on this website and as part of our book and exhibition. They aren’t publicity shots, they are the barest part of me, the part that writes and lives and does shit in the world.

There is one image in particular that Angela shot that day. At the start of our book project I wrote a piece of poetry that is now the foreword. It speaks of the water writing my hand. One photo, a ‘happy accident’ where I appear to be conjuring water up into my hands takes both our breath away. It is as if the camera has perfectly captured the poetry without us even realising it. This is the photo that shows me in our exhibition. It’s unmediated, unedited, wild, me.

With dirt on my face.


Writing Lessons of the Heart

Something powerful is activated when women seek to hold each other up in reverence and joy. This is what we found as we sat with each of the women who gave their stories to the From This Place project and this is what we saw released in our own lives as again and again the wise words these women had to share found their way into our hearts.

Every woman, no matter who she was or what she did had a moment in their interview where the words they dared to utter bought us to tears.

Not because they were sad stories but because they were truth – beautiful deep expressions that came from the source of who they are.

And as truth they cannot be forgotten.

These words, quotes if you wish, hung in the air like perfect droplets of water, waiting to infuse into all our lives. Sometimes the women didn’t even realise the beauty of what they had shared. But we held out our hands and let the wisdom fall onto our parched hearts and from there the book was written, not word by word, but drop by drop.

For this reason, their stories are an infusion into the deepest parts of us. We hear at the level we can receive and we are touched in places that most need to hear. As the writer, I have felt to be more a midwife, a conduit for story, a messenger between the holy and the earthly self. I have borne witness to creation, to creativity, to cathartic, captivating realness and every page of the book resonates with something much larger and more evocative than anything we could imagine.

This is the beauty of sharing stories. Of allowing the stories to be as they are, not asking them to bend to some agenda or theme. Letting the story speak and then taking the blessings as they come. No story could be planned, instead it shaped itself and emerged on the page in a kind of ritual. A conscious state of stepping out of all I have been taught to receive a deeper kind of wisdom. Of inhabiting the words, of capturing brief glimpses of the essence of a person and then being open to the nuances of each story as it came through as colour, shape and symbol. People have commented about how each woman sounds so unique in their own story. I think this is why. It was not a conscious act but rather an authentic one.

For these stores to inspire you, they have first inspired us. As I sent each draft to Angela to read, she would reply ‘I have goosies’ and we would know we had captured something.

I felt these stories.

Time was irrelevant as I wrote them. I would gather myself at the final sentence and feel such a rush of joy – of disbelief, of absolute fulfilment that I was writing in a deeply resonant way with my soul’s purpose.

And I have gained so much more than I have given in this process.

Sometimes it was hard.

I faced a period of debilitating anxiety for several months as I struggled with my own lack of faith in my artistry, until finally I leapt from the edge of comfort and found new wings.

This is the inspiration that lives in the pages for you, too.


Why these Artists?

We have fourteen incredible artists in our book and we’d like to share with you a little about the process of how this came to be.

When we set out two years ago to develop this project we thought we would focus on 8-10 artists – such was the talent of the women we were meeting we expanded our aim, and yet there were still many wonderful women that could have been included that we just didn’t have the time or ability to extend our resources to cover.

When we started, we did a lot of research to develop a list of potential artists. We posted extensively on Facebook asking for people to let us know if they were interested in completing and an Expression of Interest form, or to let us know of women artists they thought might be interested. We scoured through several years of Open Studio brochures, worked through the list of women interviewed on local radio arts program, the list of exhibitors at the Waterwheel Gallery – you name it we unearthed it and from that place we encouraged women to step up. We received about 40 Expressions of Interest (and many people we contacted never respond at all) and it became apparent as we sifted through all the incredible stories that there was a theme we couldn’t ignore.

We needed to focus our attention on a much smaller geographic area than we originally thought in order to make it manageable but also because many stories spoke of specific community dynamics that were part of the Warburton and surrounds, and included the Yarra River.

We set about, from a holistic perspective, finding stories that represented a broad range of women – from a range of age groups, across a variety of mediums, and at different stages of their art careers because we felt that created the most ‘inspiring’ read where there would be something for everyone.

We also had as one of our selection points that chosen artists had taken that step out into the world in some way, and that they were mostly sustaining themselves through their art.

There was also an organic thread in the process where we trusted that those that needed to be in the book would come forward – we recognised it was a big thing and people needed to trust us with their hearts. For that reason, we always understood that many artists we may have reached out to who didn’t know us, may have chosen not to reply.

When you read the stories, you will come to know of their remarkable achievements.  Each one has opened up their lives for us to peer into. This is not always comfortable and we are incredibly grateful. We didn’t know every woman in the book, and neither did many of them know each other. Now we all do and we are proud of the way we have supported each other.

From This Place represents universal stories and while we know it is a wonderful representation of the artists involved, it also does much to elevate the profile of artists in the Yarra Valley generally and from this place, every artist is present and can benefit.

It’s been a huge project – more than 400 hours each devoted by both Angela and Lindy, over 60 photoshoots with more than 5,000 images to choose from, plus the hours provided by the artists themselves to interviews and shoots – and we are so very grateful for your support. Have we learnt something? Yes of course, Would we do it differently next time? – possibly but there has also been a divinely feminine hand in the process that we have trusted implicitly to bring the right women together at the right time. This divine guidance, dear readers, was a bigger influence that any of us could reckon. We could have filled an encyclopaedia with artists of the Yarra Ranges, but that would have required more than 2 years, a huge budget and mountains of energy!

There are so many inspiring stories in our community, in our world.  This is the beginning…