Sand between my toes

As the warm weather begins to leave us Antipodeans for the Northern Hemisphere, I wanted to share with you some shots I took recently for my friend’s new business, Haanim. The word ‘hanim’ literally means ‘lady’ in Turkish, which is a fitting name considering the gorgeous range of jewellery and home wares that are on offer by the company’s two founding ladies, Burcak and Seran. The range is quintessentially Turkish and includes organic cotton Turkish towels and exquisite hand-made artisan rings and necklaces from Istanbul.

The chance to work on her look book was a fantastic opportunity of getting some beach inspired fashion shots under my belt (something I’d never done before!). We wanted the photography to be a fusion of modern Mediterranean Turkish style with a laidback Australian beach side feel. Despite some shoot day hiccups – like 5 hours of torrential rain and talent availability issues – I think we managed to get pretty close!

One of the things that always amazes me is how intense the light can be in Australia – especially when the clouds part to reveal the bright blue sky and the white-hot sun beating down in summer (thanks to the hole in the ozone layer!) Nevertheless, these conditions created the perfect backdrop for the show of crisp red, white and blue striped towels and the unique jewellery designs of Haanim. Check out http://www.haanim.com for full details.

Enjoy x

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New beginnings

I know, I know. It’s been a while. In blogging terms, it’s like I’ve taken some kind of undeserved long service leave. You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d thrown in the towel and chucked it all in for pen and paper. As melodramatic as that sounds, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

You see this curious cat has been feeding her imagination and expanding her knowledge as a postgraduate student having just started back at University after years in the workforce. And it hasn’t been easy. Libraries, lectures and lecterns – the mind boggles! And all in the name of Education. The things we do to stay ahead in the game. In fact, I’ve already discovered that old habits die hard – once a last minute crammer, always a last minute crammer. As for citations and bibliographies, I must have somehow missed out on these first time round. What do these words even mean? Sounds like a foreign language to me and I’m not fluent in essay speak. Ah well, I’m sure I’ll find out before too long.

As for right now, I’ve rediscovered the blissful art of procrastination. It’s a beautiful thing. It starts with a window and ends with a dream. This is the view from mine. Pretty special isn’t it. No wonder it’s been hard to concentrate!

What’s the view like from yours?

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Cool feasts and weissbier

Packing for the northern hemisphere winter during 30C heat in the height of the Australian summer is a difficult task at best. For one thing, the glaring sunshine and midday humidity make it near on impossible to recalibrate one’s sense of temperature perception (unless you’re packing for a sauna & spa luxury getaway). No, it usually culminates with a predictably small pile of jumpers smelling like mothballs, a couple of pairs of jeans and some hiking socks. Then there’s the false sense of satisfaction in adding a few scarves to the mix, like you’ve given yourself some hard ammunition to beat whatever Mother Nature may throw at you. Take that! you think triumphantly with an inward smile before throwing on your swimmers and heading to the beach for one last dip before you go. If only it was that easy.

My recent trip to Germany to visit my German Love God’s family began in a similar fashion. However, a quick check online confirmed my worse fears – Europe had plunged into a state of frozen animation. According to the media, small children and the elderly were fearing for their lives as temperatures plummeted to what was surely going to be a dark and icy couple of months.

Two years earlier I’d made the same mistake and arrived in Germany tanned, fresh faced and freckled to ‘SNOW CHAOS’, as every newspaper sensationally put it. Indeed the whole of Germany was cloaked in white as large snowflakes fell consistently from the sky day and night. Luckily my GLG’s family had been generous in lending me a knee length puffer jacket on this occasion and I wrapped myself up like a mummy, eyes peering out from above my zipped up collar and woolen beanie, ready for action.

Truth is, I actually love the snow. I first laid eyes on the cold white fluffy stuff on a ski trip as a child, and I’ve been chasing the feeling of wind in my hair and powder on mountains ever since. This trip to Germany however, was different. It didn’t snow (except to herald our arrival in Frankfurt). I harbour a secret belief that this was because it was too cold to snow with temperatures plummeting to -16C (I have since investigated this further and while very cold climates make it difficult to snow, it isn’t impossible.) Humph.

So what does one do when it’s so cold outside that your nostril hairs freeze in mid breath? Settle in for some serious feasting, that’s what. Luckily this was not going to be a problem – especially with the warm generosity and hospitality of my extended German family.

One thing you need to be aware of when traveling through Germany is that your digestive system is going to be in for a rude shock. Prepare yourselves. I suggest fasting for a few months prior then slowly building up your meat and potato tolerance a few weeks before you arrive. Having come from a summer full of tropical fruits and salads, I was propelled head long into a kind of food-induced delirium filled with the highs and lows of carb loading.

Indeed, the Germans sure know a thing or two about home cooked comfort food in the cold of winter. Pig fat called schmalz is lovingly enjoyed with a chunk of fresh bread before digging into a hearty meal of würste (sausages) and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage). Schnitzels the size of dinner plates are served with waxy potatoes and sauce. Knödel (dumplings) are enjoyed with a slow-cooked sour roast, dark gravy with cranberries and red cabbage before being washed down with a glass of weißbier (wheat beer). It’s a wonder Germans haven’t taken on the siesta, as I certainly needed a rest between each meal! Of course, they’re far too efficient to rest on their laurels for long.

My favourite winter feasting tradition in Germany is the Green Cabbage festival. In the northern town of Osnabrück, where this vegetable is a seasonal specialty, the event is called the Onsabrücker Mahlzeit and it attracts around 1,200 men at the beginning of February each year. It is during this event that a Grünkohlkönig or Cabbage King is crowned, further proving that the Germans sure know how to praise their finest and fittest. I can only imagine that this chosen individual must know a thing or two about hot air and perseverance (they’re usually politicians I’ve heard). Interestingly enough, the secret to tasty Green Cabbage is to pick it once it’s been exposed to a single frost. How about that.

In between experiencing the local culinary delights, I did manage to venture outside and visit the historic towns of Osnabrück, Münster and the surrounding countryside. Rolling fields and forests separate small little villages and traditional half-timbered farmhouses with smoke billowing from chimneys. In the wintertime, the sky is a pale blue and the light shines with a soft clarity casting long shadows. Darkness creeps in early during these short winter days, and you’re rewarded with stunning orange sunsets that blaze bright behind the feathery black silhouettes of naked trees on hilltops.

As always though, it wasn’t long before the warm puff of my breath in the chilly air and the promise of hot chocolate and warm waffles with plums enticed me back into the cozy and familiar surrounds of our home away from home.

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Never tired of chasing adventure

Some things never get old. Like watching fireworks at New Years or eating ice cream on a hot summers day. For you it might be re-discovering an old favourite t-shirt, riding a bike with the wind in your hair (‘look no hands!’) or getting the keys to your first car. Whatever puts a smile on your face, I’m sure you’ll agree that these things are timeless, forever destined to sit proudly on the altar of our minds like a primary school trophy.

Luckily I learnt early on that adventure is one of life’s little gems. It doesn’t go out of fashion, you can get it pretty much anywhere and it seems to be in abundant supply. I got hooked on it as a child and have been a junkie ever since. Mind you, it’s nearly driven me broke on a few occasions, tested my relationships, put me in hospital and got me horribly lost more than once…and I do this for fun?!

As far as chasing adventure goes, 2011 was a rocket. Live volcanoes, ancient ruins, trekking, salt deserts, blazing sunsets, natural wonders, art, history, wildlife, volunteering, conservation – you name it. From Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Spain, England to South Africa, the GLG and I were spoilt for choice. Here’s a new selection of photos I took along the way. It’s a mixed bag, but in chronological order.

I wonder what 2012 will bring…

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Getting a little bit festive

It always amazes me how much effort people put into Christmas decorations – and I don’t mean the tinsel covered tree in the lounge room either.

I’m talking about the full-scale naivety scene on the front lawn complete with three kings and strategically placed ‘star’, Santa with his sleigh and reindeer on the roof (sometimes with head down the chimney), faux fur trees with fake snow (c’mon people, we’re in Australia here) and various other synchronised light features over the garage, front door and letterbox. Look a little closer and you’ll also find the family car has its own antlers as well. Yes, it’s Christmas festivities on steroids.

The funny thing is, it can happen anywhere and to anyone. From the beginning of December, you could be walking home from a hard days work to find your long time rugby loving, golf playing neighbour half way up a ladder with an armful of electric pulsing lights. You could be dropping into the local corner shop to pick up some milk and find the owner delicately crawling over the roof as he adjusts Rudolph’s red nose. Visit a friend and you could be greeted by a blow up snowman guarding their front door. The circumstances are as unexpected as they are (somewhat) alarming.

I think I witnessed the ultimate Christmas decoration extravaganza last year when I was driving through my neighbourhood on the way home from work. A family had done up their house as a full blown North Pole destination, complete with a projector screen in the front window that had family Christmas photos looping continuously.

Indeed, it can happen to anyone. Laugh about it now, but any one of you could find yourselves perusing the Christmas decoration isles in your local Dollar Dazzler shop, sparked by an uncontrollable urge to unleash your inner festive and creative spirit. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Perhaps it’s the child in all of us, but there’s something about coloured lights, sparklers and tinsel that makes even the toughest nuts to crack go all gooey inside.

Four sleeps to go…

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Staring at the sun

I remember vividly as a child the irresistible urge to look at the sun. I blame this entirely on my mother who would ooh and ahh at spectacular sunsets or the dawning of a new day and would exclaim in delight to her three daughters, ‘darlings, look at that view!’ and then upon seeing our faces turn like sunflowers towards the glowing orb, would quickly add with concern, ‘just don’t look directly at the sun’.

I did of course. I tried looking mere millimeters to the left or right, but I always found myself helplessly drawn into its fiery depths. I imagined the molten lava of the sun’s explosive surface slowly burning my retinas from millions of kilometers away. It sounds very melodramatic now, but as an impressionable child, this vision imprinted itself on my creative imagination like a hot iron stamp. Tell a child they’re not allowed to do something, and you’ve instantly given them a license to rebel. It’s no surprise then that I’ve been starring at the sun (albeit, guiltily) ever since.

Good news is that I’m still perfectly able to read what I’m typing (with the help of a trusty pair of glasses) and I can still look through the viewfinder in my camera (thank god for auto focus). Lucky too as I’ve had plenty of opportunities on my travels and here at home to witness Mother Nature showing off during some spectacular light shows at the beginning and end of each day. And my pick of the lot are the sunsets in Africa. There the sun burns so bright as it dips towards the horizon that the entire sky glows an iridescent red orange.

So whether the sun rises or sets in the east or west or over land or water, here are some landscape shots I’ve taken from behind the safely of my lens, staring at the sun.

Note: second last photo taken by Kailey Schwerman

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Street punk studios

Who would have thought that a couple of spray can tottering street punks would get free reign of the vast and gritty abandoned industrial spaces on an island in one of the world’s most iconic harbours.

Only they’re not some washed up wannabes. Collectively, they are more than 150 of the word’s most adventurous and prolific street artists taking part in the biggest street art festival in the Southern Hemisphere – the OUTPOST PROJECT on World Heritage listed Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour.

Hailing from as far as Brazil, Belgium, USA, UK and here in Australia, renowned names such as Anthony Lister, Kid Zoom, Ethos, ROA, The Everfresh Collective and more, have come together to spray, stencil, paste, sticker, sculpt and paint the deserted alleyways, abandoned factories and hidden tunnels of the island. It seems almost fitting then that Cockatoo Island’s colourful history includes it being used as one of Australia’s biggest shipyards, and interestingly enough – a former imperial prison, industrial school, reformatory and gaol. Remember that when you take a well-earned break at the Island Bar made from shipping containers.

While you’re strolling past murals, be sure to check out George Shaw’s Oi You! exhibition featuring street artist heavy weights Banksy, Os Gemeos, Swoon and Faile. Or perhaps grab a milk crate and sit down to watch the live art battles called Street Wars where artists go head to head and are limited only by their imagination (alas, I missed this).

If you didn’t know it before, then OUTPOST PROJECT is proof that street art has gone mainstream. Public appetite for this temporary art form that embodies personal empowerment and free speech is rife. This explosion of urban creativity has been devoured by corporations and galleries alike, which poses the question – does it face the risk of being overly commercialised and sanitised. Or perhaps misappropriated?

Regardless of whether you think it’s high brow meets low brow, these skilled artists clearly know a thing or two about their trade. Whether they’re making art on buildings, t-shirts or canvas – they’re inspiring a whole new wave of street punks to do the same.

Check out outpostproject.com.au. Here’s some pics that I took while I was there…

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Same same but different

I’ve been doing an experiment lately. I’ve been pretending that I’m a tourist in my own city. I know, it sounds strange – but it’s amazing how much more you notice when you think you’re doing things for the first time. Try it. Trick your brain into believing everything is a new experience. Take time to notice the little details. Take joy in the little details. Slow down. Stop. Look around. Hear and smell the sights. Smile at strangers (after all, you’re meant to be on holidays right?). Live in the moment. Enjoy.

I think too many of us think that we need to travel to far off places to feel alive and be inspired (alas, I have fallen into this category on more than one occasion). But that’s only because we forget to take notice and end up walking around with tunnel vision – only seeing what we want to see (or need to see to get from A to B). It’s like being in some weird visual and sensory censorship trance. Your sensitivity to newness and curiosity is replaced with habitual monotony.

So next time you find yourself in the daily grind on the way to work – Stop. Take a few moments to observe your surroundings. Look up at the sky above you. Look down at your feet on the pavement and take a different route. You might just find something interesting and unique. And there’s nothing more satisfying than a new discovery – however big or small. I dare you to unleash your inner tourist.

Here’s some photos from my latest exotic destination – out the front door, down the street, commute to work, weekend play time and more.


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Living the dream in Barcelona

I’ll be honest with you – I’m a bit of a dreamer. I like to imagine that in a different life in a parallel universe, I live in an old apartment block with French doors that open out onto a wrought iron balcony that overlooks a cobbled street. When I wake up in the morning, I imagine I can hear the distant sound of waves crashing and sea gulls calling as the sun rises to greet the new day. I imagine the smell of fresh bread and flowers mingling with the salty sea breeze that whips through my hair as I zip through the narrow streets on my vintage Vespa. I imagine gelato shops on every corner and people spontaneously breaking out into song in sprawling piazzas.

It might sound like a scene from a Broadway musical, but these are the building blocks of imaginary make-believe universes. I usually keep these far-fetched day dreams tucked neatly away in the fantasy files (along with wanting to be a sponsored extreme skier and female rock singer). However, a recent trip to Barcelona made me feel, for a fleeting moment in time, that I was living the dream.

High summer in Barcelona is gorgeous. It was as though the entire Catalonia city was on holiday (or was it just the throngs of tourists I saw on La Rambla?) Whatever it was, the city was in fine form and clearly enjoying the attention. I had done my research and I was staying in a little boutique hostel just a stone’s throw from the beach and the famous La Rambla. I actually arrived a day later than I’d expected having misaligned my international dateline and spent my ‘first night’ in seat 35A flying somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean from Buenos Aires. Thankfully, my hostel booking wasn’t cancelled and I enjoyed the next 4 days playing out my Spanish fantasy.

One of my favourite city pastimes is to ‘get lost’ by setting out with a camera, water and sense of adventure to discover what’s on offer ‘by chance’. My GLG (German Love God) would object of course saying that this is not so much a tactic as a completely unavoidable and inevitable outcome based on the fact that I am without hesitation directionally challenged. This does have its advantages. For one thing, it doesn’t take me long to feel fully immersed in the moment and my surroundings. On the flip side though, I’ve had moments of complete panic and disorientation after walking only blocks from my hostel. As you can imagine, this keeps life interesting.

As fleeting as my visit was, I had a fantastic time in Barcelona. I wandered narrow cobbled streets and shopped till my hearts content. I swam in the Med and soaked up the sun. I enjoyed Spanish wine and seafood paella. I had a picnic in Gaudi’s Park Güell and visited the awe inspiring Sagrada Familia. And while I didn’t have a Vespa or sun drenched apartment to call my own, I certainly felt at home.

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Urban citizens of cool

There’s a story in my hometown of Newcastle that reads more like folklore than fact. The story is about a legendary piece of graffiti that was written by a frustrated uni student on the upper extremities of one of the city’s most unsightly destitute buildings. Abseiling down from the roof of the building one night, he scrawled the immortal words, ‘This Is Not Art’. The rest they say is history. This famous act of vandalism has since become the title for an annual national ‘Independent, emerging and experimental arts festival’, which provides ‘a platform for innovative and passionate culture makers to present their ideas.’ (This Is Not Art, 29 Sept – 3 Oct, Newcastle, Australia)

Needless to say, I’ve been intrigued by graffiti and street art ever since. It stops me in my tracks and takes me by surprise. It makes me angry and it makes me smile. It gets me thinking and it opens my eyes. In fact, rarely do I visit a new city without snapping shots of street murals, wall art and stencils. You can’t miss them, they’re everywhere – in wide-open public spaces, dark alleyways and car parks. Stairwells, fences and overpasses. Bridges, doorways and trains. But what’s the difference between street art and graffiti? Is it a battle of culture makers and political & social commentators? Or is it just plain vandalism? Who’s to say? Does street art legitimize vandalism?

It seems this debate (and the tensions between the two camps) has been festering for years. Surely the common link between street art and graffiti is that they’re both trying to make a statement in their own way, with the difference being between their ideas, aesthetic approaches, culture and history.

Perhaps the answer lies in the eye of the beholder…Check out my pics of urban expressionism from Berlin, Bondi Beach, Buenos Airs and Barcelona.

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