Isolation

isolation2020

If ever an image could illustrate how all of this sudden emphasis on social distancing feels to me.. and although I fall more on the introvert end of the spectrum, I much prefer hibernating on my own terms.

How quaint it seems now, looking back on the month of January when I took 4 weeks away from the rest of society- on purpose- in an effort to focus on writing the first draft of my first novel. How quaint it all seems, having a glass of wine at a crowded bar, accepting a hug from a friend, taking a flight or a train ride to a bustling city for a photo shoot, going to a live concert, a hair appointment, a diner, on a date.

I’ve been photographing this tree for nine and a half years now and even though it is Tree v2.0, the scene never fails me, either serving to uplift, inspire, mystify, or reflect the weather within.

EDIT: a dear friend just sent this raw John Lennon demo of “Isolation” to me in response to this post and I wanted to include it here: https://youtu.be/nGNgsptYdDs

December 7th is National Letter Writing Day

Originally published on TEDxWilmington.com

Alessandra Nicole for TEDxWilmingtonLive, Photograph by Joe Del TufoSome of you here know that I lost my grandmother in February and that we had been pen pals for more than twenty years. What you may not know is that our relationship deepened 100% because of that paper letter exchange. She was severely hard of hearing growing up and my memories of her are peppered with the sound of her hearing aids screeching from feedback because she had them turned up so high. My five cousins had siblings they fought with and through it learned to speak up for what they wanted and to be heard when it counted. I was a sensitive only child that was intimidated by all of that, and thus my grandmother knew my cousins better than she knew me for many years, because I was so quiet around her and we didn’t know how to reach one another.

When I went away to college and she sent me the first letter there, suddenly I had a way to fully communicate the all of me. Our relationship became very vibrant and rich through an exchange that finally allowed me to be fully seen and heard. And, being six states away, having a letter come through the mail to me felt like getting a message in a bottle. Sitting with it in my hands felt like a hug. Seeing her handwriting and reading it with her voice in my head felt like a kiss on my homesick heart.

I think about children today who only have email at their fingertips; an oxymoron because what do they actually touch? When communication is via popcorn text message and Instagram photo caption and emotions are summed up by animated gifs and emojis, how much authentic communication is actually happening? But what I really think about are the sensitive children who are having trouble connecting with others in their very family and are missing out on developing connected and meaningful relationships, are missing out on being truly seen and heard, are missing out on bonding with another generation of their own family.

I invite you to celebrate National Letter Writing Day with me on Friday, December 7th and write a letter to someone near or far in your life. It could even be to someone who lives right under the same roof as you! I’m talking a letter, not just a card, on a piece of paper, more than two paragraphs long. Fold it up, seal it up in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and send it through the mail. Tell me about it, if you want. pen@paperletterexchange.com

Letter writing causes even the busiest and most frenetic of minds to slow down and think through concepts and thoughts with great consideration. According to an article published by the Guardian, “Pens and keyboards bring into play very different cognitive processes. ‘Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought,’ says Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva. ‘Children take several years to master this precise motor exercise: you need to hold the scripting tool firmly while moving it in such a way as to leave a different mark for each letter.’

Operating a keyboard is not the same at all: all you have to do is press the right key. It is easy enough for children to learn very fast, but above all the movement is exactly the same whatever the letter. ‘It’s a big change,’ says Roland Jouvent, head of adult psychiatry at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. ‘Handwriting is the result of a singular movement of the body, typing is not.”

Letter writing helps develop and reinforce vocabulary and language skills, creativity and humor through metaphor creation, and delivers dopamine to the nervous system that lasts much longer than hearing a text alert or seeing a red heart indicator on an app. Letter writing has been described as natural ritalin and natural prozac. It also helps one deal better with difficult times. And receiving a letter to read: the same. The connecting from the brain to eye to hand to pen to paper is a cognitive one that delivers a host of long term benefits in the act itself, and when practiced regularly can even become spiritual, meditative, divine. You are present and therefore become a channel between the subconscious and conscious, letter writing is a cleansing therapy and a zen art. And once all of the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits are added up.. there’s more.

Letter writing helps a mentally sharp ninety year old widowed man who can’t walk anymore and has been left to exist the rest of his days in a dismal nursing home feel alive, seen, heard, thought of, cared for, and like he matters. It helps a quiet woman a third his age connect to him and ask him all the questions about his countless adventures through life. It could help a child gain insight into world history and geography and economics and politics and all things romance. It could help a parent connect with an estranged daughter and make amends. It could take a new romance to the next level. It could help a prisoner feel like a person who counts again. It could help a child grow into a special bonded relationship with a grandmother that will shine on in her heart which will spill onto all those around her long after the ashes have been laid to rest. I’ve seen it all happen.

Those conversations, even if they are not cross generational but peer to peer, will never have the same quality in the context of an Facebook message or a Snapchat story. They will hardly have the lasting power and the artifact quality. They will hardly have the gravity, the connection, and they certainly will not do much to develop the cognitive, educational skills, and deliver the long term positive physiological benefits to which letter writing lends itself. Handwriting letters does something the keyboard and tapping letters on a smartphone touch screen will never, ever be able to do.

****

See Alessandra Nicole’s TEDx talk HERE.

39972764630_e86bc8134b_o

díreach ag dul trí

The first time ever I saw your face, dreamy green island 🍀 An iPhone snap will never be able to do justice to my very first glimpse of Ireland . My eyes were as misty as this coastline realizing my epic solo EU adventure was about to begin. First country of three this sojourn!

I did a 32hr layover in Dublin and saw the Book of Kells at Trinity College, took in some beautiful works of art at the National Museum, walked along the River Liffey and did some time lapse photography on the Ha’penny Bridge, strolled St. Stephen’s Green, and braved energetic Temple Bar on a Friday night.

And then I was gone. ✈️

Like a pulsating mix of champagne and meteors

New York City skyline Photographs by Alessandra Nicole

A woman like me alone in a city like this spells trouble, which is presumed, and I wish that you were here for the adventure. I love New York City like I will never again love any inanimate object that seems real and breathing to me, she embraces me every time, my passionate lover.

I am seated in patient anticipation. I hear her voice from afar only to come around the curve after Newark and see her brightly dyed hair tumble upon the nape of her bone-white neck in the form of the latest color scheme on the top of the Empire State Building. Her hands stretch out to greet me with a different bauble for every finger of her warm-heart-cold-hands. I leave the train, climb the escalator, step through the automatic doors to 8th Avenue, and am intertwined with her once more. She steals my breath into her mouth and slaps me across the face with her icy January winds for not calling. I love her with all of my heart and I let her seduce me, caressing every part of me, until I look at my cell phone and see it’s after midnight and someone else is awaiting my arrival.

She pouts with her arms suddenly folded, the black lace strap of her bra slipping down over her shoulder, and I put my finger to her blood red lips, Shh, not tonight, but I will be back tomorrow. I’m just as disappointed to leave as she is to see me go, onto the ferry, where she closes her eyes in sorrow like a woman who knows she’s the Other One in my life, and I realize some of her glittering eyeshadow has rubbed off on my cheek. A man next to me thinks I am crying, and maybe I am a little teary at the heartstopping way her skyline is sparkling like a pulsating mix of champagne and meteors; he offers me a handkerchief.

Anyone would be jealous of the way I dream of her at night, the way I think about her throughout days away. In the morning, she awakes me with the memory of her warm deep kisses and here I sit at 9:30am, plotting the hour when I will steal away to my secret lover New York City. Oh, if only you could see us when we’re together…

words ©️Alessandra Nicole 2004

bits from Abiquiú

IMG_8108

Ghost Ranch, NM, near Abiquiú in Rio Arriba County in north central New Mexico

In March / April of this year I was able to explore the same hallowed ground that painter Georgia O’Keeffe celebrated in many of her works. Ghost Ranch was a restorative sojourn. Red faced mountains amplified the fiery sunrises and sunsets and stood protectively in silhouette when the navy night revealed billions of stunning pinholes to heaven. Free of many distractions, I spent my days on horseback admiring the landscape, in hot springs, and in my sketchbook.

IMG_8032IMG_8055IMG_8145IMG_8718BNEN3772IMG_8358IMG_8736

follow Alessandra on Instagram @Alessandra_Official

“11:11; make a wish!” she said. 

 
An Ephemeral Question
A friend on FB who is known for asking engaging questions posed the simple query “what is your favorite number?” and here is my answer, elaborated: 

I identify with 11 very much. Getting the practical numerology out of the way: My birthday is 11/22, (at 2:22 AM in Germany- so I like seeing double twos as well of course, being eleven more than eleven.) Digging a little deeper: 11 to me as a lonely only child symbolizes growing up with my own shadow (and embracing that shadow) as my best friend- being my own gravity. I see it as a quiet numeral. I had a very rich inner life and a vivid imagination that colors my every heartbeat and interaction even now. It means self-sufficiency and that my haven is solitude. I feel it is the most elegant-sounding number, too: “Eleven“. Unsurprisingly, I see the digits absolutely everywhere- even in heartbreaking, heart-stopping, places, like the day I saw the largest physical 11 crumble right in front of me to the ground. 

What is number is auspicious to you and why? 

unexpected Snow!

I am cozy, hot coffee in-hand, in my creative nook today editing last night’s event shoot while listening to Neil Finn as the snow falls softly outside- this late in March! I can’t believe I’m hearing snow plows scraping along the curvy bend outside the house. It was 65° just three days ago! Some craggy old seasons truly don’t know when to let go, move on, stop it’s petty vanity and let the new season settle in- WE ARE ALL READY for it. Your grace has withered away and you have Long overstayed. Winter, you are OVER! As Neil Finn sings in his song Recluse, you are like a “dog pissing on a statue,” trying to mark your territory and get your last shots in before delving back down below the equator. Go bully another continent! Give us fresh flourishing sun-kissed Spring! Freedom and light and colour and life-giving inhales and exhales! 

A morning glance from my personal Instagram account:  My day lily looks forlornly out at the snowy vista. She was looking forward to being planted outside this weekend but we’ll likely wait another week. 

I have seen the world turning
in time you’ll find that some things
travel faster than light
In time you’ll recognise that love is larger than life 
-Neil Mullane Finn, Faster Than Light

We got to see Neil Finn perform last year on Apr 11th at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA, front and center, and were sent home swooning on a moonbeam of love. Such a great show! 

Bailey’s Dairy Farm

Enjoying every moment so far of the second day of Autumn here in Chester County, PA. This is one of those places that breathes life back into me again. These cows always seem to be in perfect contentment! I just love to see them graze.

A breath away from this serenity is an atrocity that is a Toll Bros. housing development. It is one of the (many) great travesties in America “culture” that a land development company can knock down a bunch of trees, fill the acres with uninspired made-to-order houses, and further insult the region by calling this cramped new neighborhood “The Preserves”. “Cut down all the trees and name the streets after them…”

The dairy farm after “The Preserves” helps me believe in humanity again.

20130923-104418.jpg

20130923-104431.jpg

20130923-111251.jpg

Analog Love

Excitedly testing out one of my travel companions for next week over coffee this morning! There’s just something about that waist-level view that lends something so simple yet extraordinary to composing photographs. Vivian Maier’s Rolleiflex street photography is a shining example (www.vivianmaier.com).

And few inanimate objects are sexier than Ilford film! Mamiya medium-format and Ilford are a match made in heaven; the consummate couple; an everlasting sumptuous synergy. And just perfect for a holiday with my favorite partner in crime hot on the heels of the day the nation celebrates such oxygen-giving concepts as Liberty, Independence.

I’m grateful for a life filled with love, inspiration, freedom, laughter, and flow. Have a very safe & happy July 4th!

20130701-154042.jpg

snap by JG

Requiem for a Tree

20131217-153456

West Chester and Chadds Ford Life magazine, Fall 2013 edition

It was early October in 2010 that found this little girl pensively navigating the as-yet uncharted territory that was Chester County, Pennsylvania in her black 5 speed VW, sunroof open, heat full blast on the floor while the sun dipped below the horizon. I do my very best thinking while driving as it’s a practice handed down to me from my father; wander lusting, on new-to-me roads and I headed north from Delaware on rt. 52 past Winterthur and just kept going.

I knew from art history and regional celebration that I was in N.C. and Andrew Wyeth territory and I knew that the serenity of those rolling hills and curving roads called to me. I had just completed two of the biggest photography assignments I’d been invited to do up in New York City and thirsted for solace, a recharge, from the fight and fury of having spent so much time steeped in such a frenetic, frenzied metropolis. My cells required it of me. And, after the completion of those assignments, I felt a bit empty. I needed to suss out a new direction for myself.

Enormous farms, unadulterated fields, roaming horses, the road weaving through with meandering abandon; I felt a great exhale.

Somewhere in between the surreal dusk and the beginning tendrils of starlight I rounded a curve and magically, poetically, a tree standing lone on the top of a steep hill emerged. It was a perfect unassuming silhouette against a navy nakedness so true. I pulled over to admire it and to snap a quick image of it with my iPhone so that I could do a watercolor of it later back at home. It stood, isolated, beautiful in it’s inaccessibility. A painting in real life.

I sat alert and gazed up at that tree until it was barely detectable in the night and the autumn chill became uncomfortable. Inexplicably affected, I climbed back into my car and drove away.

I had no idea where I was or it was or how to find it again.

Over the course of the next six months, I made regular trips to explore the rustic beauty of Chester County, hoping to happen upon that tree. I was so inspired by it that I wrote journals-full of prose about it. I even began to sketch it out for use with a fable I had written years ago that I unearthed and have expanded upon as a major and dear-to-me project. It became a profound visual metaphor for the very beginning of a special story about a journey and the evolving understanding of the Universe, and the backbone of a lot of the creative work I’ve done since which I’ve umbrellaed under the moniker “The Tree Grows”.

148304_458913518818_504816_n

It wasn’t until I had posted the only evidence I had: a terrible, grainy, rude iPhone image to my Facebook six months later that someone took notice of it, and (miraculously- seriously) knowing exactly the tree it was, contacted me about it. I had just begun doing a lot of tree research and was looking for two particular styles of trees for my project. A few days later I was whisked away by motorcycle (!) for a Grand Tree Research Journey with a guide who knew the County all too well. We observed trees at Loch Nairn, we looked at trees around Unionville, north of Kennett Square, and eastward toward West Chester.

On this brisk Sunday afternoon tour I met my great wise friend that many in my close circle have become acquainted with as “Mr. Quercus Alba”, an enormous oak older than the state of Pennsylvania itself that sits next to a Quaker meeting house just off of Newark Rd. As a vast old tree with so many branches it dominates the sky when standing nearby. Mr. Quercus was perfect for the end of my story about the journey. I have returned religiously to sit with, sketch, storyboard about, evolve my story around, visit when I’m celebrating and when I’m mourning, and introduce to those closest in my heart as if he’s a member of my human family.

The very next tree I was taken to on the motorcycle tour emerged just as it did the very first time I experienced it. We rounded a lazy curve and there it came to be, up on the horizon, lone, perfect. In wonderful spring daylight. At last!

www.AlessandraNicole.com

The Tree Up On the
Hill

All in one Sunday I had met both the Alpha and the Omega for “This Little Girl” (https://www.facebook.com/thetreegrows)

Since that re-discovery of the Tree Up On the Hill, I’ve learned that it’s been a regional favorite for years and has been photographed countless times by professional and leisure photographers alike. It is a stone’s throw from The Whip, and just around the corner from Blowhorn.

Since that re-disovery, a whole new corner of the world has opened up to me and embraced my heart and captured my soul. I sometimes wish I could drive along the roads of Chester County like the Robert Frost poem with new eyes. Both Quercas and The Tree Up On the Hill have given me countless gifts of inspiration and love. For instance, in November of 2011 I was hungering for the inspiration of Chester County and took a drive from Chestertown, Maryland where I had been hibernating for ten delicious days on a writing retreat. After visiting “my” trees, I ended up decompressing with a glass of wine at my most favorite restaurant in the region, Sovana Bistro. It was here by absolute kismet that I was introduced via a mutual friend to two beautiful people, one of which is my incredible beau whom I consider the best birthday present I’ve ever been given as it was just a handful of days before our shared day that we met!

Many lazy-sunny Sundays since then my guy and I have languished in a drive past the hilltop tree and stopped for an early supper at the Whip. Each time I carried away from it some little spark that would fuel me (or haunt me, if I was procrastinating) creatively through the following days and weeks. At the suggestion of my significant other I began a photography project about that tree, a sort of long term study in film.

Unfortunately, it will go unfinished.

If you’re in the region or if you’ve been watching the US Open then you certainly know about the unexpectedly intense weather situations with which southeastern Pennsylvania contended the past seven days. A tropical storm pelted the 95 corridor last Friday. Northern Delaware experienced a small tornado touchdown and Chester County, PA grappled with flash flooding along the Brandywine and ancillary waterways as close to 3 inches of rain came out of the sky in just sixteen hours Monday. Monday’s rains brought comparisons amongst friends to the climactic frog scene at the end of the film Magnolia. I personally am enthralled by extreme weather- the electricity and erotic drama of it- so I was perfectly happy to batten down the hatches and feel it unfold around us.

The electricity held on faithfully as the basement’s sump pump ran constantly from Monday through a rainless and sunshiny Tuesday clearing water out and it seemed like the worst was in the past. Oh but it was not.

Yesterday morning at about 9am the Chester County skies turned black. Small flecks of hail pelted the roof and violent lightning jutted from thick rolling clouds and stabbed at the land. I was at the studio with friends around lunch time when I got a call from another photographer about our beloved Tree Up On the Hill.

The tree was down! It didn’t really occur to me until a few hours later that this was very sad news. I don’t think I was ready to process it until later in the day. I took a drive up to it early in the evening to see it for myself. It was sad, mournfully sad.

Wa_TREE_ONTHEHILL-2-2TREE_ONTHEHILL-1-2

I stayed until sunset contemplating the tree and the beautiful adventure it gave me these past few years. Then I went over to the Whip where I had the bartender pull a draught for me and I raised a proper pint to the tree. Several surrounding acquaintances commiserated. It was a favorite; the landscape just isn’t the same now.

I’ve never grieved a tree before. On the outside it may seem rather silly to do so- that’s of no concern to me.

I’d really like to see them plant another one in it’s place.

Yin and Yang

Today I got to meet and work with a renaissance woman who instructs yoga. She came to me as a referral and I was immediately intrigued! One of the bigger challenges for a bit of a shy-girl (that’s me) who is a photographer is posing people for their portraits. I don’t like telling people what to do! Here was someone I wouldn’t have to direct very much which freed me to be able to concentrate on the technical aspects of the shoot and allowed her to flow through her movements. Both of us were at ease, and before we knew it an hour and a half had passed and the shoot was finished!

hunter-yoga

 

w-hunter-yoga_byAlessandraNicole-62

(Learn more about Hunter Clarke-Fields’ yoga practice here: http://www.hunterartist.com/yoga/)

 

Prose: Chesapeake Bay Sunset – Alessandra Nicole

Once upon a time many chapters of life ago I worked out of Washington, DC and would commute at the end of each week back to Delaware and Pennsylvania. I wrote this on one such trek eastward this time eleven years past. Freshly “post 9/11”, having been immersed in a strange new world of confusing and radical precedents (especially regarding travel, which was a large part of my experience back then) and fear (I worked nationally and within a myriad of federal government buildings daily) what I felt below was like coming up for gulps of delicious life-giving oxygen.

Chesapeake Bay Sunset

by Alessandra Nicole
January 2002

The moon is bright and full and I actually got out of work before dark for once. The sun was setting over the great Chesapeake Bay as I crossed the five-mile bay bridge.

Suddenly, a feeling of euphoria welled up from somewhere deep within me, like my soul woke up from a nap and was stretching. I began to feel so peaceful and happy that tears came to my eyes. Seeing both the sun setting and the fat moon hanging in the sky like it was I had to pull over to give them my full attention.

I looked out over the Bay as vibrant violets and tangerines lost their tempers and exploded into an astonishing array of furious flames filling the clouds overhead with a raging fever. What was even more breathtaking was the reflection made in the water, perfectly mirrored as if there was no horizon line, and it didn’t even stagger as it was sliced in half by a sharp ocean liner. I stood there and imagined myself diving into that reflection, swimming and swirling with the mercury-stained sun and the shy stars, swept into a Technicolor tide of tremendous color play. I waited until the very tip of the sun vanished below the horizon, and filled my lungs with the sweet Bay air musk I grew up with.

The stars began to pop out by the thousands, fluttering like a swarm of sparkling fireflies. It was as if the Man in the Moon uncorked a bottle of glimmering champagne in celebration of the beginning of night. I waited until all of the stars appeared, bowing to their royalty that magnificent and full moon which was set up into the sky like a topaz gem set into the crown of a queen.

I waited until a gentle northeastern January breeze ran her chilly fingers through my hair, whispering into my ears that night had begun and the temperature had dropped. I climbed back into my little car and let the moon lead me east, and I drove up the moonbeams to my home.

tiny island

pteridomania {noun} “fern fever”:

a term coined in 1855 by Charles Kinglsey in reference to the Victorian fern-collecting craze

20130107-125308.jpg

At the beginning of Autumn last year, my beau gifted me the book “Tiny World Terrariums” by Michelle Inciarrano and Katy Maslow, the creators of Twig Terrariums (http://www.twigterrariums.com.) I have always been captivated by terrariums and was eager to learn what it takes to make a successful little ecosystem of my own.

20130107-125302.jpg

The process was an amazingly rewarding little journey. I purchased a Weck jar and went hunting throughout Chester County, PA for the many elements over a period of weeks. I used soil, moss, and small pretty stones I found along the Brandwyine River on hikes with my beau around his home and out at The Laurels (http://www.brandywineconservancy.org/laurelsPreserve.html.)

20130107-125314.jpg

After consulting a bit with the professional green thumbs at one of my most favorite indulgences, Terrain (http://www.shopterrain.com/styers/) I topped this new little world off with a little plant from there that reminded me of a favorite tree.

I’m very proud of my inaugural terrarium and am already looking for glass and moss for my next one! I think I’m going to seek out some vintage-y apothecary glass for it this time and maybe introduce some tiny imaginative creatures.

A Day in the Life … Running around in Philadelphia

I often freelance in Philadelphia for a friend of mine who is the editor of a popular online food and entertainment website. This is a literal snapshot of a day in the life of a freelance videographer / photographer.

20121116-114506.jpg

First we began at 9am with Brad Spence at AMIS (412 South 13th Street – amisphilly.com) and filmed the making of a Turducken.

20121116-114534.jpg

Brad carves up the finished version of the two Turduckens that were prepared for the shoot.

20121116-114552.jpg

The finished result, Turducken with a Cranberry Mustård

20121116-114607.jpg

AMIS’ busy kitchen during the daytime preparing for dinner service.

20121116-114621.jpg

Brad and my editor, Adam, chatting about the industry, the big topic yesterday amongst many people involved with food being NYTimes’ Pete Wells’ scathing article about Guy Fieri’s Time Square bomb. (read here)

20121116-114635.jpg

the quintessential Center City snap

20121116-114647.jpg

Next, we headed to Philly-famous sports outfitter Mitchell & Ness (http://www.mitchellandness.com/) to pick up some threads for our next project.

20121116-114659.jpg

My editor was assigned a light editorial piece in anticipation of Sunday’s Philadelphia Marathon and our job was to go “carb up” at 5 Philadelphia eateries.

20121116-114717.jpg

My editor dressed as a marathon runner and holding an iced latte from Elixr (207 S. Sydenham St. – www.elixrcoffee.com)

20121116-114729.jpg

First stop was Pizzeria Stella (2nd & Lombard – http://www.pizzeriastella.net)

20121116-114758.jpg

Pizzeria Stella’s Rigatoni Bolognese

20121116-114806.jpg

I photographed my editor in a small stunt using pizza boxes outside the restaurant.

20121116-114814.jpg

Next we headed to Market Street for my personal favorite Old City restaurant FORK (306 Market St. – http://www.forkrestaurant.com/)

20121116-114824.jpg

…and then to South Philly for THE INDUSTRY (1401 East Moyamensing Avenue – http://theindustrybar.com/), lambs neck gravy with grilled baguettes and some pushups.

20121116-114835.jpg

over to charming restaurant LE VIRTU (1927 East Passyunk Avenue – http://www.levirtu.com/)

20121116-114843.jpg

one of Philadelphia’s infamous urban murals outside of Le Virtu

20121116-114851.jpg

Lastly, we photographed these at VERNICK in Rittenhouse Square (2031 Walnut Street – http://www.vernickphilly.com). Pumpkin butter and Squash toast and Pea and Bacon toast (tasted like split pea and ham soup, mmm!)

20121116-114917.jpg

My editor reviewed some of the still shots I took throughout the day. We debriefed and then he left to edit the photos and caption them for his deadline. This is the most difficult part for me as a freelancer: walking away from my files and allowing someone else – someone who doesn’t typically – edit them.

20121116-114924.jpg

My phenomenally empathetic boyfriend treated me to a bottle of one of my favorites at dinner back at home so that I could wind down from such a hectic and long day of shooting over in Philly.

Yesterday came and went, and this morning my professional work (as opposed to these Instagram snaps) was published for public consumption on the regional and national branches of my editor’s site and my fears were confirmed. Oh well! It was a fun, exhausting day of running around in the cold in a great city and getting to do one of the things I love best.

extra, extra

© Alessandra Nicole 2012, All Rights Reserved

So, this morning I got up at 4am to do something I’ve done periodically since I was studying film and acting in college. I worked as a background actor (as in, “extra”). In my particular friend and colleague circle this is certainly nothing groundbreaking so I’m not posting this blog for them. I’m posting it for those who haven’t ever done anything like this before or who have and still find it as cool and interesting as I do.

This particular work was for the new Harrison Ford / Gary Oldman thriller so far titled Paranoia (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1413495/). It was the first day of shooting and it featured Aussie Liam Hemsworth (Hunger Games), a few supporting cast members, and about 400 of us, both union and non-union. It was the biggest extra day scheduled so they wanted to make great use of us while they had us all there.

After conferring with wardrobe, hair and makeup and hanging out in holding for a few hours, we began filming at 830am and didn’t wrap the day’s shoot until 630pm. It was an outdoor day for the majority of us, thank goodness for mild temperatures and plenty of fluffy white clouds to shield us from long bouts of direct sunlight. We worked hard, had a blast, and made new friends. Here are a few snapshots that I sniped throughout the day.

20120721-220119.jpg

getting our hair & makeup done

 

20120721-220131.jpg

Comcast Center in Philly turned into a NYC corporate building

 

Crew working on the building’s transformation

 

an intersection in Philadelphia is turned into NYC for the day. This included fake NJ and NY license plates for cars, fake street signs reading “44th St”, NYPD uniforms and cars (see background), trash cans reading “Keep New York City Clean”, fake hot dog carts, newspapers, cabs, and a fake MTA bus stop amongst other things.

 

sweet camera on a dolly and track that I watched production assistants assemble as fast as a pit crew on the auto racing circuit

 

Wilma Garscadden Gahret observes the monitors for the current scene being filmed.

 

Director Robert Luketic watches the feed from the main camera and revealed that he “stole” the idea for the particular establishing shot from David Fincher and his 1997 film “The Game”.


an over-saturated snap I made of the Comcast Center in Philadelphia this afternoon

 

along my drive into Philadelphia at a quarter to 6 this morning

 

a career of Nows

“Chaos often breeds life when order breeds habit.” -Henry Adams
Part of living and loving in this life is learning how to allow and appreciate each ever-unfolding moment just as it is, without judgment or resistance. Getting into the natural flow of what our experience brings our way and becoming alert and fully alive to what’s Now will breathe light and life into the images we capture, and the preservation of such a moment when in that modality of openness will lend itself to be true inspiration for others for many moments forward.

20120628-175820.jpg

© Alessandra Nicole 2012, All Rights Reserved

10 Things (of many) that I Learned in 2011

More or less a list of reminders to myself for 2012:

10. When a person tells you they are “damaged goods” don’t waste your precious time and beautiful heart trying to talk them out of their story. Wish them the best, back away slowly and find someone with love to share. Life is just too short and the world too big (7 billion and counting!) to get entangled in and dragged down by the black hole of another person’s self-inflicted suffering and clinging to the past. Be compassionate, know that we are all doing the absolute best we can with the information we have in any and every given moment; but understand that their work is not yours. It’s not your job to “fix” anyone or get caught up in accepting someone who is unable to give you what you need and deserve. Worse, hang around them long enough and you’ll begin to think you’re “damaged” too. That’s a tough hole to climb out of! Love them, but love yourself more, and let them go. Also: Cherished friendships will come and go. People will come and go, often without your invitation or permission to do either. This is the ebb and flow of life, and there is no end to practicing the loving art of allowing in and letting go.

9. True, the best camera to use is the one that you have with you which for me has meant mastering my iPhone and struggling with sub-par and borrowed equipment. It’s important to make the investment in yourself and in your career and save up for pro rated gear to have in your arsenal. Not only will your work output stand up to your talent, but you’ll be less stressed on shoots, less stressed when delivering to clients, have more confidence, and overall carry yourself in an entirely different manner. You’ll be willing to go after bigger fish, and you’ll grow in many ways as a result.

8. Your current life is a direct reflection of your level of self worth and beliefs about deserving and Worry truly is using your imagination to create something you do not want.. It is not a reflection of the world economy, it is not a reflection of who is in office, it is not due to where and how you grew up. You are the author of your story, the master and commander of your own ship. Take responsibility and stop using what you see in the media circus or blaming your parents or a shitty boss as an excuse and a crutch to live impoverished and limited in any way. Stop giving things outside of you your precious power! OWN YOUR LIFE! Also: you can’t control others’ decisions, and that’s perfectly alright. Their decisions aren’t really about you anyhow. Their stinginess, crankiness, rejection, attacks, judgements, etc. aren’t about you at all. Don’t pick up that rock! It’s hard enough to overcome your own misaligned and harsh self criticisms than to take on others’ that is really all about themselves in the long run. It’s also typically fruitless trying to stand up for yourself against someone’s convictions so give them the boot and make room for people who know and value the true you. Everything else is an illusion. And you are wonderful, naturally, whether you see it that way or not!

7. It’s an absolute blast to be on the cover of a magazine in your home state for a month! It was completely unexpected and a truly unique experience that I savored as much as my blushing cheeks and quiet nature would allow.

6. Speak kindly. See the best in everyone around you, always. Every time you’re compelled to complain, acknowledge that. And then find things that you’re grateful for about the situation, the person. Look into the mirror and speak kindly to yourself as well. You’re the only you that you have, may as well make peace with that and give your Self lots of love. Talk to yourself as you would your best friend, be kind, forgiving, encouraging, complimentary. Never say anything about yourself or the world around you that you don’t want to become true. The more you practice this, the more loving situations show up in your life. You know this is true because you are already familiar with the results of the opposite… And Speak up. If you want something: say so! If something isn’t okay with you: voice it! If you need help: ask! Let someone know! Be brave and speak up! Might seem like a no-brainer to many of you but it was a good lesson for me this year.

5. It’s a LOT OF WORK to put on a gallery exhibit. And it’s terrifying! Not to mention one that’s to be up for an entire month! Or a show that’s a commemoration of a major trauma in national and personal history! In a space not built in the first place to adequately show work! With a shoestring budget and lost negatives! And the cookies! May the refreshments forever be, well, FRESH!

4. It’s better to trust your intuition and be wrong than to go against it and find out it was right. Learn to tap into your inner GPS and become your own best friend. That small, still voice is powering your very heartbeat and is driving you toward the fruition of your dreams. Honor those inner nudges, live with awareness of the poetry of life that is speaking to you always. Open your mind, follow your heart. This life is so much more vast than your five senses are able to perceive. Believe in a little magic and mystery and trust, trust, trust in You and in your place in this wild and delicate journey.

3. There really aren’t any mistakes. Stop beating yourself up and move on. Talk to yourself as if you were talking to someone you love. Would you beat him or her up for an outcome that wasn’t expected? Give yourself an hour to feel utterly wretched about whatever it is and then forgive it and anyone else involved. It’s already in the past, therefore it only has as much power as what you bring from it into the present. It doesn’t define who you are. In fact, there’s a treasure of wisdom you’ve gained from it that you now will always have. You’re not meant to figure absolutely everything out at once. We never will. Life is a process, and a team effort. Appreciate the discovery of things, the process of things, the journey. Go about it with kindness for yourself and curiosity about everything around you. Breathe. When all else fails, LAUGH.

2. Live love forward and start with loving yourself first. It’s a waste of time to live any other way. There’s a reason why our physical heart is central and vital to our physical living, when it ceases to beat, our lives in this world end. Live life through your heart, not your head (your head/ego will intellectualize the fun out of everything based on old information that rarely applies to the present like an old worried – but well meaning – Jewish grandmother!). Live passionately. Let emotions flow through you like blood and let them go (emotions are e – motion, energy in motion). When you deny or suppress your emotions, you cause your physical body great distress. It’s not healthy. I once knew a man who, out of fear and pain from past experiences, became very adept at blocking his emotions. I watched him experience quintuple bypass surgery as a result – surgery for a nearly completely blocked heart! Either that or he held onto the pain from a relationship not working out so desperately that he actually really broke his own heart! Or a culmination of the two! Who knows – nature can be quite literal! I’m audacious enough to believe that physical problems are direct results of a spiritual misalignment i.e. a limiting belief or an entire limiting belief system. Also: Allow people to do nice things for you. You deserve it. Strike a balance and do nice things in return, for both yourself and those around you. Treat yourself well and so will everyone else in your life. Love, love love!

1. The imagination is the most powerful and magical thing we have. As we grow up, we become socialized to downplay and ignore it in many ways. Second only to the power of a vivid imagination are the powers of love and of this very moment, of Now. Ease up! Don’t be so serious all the time! Dream and dare something worthy. Spend a little time each day to daydream the impossible, to daydream about your heart’s desires, then open your eyes, write them down, tuck them away gently, and find gratitude for what you already have around you, practice the knowing that you are solid and okay in this very moment no matter what, that everything passes but the trajectory into the future depends on the power of our thoughts (and the actions we take based on them) today. Reach for positive ones, cultivate the use of your imagination as often as possible, and step out in faith.

—-

And a bonus #11, because I am so infatuated with the number:

11. I am not “normal”. And that is 111% deliciously okay. There is a big difference between being “adaptive” and plain trying to hammer one’s square peg self into someone else’s idea of a round hole. Get away from anyone who for any reason makes you feel less of the beautiful and intriguing being you inherently are. Run in the opposite direction of anyone that refuses to treat you with utmost respect and kindness. Anyone who decides you’re not rich enough or not accomplished enough or not _______ enough, defenestrate them immediately. I believe we must take responsibility for all that shows up in our experience, which in part means that we should take a look at the viewpoints of those around us that we’ve (either knowing or unknowingly) invited into our orbit. There’s some part of what’s being projected that we deep down feel must be true else it’d not be on our radar. In science, like vibrations attract like vibrations, and we are all made up of energy. It’s worth taking a bit of time to consider the views of another as they are ultimately a great mirror showing us what deep down we may think of ourselves, to shed some light on these untruths, and then eject them from our personal belief system once and for all. Once we do to our core like minded people will begin to show up and the others will fade away on their own or as you decide to let them go. Celebrate what sets you apart, celebrate all the big and little things that make one-of-a-kind you. Embrace exactly YOU. How else will the person looking for someone exactly like you ever find YOU if you’re hiding behind some facade? There will never in the history or the future of existence be another you and that’s a gorgeous miracle and a profound GIFT. An absolute GIFT. Be who you really are and be unapologetic, be authentic, be honest, be real, and when you can’t be those things, don’t be hard on yourself about it! And if you’re being hard on yourself about it, get it out of your system and then cut it out! Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become more important than YOUR opinion of you. And be aware of the filters through which you’re looking at yourself. Most times they weren’t even yours to begin with. Let it goooooo…

To 2012!

20120107-102416.jpg

© Alessandra Nicole

I am Thankful

In honor of Thanksgiving (and my business namesake) this month I am posting something every day for which I am thankful over on my Facebook page, and will keep a running list here. Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

11/10/11: Clean running water – there’s been constant construction on the water main outside of where I live which has had the water off for a couple of afternoons in a row. Each evening, the water came back on rusty and smelly taking hours to clear up. It was an “inconvenience” for me for two days – hard to imagine nations around the world that never have clean running water! Please donate: http://www.charitywater.org/

charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. 100% of public donations directly fund water projects. Learn more or donate.

11/09/11: Music – whether created by musicians, monks, or wind through a set of chimes.

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.  – Aldous Huxley

11/08/11: Our veterans – War isn’t ideal but when it’s decided that there must be one, I’m thankful for the bravery and willingness of our soldiers to do what it takes to take it all on. I’m thankful I have the freedom to be with the people I care about and work on whatever projects and embark on whatever adventures I dream up.

11/07/11: Today I am thankful for…. all the reasons, big & little, to keep on going. Because, seriously, at times it ain’t all that easy.

11/05/11 & 11/06/11: The “log out” button – I am thankful for being able to periodically unplug from virtual reality and enjoy physical reality.

In this complex and overbearing technological era, it is important for me to at times detach from the tentacles of the internet and remember a simpler, more enriching life and all of the delicious present moments and people that deserve my 100% undivided attention.  It’s vital to remember to be here now and rise above the addicting but superficial connections to the masses online and take time to balance my online interactions with cultivating and maintaining healthy connections to the people who are actually in my life, to connect with nature, and above all: to connect with myself.

11/04/11: Today I’m thankful for my mistakes, exes, and “enemies”. Every one of them. They’ve exposed blind spots, weaknesses, things that I needed to learn so that I keep growing and reaching for better and higher.

If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner. – Tallulah Bankhead

11/03/11: My 5(6) Senses – I say this as I bite into a creamy Belgian chocolate truffle while the aroma of rich black coffee permeates my little studio area.

Mmm! Take a moment to honor all of your senses and this crisp, gorgeous  autumn day that supports us.

A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to to be seen in them by the finest senses? -Walter Pater

11/02/11: Love – For letting me feel what it means to truly be alive

Love is definitely not limited to romantic relations or even people. As an artist, for me it helps to look at the world around me through the filter of love. Without it I definitely would not be the kind of artist that I am.

11/01/11: My friends – for being my kin & companions in life

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. – C. S. Lewis

October: Life After September Morning

the poster for the opening of September Morning, an exhibition of photography from NYC on 9/11/01 by Alessandra Nicole

September Morning: The Long Goodbye

Last month I had a very important photography exhibit here in my home base, Wilmington, DE- I displayed photographs I took in lower Manhattan on 9/11/01. There was a small fury of press surrounding the exhibit that left me pretty exposed to my community; 9/11 was one event that shaped me in so many ways over the past decade but it’s not something I’ve talked much about since it happened.

I encountered countless setbacks and challenges in getting the exhibit onto it’s feet and now that it’s finally over and in the past after more than 11 months of planning I feel great relief! I’m fairly proud of myself; it was a courageous thing to have taken on- opening myself up to something I had buried many years ago and revisiting what it’s meant to me while being available to everyone else and what it’s meant to and for them as well.

I’d like to say I handled everything with perfect ease and grace but those closest to me know better! The stress, tears, anxiety, late nights, and nightmares I had from rehashing images I hadn’t looked at in decades (and don’t even bring up the loss of my film negatives!) almost compelled me to cancel everything several times. I could barely shoulder the expense of the two gallery shows 40 miles apart that I had committed to let alone the pressure I was putting on myself about it all. I relied on those around me much more than what’s comfortable for me- and perhaps for them as well! This exhibit really tested the fabric of who I am becoming, and did so right down to the closing reception the last day of September with an emergency venue change.

For me it was a month-long goodbye that took nearly a year and a lot of generous and supportive people in which to arrange. I made a ton of mistakes and learned much. I also risked and lost much because my event had to be my number one priority last month. If I weren’t so eager to sum the experience up into a tidy blog post for documentation’s sake so I can move on from it I might be inclined write a book about the whole thing.

The week after my sweet and humble closing reception, a week into October, I found myself in the midst of 4,000 protesters marching from lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park to City Hall in a movement called Occupy Wall Street. I was so into the energy of it and so electrified by the faces I was capturing that when I saw the huge sign reading 26 Federal Plaza in my camera’s viewfinder I was momentarily and visibly dumbstruck.

Ten years ago a 21 year old version of me stood in that very place after having been evacuated from 41 floors above Broadway with camera in hand, capturing faces on the streets and electrified by a very different piece of  history taking place. I hadn’t laid eyes on that building in more than seven years though it’s address has been engrained on my long term memory for the better part of my adulthood. I was also stunned to realize it was all in much closer proximity to the site of the World Trade Center than I had cared to calculate for the reporters that would interview me in the recent months leading up to my ten year commemoration exhibit. Certain particulars were a fog to me and I was content to leave it as such. I hadn’t been back to Ground Zero since visiting the site with my best friend back in 2003.

Occupy Wall Street protesters march past the Department of Justice building where Alessandra happened to be on assignment a decade earlier.

It suddenly dawned on me that ten years later I was running the same street with the same equivalent gear in my hands in the middle of another major event in NYC! I was amazed by the complete circle of it all! I felt like my amateur photographer 21 year old self had handed off an invisible baton to the present Me. A part of her had died in the ashes of fallen towers a decade ago- the resurrection of which this year was deeply painful. In a matter of the seconds that I had on hand in the middle of this enormous protest going on, I finally laid that poor afflicted girl to rest. With moist eyes I took the baton, kissed the memory, returned to the present moment and rejoined the march to Foley Square. It was just a few blocks, but the journey brought with it a decade’s worth of closure that I didn’t even know I still needed after having spent all of last month giving tours through my photographs and speaking openly (finally) about my experience.

Alessandra in SoHo, 2001. Photo by Laura Dotterer

Alessandra in Jersey City, 2011. Photo by Adam Robb

Exhale.

Waking Up from September Morning

Since Occupy Wall Street last Wednesday I have felt an inner shift within. I simply feel different. I’ve taken solace in my studio lately while working on a new project- illustrating a bit of prose I penned a few years ago- but mostly the isolation has been about me sitting with the awareness of a particular transformation I’ve made and finding my new legs within it. It’s something I have wanted for years. It’s been nearly impossible to articulate the experience to those closest to me. The very first gift given to me at age 4 as soon as I could master holding a pencil was the ability to wield the written word (while taking liberties to make up my own, occasionally!) Even in this form of self expression in which I am like a fish to water, I am floundering around grasping for the right sentences; the proper-est way to encapsulate something so profound that I am going through- and to find breath and levity within it so that I don’t get buried in my own avalanche.

It’s been an extraordinary 2011 for this girl. In the final days of my 31st year in this particular lifetime I find constant and beautiful gratitude for all I have seen, felt, tasted, touched, heard, loved, lost, embraced, and let go throughout my 20s. I want so many gorgeous and tender things for my 32nd year and for those around me. I feel so blessed to be a professional photographer! I feel blessed by my jagged journey to have gotten to this point and blessed by all the lessons and growing I’ve yet to do in and with it. I am grateful to be an artist- to have the luxury and the proficiency of multiple mediums at my fingertips that I can employ so that I may be able to articulate the simpleness and the complexities of how I see and feel this ever changing world around us…. so that maybe, just maybe I might be able to paint pictures and craft photographs to do justice to this crushingly vivid life where my written and spoken words fail.

I haven’t written in ages. Here’s to a fresh new chapter.

+++++++

Link to my Occupy Wall Street photos: http://alessandra.zenfolio.com/occupywallstreet