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!

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

 

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.

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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!

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© 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.

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