Journal •

Portrait Studies: The Cloud Of Unknowing

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I was walking down Lower Broadway in Nashville in the sweltering summer heat. Honky tonk music venues adorning gaudy retro signs lined the streets; slow-moving crowds spilled over the sidewalk, faces flushed with heat and a couple of 2pm beers, perhaps. It was my second day in Nashville – the South, as a whole – and I was feeling slightly disoriented by how smiley everyone was, how wide the sidewalks were, the predominance of families and children.

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TheCloudOfUnknowing-18-smThat was when I heard an otherworldly, high-pitched sound amidst the crowd. It was melodic yet utterly bizarre, like an alien humming an ethereal tune. I walked further down the block to find a couple of buskers performing on the sidewalk – one on vocals and banjo, the other on a saw violin. Their friend Rude complimented me on my labaret. I thanked him and asked to take a photo of the performers. After taking a series of horribly lit shots, I proceeded to walk down to the end of the block… only to turn back and ask them if they were willing to do a proper shoot with me after they were done busking. They kindly agreed.

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TheCloudOfUnknowing-4-smAnd boy am I lucky they did. I had the opportunity to spend a couple hours talking with Annalise Lovelace and Mars Odette of The Cloud of Unknowing, a nomadic freakfolk duo that performs across the US and lives out of a van. Annalise and Mars met in New Orleans and have been traveling together since. They picked up Rude – a trumpet player, as it turns out – along the way and were en route to St. Louis. Their friendly and humble dispositions belied their worldliness. Thanks so much for letting me make pictures with you guys. Safe travels to LA!

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Studio Sessions: Loumingou Night

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I had the distinct privilege of photographing Ngonda, Ntangou and Nkoula of Loumingou Night, a three-piece sister band based in Brooklyn. Nearly a year has passed since our last shoot together; for this session, we decided to showcase body painting techniques inspired by the Omo Valley tribes of southern Ethiopia.

DNA analysis suggests that every person now living on this earth is related to a single woman from the Omo Valley. The region is home to eight tribes, each with distinct tongues, livelihoods, and body painting techniques. That said, many members employ light pigments such as dried clay and fresh native plants worn around the crown of the head, both of which are said to provide protection from outside spirits and double as pest repellent. The sisters gracefully recreated their own looks and interpretations of this ancient ritual for this shoot.

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LoumingouNight-204-BLOGThe lower Omo Valley region had remained virtually untouched by modern industry until the Gibe III hydroelectric dam project was implemented in 2006. This has prevented an annual flood – one that was essential to maintain the rich biodiversity of the region – and displaced villagers along the Omo River. An increasing number of these peaceful pastoralists have given up their floral crowns for AK-47s to protect their bodies, land and resources.

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LoumingouNight-306-BLOGA reproduction can only say so much. Still, we wanted to preserve the beauty and quiet empowerment behind this ritual – the adorning of one’s body with native clay and plants for grounding and protection. I could not have asked for a more talented group of women to collaborate on this project with. Enjoy.

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Kashiya Kokonotsu

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Kashiya Kokonotsu is a tea and confectionary studio based in Taito-ku, Tokyo. Owner Miho Mizoguchi is a seasoned tea master who leads saryo tea ceremonies at Buddhist temples regularly and is quite possibly one of the warmest individuals I have ever known. Upon meeting me at her studio, she took my hands in hers and thanked me for this “go-en,” or personal encounter.

The tea room interior, which I had the distinct pleasure of shooting, is a tranquil, womb-like space. Charcoal-laden wood shelves house a curated collection of delicate tea ceramics. White linens draped over the windows gently diffuse the midday light. In the center of the room is a long table with six chairs. “I offer one-hour tea room sessions when I am not working at the temple,” Mizoguchi-san tells me. “There are usually about 5-6 people. No words are exchanged. Just an hour of sipping tea, eating wagashi, and reveling in each other’s presence.”

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Kokonotsu-16-WEBIndeed, Mizoguchi-san created Kokonotsu to offer busy minds a place to rest, to indulge in her nationally-acclaimed handmade wagashi sweets and the quiet company of a few others. Her tea preparation is nuanced, meticulous, elegant. Her wagashi is light, minimal, nourishing. Every minute detail in Mizoguchi-san’s studio is a quiet contemplation of pathos and wabi-sabi aesthetics.

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Kokonotsu-10-WEBThe structure embedded in these sessions ironically allows the recipient a beautifully expansive tea experience, reaching far-flung corners of the mind. After a short shoot in between saryo sessions Mizoguchi-san kindly offered me her latest wagashi creation made of a type of kankitsu citrus called Haruka – a sweet coincidence that I will remember for the rest of my life. Thank you Mizoguchi-san for a truly restorative experience.

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Portrait Studies: Boshia and Fatimat

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Islamaphobia has long plagued western societies. In light of recent events, Muslimahs like Boshia and Fatimat have had to reclaim their faith amidst a narrow-minded, xenophobic culture that is much too eager to attribute one rogue individual’s unforgivable actions onto an entire community. Divide-and-conquer tactics have been used by the elite class for centuries to leverage their power, and sadly the media’s fixation on Omar Mateen’s religious background is yet another example of this crude manipulation. Take two especially vulnerable demographics – LGBTQ individuals and Muslim Americans – and pit them against one another. Certainly it is much easier to demonize a group of people than to implement policy changes that will prevent a mentally unstable man on a terrorist watch list from acquiring a semi-automatic weapon in the first place.

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BoshiaFatimat-494-WEBRESTruth be told, this shoot with Boshia and Fatimat was planned long before the tragedy in Orlando. We simply wanted to coordinate a follow-up shoot to this portrait study depicting the quiet reverence of Muslim sisterhood. Indeed, the kinship between these two women was starkly evident from the moment we met up. Too often female friendships are wrought with nuances of jealousy and competition – these two, however, share a dignified relationship based on healing and intellectual curiosity. They are currently working hard to create a community space for Muslim women to come together and learn about natural remedies and healing techniques. Watch this space for further updates.

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Two Wheels Down: Oregon Coast

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My first time riding on the back of a motorcycle was when I was seventeen years old. A friend of a friend – a burly yet soft-spoken Belgian man – took me on his Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 through the Scottish Highlands. As I felt the deep rumble of the engine in my belly for the first time, I was certain that this would not be my last time on a bike.

Cut to: present. I am sitting here with dense matted hair and a sweltering patch of wind rash on my face after a 500-mile ride over the past weekend. I am dirty. I am grimy. I am tired. Yet I have a shit-eating grin on my face. Last night my body ached in places I never knew existed – yet somehow, I’m dying to be back on the road again.

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BikeTrip2016-2-smMy long-time travel companion/biker extraordinaire Neil insisted that we wing it, that we go without a plan. I, on the other hand, had a Google doc on the ready.

Me: “We’ll have lunch in Astoria – I found this microbrewery on Yelp – then maybe head over to Fort Stevens at around one o’clo-”
Him: “We’ll go south.”

We ended up doing it his way. We simply went south.

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BikeTrip2016-3-smFrom Seattle we made our way down to South Bend, Long Beach and Manzanita with a couple of detours in between. Unlike Southern California, the 101 on the North Coast is incredibly lush with majestic pine trees hugging the marred coastline. The temperature gently fluctuated as we wove in and out of deep forest enclaves; in the meanwhile, the Great Pacific kept a watchful eye on us beyond the trees. Along the way, we passed fellow bikers, boogie vans, decked out aluminum buses with a coffin on top. Oregon, you keep it weird. I like that.

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BikeTrip2016-5-smThough we only had one full day of riding, the moments spent on that bike have been forever lodged into my bones. As we ripped down the sun-bleached highway through pristine beaches and pine tree groves, we were curiously suspended in time and space. Itineraries and future projections fell to the wayside as my immediate senses emerged to the fore. Life was pared down to its very essence – the engine growling underneath me, the sun beating down on my shoulders, the occasional whiff of kelp and ocean spray, the sweat beads forming on my skin. If freedom were a feeling, this would be it.

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BikeTrip2016-15-smOregon, you were good to us. We will be back soon.

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.