Birthdays are important to me. It’s a celebration of life and a recognition that we come into the world at a certain time, maybe for a certain purpose. This year was a special treat because I was asked to shoot Sat Nam Fest East in Waynesville, Pennsylvania to help create a promotional video and commercial for Spirit Voyage and Prana Projects. I flew out on my birthday and spent the start of my new year in an amazing community of Kundalini Yoga and sacred mantra music. The energy was palpable – people connecting deeply to their truth, their heart. While most of what I shot was video, I shot a few stills as well to share.

So grateful to be able to connect with and capture what is alive in us all through photography and video.
My spirit is full of wonder!

The next festival happens in Joshua Tree, California, April 17 – 20th, 2014. Check out the website here.

  • norah - Your work and spirit are glorious and SO incredibly authentic. Thank you for sharing it with the world!

  • meg - You get to document fascinating life experiences. What a way to start your new year. I can’t wait to see / learn more about this. You are an inspiration!

  • admin - Thanks Norah and Meg! You all both keep me inspired and striving!

I moved to Santa Fe thirteen years ago when I was hired by the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. (The workshops are likely responsible for many photographer’s relocation to, or at least their passing through, Santa Fe). One of the many things I learned at the Workshops was how a group of individuals can come together at the same location and return with completely different images.

As a photographer and documentary storyteller, focusing mainly on assignment work, I remain immensely curious in how fine-art photographers’ find and communicate with their muse. They are not commissioned, assigned, told what to photograph and for what purpose and by what deadlines. They have to look within themselves, and develop a relationship – a dialog between the internal and external worlds – to find and produce their work. I am so grateful to the pursuit of art, and I honor the artist and those that support them because the images (sculptures, paintings, textiles) they show, the ideas and messages they convey, touch something deep within, and somehow remind me of the mystery, beauty, and curiosities of life.

VERVE Gallery of Photography, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, represents 41 photographers, 40 of which are still alive and working, almost daily. These artists are producing the best of every genre of contemporary fine art photography, and VERVE is making the connection between the artists’ work and collectors and patrons.

This year, VERVE celebrates ten years in the business. They are devoted to photography, and their artists. And, in an effort to teach, inspire, and bring attention to their collection, VERVE Gallery of Photography and StoryPortrait Media are collaborating on a series of artist videos. This has given me the unique honor and privilege to ask and explore the classic questions – How photographer’s find their inspiration, drive, what their techniques are, and how their passions, play and questions, lead to images and portfolios that hang on gallery walls and inspire thought and conversation.

We currently have created videos for eight artists: Brigitte Carnochan, Michael Crouser, Cy DeCosse and Keith Taylor, Joy Goldkind, Jennifer Schlesinger, Maggie Taylor, Stephen Strom, and Nevada Wier with more to come. Each video shares the lifetime of work created, and dives into their process and in the case of Carnochan, DeCosse and Schlesinger, their homes and darkrooms.

Watch the VERVE artist series on my website, or by clicking on the image below.

The current exhibition at VERVE features Nevada Wier, Janet Russek, and Alan Pearlman
The opening is Friday, September 27th, 5 – 7pm at VERVE Gallery of Photography, Santa Fe
Book signing on Saturday, September 28th, 2 – 4pm

Twice a year, I get to sit down with the Living Treasures committee to read personal, heart-felt letters, rich articles, extensive resumes and sort through archival photos from an amazing pool of Santa Fe Living Treasure nominees. Typically, by secret ballot, the three honorees are voted into the Living Treasures community almost unanimously – they just rise to the surface, and leave us all glowing with a renewed belief in humanity. A life devoted to the public good is such an amazing thing to celebrate and come together for in gratitude.

This summer we honored Consuelo Hernandez, Dave Warren and Judge Patricio M. Serna. And, with another selection meeting on the calendar today, there with more Treasures honored in the Fall. Join us October 27th, at the next public event.

Consuelo “Connie” Hernandez
If you’ve ever been to Santa Fe, you’ve surely passed by and hopefully gone in, the Old Santa Fe Trail Gift Shop. It is filled with religious folk art, and something, undoubtedly, just for you. Connie will find that perfect something for you and also share story after story of miracles, answered prayers, healings, and transformations that she has experienced and witnessed. She is a believer and that energy pulsates and uplifts generation after generation. She keeps the faith and stories alive by caring for and teaching traditions.

Dave Warren is a historian, professor and community history organizer. Personally, I love that last title, a community history organizer. Dave has worked tirelessly with his own Native American communities to record oral traditions so that they might write their own tribal histories, instead of having others do it for them.

Patricio M. Serna went from “poor little country boy to Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court. What some people just shrug off as words and folly, Serna took to heart, “With positive focus, determination and self-confidence, you can be anything you want”. And, what grace and kindness he showed as I received a personal tour of the NM Supreme Court chambers.

How am I contributing to my community, committing to my hearts’ path? How am I honoring those who are? Well, the Santa Fe Living Treasures is a great model, one that is a joy to be a part of.

Please visit the Santa Fe Living Treasures website for more information.

Late last November I drove due west to Flagstaff, Arizona and arrived around sunset to the smile and colorful, light-filled studio space of Anna LaBenz Photography on the old Route 66. Anna’s life is seeped in family and art. Bringing those two passions together, she brings a unique talent and sensitivity to her wedding and portrait photography clients. I had the honor of spending two days with her, watching and capturing how she works, and talking about the inspiration behind her work for this promotional video for her website.

What I admired about her work, from start to finish, is the internal spark that carries through – from the creative ideas that bubble up as she prepares for a shoot, to the interaction with the kids, families and couples while photographing, to the joy and excitement of the edit as images pop up on the computer screen to the final delivery of a beautiful art piece to her client. Her work is infused with joy, beauty and the preciousness of the present moment.

To learn more about Anna LaBenz or hire her as your portrait photographer, visit her website.

Anna is also the founder of the JLB Project, a group that offers assistance with grief counseling, online resources and financial assistance for those who are grieving the loss of their baby.

I ask “Why?” a lot when I am interviewing artists, non-profit directors and staff, social entrepreneurs. “Why?” peels back the internal layers more than What? or How?. Why gets to the heart, causes a pause, sometimes pain, and typically reveals a personal mission and belief. And, it’s the “Why?” in life that really keeps us going, centers us in times of chaos, re-energizes when on the brink of exhaustion. At least for me, Why is what inspires.

Surprisingly, “Why?” is sometimes the hardest question to answer. It gets lost in the What and How? When? For Whom? How Much?

At least it’s made me stumble a bit when asked lately, which encourages me to return to my photo roots in High School with Janet Moore-Coll as my teacher (she is still inspiring young photographers today). Magically photography connected me to my community and myself in a way I hadn’t felt connected before. Instead of just blindly going along, I started questioning: What is this (Easter egg hunt)? Who are these (fox-hunter’s)? What’s really happening here (the HS party/ drink fest), and Why? I’m not sure I found the answers, but I learned to ask the questions. And, it was fascinating to undulate back in forth from a participant in the action, to an observer, from an insider to an outsider.

After High School, I put the camera down until my junior year of college when I went to Nepal for a semester abroad. Of course, the camera came back out – I knew I needed to sketch what I was seeing so that I could research, explain, and share it later. I used photography in my senior thesis in college, to capture community supported agriculture in Virginia. I gave the images to a nonprofit organization educating the state’s farmers about organic and biodynamic farming and CSAs. Photography gave me a way to participate in and advocate for what I believed in, and be of service to a cause. (Wish I could get my hands on all of these photos I am referring to to post…, that’s a box opening, scanning project for another rainy day!)

These are still the key components to my work and my why:
Photography connects me to myself and my community, and I need to feel connected.
Photography is a research tool, for my own life-long learning, and I need to be inspired and keep learning and growing.
Photography allows me to participate and observe, question and document, and helps me feel alive, present, engaged.
Photography gives me a voice and is a way to be seen, and I also need to feel valued and heard.
Photography allows me to participate in and advocate for what I believe in, and there are many things I believe in.
Photography allows me to be of service, and I need to contribute and give back.
Photography helps me to remember and share my story and experiences, and I need to know the importance of my own story and share it.

I have added a few skills to the visual storytelling toolkit since high school, most notably the addition of audio and video to my work. The WHY behind audio and video is really important to me too. I realized that with still photography I was still imposing my judgement and personal filters on the story. And, when other people looked at the images, they brought theirs. So, I wanted to give my subject the power to tell their own stories in their own voice, from their own perspective, culture, accent, and heart. I believe that when we listen, we connect on a much deeper level. I have experienced it every time I have sat down to ask questions, and then didn’t interrupt and chime in with my opinion or reaction. Listening, being receptive and open to another, is transformative. Listening encourages me to let go of judgement, criticism, the idea of right and wrong.

So my work is now a spiritual practice – a practice that I believe will heal myself and others. Yes, my work and my why is about healing. It’s about peace-making. It’s about optimism and celebrating what’s beautiful in the world. It’s about being connected and feeling connected. It’s about learning to listen and to communicate without judgement or expectation. It’s about letting go of shame and embracing vulnerability. It’s about being present in the moment. It’s about learning and growing, seeking and accepting. And, it keeps evolving. But, it’s what underlies all of my projects. Whether I am successful or not is another story, but I’ll keep trying.

What’s your WHY? I would love to hear it!

photo by Norah Levine Photography

  • Kim Klinkrodt - Beautiful! I love your Whys. I love your answers. I love the journey and the story that you tell. I can picture you all along the way. I wouldn’t change a thing!

  • Ruibna Cohen - So gorgeously written and truly spoken from the heart. I TOO love your why! My why is because I want to, and because I can. My why is because I was put on this Earth to serve and be in service. Why…because I love it, you, them and because I believe in it all! Anyway, that was my way of showing you inspired me and always do!

  • admin - It IS that simple – “I want to and I can”! Ahhh, you are always a breath of fresh air Rubina!

  • Chris Barber - What a wonderful, thoughtful article — and I love the photograph! Your points about “…participate in and advocate for…” and “…allows me to be of service…” are really, really strong. I’m not sure, but I think my “why” might be: it makes me approach people and have a genuine conversation with them; so the photograph I take has something of that reality in it.” I credit you, Genevieve, with teaching me to talk with people before I pick up the camera.

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