This Mexican Life

Ever dream of selling everything & moving to Mexico? I did it and these are the stories. 

Melissa + Ryan | Sayulita, Mexico

My last wedding of the 2016-17 season was meticulously planned by the bride. She didn't hire a planner and researched all her vendors, locations and details with astonishing perseverance and clarity.  Melissa was incredible about communicating the moments and details that mattered most to her. Everything she'd hoped and planned for came to fruition without a hitch and I was along for the smooth ride. These are a few of my favorite photos from the day and the stories behind them. 

This picture feels like a painting. I took it early in the reception, when everyone still had their clothes on and tequila had yet to cross their eyes.  

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I’ll stop the world and melt with you
— Modern English

I've always liked the song and wanted to recreate it as a photo. It was a bit tricky. I needed to use a slow shutter speed, but I didn't have a tripod so I had to handhold the camera. The sunlight was filtering through tall palms swaying in the sea breeze - so the sun on their faces was compromised with every strong gust. We were also blocking one of the main beach access points in Sayulita, so we had to be fast. It worked. 

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I think creating an unusual bridal party portrait that shows the personality of the people and the uniqueness of the place without any gimmicks is a lot more satisfying than lining them all up and asking for a happy face. Melissa & Ryan's wedding was at Brisa Mar Palapa - a Sayulita wedding venue just above a cemetery. They'd asked for bridal party portraits on the beach and I knew we'd pass through this spot on our way there, so I asked if they wouldn't mind just trying to make a picture here. Everyone was into it. I didn't want anyone looking somber or sexy. In Catholic culture, the dead are celebrated (think Dia de los Muertos) and in our culture - what is a wedding but a celebration of life? It seemed fitting and it worked. 

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I'm feeling a little guilty because Melissa is not the drinker these pictures make her out to be. I just happened to catch her drinking the best two drinks of the night. This last picture is of the bride sipping a beer just after her ceremony on a sultry hot afternoon - moments before she and her brand new husband signed their marriage certificate. After all the planning and the beautiful ceremony... you can almost taste that beer. It had to be great. And the layering: on the left, you see the officiant holding the envelope with the wedding certificate; her sister is sweeping past to make the table for the signing look nice; a groomsman is passing beers to someone else on the right; and the groom is holding his margarita. I like seeing the variety of drinks, and the view from the venue. There's a lot going on, but there is stillness in her sip.

MelissaRyan_173.jpg

Wedding Planning - The bride | Venue - Brisa Mar Palapa | Catering - Don Pedro's Restaurant | Dress - hand-sewn by the bride's mother 

Giving Thanks

I am thankful for the brides that let me be the photographer I want to be ... a story teller. Yes, with every wedding I shoot, I tell the wedding story - this is where it was, what it looked like, who was there, what they did. I don't always get to see the essence of a couple, but I try. I want to get pictures of what they look like when they think no one is looking. Oh man, do I try to get to know those things about every couple that invite me to be a part of their wedding. It's a level of intimacy that's difficult to tap into. Not every couple wants to reveal it. Sometimes, the circumstance of the wedding - the guests and the travel and the stress and relief and expectations and having someone not too far removed from a total stranger pointing a camera at them, make it pretty fucking hard to be photographed ... so I try not to push it. 

Sometimes it happens. When it does, it affirms me and all the choices that make this Mexican life work. So thanks to those couples who show me their intimacy.  

Brief and Wonderful Advice from Oscar Wilde

I'm doing this Instagram challenge to get more followers. I'm growing my own business. I'm exploring different marketing techniques. I like Instagram. 

Assignment number two was post a photo of my workspace. The example was a stylized desktop with an inspirationally ironic coffee mug, computer, camera and cutesy notebook and pen set (presumably used when overcome by an idea for a blog post). I glanced at my present workspace and rolled my eyes. I fucking hate this table. My coffee mug was long ago emptied and washed - it's an ant magnet. I like our couch, it could pass as a stylized workspace but I don't work there. I lounge there. Posting it would be a lie. 

I felt like my post was good enough. My enthusiasm for the challenge is waning. 

Later, I met with a couple who's wedding I'll photograph in May. It was a lot of fun. We drank craft beer (rare here). Getting to know a bride and groom before their wedding is like a gift. It makes photographing them on their big day so much better. They're comfortable with me, with being photographed. And this couple was funny! Their family was a pleasure! These exclamation points are authentic!!

As we talked about the game plan for their wedding day, I made an aside about photographing their invitations and I felt the bride prickle. The groom mentioned sending e-vites. I realized immediately they thought I was serious. I don't do that. I take pictures of people. I'm there for the moments, not the paper products.

I told this bride I was joking. She laughed and seemed relieved. 

I was looking through Instagram later that night, scrolling through the feed of other challenge participants. I came across a photo with this scrolled across it,

"Be yourself, everyone else is already taken" ~ Oscar Wilde

I was a refreshing reminder. I'm constantly looking at the work of other photographers. Seeking inspiration and guidance. I see so much great work. I also see such stylized work that I feel like I'm in a totally different world from so many other photographers. I don't have a team. I don't have the latest and greatest equipment. Wedding days go by as fast for me as they do for the couple. I don't have time to waste a second trying to recreate a photo that looks staged or lacks intimacy. 

Yes, I will continue the challenge and I will continue to pour through Instagram, gawking. Yes, I want more followers because I think it will translate into more business. More business becomes more financial security. Security ensures the continuation of this Mexican life. This life, as a result, remains happy and content. 

That's the RSVP for our wedding. We keep it on our fridge. 

That's the RSVP for our wedding. We keep it on our fridge. 

Shame and Bless

Syd started school yesterday. I've been with her solid for more than two months. I was ready. She wasn't. 

Traveling and interruptions in routine have her off. That, and I didn't do enough preparing for the newness. She did fine in day care, I know she'll do fine in Montessori. It's freaking Montessori. She's bigger than she was on that rough first day of day care. We talk about being bigger all the time. Her birthday was coming for weeks. It was always soon. She tells me she's a big girl. 

School scared the shit out of her. I was too excited for it starting to even consider what was happening to her. She adjusted well to living in the Airstream, she was darling at her grandparents house, she was even a shining example of toddler-hood to her cousin. (She taught her to count toes! They jumped on the bed! Watching her be the big kid was so cool!)

en route

en route

She did not make a positive first impression. That made me immediately fearful of being labeled as a - fill in the blank with your preferred negative adjective - mom. I picked her up less than an hour after we dropped her off. Her teacher explained the hour and I knew it hadn't gone well and she was speaking in Spanish and I could kind of follow but got frustrated by my inability to understand ... had to admit I couldn't. Shamed. By myself, really, but am convinced the teacher is adding another negative association to my face.

It was only a fucking hour. 

The days are still hot and drag and I have work to do. Hustle, hustle, hustle. I talked to Syd about school being exciting and fun. Her teacher likes her! There are fun boys and girls in the class! There is "no lloras" at school. No crying. I had a hiccup as a parent and felt crappy about it. 

She was perfectly pleasant all evening. There was no fussing or fighting. She ate. She played independently. She seemed cautiously optimistic about going to school again. She was being a big girl. 

I was staring at the computer trying to fit in some of the things on the never ending to-do list when she called to me from her bedroom. She still goes down in her pack'n'play. Her touches touch the edge and she's just about too big. Figuring out a bedrail system for the twin bed is somewhere in the middle of that to-do list. I went into her room and leaned into her bed. She reached up and started rubbing my eyebrows. She asked me to sing a song so I sang the one I made up about Daddy. 

"Will you pick me up and hold me and sing sunshine?" she asked. 

I picked up my three-year-old and held her and softly sang you are my sunshine. She melted me. My big girl isn't so little any more and bless her heart, my little girl is getting so big. 

 

Home Away From Home

So Sydney and I are in America again for a little while. It’s weird. Phil is in Mexico and it sucks being apart. We miss him, he misses us. Every day is a discovery for her and that makes it okay. 

I didn’t want to leave Mexico. I like being in San Pancho this time of year. It’s quiet and personal. It’s a victory to endure the summer. I like being a winner. And this trip, much like Giligan’s was supposed to be short. Opportunity knocked, round-trip ticket’s ain’t cheap so here we are. For seven weeks.

The island is harder than I imagined. It’s bigger than it was five years ago, more people, more stuff, more (don’t be mad local friends) gentrification. I can’t just head into the woods for a three hour hike - I’ve got a two year old who can’t walk 20 feet without major distraction and my dog is still in Mexico. Plus, the trails are mulched. Fresh squeezed juice costs $11. The sunshine isn’t reliable. We have to wear seatbelts. Pools and libraries have hours. You can not just pee willy nilly wherever. 

But there’s the trailer. Sydney and I are living in a brand new Airstream. It’s not as romantic as the one I renovated with my dad, but it’s an Airstream and if you can’t appreciate that, you probably shouldn’t read my blog. I am in the camping environment that dreams are made of. It’s in an orchard. Everything works. It’s perfect. Have I mentioned the only thing missing is my husband? Syd calls it the camper van and has her own bed and we cuddle against the cold and she seems to like it. I love it. I'm organized. It's not hard to keep clean. There's no internet. I read by lantern (I'm not a fan of the LED). It's an Airstream, just imagine how cool it is and then know it's better than that. 

I’m trying to find my footing on uneven ground. I miss the routine of home but am surrounded by familiarity of a different sense of home. I love this place. There was a significant time in my life that I thought I would never leave Bainbridge. Oh my god, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have Phil, or Sydney or our happy full life in Mexico. 

Home is Mexico, with Phil and Syd and Wiley and our incredible community there. With my very talkative, demanding, darling, incessantly eating daughter, I’m rediscovering this charming little island. It has it’s hooks in me. I used to believe that I couldn’t return to a place I’d previously lived. Here I am, making this trailer homey, looking forward to sharing the new discoveries with Phil, eating blackberries and rolling in the grass with Syd. Mexico is home but there is no rule that says home has to be in just one place. 

Exploring the Unexpected

Unexpectedly, I received two boxes of graham crackers this week. They are my favorite and they are unavailable in Mexico. Both boxes are in the fridge, safe from ants and today I made graham cracker, peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Go ahead, try it - with a glass of milk, it's awesome. As I savored every bite, I got to thinking about my latest unexpected delights and how they punctuate my life, all our lives really.

I fixed a pair of torn motorcycle pants for my friend and she thanked me with a bottle of wine. Wine is a luxury (yet cheap Mexican beer flows like water) and that bottle was such a bonus to the night. 

A casual conversation with a stranger in black socks with a darling baby in his arms led to a friendship with his amazing wife. Their time in San Pancho is almost over but that chance encounter resulted in a life-long friendship. 

Jumping into the pool at my parent's house - that refreshing shock of cold water jolted me back into time to Woodlake's Swim & Racquet Club in Midlothian, Virginia. The deep pool below the high dive was my favorite as kid and for a few seconds underwater I felt like I was in that place. When I surfaced, there's my daughter, clapping gleefully, ready to get in too. She's probably too young to form memories but how unexpectedly poignant that flash from memory to motherhood that moment felt. 

A new inquiry. I never know when the next one is coming, who they are or where they're from. It's a thrill every time. 

The aforementioned new friend introduced me to adult coloring books. Don't snicker. I love them. Coloring is cathartic, they're beautiful and they don't involve a screen. Never thought I could like it so much.

Seeing Syd learn. C'mon. Kind of unfair to lump her into this but she never ever ceases to surprise me.

I go for these long walks, almost daily. Sometimes on the beach, sometimes through the jungle. I'm not always alone but I am always looking for spots to photograph. When I find one, I get one of those serotonin surges. You know that visceral burst inside when something ignites your pleasure center. Just listen to this Radiolab podcast - my definition never does the sensation justice. 

I never imagined living here and creating my own business, making such great friends, having my parents so close and becoming a part of this beautiful community.  I always liked the idea of live the life you love. Unexpectedly, today, writing this, eating my graham crackers, I realize I do. 

Celebrating Karebear

My favorite day of the year is my birthday. Mine's the best but all birthdays are freaking great. My mom gave that to me. It's not about age - it's about the celebration of that person on THEIR day. 

Today is my mom's birthday and she's so deserving of celebration. I want to run down the street in front of her announcing to everyone it's her day so they'll step out onto the sidewalk and clap as she goes by. Maybe I should completely cover our car in balloons, open the sunroof and perch her on top. We could cruise through town as a one float parade - all for her. Skywriting would be a nice touch too ... 

Saying I'm close to her is an understatement. Calling her my best friend is inaccurate. She's my mom. My greatest teacher. My shining example. My voice of reason. My fiercest opponent. My loudest cheerleader. My closest confidant. She's not perfect but she's close. 

I'm her oldest daughter. I'm her occasional scapegoat (three-legged dog? my fault. trouble with the durango? this girl. rouge wave boogie boarding incident? all cause of me). She calls me her rock. I'm her golden thread. I'm her little earth mother. She knows I'm the one that will always call her house home even though I have my own family, my own house. Where she is is home. 

Birthday gifts are tricky cause sometimes they aren't celebration enough. Tangible stuff is great. Experiences create wonderful memories. Today, she got a little gift. We had a lovely breakfast overlooking the ocean. We'll hit the beach. I'm gonna make a gourmet dinner. Sydney will do some very cute singing. And I'll give her these words: 

I love you momma. Happy birthday. 

Lovey Love Loverson

Another contest entered today. You can't win if you don't play. 

I was sick; so sick that I got sick of myself and self doubt triumphed over precariously balanced self confidence. Right this minute, I'm better with the where-with-all to refocus. And that feels so good. 

I worked a wedding this weekend that also really felt good. The couple was pleasant and the guests were interesting. The location was new and the weather: ideal which matters cause it's different here. Like moving to the high desert in January from the midwest via New England different. I met a man who lives on small island on BC's Sunshine Coast and swapped Swahili pleasantries. I met a war photographer and talked phot-oj using names that I associate with images - the heart-stoppers, the defining ones. 

I shot after the photographer left. I shot breathing easy and dancing. Oh god how music makes a difference. 

It was Valentine's Day. My sweetie gave me a card. He's a writer. He writes to me and that's better than sunshine. Being in love and at a celebration of love getting to do the thing I love with music I love is something that is so easy to love.


Why Me?

The results of The Best of Sayulita were released today and I was not voted Best Photographer. Some dude who takes photos of vacation rentals won. There are 16 photographers listed on SayulitaLife. Only two are architectural photographers. The rest are societal - portraits or weddings. Semantics, I know. Other categories were specific facets of a broader spectrum (best pizza, best burger - not simply best restaurant). I wish photography had been too. Would I have won? I don't know. There's not even mentions of runners up. 

I'm competitive. I like contests. In the photojournalism world, I regularly won. I was repeatedly acknowledged for excellence. I'm new to this market. I'm new to this industry. I'm NOT new to this craft. What a boost it would have been to be recognized. 

The contests I was winning as a photojournalist were judged by photojournalists. The work, the photographs were judged against one another, not the photographers. Names were blocked out, not even allowed to be taken into consideration as the images were viewed. Best of Sayulita was a Facebook contest. To vote, one had to log into the social media platform. Does this technically make it a popularity contest? Yea. Kinda. The more "friends & followers" the more votes. I'm gonna look at the winner and run his numbers against my own. I bet he out friends me. 

I wanna poo-poo Facebook so hard right now, but I can't. 

Without Facebook, I wouldn't be married to Phil. Without Phil, I wouldn't have Sydney. Without Sydney, we wouldn't live here and This Mexican Life would be someone else's reality. 

A friend and I had a tequila fueled argument about photography recently. He kept asking why other photographers are hired when given the choice between me and them. Why doesn't every couple chose me? The simple answer is people have different tastes. Blue isn't everyone's favorite color. Lasagna isn't everyone's favorite food (though it should be). My friend is not simple, and as I mentioned, tequila was involved so I was forced to flush out "why me?".

Me, knee deep in a lagoon, shooting a welcome party in Bora Bora. 

Me, knee deep in a lagoon, shooting a welcome party in Bora Bora. 

I'm a storyteller. Every wedding day has it's own story. Yes, the components of the day are always similar. the couples aren't. The location isn't. My experience in newspapers trained me to blend in. I can seemingly be everywhere at once. It's easy for me to relate with all walks of life. I take time to meet couples before the wedding, and their family and their friends. Not a minute of their "big day" is wasted on me being introduced to the who's who in their lives. I do my research. I know the moments they want me to capture and photograph the unexpected ones too. 

I entered a different contest recently. I submitted 10 photos from one wedding to Fearless Photographers Best Wedding Stories of 2015. I didn't win that one either. Rightly so. The winning images were mesmerizing. The photographers inspire me. Their work teaches me. Just looking at it makes me better. 

It doesn't matter, really, if I win anything. What matters is that people trust me to tell the story of their day. The reviews past clients share of my work are more satisfying than any award. They're personal. What matters is that I love what I do and I will always strive for excellence. 



Newsroom Nostalgia

Last night we watched Spotlight. It should win the Oscar for best picture this year. Like papers, it's incredible. It made me long for the newsroom. I worked for six different papers but there's only one newsroom I'll ever miss - Albuquerque Tribune. The Trib closed in 2008. It's newsroom stands empty today. I met my husband in that newsroom. I worked for the perfect boss and with inspiring & talented photographers, writers, editors & designers. I produced great work there and absolutely regret not working harder, doing more, doing better. 

I never tried to work for another paper after the Tribune. I tell people it was like being a rookie who won the Superbowl their first season. It couldn't ever be better. No paper, no staff, no town, no nothing could ever be as good as what we had there. 

Go ahead and call me dramatic but look at the face of journalism today. Powerhouses of print are scraping for survival. Our beloved small market paper died right before large market papers folded (do you remember Seattle's Post Intelligencer or Denver's Rocky Mountain News, among others). Staffs were cut to sub-skeletal levels at the big boys (New York Times & Washington Post). 

Whenever newsroom nostalgia grips my husband or me, we wallow for a moment and then smile. We wouldn't be where we are today or even together if we hadn't lost our jobs at the Trib eight years ago. The journalism landscape is different but the impact of sensational stories is irrefutable (thank you Serial & Frontline). 

Photographers are always separated from the heart of the newsroom (thank you darkroom days) but we weren't immune to the buzz. Deadlines or big stories, breaking news or the eve of project publication, all of it made me feel like I was part of something important, something much bigger than myself. The work was always for our readers. Telling stories, getting invited into the lives of strangers to reveal their truth to the unknown, faceless reader was a privilege. God, I was lucky to get to do that. 

Today, Phil is working on his novel & I'm a wedding photographer. We're still telling stories. We still have deadlines. But c'mon, it's no where near the same. 

There was a rogue night parade during the holiday season. A local politican glad-handed down Main Street with Christmas carols bumping out of a blown speaker and costumed supporters passing out prepackaged bundles of deliciousness. I'm incapable of ignoring a parade and there was a giant blow-up Olaf. Bedtime came and went as we camped out and waited for the hullabaloo to pass. Somehow, the politican's propaganda, published garishly on newsprint, found it's way into our daughter's hands. 

Maybe becoming a journalist isn't a choice. Maybe she naturally appreciates print. Maybe selective screen time is damming her as much as I'm afraid it is. Maybe her parents will never be part of an investigative journalism team that blows the lid off a shocking story and inspires massive social change. Her parents were a part of something incredible. We did work for a newspaper we are very proud of. We continue to question everything and seek truth. And we will always tell stories.