thoughts

2018

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I keep thinking of how to reflect on 2018 and the longer I wait, the less I have to say. I don’t know if it’s capitalism or comparison (or both) but somehow I’ve come out of another hectic year feeling like I haven’t accomplished anything.

This isn’t true, of course. I had more range in assignments than I’ve ever had. And as a photographer that hasn’t committed to one specific genre, it’s made me reflect on the privilege I have to even bear witness to these stories. From reporting on food insecurity in rural Oregon to shooting an entire cookbook filled with delicious (and sometimes expensive) seafood galore, flying last minute across the world to covering poverty in my new home state, how do I balance this spectrum of stories?

I hope I can always tell them with an honest lens.

I felt frantic most of this year, but the wake of what’s happened still feels right. I see it as a year having already found my voice, then learning what else it could do (forever striving for Mariah octaves figuratively and literally tbh).

My spirits soared in the most unexpected moments (BBC! Obama Foundation! cookbooks!), but my heart broke in a way that still devastates me.

I’ve grown to fear less when speaking up, or I’ve become numb to it. Advocacy will never not be exhausting, but it will always be necessary. I’ll continue to say no to unpaid labor, and speak up even though the system was made to silence us. And I’ll keep going, because I can’t bear the idea that it might never get better.

I spent a lot of this year angry. Which, to be fair, isn’t unusual for me (there is a lot to be angry about!), but the anger itself was from something new. I thought about all the time marginalized artists spend needing to be extra careful, extra good, extra everything to perform extra labor. To have the difficult conversations, and navigate a society and industry that was built by excluding them. But still creating, and still persisting. Because we can’t not, and these conversations are critical to both our art and our being.

And then I tried to imagine a world where the extra wasn’t needed. Where we could put our full hearts and equally distributed resources toward what we care about the most. Thinking outside any need to fight or contextualize oppression, and just create. Just be.

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The Los Angeles Arboretum.

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Outside Bonnie Slotnick’s.

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My first ever solo exhibit at UNA Gallery, featuring Portland in Color. By Vy Hong Pham.

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Making a home, and our first snow together.

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Marshall Johnson sitting for a tattoo by Alice Kendall for the Audobon Society.

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Da Vinci middle schoolers protest during March for Our Lives, a nationwide student-organized protest calling for gun reform.

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Part of the Racist Sandwich team at the La Cocina Conference in San Francisco, California.

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DeRay McKesson for Street Roots.

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Abdulah Polovina, imam of a mosque at the Bosniaks Educational and Cultural Organization in Portland, Oregon for Street Roots.

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Young girls in low income housing in Ontario, Oregon as reported for part of the Housing Rural Oregon series for Street Roots.

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DJ and activist Cay Horiuchi for Portland in Color.

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Michelle and Alex along the California coast in their van, Bobby.

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Food writer and host of A Hungry Society, Korsha Wilson.

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Angela Flying Eagle at First Christian Church food pantry in Ontario, Oregon; on assignment for Street Roots.

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Molly Woodstock, host of Gender Reval podcast, photographed for Portland in Color.

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Leaving Orcas Island.

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Halawa Valley, Molokai.

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The sand bar, Oahu.

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Penny Rawlins Martin, the first and youngest woman to sail between Tahiti and Hawai'i on the inaugural Hokulea voyage, for Misadventures Magazine.

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A poke picnic on Oahu.

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Across the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. We started in Barra and made our way north to Harris and Lewis.

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Behind the scenes for Yana Gilbuena's upcoming book, No Forks Given, due out September 2019.

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Morning in San Jose del Cabo.

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Summer in Portland and Stockholm.

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The oyster beds at Chelsea Farms in Olympia, Washington for the upcoming book Pacific Northwest Seafood by Naomi Tomky.

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Scenes from Calabria— Chianalea, Scilla, Tropea, and Civita— on assignment for Airbnb.

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Mama's first time in France, Villefranche-sur-Mer.

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Paris with my sisters, on film.

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Ma enjoying a moment on a tiny balcony in Nice— not only the highlight of my year but a forever highlight in my heart.


My days have blurred together, but I’m trudging forward, hoping that every little bit is adding up somewhere. Hoping that someone is keeping count.

Here’s to another year of doing our best.

In light and solidarity,
Celeste

2017

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If this 2017 recap feels late it's because it was a harder year to digest. I've always been anxious for a new start, and while the same is still true, this time it was harder to start again with so many lingering loose ends.

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This year I was my most proud when redefining what it meant to be an artist for myself. I spent three months in an artist residency, committed to a weekly portrait series, and dedicated more time than I ever have to personal projects. I shot weddings thousands of miles away, partnered with women to tell their stories, and tried my best every day.

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The privilege of being an artist and the responsibility of using my voice weighed on me heavily. 

But it also became clear that it's unrealistic for me to take on this weight alone. I'm so thankful to my community, especially the communities of color, that teach me the delicate balance of self care and self preservation (especially when the two blur together).

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It's easy for me to look back and tally up what I wish I'd accomplished, but as I think I once read from Bill Wurtz, "I'm working as fast as humanly possible." Because being human means leaving room for weeks of dreaming, the days you never want to see your work again, and the 2ams when you finally hit your stride. It's not just the work in progress, but the also the progress in work.

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As I continue to freelance, I'm becoming more patient with what I expect from myself and more relentless of what I want to see in the world. They feel impossible, but I think they can coexist.

Thank you to everyone who values my work, validates my voice, encourages me to stay angry, and sees me, even when I'm hiding behind the lens.

All my very best,
Celeste

PS - Thank you to everyone who's supported and donated to keep my series, Portland in Color, running. I'm aiming to be back with new features come February.

PPS - I'll leave you with these few links:

Before a broadcast to 11 million people with BBC World Service
Portland in Color featured in local activist newspaper Street Roots
An interview on the privilege of freelance with Freelancer's Union
Commemorating the women who came before me in a piece about financial anxiety for On She Goes
 

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On my three year anniversary of going freelance and "living my dream," I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Tromsø alone and as unsure about the future as ever. Here are some things I do know:

- I can't imagine working for anyone again
- but carrying this weight alone is taking its toll
- I have relentless guilt over this privilege
- but I hope being able to choose to live this way is an act of resistance in and of itself

I spent so many years dreaming of being here, of reaching this point, but now I'm here and don't know what the next step is. I don't know how to bridge the gap between work that pays bills and work that matters more. I don't know how to keep going in an industry that's willfully ignorant of its own biases, that refuses to change and lift up the very people it continues to exploit. 

I'm proud of the work I do but I'm tired of insisting it deserves a place in the world.

But I'm still here, and I'll keep making space for myself because there isn't another option. I'll keep asking for diversity and representation from the same publications I'm asking to hire me. I'll keep challenging the ethnocentric lens we're asked to use and insist on using my own instead.

I really believe that our community is the key encouraging change in this industry, and accessibility goes a long way.  Please get in touch if you're in the Portland or San Francisco areas and identify as a woman/femme or GNC person of color and need:

- photo work (headshots, collaborations, small projects)
- advice or encouragement about freelancing
- networking or contacts with any publications/companies you've seen me work with

Finally, if you're in the creative industry and need help sourcing POC to hire for work, or need direction on diversity and intersectionality, I'm offering consultation services to help bring POC voices and representation to the front. 

Photo by Ben Please of The Bookshop Band in the Isle of Whithorn, Scotland

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    2016 (in film and flowers)

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    If 2015 was my loneliest and bravest year, 2016 was the year I hustled into the void. 

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    But first it was just a void. I went from feeling my deepest, to nothing at all. So I chipped away at the days moving from bed to bath, bed to bath. 

    I only started to feel real again when I began volunteering at In Other Words, a local feminist bookshop, community center, and safe space.

    In February I went to Manila to visit my father's grave. I don't know that I'll ever write anything greater than my last and only love letter to him. I went believing I had no family left there, but leaving knowing that wasn't true. 

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    Spring felt like a season lost to small moments but in the kindest way. I went on walks, foraged greens, happened upon fields of wildflowers.

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    And before I knew it, I dove into my busiest summer. I drove up and down the coast, then up again, and further up, still. The ocean will always be my home.

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    "You're burning the candle at both ends," my doctor said when I came back from flying around the world. From San Francisco to Jakarta, Bangkok, Berlin, Hamburg, Copenhagen, and back to San Francisco. There wasn't a moment I didn't feel tired and wild.

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    And summer ended, but the rush never left. I was still swamped, frantic, and trying to balance seeing and being everyone, making and doing everything. And I don't think I've stopped just yet, either.

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    And I'm stilled tired, but 2016 helped me find my voice. I'll never not be angry about the state of our world and what we've let it become. I won't accept this as our status quo. And I won't apologize for the discomfort. 

    But I also felt the most whole and the most heard when I started speaking without apology.

    I never felt lost, but I was never quite sure where I'd gone. Creating with purpose, surrounding myself with women, and taking up space with people of color brought me back.

    I'm here and I'm ready.

    xo,
    Celeste

    my girls

    istanbul (and taxis) revisited

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    This post is dedicated to women travelers who hit bumps in the road but keep going.

    When I first began to write about Istanbul, I was livid. It was my second time in Istanbul, I thought I'd taken every precaution to be safe and knowledgeable, but we ended up getting scammed by taxis twice. Twice! I mean, it wasn't a lot of money, but the principle and fact that it happened was upsetting. The fact that it happened because we were tourists was maddening. The fact that it happened because we were women is enraging.

    Prior to going to Turkey for my second visit, I wrote to a friend who'd lived in Istanbul and asked if he had any tips for avoiding and handling scammy (illegal) taxis. He said he'd never had any issues and so I thought maybe the issue had resolved itself since my visit six years prior. At the end of my trip it struck me-- Jamil is a tall, ethnic man. Of course he didn't have any issues. We, on the other hand, were foreign women. 

    Before I go on to my main point, here, here, and here are links to tips about what to look out for with taxis in Istanbul. My biggest takeaways are:

    • only ride taxis with an affiliated business logo and phone number (avoid unmarked cars!!)
    • avoid getting taxis in the tourist center (but if you do, have a business or hotel call one for you)
    • make sure the meter is working
    • have a general sense of what the ride should cost (ask a friend/local before you get in!)
    • pay in small bills-- pay attention to what you give and know how much to expect back (they are known to swap bank notes when you pay)

    last but most importantly: don't be afraid to speak or act up

    • if you don't feel comfortable, insist they pull over and get out of the car
    • if you think they've overcharging you, make a big deal. cause a scene. ask a local or business to call the police for you.

    I felt like a failure for not doing these last things. I was so proud of myself for being a "seasoned" traveler. I thought I was looking for the right signs and knew what to expect. But when the moment came, I was paralyzed. I didn't know how to be forceful back when I knew we were being taken advantage of.

    I won't let this stop me from traveling. The more I have negative experiences on the road, the more I'm determined to keep going. I hope you do, too. My hope is that with enough persistence and awareness, we can call them out on their bullshit when the time comes. While tourists scams are a reality of traveling, I really think that by sharing these experiences and being better prepared, things can change. Be knowledgeable, cautious, and brave on the road. Do your research and be an informed traveler. Trust your gut and call them out. This whole wild world is here for us to explore-- this is but a story from the road.

    PS - Shout out to all the real Istanbul taxi drivers who aren't the scum of the earth, few and far between as you might seem.
    PPS - As much as it pains me to use Uber back at home, it's a great option in large international cities.