Curated is Sweden With Love’s monthly online art exhibit. It showcases artists — often film photographers — whose work connects us with our humanity and opens our eyes to the beauty of the world. This month we feature film photographer Kirsten Ellis, whose journey to Indonesia not only changed her work as an artist but profoundly affected her life.
As told by Kirsten Ellis
When I was twelve, my mom dropped me off with my relatives in Norway for the summer. I spent my days exploring and taking the train to neighboring towns. One day I found my way into the Oslo National Gallery. Standing there by myself with my backpack filled with almond cookies, I stared at Vincent van Gogh’s self portrait and fell in love with art.
When I returned home, I picked up a camera and by high school I was getting paid to take portraits. When it was time for college, I made my way to Santa Barbara for a degree in photography. Going against my family’s advice to have a more stable profession was nerve-wracking, but looking back it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Being a photographer is the blessing of my life. It’s how I make sense of what I see and how I react to it.
My trip to Indonesia was one of my first international jobs and my first time in Asia. I had been hired to photograph a wedding in Medan, North Sumatra, and arriving there alone — a single, blonde American — was one of the biggest cultural shocks I’ve ever had. But with my camera in hand, my worries slowly loosened and I felt myself slide back into my element. I was forced to trust my instincts. I gave in to our shared human experience.
It didn’t take me long to fall in love with the people. I met a group of European travelers that I made friends with. After the wedding, I explored the islands with my camera in hand and rolls of film in my pocket. New friends taught me how to surf and helped me overcome my lifelong fear of open water. Standing up on that surfboard, I was going so fast I couldn’t think. I only had time to move with the flow of water. A Buddhist monk taught me how to pray in a temple. The days felt void of time.
My photographs from that trip are a reflection of my journey: a time when I allowed myself to participate in the world around me without any expectations or judgments. That trip changed who I am as a photographer and how I experience the world. I’m no longer afraid of traveling or photographing alone. I’m not scared of swimming in open water. I embrace the unknown. I’ve learned how to move with the flow of life, simply being in the moment. Now when I find that thing that makes my heart skip, I know to trust it every single time. •
Kirsten Ellis is a wedding and portrait photographer based in Colorado and California. Her photographs have been featured in Brides, The Knot, Martha Stewart Weddings, People magazine and Santa Barbara magazine. You can see more of her work at Beaux Arts Photographie and visit her Facebook page.
All photographs by Kirsten Ellis © 2013.
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