(c) Ilan Wittenberg
Flip n Fly Circus School presents OPULENT
(c) Ilan Wittenberg
On 26 March, New Zealand entered an unprecedented state of lockdown for over five weeks to combat the spread of the Covid-19 disease. With the population largely confined to home and unable to physically interact, many of our professional photographers stepped up to the challenge of keeping creative. Portrait photographer Ilan Wittenberg had been using his allowed daily exercise time to safely document the way his Auckland neighbourhood had transformed during the lockdown in the series Sign of the Times. While those images are excellent, it is this self-portrait he created during a day he couldn’t face the outside world that truly speaks to the lockdown experience. D-Photo magazine, June 2020
Photography is the easiest medium of Art to be competent in but it’s the hardest medium in which to have a truly personal vision. It’s very much like talking: everyone can talk but very few have something to say. In creating my work, I aim to demonstrate a clear style, to tell a story while being imaginative and thought-provoking. My goal is to present work that is strong and distinguished with a clear narrative sense. I wish to inspire people with timeless images that have enduring qualities, to be creative and artistic and to show a personal vision.
In presenting this series, I offer you an opportunity to contemplate and appreciate the juxtaposition between human and nature: soft flesh and harsh environment; life and stillness; white and black. The use of monochrome emphasises the nude shape and form, removing distracting elements to ensure that you focus on the beautiful feminine body language. These photographs portray powerful and independent women who are depicted through fresh, inspiring and original artwork.
Eyes to the Soul is a captivating collection of portraits of women. Each has a personal note, a caption or a quote describing her journey: challenges, obstacles, ambitions and aspirations. The portfolio offers rare moments with incredible women who offer us a glimpse into their lives. The words of these women shed light on memories and events that shaped who they are today. A photograph is worth a thousand words but it takes us less than one tenth of a second to form an opinion about a complete stranger, based only on their looks. Their unique story adds an important third dimension to their striking portrait, offering an intimate insight into their world. At a time when women are often silenced by society, I wanted to create a portfolio that offers my subjects tell their own story.
The key to a compelling portrait is the eyes. We connect with others through their eyes. I am motivated to engage the viewer and spark connections. Connections that go beyond the fleeting ones which we are subject to on a daily basis. My aim is to capture precious moments where people are in control of the story they wish to share with the world.
The combination of using a soft, directional light while adapting a special post-processing technique, enhances their portraits. The use of simple background eliminates distractions so the viewer can focus on their facial expressions. They look directly into the camera so there is always a highlight in their eyes. People often refer to eyes as windows to the soul. The eyes never lie, they show the truth, no matter what face we put on, they reveal our emotional state. Our eyes, just like our body language, give us away, conveying more than we ever can using just words.
The women in the collection represent different cultures and backgrounds. This diverse group of women serves as a timely reminder that despite our many differences, we are able to unite as a community through the power of photography. The collection is a celebration of our shared values: individuality, community and unity. The portraits show that we are all wonderfully unique, yet at the same time, we are deeply the same.
Kia Ora, I am Poppy.
We all have a story like our footprints being washed away by the waves like our ancestors before us.
All different walks of life but all connected.
We all experience love and loss and challenges and pain.
We make mistakes and accomplish incredible things.
E tu kahikatea
Hei whakapai ururoa
Awhi mai awhi atu
Tatou tatou e
Stand like the kahikatea tree
To brave the storms
Embrace one another
We are one together.
When I look into your eyes I see the beauty, uniqueness, secrets, strength, compassion, talent, bravery and happiness.
I feel the emotions of who you are, your story, your experiences, your struggles and your growth.
Don’t ever doubt your worth.
You are loved.
We all have a story and I am proud of mine.
Who I am and what I’ve been through.
I am positive, I get excited easily.
I appreciate all the little things.
I am encouraging.
I am honest.
I am strong.
I am wild.
I am loud.
I am understanding, empathetic.
I am loving and kind.
I love to sing and dance and skateboard.
I have fun and love giving everything a go.
I love the beach and the forests but beyond all I love me.
I will always love me.
Be true, be raw, be authentic and spread the love.
“Looking at this woman – what you can see? She looks pretty strong and confident, right? Let me tell you my story. My original name is Vendula and I was born in a small town in South Moravia in the Czech Republic. When I was two years old my mother was killed in a car accident. Even though I was looked after and received love during my upbringing, I still felt a strong need for having my real mum, especially in my teenage years when I was living just with my dad and with my older brother in an unstable family environment. I missed the physical and emotional attachment, mum–daughter love-bond. I missed expressing myself and sharing my feelings and emotions. I missed receiving and giving real mum’s love, touch, support, guidance and assurance. I missed girly things that mums and daughters usually do and I was envious of my friends who had very strong relationships with their mums. Over the years, not expressing and not sharing my feelings, I internalized my thoughts of shame, guilt and burden on others. I became very self conscious. I built a wall around myself. I noticed having strong social anxiety. I found it very difficult talking to people or making friends due to self-doubt and lack of self-confidence.
My life changed at 16 years old when I signed up at the local boxing gym. I remember after the very first day, being so sore I could barely roll out off bed. But I remember it felt amazing. I felt that my huge typhoon of thoughts was released out of my head. Hard training, sweating and going through my own physical barriers was the most liberating thing I experienced during that time. I felt that I found myself and found the way to deal with my issues without the need to talk about them.
15 years later, after intensive training, going through different type of fight sports, bodybuilding, Crossfit and Strongwoman, my muscles are now a reflection of me and my thoughts. They are a mirror of who I am, what my dreams are and how strong I feel about my emotions. Sport is my mental therapy, it is my teacher and it is my own safe space. It gave me belief, hope, self-confidence, purpose and a direction for my life journey. Sport gave me a vision for my future. My dreams and plans are huge. I know I am capable of making my dreams come true because I know I am strong inside and out.”
My eyes have shared the deepest of heartaches, genuine joy and the sincerest love. My eyes have stared out on the world, hollow, devoid of emotion, when in what feels like an endless depression.
I stand here today stepping out of that little box we all tend to stay quite comfortably in and I’m going to embrace my female body! We all tend to take our bodies for granted as we grow up, oblivious to workings it goes through each day to keep us on our two feet!
My body has been under attack since I was 14 years old suffering from anger, harm and anorexia. A few years later came depression, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, physical harm, general hate and lack of respect for my body. I put a lot of heartache onto my family because I was selfish and ungrateful. I had (and still sort of do) a ‘don’t care’ attitude. To be admitted into rehab at the age of 18 was a bit of a shock and even after all my therapy and counseling I decided to abuse the drugs even harder because, we,ll fuck everybody basically. After rehab I went down a very dark road when I moved away, gave up food got into theft and lost quite a bit of weight when I took up a drug I shouldn’t have. There were obviously a lot of triggers in my life that encouraged this behavior. But to come out the other side and have the utmost respect for my body today, at 30, than I ever have, is pretty awesome!
I still suffer from anxiety, sometimes as bad as knocking myself out, unable to breathe and I am still yet to overcome this body image obstacle, which I think I will always have after the disease of anorexia, but it’s managed in a healthy way. I work out and enjoy it. I feed my body a 90% plant based diet, (10% cheese and wine). I meditate to connect my mind body and soul back together. I listen to my body and feed it what it needs, I rest if I feel I want/need to, I take myself out and reconnect with nature and I am grateful everyday.
I feel that if my body did not give up on me after years of abuse then I am not going to give up on it now. So instead of fighting against your body – try working with it!
Every female body is different and beautiful in it’s own raw form, we all have a story and so be thankful our bodies didn’t give up on us, we need to love ourselves inside and out!
Our body is a temple after all 💙
“You cut your hair” she stated
“Many times” I thought.
More times than I could keep track of
Dyed more colours than I remembered.
Was my hair ever static?
Was my soul ever still?
I am not the same person,
But I have the same name.
I have become more me
Whilst living a life of change.
Every cell in my body has been replaced,
Every 7 years they say.
I have had new tears stream down my cheeks
From countless broken hearts.
A heart now ready to be loved and broken again.
Marked from wounds of all shapes and sizes,
Internal wars and external falls
Reminded only by their faint scars.
I have battled depression and won,
And then gifted a new capacity for kindness
For a deeper intensity of love and hope
And understanding of the complexity of life.
Brave in my own vulnerability
No longer on the same path
Or forced to live along the grain of society
Every fibre of my being
Every piece of knowledge
Expanded on, questioned, reconsidered…
Growth that can’t be measured in inches
Or inches cut off.
“Yes”, I said
“I did cut my hair”
I embrace change.
I am three years away from my fortieth birthday. Perhaps the dawning of this milestone, coupled with a sudden paradigm shift in my religious views just over a year ago, resulted in what others describe as a “midlife crisis”. I call it my “midlife rediscovery”. Perhaps the catalyst to my “existential crisis” was just my coming to the end of myself – who knows. What I do know however, is that I am no longer surviving this journey, but am now living an exceedingly abundant and passionate life.
Raised in Namibia, I was sexually molested as a child, raped twice as an adolescent, and eventually fell pregnant at age 16. My eldest son (of four) is one of only three people in the world with his specific congenital heart defect – resulting in him waiting for a heart transplant. I mention this only because many seek to understand my perceived recklessness through an “informed” lens centred on my prior, character-forming experiences. There may be some semblance of justification to this notion.
The father of my three subsequent children is perfect in every way – we had a wonderful – enviable marriage for nearly 17 years, until I burnt out as I sought to uphold perfection in the various constructs I found myself in. He, even today, says that I was indeed the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect homesteader, the perfect student and the perfect religious devotee.
I left all of that behind in 2018 to find who I truly was again. To date I have lost 49kgs. I have resumed pursuing my passions and have enjoyed a plethora of social experiences that make my every single day pure delight.
I have changed: from a religious fundamentalist devotee, to an agnostic Pan-Romantic pleasure-seeker; from home-schooling, stay-at-home mother, to a transient woman who has daily telephone contact – and fortnightly physical contact with her children; from being mortgage-free after owning my own home since the age of 20, to house-sitting now, and as yet undecided as to which country I will call home next year.
I have changed so much so that countless friends tell me that they do not know this, new, changed Simone. I tell them that this is the True Simone.
Grief of loved ones changes you. Once experienced you are never the same person. You never truly recover from the heartache and grief, you just learn to live with it.
I lost two brothers.
On the day each of them died I feel that part of my soul dies along with them.
Some days I smile and laugh thinking of them, some days I cry, some days I can’t handle thinking of them – the pain and heartache are too much to bear.
This is the horrible burden on everyone who has lost a loved one.
But life goes on and we must continue to be the best we can, trying to make the most out of every moment and every person we love.
I am a positive, optimistic and happy person who loves life. But if you look deep into my eyes you can see the scars on my soul.
“I am a strong woman because I was raised by a strong woman. I am the woman that I am thanks to my mother who raised me on her own since she was 17 years old and taught me that women are the agents of change in our empowerment process and that we must take the reins to direct our own life. We must rebel and move from “Cannot be done” to “I can do it.” We are not born strong, it takes will and character to become strong. Strength is what drives us to live every day, overcoming challenges and obstacles. It is we who are responsible for deciding which path to take.”
“My life has been a rollercoaster of massive ups and downs. Dramas and dramas and more dramas. For a very long time I was just floating about, had no sense of direction or purpose, couldn’t figure out what to do with myself. I had no determination, nor discipline, drive or motivation. All I ever wanted was to party and if possible 24/7.
It’s nearly 6 years ago when I slowly started to realise that I had to make some changes in my life if I ever wanted to get somewhere. 4 years ago I made a total cut and turned my life 360° around and started taking 100% responsibility for my life. I cut all ties to toxic people and situations and started taking care of my body, mind and soul.
Writing this down makes it sound so simple, but let me tell you this it wasn’t simple at all, change is never easy and changing your complete life around isn’t something that happens in a day or two.
It took blood, sweat and tears LITERALLY. Letting go of everything which I believed to be ME and who I thought I am, was with one of the most challenging and scariest things I’ve ever done. However it was also the BEST thing I have ever done for myself and if I can so can YOU too.”
“I am standing in a dimly lit room, there’s a couch behind me and a low glass table. The room is sparse of any other furniture, cold, empty, foreign, silent.
Why am I here?
Looking out through the picture frame window I see trees as tall as the third storey building I am in, it is spring and their branches are full of fresh green foliage.
Far below, cloaked people hurry in all directions, heads bent low against the cool evening. Why the rush?
The deadlock snaps shut behind me and I awaken to find myself amongst the trees, the grass warm and soft under my feet. Comforting.
Still, the people rushing all around me. Do they not stop to see the new buds, to listen to the rain falling, to smell the spring? The seasons?
Turning, I look up at the apartment window. A young girl is looking down at me, her eyes huge, sad, innocent. Her arms folded in front of her. Who is she?
The key to the room is shining at me on the table in the moonlight.
Too late, a gust of wind pushes me away, through the park, to the river, the forests and to the mountains.
My arms reach to the highest blossoms in the trees there and I pick the flowers, I see the small stamens, I hear the buzzing of the bees and smell the sweet blossoms.
The honey bees will not sting me anymore. The sap will not burn my skin nor the words deafen me.
Away in the distance I see the apartment building swathed in moonlight, and at the window, the girl, has gone.
That girl was me.
I am safe now. I am free.”
“When have you been most in love?
I love you. Three of the most powerful words we will ever say to one another. Its meaning so distinctively diverse, intense, misplaced, hurtful and yet so wonderfully magic and pure. I do not know of when I was in love the most, I would coherently say in fact I am in love with most. For I am a hopeless romantic, I indeed make love look like an art form I love everything and find a love for everyone, men and women. I simply steal brave humans with a glance and move them in an intoxicating manner, unquestionably leaving them seeking higher dosage after each encounter of my beauty. I immerse them in parts of my soul, entwine them in my mysterious curiosity of life and deepened perspective on love. I enchant them not allowing a gaze of theirs to defaulter from my smile, or the way my body’s rhythm moves to their heart beats , and the way I simply ache for more, more everything. I vulnerably place them in a euphoric whirlwind of questioning everything they once thought they knew, leaving their minds in wander , confronting them with questions they have never even asked themselves in the silence of their own minds, I nourish in ways they have been craving I evoke an understanding of love, desire and lust as well as hand feeding them the beauty of my mind, body and soul. I adorn their souls with glitter and fail to let them return to the mediocre simple life and fulfilments they were once accustomed to that originally completed them, or simply that which they settled for in not knowing there was more. I bathe and leave my scent, and nothing brings to life again a forgotten memory like fragrance. It is the feeling of never knowing what we want that truly drives us all mad. what is more terrible than that? Holding things because we think we love them only to uncurl our fingers later and softly give them back to earth. The greatest love I’ve ever felt is the love that is equal to mine. So the answer to your question is I am most in love all the time with everyone, and yes it’s exhausting.”
“As far as I can remember, gender equality has been a fight for me. I never understood why girls needed to be careful with clothes while playing when it was fine for a boy to be dirty. Why is the contraception a feminine question, when it takes a couple to create life? Why do we discriminate women in the working environment over having a kid when it takes partners to raise a child? I never understood why women do better at school but receive a smaller salary? Why do people assume that if there is a woman in the room, she is the secretary. Too many times I have been in these situations not only in my job but also in personal life or with my partner. It’s time to change society and I want to be part of it.”
I lost my 19 years old sister in dramatic and sudden circumstances when I was 12. I didn’t get a chance to create lots of memories with her or to say goodbye but she has been following me everywhere since. I often think about what she would be doing, where she would be living, maybe she would have kids by now. It made my parents realise that the happiness of their children was more important than their sexuality or them having a successful career. It taught me that life is too short and that regrets are better than remorse…
“She tells me I’m not gay
I tell her I’m not straight either
He tells me I am everything
I tell him I am nothing
He tells me I’ve gone mad
I say I’m just so sad
They ask me which faith my spirit aligns with
I said all and none of them
She asked me what I believe in
I told her I believe in the power of a belief
They are the fabric and structure of our existence
She said I’m an angel in disguise
But it’s the devil in me giving me advice
I say lucifer was once an angel too
And in his discovery of reality
He fell right through
Heaven and hell a concept of opposition
Yet they exist in the same place
The same position
Our brain I wonder what this world would be like
If we didn’t have to identify as something
If you could see the patterns in your mind creating your reality
If we could just simply be
Undefined by these stories we tell ourselves about each other
If we did not need to belong so desperately
If we could harness all that we are as a fragment of a greater consciousness
A greater energy built from stardust, blood, bones and pure magic
If we could truly love without conditions
I simply do not belong”
I made money. My first job was actually McDonald’s. It taught me lots. I learnt to treat people with respect no matter what they looked like, because hey, everyone eats at Macca’s: millionaires, the homeless, everyone. Eventually I became a sex worker. I got more hate than anyone I know for doing the oldest trade in the world. I invested wisely and it paid off. I retired at the start of the year, bought houses, mortgage free; and now I am working on projects so I can employ and help others. I did exactly what so many said I could not.
Exactly 4 years ago today I was going to kill myself. I had no support, no one to turn to. For some absolute miracle I didn’t. I pulled myself out of the shit. I was a junky, a meth addict. I couldn’t see the light so I made my own. I always remember that is where I came from, try to stay humble and appreciate what I have. Check up on your mates. Praise people for been good and get off your arses and do something instead of been jealous. Today I am 4 years meth clean and fucking proud. “
“Everyone has a story and everyone has pain that they’ve been through. Overcoming our childhood creates so much of our present moments and I’ve been able to rise above hurtful childhood experiences. I was removed and taken away from my parents. Well, Child, Youth and Family [a government agency with legal powers to intervene to protect and help children who are being abused or neglected I.W.] made a mistake. I was later given back to my dad, but didn’t have my mum in my life as much as I wanted due to her mental illness situation. This created a neediness for love – I needed more. My dad raised me mostly until I went to boarding school from year 5 to year 9. In the weekends I would stay with my Nana. I’m now very close to my dad and to my mum. After having my own child, I feel even closer to my parents than ever before, although looking back, I feel like I had raised myself. In many areas I wouldn’t change any of my upbringing because it was perfect for me – I now better understand and love myself. We all need to get to that point of being able to have love for ourselves and of being able to show empathy for others. Because we all have a story and we’ve all been through heartache. But when we come together in unity – we don’t have to feel alone. I am 25 years old this year. I have a 3-year-old daughter, a loving partner and really good relationships with my parents. I am happy with the person I’ve become; I am clever, caring, artistic and love doing photo shoots. I live in Auckland and I’m a qualified beauty therapist. I studied this but don’t feel like doing it as a job anymore because I hope to get to a place where I’m financially stable and can get the facials and massages done for myself instead 😂. Learn to love who you are because you are perfect Just the Way you are. What you have gone through doesn’t have to break you. You can choose to not let it define who you are. ☯️ Instead, make yourself stronger and more open minded ♥️🕉️”
“This has been one of the major struggles with my Post Concussion Syndrome journey.
Fatigue. Sometimes normal life skills eg. cooking dinner would take everything out of me.
Many times after driving 25 min I’ve had to have a sleep in the car for 30 min.
Other times I’ve felt like I have a brick attached to my head and body pinning me to the bed. Or I will end up laying on the floor because I just don’t have the energy. (Totally the opposite to the normal me)
Fatigue post concussion is no joke.
Not only is this frustrating for those experiencing it but can be difficult for family members to understand.
So here’s the deal… the brain requires a significant amount of energy to function. After injury it is very common to experience low energy levels and take significantly longer to recharge.
Not only that, but the energy levels may recharge slowly and fluctuate from day to day.
Daily activities now have cumulative effects. Meaning what you can do one day you may not be able to do the next.
In my concussion journey, a common occurrence for me has been the question “how is the headache?”
Almost referring to the headache being the concussion.
I’ve always been used to headaches and used to get a migraine in my teens… so I would never let a headache stop me doing normal life or affect my training in any way.
And to be honest I have at times been completely overwhelmed by the love I’ve received…and immensely grateful for so many that have reached out to me ….but somehow that question tends to minimize a very complex journey
I would interpret this… Why can’t you cope with it and carry on… Many people get headaches.
But concussion and PCS is so much more than that. These are just a few other symptoms I’ve had to deal with:
Sensitivity to light.
Sensitivity to noise.
Struggling in an overstimulated environment with lots of people.
Sore eyes and vision issues.
Extreme heaviness like you have a weight on your head.
Struggling to focus when talking to people too long… my eyes would go strange.
Pressure in the head.
And yes, the headaches!
The big struggle for me is people can often look at you and think you are fine. It’s not like a broken foot.
I don’t really like attention so by no means am I looking for sympathy.
There is not a lot you can do yourself for people going through head injuries… But for the person going through it to feel like people actually understand makes a huge difference on their journey.
Ultimately respecting the brains new limitations and avoiding pushing through heavy fatigue well improve recovery time.
Family members be mindful that basic activities are taking a significant amount of energy. This is not due to character or laziness. Many find it harder to rest then to push through. Be a support system.
Health Care Providers, guide and support your patients through this process and help family members to understand their loved ones new limitations and energy tank.
It will be significantly easier for a patient to recover with a strong support system rather than spending precious energy to explain, defend themselves or push through symptoms in order to avoid judgment.
We wouldn’t judge someone with a broken ankle if they iced and elevated it. We shouldn’t be judging someone with a brain injury either. Rest can be part of an active recovery.
🔹️🔹️Take home point: Concussions are treatable. They require proper management and respecting brain’s energy stores while in recovery.”
“How do you put your life into a paragraph? What is the singular message you are going to give to the world if you had to choose one? I thought, It could be about my four jobs: in a restaurant, a pet shop, a pottery studio and commissioned drawings. Why do I have four jobs? Why do I do things the way I do? It could be about my hobbies, my art, my singing, my pottery, why am I so curious about the world and everything it has to offer? My name is Saiyuri Chetty and my message is about Courage & Strength! We moved to New Zealand from South Africa when I was 11 years old and I learnt what it was like to be of indian heritage in a western country… I carry my heritage in my blood, in my upbringing in my heart. I have been bullied. I watched my mother suffer from depression and I am the daughter of an alcoholic father. When I was 21 my mum was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a neurodegenerative disorder without a cure. Three years later and I’m a different person. I have learnt how to care for and look after another, how to be a mother to a dying mother, how to accept and forgive and to be grateful for everything that I have. My mum doesn’t have much long to live and I am grateful for everything she has done for me. My message is: you are capable of so much more than you think you are! You can do anything you put your mind to. It takes courage and with each obstacle to overcome you become stronger. The world has endless opportunities to offer to you, take them while you can. Here we are, I am 24 years old, I have four jobs doing the things I love. I am an artist, a musician, a model, a photographer and most importantly, a dreamer!”
“My name is Keely, I am a 22 years old woman and a single mum to an 18 month old boy named Harley. I have been raising him on my own since I found out I was pregnant at the age of 20 – his father never met him and really does not want to know anything about him – he never supported me in any way. Although I am stable now, I was not always this way. This man was abusive – both emotionally and physically. He was a drug addict and a toxic individual to have in my life. He never did anything for me of for his son. I work in multiple jobs to provide my son with the life that he deserves as I want to build a strong foundation for our future. I also want to care for my son and to still find time for self care in other aspects of my life. A massive part of this is due to my family, including my mum whom I lately reconnected with, after several years of relationship breakdown.
My son is my world, my best friend and my soulmate. I know that everything will be fine as long as we have each other.”
“I am a girl of extremes; I do things big or don’t do them at all. This way of being has led me down some fantastic paths in life. From starting a family at the age of 22 to building and selling a multinational company by the time I was in my early thirties. I have been a workaholic and a spiritual ninja. I have been at glamorous parties and gone home to change dirty nappies. I loved my home of Amsterdam and moved the 18,000 kilometres to New Zealand for a change of pace and scenery. I have fallen flat on my face more times than I can count but have always gotten up one more time. Each time rising a little wiser, stronger and kinder. I am not one for the ‘beige’, the expected or the middle road. No, I do life in extremes and I do that extremely well.”
Our family has a saying: “Make it happen”. I have been using this as my daily mantra, pushing me so that I can make my dreams become a reality, even if there are a few bumps along the way. One of my dreams is to become a certified scuba and freediving instructor. I am OBSESSED with the ocean and consider myself quite the mermaid. One of the ways I think we can create awareness of oceanic issues is through art. I would love to create images and produce content with other creative people that inspires and enlightens others. Be able to develop the crazy ideas in my head into something that sparks a fire in others and makes them realise the perils that are facing our planet. Earth is in crisis and we need to think of ways to make people sit upright and give a damn, because in the wise words of marine biologist Sylvia Earle ‘No Blue, no Green, no water, no life’.”
“I have been bullied about my appearance throughout my teenage and adolescence. Being underweight and tall, I have always battled with low self-esteem and low confidence, worried that people will say: “you look sick”. I would hide my body under baggy clothes and avoid wearing heels. I didn’t feel good about myself. But I decided to change my weakness into my strength. When I moved to NZ, I gradually picked on some weight. My knowledge and interest in fashion and beauty increased and I started taking care of myself. A few friends suggested I take up modelling, but I would just laugh it off, as that was something I thought was never possible. I then got a chance to model where my tall height became an advantage. After my first fashion show I got some great feedback. I built some network in the modelling industry. I then did my first photo shoot and began to feel more confident. I also became more recognized and better noticed in the industry. The people who used to bully me about my weight and height are the same people who are now amazed to see me where I am today. “You look beautiful; I couldn’t recognize you, wow! You look amazing! You are perfect for modelling. I wish I was as tall as you. You carry yourself with so much grace and confidence”. These are the words I hear today and I am so proud of myself for turning my weakness into my strength. I have achieved a lot in my life. So far, I have worked with over 20 photographers, done few fashion shows and competitions, appeared in a magazine, news paper, TV programmes, Hindi movie, attended many social events and even coordinated my own fashion show. It feels great when women message to ask me for advice and tips on modelling, fashion and beauty. I have become an independent, beautiful, confident woman and I want to inspire other women, to learn to embrace and love themselves, in whatever shape or form they may be, to turn it into their strength and grow their confidence. I am now shopping for high heels and beautiful dresses – it feels amazing!”
“One of the biggest things I love about myself is how naturally paternal I have always been. Compassionate, patient and hospitable. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted a family, an ambition that has followed me to this day; though perhaps clouding whatever integral career paths I could have taken. As an adult, I have become acutely aware of how selfish people can be. My mother had me at 17 and the proceeding years had her barrel into methamphetamine addiction, a series of abusive partners and high risk environments. I rapidly assumed her role by the age of 4, learnt how to feed myself and keep myself company for the days she slept till the evenings.
My father is of first generation from Hong Kong. I’m sure he never expected to be knocked up by 20. They separated quickly after my birth. Chinese culture is of a complete different gradient to Western. I witnessed a scramble for image, materialistic idealisms and the upmost duty to provide for the elders. I got used to the idea of being a bastard, a secret; and in his young naivety: an afterthought. The timing was bad. As an adult how could I possibly sneer down at problem children, desperately holding onto their adolescent constitutions? How could I discredit my previous adversities as a necessity to make me proud of what I have overcome? Who am I?
I found purpose not only through my parents and who they were, but through who they conceived. My mother now has 3 other children to 3 different dads. My father married to a Chinese woman and had 2 full Chinese boys. This makes me the eldest of 5 half siblings. All with completely different upbringings. My saving grace has always been that they all have someone who will always love them selflessly, be a unwavering protector and guardian if need be. Something I wish I had earlier on. Or perhaps not. I know I don’t have the power to protect them from everything, though I wish to set an example every day of resilience, understanding, intelligence, and all above, love.”
“My name is Amy. I had an eventful childhood, full of interactions with many different personalities. Many people around me had battled with addictions and mental health problems, my father was one of them. I loved him dearly but could never understand the depths of his struggles with alcoholism and depression. For most of my childhood I couldn’t comprehend why my dad could not give up alcohol to be there for me. For a period I thought I was not good enough. As I grew up I came to terms with his demons. My father was the most generous,loving and empathetic person, he taught me so much.
I was initially allowed only supervised visits due to my dad’s drinking but this changed as I got older.
We would go on adventures every school holidays, most of the time we would stay at my grandparents house or camp in his van on a beach somewhere, fishing and living off the land. A couple of times we stayed on the streets in either an abandoned building or a farmhouse without power. But I absolutely loved our adventures.
My mother never knew of these as my parents separated when I was little. I am grateful for my mother allowing my father and I the opportunity to form a great relationship. I imagine that it was very difficult to remain impartial when it came to my father.
I met my partner when I was quite young and decided to leave home at 16 to escape the lifestyle of my neighbourhood. I completely threw myself in the deep in and gained knowledge about life away from home as I was working full time and studying.
When I was 18 my father passed away. We found out that he had cancer all through his body. The news came on Friday and by Monday he was gone! It was a huge shock but I learnt a lot through this experience. After he passed I went through his artwork and poetry, it was like reading material from a mad genius who went from extreme highs and deep lows.
I eventually moved back to west Auckland and was in for a big shock at the impact of methamphetamine on my neighbourhood. The drugs were always there but it seemed like a bomb had gone off.
At 20 we had our first baby. A couple years later we had another child.
When an opportunity came to move out of west Auckland I took it. I wanted a stable life for my children and a change of scenery did just that.
I am now 28, I have two amazing children and the best partner I could ever ask for, he is my best friend who has been there through thick and thin.
I wouldn’t change my upbringing for the world. I have learnt compassion, empathy and love. Judgements can be harsh and you never truly know one’s struggles. I believe that people need kindness and support in order to grow.”
“My name is Qui’yona Salmon; I grew up in south Florida. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I always knew that I wanted to be in front of the camera. Life was a little rough when I was younger but We managed. I started modelling in malls when I was in high school and stopped after graduating to go to school and play volleyball. After my two years I decided it’s time for me to pursue my dreams and professionally, started modelling. So many great opportunities came to me and I’ve only been doing this for a year. I look forward to see what my future has in store!”
“I was born in the UK in 1970 and immigrated to the New Zealand when I was there years old. Growing up, I never felt like I fitted in with the others. I struggled to relate to my peers. I had an ongoing sexually intrusive experience through my younger years till I was a teenager. I had no idea what a huge impact this had on me until life started to happen as I got older. Teenage pregnancy, drugs and alcohol abuse were weaved throughout my years. Always tipping from one extreme to the other in all areas of my life story, always struggling to find balance. I got married and had two more beautiful babies who are all grown up now. I’m blessed to have wonderful relationships with my boys. In my 40’s I could not ignore the feeling that I was living a lie in the heterosexual world, so I waited till my youngest son had done most of his years in school. I then finally embraced my inner self and came out as a lesbian. I cannot explain the intense pressure release I felt when this happened. Standing in my truth finally… I had no idea of the burden I was carrying by not being true to myself! I have never looked back. To dress in the clothes I secretly envied, to have short hair, to cover myself in random electric ink, to just be me – it’s the best ever! Today I’m proud to be in a recovery program for my alcohol addiction and am finally living unbound to any one thing except being true to myself and trying to be the best person I can be on a daily basis. I help others where I can to embrace change and know there is a beautiful reason to be alive!”
“I decided to do a Bachelor of Addiction Studies and Counselling this year. This is the first time I have studied something I’m passionate about. I have a history of addiction and know a lot of people who have. I want to use my experience to help others as there aren’t many people in that field of work who actually care, it’s all about the paycheck for them. I think there would be nothing more rewarding than helping someone turn their life around. There’s such a horrible stigma around addiction, even though alcohol is so acceptable in New Zealand society I find it very strange.”
“For many years I was lost. floating, consuming, existing without a sense of true purpose, in the grips of mental illness and eating disorders. My heart was running on empty like a drained battery. Until I found Circus Arts. Aerial dance, spinning at the speed of light, standing on my hands on the ground, bending my body in ways that previously, I never dreamed I could do. It shocked my heart back into life, my creativity and soul finally had an outlet that gave me a purpose. A true expression of me. I began teaching, producing circus theatre shows, travelling overseas to share my art with my world circus family. Circus gave me my determination to go down my path with fierce passion, vigour and perseverance. It taught me about myself. It taught me I am here for a beautiful, important reason. It gave me my life back and for that, I will forever be grateful.”
“The tattoo on my ribs is of a gerbera daisy and an orchid, my grandparents favourite flowers.
I’ve always been of the opinion that no one gets through life without scars. Most scars are viewed as ugly and serve as a reminder of pain – accidental or intentional. Either way, they are inevitable. To me, tattoos are scars that we choose. Yes, we get one body and we should look after it as best we can but if getting through life without having scars is impossible, why not choose to have some that are beautiful?
From the age of about thirteen, I started pinching, scratching, digging at my arms and chest. It originated as a way to cope with mental illness and became a necessity to get through the day for the next ten years. I was always so ashamed of it and would lie about the marks. I’d say it was a rash or acne… anything that I thought was believable enough to convince people that I wasn’t doing it to myself.
You also asked why I agreed to be photographed by you. My initial reaction when you first contacted me was that I could never pose for you because I wasn’t beautiful. Beautiful people have nice, smooth, scar-free skin. I agreed because I thought doing the shoot would make me more accountable for the condition of my skin. You said at the end of the shoot that having the courage to pose was an extraordinary thing that most would never do. It gave me such a sense of pride that despite being terrified, I was brave enough to look into the camera knowing that people would see my scars. I always knew it would be a long and difficult road to learn to manage my mental illness and an added struggle to live with a physical reminder of it. The day of the shoot was the first day that I didn’t have withdrawal symptoms after coming off my antidepressants. I think it was also the first day I have ever felt proud of my scars. Both the ones I chose and the ones I didn’t.”
“I was born in 1936 in my parent’s house in Timisoara, Hungary. My mother said that I was a very ugly child. I enrolled to Technical Electrical School Because I liked Mathematics. I studied 4 years and became an Electrical Technician. I wanted to study further and become an Electrical Engineer but I failed the entrance exam and was transferred to Pedagogical Institute to be trained as a Math & Physics school teacher. Finishing the degree, I worked in the Country Hall Timisoara as a statistician until they discovered that I applied to immigrate to Israel. After that, I was dismissed.
I was then introduced to a good looking man who arrived to Hungary on a business trip from Bucharest, Romania. He fell in love with me and asked for my hand. At this time my father was in prison because he was Jewish. I was very confused and thought that love will arrive after I got married. He insisted and I agreed. We had a very small ceremony, at the city council and we moved to Bucharest.
I got pregnant and I was in great trouble – he did not let me call my parents on the phone. I discovered that I did not love him and I was totally miserable.
Luckily, my uncle visited me and saw the situation. Immediately my mother took the next train to Bucharest. My mother and I decided to abort the pregnancy. I was already four and a half months pregnant and the physician made it clear: there was a real risk that I will never get pregnant again. My husband was furious. My mother took me home to Timisoara and I wanted divorce. He threatened that if he ever sees me again – he will kill me!”
“It always bothered me that I am hypersensitive. I have the ability to feel things and people. I have a strong compassion for people around me and a sense of exacerbated empathy. I laugh too loud, cry too deeply. I love with passion. When I’m sad my heart is torn from the inside. When I’m upset, anger consumes me. My heart is on a permanent roller coaster. I am always honest and sincere, often lack tact. I want to know people, their culture, the world, art. I want to discover everything around me and in all areas. I want to give a reason to exist, to my so active thoughts. Nothing is going fast enough for me, except time. The photo is an art of expression that gives me the impression of controlling this time; to capture a moment that will not happen again. Control makes me secure. This feeling appeases me. The photo allows me to express an emotion, it leaves the choice to the person who looks at it, to invent a story, to decide if this moment of happiness, sadness or fear. Photography is a way of polishing my shell, making the person I am inaccessible, unknown and protected. The beauty of a photo is expressed by the sharing of emotions between the photographer and the model. I show an appearance. If the beauty of my soul expresses itself in the portrait, then the intensity of my emotions contain unlimited thoughts and allow me to retreat to myself. To introspect and try to find a part of the person that I am, to contemplate. I may please or displease but I will never be anyone else so I keep my aim of appearing proud of who I am, to one day accept myself, with my faults and my qualities.”
“I am a vampire, as an old soul in a modern body.
When I was 13 years old I was engaged in Anne Rice fictional: ‘The Vampire Chronicles’. A brief chapter comes to mind as it stood out to me on a relative level at the time.
This particular short story was titled ‘Baby Jenks’ found in her novel “Queen of the Damned”. It’s about a young and naive troubled girl who was stubborn in her defences with guards up against the world. She wasn’t bad, she was just lost and damaged from being unheard. She was dressed in black, baby faced, blonde…and pregnant.
You see, this also felt like my own story in my adolescent angst. Except- she rode a badass, Harley Davidson! I haven’t the time nor guts to do so – although, men around me are proud owners of their motorbikes and I’ve jumped more than once on the back on for those death-defying thrill rides.
At 14 I was to become a mother myself, losing enough blood in birth to warrant an emergency blood transfusion. You will find Baby Jenks in this very situation when she was made an immortal outcast. Baby Jenks story ends. I on the other hand, obviously, continue on with mine. I let her live through my cyber persona and I have for many years. You will see a lot of the illustrations on my skin. From scars to stretch marks to many tattoos. This is my look and my portrait behind camera.”
I was born in South Africa and I am 20 years old. Poverty, discrimination and racism were all part of my childhood. My biological mum was a nightmare. She couldn’t afford to look after me, nor to give me what I needed to be healthy and happy. I was adopted into a gorgeous light skinned family at the age of 2 years. When I was 18 I found out that I am pregnant and 9 months later I gave birth to my special baby boy who is now 1 year and 5 months old, named Darius. I am now a single mum and doing a great job, with a loving family who is very supportive. I am happy, I love being a mum and I’m healthy.”
“My name is Jazz. From the age of 13 I suffered from severe clinical depression. I was suicidal due to certain events and personal problems I was dealing with. Through this time in my life I suffered self harm and eating disorders, I used alcohol and music to cope. I left home at 14 and sought help from my oldest brother who really saved me during this difficult time. It wasn’t easy and I still struggle with mental health. Traumatic events from my past still haunt me but being independent really helps me getting better and to have a new outlook on life. I learned that I wasn’t a failure and that I can achieve anything if I work really hard. When I was 18 I discovered burlesque. It had always been my dream to become a dancer since I was a child but I never had the opportunity. I immediately fell in love with the art of burlesque. I feel so empowered dancing and choreographing my own routines to my favourite rock and metal music. Life is yours, grab the bull by the horns!”
“Ten things about me:
1. I am a mum! I have a daughter called Aria who is turning 5 next month. Where has my little girl gone?!?
2. I started out performing in theatre from when I was about 8, then moved into burlesque in 2009. The majority of my performance work nowadays is in acting – mostly live performance work, MCing and then burlesque. I also perform drag within those mediums.
3. My genetics are made up of 1/4 Spanish, 1/4 Irish, 1/4 Scottish and the rest is made up of French and British.
4. I am a full time (well, as full time as you can make it in NZ) self employed events manager, producer and performing artist. It’s been a hard slog, but I am very blessed I get to do what I love for my work. I own my own production company!
5. I am allergic to dairy and gluten. I get hives within a matter of minutes of consuming even the smallest amounts, as well terrible fatigue, stomach cramps, bloating, etc for about 2-3 days after.
6. I am an Ovo-vegetarian (basically means I eat mostly vegan, but the occasional free range egg – mostly egg whites – from our free range chickens at home).
7. I live (and have grown up) on farms! I quite used to mucking in. I’ve helped sheep give birth, mucked out stables, you name it. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty.
8. I did competitive BMX dirt bike riding as a kid! From 7-10 years old, I was one of two girls on the team.
9. I have a rather large collection of black hoodies and crew neck jumpers. I love them. Think I have about 10+ 🤦♀️🤦♀️.
10. I have generalised anxiety disorder, and quite severe PTSD. I am high functioning, but I do get triggered very easily, so have to put a lot of structures in place and have particular calming coping mechanisms like meditation and staying present. I have been working on myself since 2015 when I had a mental breakdown, and I take medication plus therapy to help me process plus live a normal of a life as possible.
”I was diagnosed with grade 3 aggressive breast cancer in January 2016. My family has the BRCA1 mutation. Each child of a carrier has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene and each carrier has extremely high risk of cancer. Five of my six great aunts died of cancer by their forties. I had four different chemotherapy drug treatments as well as radiation treatment. Luckily, I had a positive response to treatment and the 5 cm tumour was totally destroyed. I underwent bilateral mastectomy with a two phase silicon reconstruction as well as a total Salpingo-oophorectomy. I also had a hysterectomy surgical operation to remove my uterus. Knowing I have beaten what by nature ought to have been certain death, gives me a sense of immediacy and urgency in life. There is no sense in waiting or hesitating because there is no guarantee of tomorrow!”
The ‘Bare Truth’ exhibition at Gaffa Gallery
Before Ilan Wittenberg became an award winning photographer, he worked in the corporate world, with a bachelor of science in industrial engineering up his sleeve.
“Four years ago I was made redundant and was contemplating whether or not to get back into the industry,” he explained.
“I just wasn’t as engaged as I used to be with my work, so I thought I could try pursuing my hobby of photography.”
The photo extraordinaire said he wouldn’t have been able to make the career change without the motivation and support from his wife and close mentors.
“I stand on the shoulders of giants. I’ve learnt a lot and I couldn’t have done it without my beautiful wife,” he said.
“When I migrated from Israel to New Zealand in 2001 with my wife and children, I had a dream to become a man who would make a mark on this earth.
“Motivational speaker Stephen Covey once said ‘Live, love, laugh and leave a Legacy’, for me, photography is a way to leave my legacy.”
Mr Wittenberg will exhibit an assortment of 97 portraits, titled Bare Truth, at the Gaffa Gallery from May 12 to 28.
“Bare Truth is a captivating collection of portraits of New Zealand men who are humble, courageous and vulnerable,” he said.
“Their photographs expose and reveal who they really are and their edgy portraits are presented in monochrome to emphasize their shape and form.
“The combination of using a soft, directional light while adapting a special post-processing technique, enables me to enhance their features so the images are raw and crisp. They look directly into my camera so there is always a highlight in their eyes.”
Mr Wittenberg explained the idea of creating portraits of men who exposed their chest evolved gradually.
“The biggest challenge was finding the first man to agree to pose topless.
“After a few rejections and setbacks, I created a portrait of a close friend and became really engaged with the look in his eyes,” he added.
“Many cultures portray men as strong, physically and emotionally. This stereotype sometime leads to dire outcomes when considering how poorly typical men treat health symptoms, depression, stress and anxiety.”
He said one of the biggest goals for his project was to raise awareness and to give men freedom to express their feelings and connect to their emotions.
“This fresh look at men is an eye opening opportunity to see the real people without the ‘shield’ of clothes.
“We are all flesh and blood and we are here on this planet for a short period of time. This project simply reminds us of how fragile we are.
“It takes us just one-tenth of a second to judge someone and make a first impression, so it’s fascinating to see how quickly we form our opinion, based solely on physical appearance.”
Bare Truth gained further momentum after selected prints won prestigious awards at the Portrait Classic category of the 2015 Iris Awards form the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography.
The collection was then chosen to be exhibited as an Associate at the 2016 Head On Photo Festival, which will run until May 29, as well as the 2016 Auckland Festival of Photography.
“It’s been said that photography is the easiest medium of art to be competent in but it’s the hardest medium in which to have a truly personal vision,” Mr Wittenberg said.
“It’s very much like talking – everyone can talk but very few have something to say,” he added.
When asked what his overall goal was for the collection he replied: “My goal is to present work that is strong and distinguished with a clear narrative sense. I wish to inspire people with images that are crisp and sharp, to be creative and artistic, to evoke emotions and to show a personal vision.”
Details: Bare Truth will run from May 12 – 28 at Gaffa Gallery, 281 Clarence Street, Sydney.