documentary photography of refugees—lessons in bringing joy & finding joy in life

documentary photography of refugees—lessons in bringing joy & finding joy in life

T H I S  I S  J O Y!

One of the most fulfilling events on my sabbatical so far came in the most unexpected place for me. You see, there were many factors that made me choose We Roam when I had that run-away-to-the-circus moment over the holidays of 2016. I liked that this group was filled with professionals of varying ages and careers, all working while traveling. I liked that there would be adult accommodations and a quality work space to get stuff done. I LOVED that they included a giving back component so that we could do something meaningful in each of our destinations. That was really something that set their operation apart from the others and it spoke to me. I was so honored that I had the opportunity to create documentary photography of refugees during our visit to their transition homes in the countryside outside Prague. It was one of the most fulfilling days I’ve experienced in a long time. And it was because of the people. documentary photography refugees photos by betsy mccue international photojournalist photographer

That’s Katie above, giving us the lowdown. She’s one of our fearless group leaders and we lovingly call her mom. I’m still not sure how she puts up with our shenanigans on the daily.

documentary photography refugees photos by betsy mccue international photojournalist photographer

Pavla is a sweet woman who regularly works with refugee families in the Czech Republic. She has a heart of gold and is so resourceful! She was our guide who helped organize our efforts to maximize our day with the families. We broke off into groups to spend time with the families and help beautify their outdoor space. These are our Roamer troopers in action who worked so hard to build a sandbox, weed, trim back overgrowth, and repaint swing sets. Busy busy bees!

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Meanwhile, several of us headed inside for arts and crafts time. Some very talented people in that room! It was great to sit around and chat about life while working on art together. Art brings people together!

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Some things don’t require translation…Dad sharing your artwork and embarrassing you is a universal language! Hahahaha!

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A good game of soccer was underway outside, keeping the kids with lots of energy very entertained.

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As we were sitting in the living room of this amazing family, Hannan was such an incredible host. She invited us all in to sit in their most comfortable seats while serving us drinks and refreshments. We felt so welcome! After our attentive hostess disappeared for awhile, I snuck into the kitchen and found her hard at work preparing loads of Syrian pizzas for all of us. They were DELICIOUS!!!

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Kitchen time is getting serious!! Time for the hair to go up! 🙂

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We got to sit around and visit with the ladies and have some girl talk, which was seriously wonderful. We had such a great time as everyone opened up and got to know each other. documentary photography refugees photos by betsy mccue international photojournalist photographer

There is something transcendent about photography. I asked if I could take some portraits of these beautiful ladies and I am so happy they obliged. There is something very special that happens when I have the opportunity to connect with another person on the other side of the lens. A wall comes down and people open up. I have the opportunity to show them how beautiful their light is to the rest of the world. And even more important than that…I feel that having your portrait taken can transport you out of your every day world. It can make you feel beautiful. It allows you to be seen. It can give you the freedom to express yourself. I hope that these women felt all of that, because I could see it from where I was standing and it made my day! Look at all these lovely people and the laughs. Oh, the laughs are ALWAYS my favorite!!

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MWAH!!!!!

documentary photography refugees photos by betsy mccue international photojournalist photographer

After we had been stuffed full of those delicious Syrian Pizzas, there was a full buffet outside prepared by one of the Iraqi families. Everything was so colorful and flavorful! documentary photography refugees photos by betsy mccue international photojournalist photographer documentary photography refugees photos by betsy mccue international photojournalist photographer

I not only had the treasured opportunity to have some great conversations with the families we visited, but I was fortunate enough to create family portraits of people finding joy in life, despite the most trying experiences. I was overwhelmingly inspired by some of the most resilient people I think I’ve ever met. These are real people who have experienced some of the most horrific challenges life can dish out and they continue to live life and choose joy. There is so much love and joy in these images and they make my heart sing <3.

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There were so many smiles and laughs that afternoon. Of course, there were also many moments that left us speechless as we heard stories of of what everyone had been through to get here.

Jullie (the daughter above) is getting ready to off to college (which will be taken care of in Czechia). She taught herself English by watching movies and listening to music. She’s also learned Czech. She is a talented painter and artist. She told us stories of how she’s lost most of her friends at home. Not something you expect to hear from a 17 year old. And especially when she has to speak of it so matter-of-factly.

Another set of brothers came across the sea in a boat with their mother and lived to tell about it. And their laughs are contagious.

The sweet, soft-spoken woman below is separated from her husband and two kids. She is waiting for their processing so that they can finally be together after two years.

I want you to imagine what any of those scenarios would be like. They’re real. Talking to people who have had such different life experiences really opens your eyes to what is possible in this world. I want to remind myself of these stories and these new friends on any day I’m feeling sorry for myself for anything in life. There’s no excuse. I can accept life and what it dishes out while choosing to move forward and choose joy.

My life is richer for having met them all and having them open their hearts and homes to us. And for these life lessons and the new friendships, I am thankful ❤️

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I seriously had the BEST time photographing all these wonderful people and having them play and express themselves in front of the camera!

documentary photography refugees photos by betsy mccue international photojournalist photographer

Thumbs up, indeed!! 🙂
And this is my new dear friend, Holly, who was SO great with this little guy. She was an amazing help with all the family portraits too. Go team!! <3
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Typical kids’ reaction to me 🙂

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Half of our group had to get back to the city (hey, we’re all working while we’re here!), but the rest of us stuck around for awhile and got to see how much joy all the hard work outside brought everyone. Love it!
documentary photography refugees joyful photos

Thank you, everyone, for opening your homes and hearts to us during our visit! I am so thrilled to have met you all and want you to know how much you inspired me and made me heart sing. Our time together was a gift. And I know my fellow Roamers felt the same way! You showed us what it’s like to fight back against the worst life can throw at you, choose to survive, and find joy in the moments we are all given. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing that lesson of joy to my life!

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editorial branding photography  |  bohemia paper in prague, czech republic

editorial branding photography | bohemia paper in prague, czech republic

Ahhhhh, Prague! It’s such a beautiful and charming city! I began my sabbatical in Prague and was more than thrilled to have found three local businesses I could feature in my new Editorial Branding Photography portfolio. I had the opportunity to meet the fine people of Bohemia Paper, thanks to a new friend who connected us. Bohemia Paper was incredibly receptive to what I had in mind and so that’s where it all began 🙂

Can you imagine coming to work every day in that building? I think that’s heavenly! It’s a constant reminder the history that surrounds and defines this fabulous European city! international editorial branding photography boutique businessorganic branding portraits for small business boutiques

editorial branding photography in prague

Tucked away in a corner of the main Old Town Prague, Bohemia Paper resides in the historic National Gallery. It seems to be a fitting location for the fine stationery boutique that is steeped in tradition.

Hana welcomed me with a warm and inviting vibe, and an espresso. So gracious! That gave me a first impression of how she treats her clients. I say clients because there is a distinct difference in how small business owners relate with others when they have clients versus customers. Clients are based on relationships. These relationships require trust, nurturing, and genuine interest in helping people find the right solution for their needs.

Hana lit up when she shared the joy she finds in the relationships she builds with her clients. For her, the relationship begins with the first important announcement of people’s lives and that can vary across different clients. It may begin with a wedding announcement, followed by a birth announcement, followed by a graduation announcement, followed by wedding announcement. And you get the idea of how that works! I felt there was a great similarity between her approach and relationship building that I’ve experience over the years with my wedding and portrait clients.

We found a quiet spot near the front window overlooking the plaza for a few portraits of this businesswoman in action. Enjoying an espresso and penning a letter by hand. She is very passionate about the importance of continuing communication in this world, keeping tradition alive. I think that is incredibly important too. I can get quite nostalgic about missing the days of receiving a special hand-written note from someone.

As we sat down, we chatted about Hana’s family business that she runs with her son, Adam. And then we got into the history of letterpress and embossing in Czechoslovakia. The world slowed down for me as she took me back in time to tell me of how these beautiful forms of art and communication were strictly prohibited during communist reign because they were considered extravagant, showy, ostentatious, unnecessary, and even threatening.

Wow. It never occurred to me that this type of work would be suppressed under Communist rule. But when you think about it, a letterpress machine could be used for anything, meaning underground newspapers and anti-communist propaganda that would go against the message the government was providing the people. In addition, during this time, Czechoslovakia began emphasizing the rapid development of heavy industry, following the Soviet Union’s model of Communism. Many privately owned businesses were prohibited. They were taken over by the government for nationalist profit and control. Art was heavily controlled. Artisan activities were running underground and punishable by law.

Once communism rule ended in Czechoslovakia, the people worked to bring back this form or artisanship and craftmanship, as well as many other forms of art, ensuring it was not lost for good.

Hana now runs a family business in the heart of the city, creating beautiful art that is enjoyed by citizens and tourists alike. That is something to be thankful for. This is something that would not have been a possibility in the not-so-distant-past. She has her sights set high on growing her local fine stationery boutique into an international brand, competing in the global market. How exciting is that? I was especially inspired by this goal considering just a few short decades ago these things would have been impossible.

Bohemia Paper’s work is beautifully exquisite, offering well-executed letterpress, embossing, and printing services. Their finished pieces are classic and timeless with a little twist of modern flair. They’ve printed for the former President as well as countless clients who value artisanship and importance of honoring life’s most precious occasions with style and reverence. I look forward to following Hana and Adam’s business growth. I hope that the Editorial Branding Photography I’ve created for them gets them one step closer to that goal!

Cheers!
Betsy

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© Editorial Branding Photography by Vida Passport/La Vida Creations 

Have you been following my blog, documenting my international travel photography and writing?
Be sure to read my last blog post about my first fine print sale!

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Paris in the Morning: Selling my first Fine Art Print

Paris in the Morning: Selling my first Fine Art Print

WOW. So all of this is just starting to sink in. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. No, actually, a crazy couple of months. No, wait, a crazy past year.

I’m here. In Prague. I’m on a sabbatical, creating a new portfolio of work to launch me in a new and exciting direction with my photography. I still have to pinch myself each morning. For reals. But I’ve been working hard and getting to know this city on a totally different level than just vacationing here for a few days. It’s exciting and I just love it!

Amidst those days, it’s inevitable to go through self-reflection and a little artist self-doubt (fellow creatives, you KNOW what I’m talkin’ about!). But here, I am inspired to keep pushing myself to get out and create more and do things outside my usual comfort zone. It can be a little painful but I know I’m so much better on the other side. I realize that I’m capable of so much more than I think. We all are.

So this week, when I had to give myself (while one of my new friends in the We Roam was doing the same for me!) a little pep talk about just going and DOING, I got a message from my friend Kelly in Palm Springs letting me know that my first fine art print SOLD.

Paris travel fine art print

Morning in Paris was chosen to be displayed in a gallery for the Canon Emerging Female Artist’s show at Kelly’s rad coffeehouse in Palm Springs a little while back and a buyer wanted it for their restaurant in Solvang, California. So exciting!! Funny enough, I had just ventured to Solvang a few months ago with my friend Karen and was pretty smitten with the place, so that made me extra happy that my first sale resides in the Central Coast of California, which is one of my favorite areas!

Being an artist, I have those moments when I really need that validation, knowing that other people appreciate my point of view and filter on the world. It means something to know that other people can connect with something that excites me and speaks to my soul.

Morning in Paris is one of my favorite street photography images. I love finding the beauty in the every day rituals of life. You know, those things that everyone takes for granted as just random tasks and going through the motions. I feel like this image illustrates that really well. I am proud of it and so excited someone loves it too.

When we visited Paris together 6 years ago, we spent countless hours in those street cafés, people watching and observing life as it went by. We were staying just up the way from this café and we’d pass this server performing his morning ritual of meticulously setting the tables for the locals to come and grab their morning coffee, french lunch, or afternoon wine. There is patience involved with watching these moments unfold. Understanding the role that various people play in creating a sense of belonging and comfort for others. The behind the scenes actions that are often taken for granted. This is just another Morning in Paris. But what happens when we slow down and see how these random moments shape the world we live in the daily experiences we have?

The timing could not have been better for this first fine art print to find a new home. It was poetic that it took place while I was in my first city on my sabbatical in Europe. It gave me added confidence to continue pushing forward, doing what I love to do and capturing the world the way I see it so that I can share it with others.

I’ll be creating a variety of new artwork during this journey and making it available through my kickstarter project, be sure to check it out at www.betsypassport.com
I’ll be continually adding to my fine art gallery of images from my various destinations and I couldn’t be more excited about creating new work for myself and for you!
You can even have your own personal piece of art commissioned, which I’m really excited to work on for people!

Thanks for following me on the journey. More to come soon!! XOXOXO

 

 

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Vida Passport begins: the sabbatical starts chapter 2

Vida Passport begins: the sabbatical starts chapter 2

Vida Passport begins: the sabbatical starts chapter 2

So where do I begin? I guess I begin where my life left off.

Over the past year, I’ve gone through a lot of personal strife and growth. Guess those two go hand-in-hand.

A few months back, I decided that it was time for me to depart from my every day routine and rituals. How do you actually make that happen though?

In one of my run-away-to-the-circus moments over the holidays, I drew a hard line in the sand, determining it was the right time to take a break from weddings to regroup after losing my husband and business partner, Jeff. They had just become too emotionally taxing for me to do all the time and with the frequency we once had. 

I had to invent a new way to continue what I love—photography—but with a new direction. On a whim, I applied to a program aimed at entrepreneurs and remote workers called We Roam. They interview and select a small group to work, travel, and live together for a varying number of months, but most people commit to a year. I wasn’t sure I was able or ready to make that level of commitment, but I knew that this program spoke to me and even though it seemed crazy, it oddly seemed like the only thing that made sense in my life right now as far as possible paths.

I spent a few weeks contemplating how this could all come together. I decided I could use this amazing travel opportunity to not only develop an editorial and commercial portfolio highlighting small businesses and unique people’s stories abroad, but I could also concentrate on shooting constantly to recreate my individual voice as an artist while creating fine art travel imagery during my journey for myself and for others. I love doing street photography while traveling—it’s one of my favorite things to capture the spirit and every day life of different neighborhoods and cities! I will be continuing with my documentary vida portraits (family, couple, and senior dog storytelling sessions) when I return in addition to the new commercial, editorial, and stock work. 

I have to remove myself from my everyday world to disconnect from the things that have defined the me I’ve always known. I will be journaling and blogging my journey, not only of my new portfolio work, but my path as a young widow and traveling to get to know myself again and move forward (not on…).

I’m excited and terrified all at the same time, but I know that this is going to be an important part of working through my grief and finding the joy in life and learning to love myself and honoring my unique voice.

In the words of Andrew McMahon (Thank you, Mary, for creating that obsession!):
We cross a country
In an airplane with the wings on fire
Hanging from the seatbelt sign
That’s the one thing
There’s no safety in desire
Preserving life is as good as dying

I definitely feel like I’m hanging onto the seatbelt sign and swinging from it!

I hope you follow my journey. I’m excited to share it. I have an incredible community of people who have encouraged creating a kickstarter to share imagery from my destinations. The official launch of that is coming next week and I can’t wait to share it!

Our group will be moving cities once a month, which is so rad because I get to experience each city as much more than a tourist. And hey, if you know someone in one of my destinations, feel free to connect us! I’d love to do some portrait work while I’m abroad.
July: Prague, Czech Republic
August: Berlin, Germany
September: Split, Croatia
October: Belgrade, Serbia
November: Lisbon, Portugal
December: Rabbat, Morocco

I want to thank you all for the support, love, and encouragement you’ve given me this past year. It’s because of you that I’m still standing and able to launch forward with this adventure. 

Fearless. 
Choose joy. 
Live in the moment. 
La Vita é bella.

And carpe fucking diem 

Sign up for email updates here: 
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Follow the visual journey on instagram:
http://instagram.com/VidaPassport
http://instagram.com/LaVidaCreations

View my fine art gallery of the Good Grief series and fine art travel photography:
https://lavidacreations.shootproof.com/FineArtPrints

AND, you have the opportunity to be a part of the journey!!
Check out the kickstarter set up to connect you with my travel artwork!
My friends encouraged me to create an opportunity for all of you to come along on the journey and be rewarded with fine art prints and other offerings to jumpstart to this endeavor. I’m even offering a limited number of personally commissioned art pieces, which will be an exciting project for me!

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