Portrait of an expat in full bloom

Portrait of an expat in full bloom

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Moving to another country and leaving all that is familiar behind re-shapes not just our lives but our sense of our selves and our place in the world. It's an opportunity to embrace an entirely different sort of life, to see our selves in a new way.

For me, that’s meant embracing creative writing, developing my own website, and seeking soul mates and new voices out in the blogosphere. I’ve "met" people from around the world through my blog, many of them expats or former expats.

One of the persons I hooked up with early on through my blog is Di Mackey, a New Zealand expat living in Antwerp, Belgium. From time to time, I would drop by her blog to get her take on life in Belgium and global politics and to read quotes from her favorite books and articles.

As time passed, I noticed more and more photographs appearing on her site—not the average point-and-shoot images most expats take for their photo albums, but photographs that suggest a story, that give you pause, that stoke your imagination, that make you smile. Clearly Di's expat experiences were taking her to a new place artistically.

I was pleasantly surprised two weeks ago when she sent me an email telling me that after surmounting countless bureaucratic hurdles in the last 15 months, she was launching a photography business. She was wondering if she could photograph my family to add more portraits to her professional portfolio.

I jumped at the offer not just because we've never had a family portrait done, but because I knew Di would capture so much more than a few canned smiles. Her portraits give glimpses into the soul of the subject, and I love that she shoots them outdoors.

To catch what I feared might be the last bit of nice weather for a long while, we scheduled the shoot for 3 pm on a Sunday afternoon at a large park near our home. I didn't really know what to expect.

This was the first time I'd met Di. We wandered through the park getting to know one another as my daughter E-Grrrl chattered on about everything while carrying her favorite doll. My son, A, was seduced by the irresistible combination of sticks and water, and my husband E and followed along with Di's husband.

We enjoyed a number of green and shady places next to gardens and ponds and in the woods. The children posed among pine needles and pumpkins, peeking out of a stand of bamboo, sitting on grassy banks, leaning over the rail of a bridge.

In between planned shots, Di trailed them with the camera, photographing them from a distance. This was the perfect approach for my son, who was a little rough around the edges, full of nervous energy, and prone to cutting up at key moments during posed shots. On the other hand, E-Grrrl was her cuddly, bubbly self, eager to be photographed with her doll and pointing out settings she thought might work. E and I were trying not to get too distracted by the prospect of our son falling into a lake or accidentally whacking someone with the bamboo switch he was whipping around.

A little more than two hours and four hundred photos later, we finally finished the shoot. The results were spectacular and all that I'd hoped for. I will cherish the photos not just because they capture my family at a happy and exciting juncture in our history, but because they're tangible reminders of the amazing way expat life fosters creativity, artistic expression, and gives us the courage to take chances.

(You can see Di's photos at her blog site: www.womanwandering.blogspot.com)



V-Grrrl / Expatica

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