A Week on the Island of Kauai

Check out the talented Whitney Justesen’s perspective of our Hawaiian adventure! I couldn’t have asked for a better time.

The Roaming Photographer

Kauai was one of those experiences that you dream about years in the future, and you can still smell the ocean air and feel the warm breeze on your skin.

I had been planning this trip since last summer, and I couldn’t wait to spend some much needed relaxation time on the beautiful Hawaiian island. I hadn’t been to Kauai since I was a little girl, and there was so much I wanted to see and explore.

The trip started out a bit hectic, and long story short, I was given the choice to either not go to Kauai at all, or finding someone else to join me on my trip. So I put out the word on Facebook, and within a few hours, my friend Sarah had made plans to come with me to Kauai! I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Sarah and I have been friends for…

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Write your own success story: changing your definition of success

“I’ve often said that I wish people could realize all their dreams and wealth and fame so that they can see it’s not where you are going to find your sense of completion. I can tell you from experience the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is because everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart and all that will be left of you is what was in your heart.” – Jim Carrey

I used to get so caught up in numbers. My success was defined in social media status. My self worth was how many followers I had. My talent was how many comments a photo received. If a photo didn’t do well, I wasn’t good enough. My work wasn’t good enough. From talking with the generations under me, this is the shifting psychology caused by social media. A whole life’s worth defined by how many Instagram followers a person has. Value and importance placed upon numbers and not kindness, connection, and love. It was a life of always chasing never resting. I never had time to realize and reflect on the real triumphs I was achieving every day because I was too concerned with one-upping my last accomplishment knowing that each success might be the highest point in which my career will ever get. And in that feeling the shame and anxiety in that thought. I was never satisfied and nothing was enough. Until I changed my definition of what success is. Success is not always big clients, big jobs, and big paychecks and if you define yourself by that alone you’ll always be disappointed chasing the next big thing. Success is not the number of internet strangers you have collected. It is not the amount of money you make. It is not defined by the successes of other people.

Photo by Vanessa Paxton

Photo by Vanessa Paxton

I’ve been learning to shift my success into moments and in that, embracing the idea of gratefulness. This year I was bit by a tick I never saw and got really sick. As a chronic sufferer of migraines, I didn’t recognize the significance of a headache that refused to let up for a month. I didn’t recognize the flu-like symptoms, the fevers, the fatigue. The moment I knew there was something seriously wrong was when my fingertips started hurting, as fingertips shouldn’t hurt. If you’ve never seen Lyme disease, it feels a bit like you happened to catch the flu on the same week you’ve broken every bone in your body. And of course as most things go, the timing was impeccably awful sitting on the cusp of needing to sell all my possessions, give up my jobs and my home to dedicate myself to a four month road trip and workshop tour. I have never felt exhausted like that. I remember my mom and step dad graciously driving the three hours from Maine to New Hampshire to paint my apartment for the showing that weekend because I could not psychically remove myself from the couch. I remember my sister running my errands and picking me up from doctors appointments and 1am ER visits and nursing me back to health. This is where I learned gratefulness. This is where I learned success is having the energy to sit up. This is where I learned success was being able to answer all of my emails or go to work or edit a photo. My Lyme was caught early enough that I’ve made a full recovery with no lingering side effects that I can see. Now months passed those four months of struggle I have a better understanding on what is important to me and how I want my life defined.

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I define my success in the present. Success is every email I get from someone I never met saying how they felt themselves in my photos. Success is someone saying my photo got them through the day. Success is meeting someone who started photography because they saw my photos and said to themselves, “You know, I can do that too.” Success is in the connection. It is the time spent with my mother and sister. It is somehow ending up in a cafe in a town I’ve never thought to be at an ungodly hour speaking with people I will never see again. It is 6am sunrises after camping on top of a mountain. It is being able to spend four months in the positive light of my best friends. It is the wonder of feeling so small in the Redwoods of California. It is watching the northern lights by a cabin near a lake in British Columbia. It is every hug. It is every kind word. It is every day I got out of bed and faced the world. And for every day I get of bed, I am grateful.

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Don’t let anyone assign your worth. Don’t define your worth based on the success of other people. You are as valuable and important as anyone else and you have your own journey. To quote the Dalai Lama, “Today think as you wake up, I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.” I recently got this tattooed on myself as a reminder. You are worthy because you exist and as such, every day is a success.

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The Wild Ones Workshop Tour 2013 – On Taking Risks.

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I’ve been at a loss for words on how to start this post and I’ve been staring at this blank text box for a few days now unable to find the words to describe these last two months. I wish I could pull the memories out of me so you can see what I see and I can relive them over and over again. All 13,000 miles. 33 states. 15 major cities. 12 national parks. Nintendo, Warner Brothers, Flickr, and Coca-Cola. The trip of a lifetime. Rolled into two months of gypsy van life. I wish I could show you all the people we met. To tell you about all the kind strangers  who housed us and fed us. I wish I could show you the way the sun sets in Monument Valley or how fog rolled over the beaches next to the Redwoods in California. But you will have to experience them yourself.

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If I could give you any piece of advice it would be to travel. Just take the risk and do it. Save your money. Quit your job. Sell all your possessions. Grab your closest friends. Hell, go with strangers. Live out of a van and let the road become your home. Travel. It will change you. It taught me confidence. It taught me that if I could do this, I could do anything. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m calmer. I’ve learned to go with the flow and let the universe have what it may with me. I’ve learned what little possessions I do need to sustain myself. I’ve gone without showering, without a bed, even without wifi and I survived and you can too. My life became whatever I could fit in my Dodge Caravan and it was perfect.

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Image(Shane taking photos of the Redwoods in California with Lucy, our van.)

I suppose I should start at the beginning. As most things with Joel Robison, Shane Black, and I begin, it started as a joke. A “haha we should take the summer off and go on a road trip” joke. Until we started planning it.  We asked around our various social media outlets found where people wanted us, acquired the overwhelmingly generous help of Flickr and Coca – Cola,  planned out the workshops, and off we went. Of course that sounds easier than it actually was. It took us about nine months of planning and work and of course the concerned friends and family’s questions of, “you’re doing WHAT?! With WHO? With BOYS you met on the INTERNET!” The biggest leap of faith was for each of us to quit our jobs of six years respectively. It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. To have the uncertainty of not knowing how I will survive when I get back home. But even if I go broke or have hardships, this trip is something I am never going to regret. Every minute was worth it.

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When planning the workshops we knew we didn’t want to make money off of this adventure. We wanted to be able to host affordable classes to share our love for storytelling and passion for helping. This trip was not for profit and we go home with nothing but our memories and the joy of meeting so many people along the way. The money we received via workshop fees, sponsorships, and donations was used only to get us from place to place and spread as much joy as we could along the way. Our goal was to share happiness, passion, and give back to the community that has given us so much. We hoped we accomplished this whether it was donations to hungry strangers, giant tips at restaurants, free entry to our workshops, or even big things like surprising two deserving young photographers from Illinois with an all expense paid trip to spend four days in Dallas learning from us.

Image(Justin and Jordan flew in from Illinois to become our honorary Wild Ones. Photo by Joel Robison)Image(Joel feeding a stray dog in Utah.)

Our workshops were such a joy. We focused our teaching on building stories and creating conceptual photos giving each participant homework to create throughout the day. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time laughing and shooting and just enjoying the company of new faces. It was an unbelievably humbling experience to befriend people that have followed our work for so long. We all get into this bubble being at home. We never realize the effect we have one someone’s life through our work and journeys. Heck, I’m just a girl from a small town in New Hampshire posting photos on the internet, how big of an impact could that have? But it does have an impact. To meet people who have driven hours (and in come cases flown in) to learn from us and to hear the words, “you’ve changed my life.” Well, if we are being perfectly open, it makes me cry every single time. There were nights after teaching a workshop where I would sit up and cry thinking of all the beautiful new friends we have met and all the stories they shared realizing the magnitude of what we were doing. I am so excited to call each and every person we met a friend and Wild One.ImageImageImage(we had opening and closing games of ninja to loosen up!)ImageImageImage

We hosted eight workshops over the course of the two months in Portland, Los Angeles, Dallas, Tampa, Atlanta for two workshops at Coca-Cola Headquarters, Washington D.C., and NYC. Each carrying it’s own set of new faces and new stories. My favorite part of the day was always going around in a circle and having each participant introduce themselves and tell us where they came from, how they started, and where they want to go. Although we only spent five hours with I feel such a sense of goodness and community from each of them.

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It’s a peculiar thing trying to adjust back to real life after two months on the road. To no longer feel the winds of adventure in your hair. To settle down and wake up in the same state for a week straight. To shower. To cook food again. To find another job. But mostly what has been the most difficult transtition is to no longer be able to hug my friends every day. After two months living in a van having to rely on each other they quickly became my best friends, my family, my brothers. Every day I miss seeing the look on Shane’s face when he is time lapsing or the look in Joel’s eyes when he is teaching and helping and the sense of pride I had in both of them for giving up everything to go on this adventure with me. We laughed our way through California, sweated our way through the south, and cried our way up the east coast growing closers and closer. I wake up every morning and have two Wild Ones shaped holes in my heart knowing they are so far. But I know that the future holds such bright beautiful things for the both of them. I will forever be thankful that our lives crossed paths in such a way that allowed us to share in this adventure together because I couldn’t imagine sharing it with anyone else.

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I feel an overwhelming sense of pride and fulfillment in the community we have built and stories we have shared. We hoped to leave a little bit of ourselves with every person we met. And in that, hope that they shared that happiness with someone else. We were not here to make money, chase fame, or make names for ourselves. All we want is to give. And to teach that with a lot of hard work and a little bit of faith you can do whatever you set out to achieve. 

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I have faith in our community and their voices. I know that they will continue to share good. I hope that every person we met found of sense of home in all of us. I hope that the future holds many more Wild Ones Adventures and the people we met stay in our lives. I hope to meet them all again one day. But until then I hope each and every one of you who reads this finds your own voice and uses it for good. I hope you find the courage to take risks and travel. I hope that you all find a sense of self in whatever you do and know that the Wild One’s doors are always open if you need us.Image(photo by Marley Cumbee)

A year in photos and travels – 2012

I can say unequivocally and undeniably, that 2012 has been the best year of my life. I’ve traveled. I’ve lived. I’ve found friends and best friends and have been happy. This has been the best year thus far of my career. I learned the value of hard work and not being afraid to get your work out there. I’ve done more shoots than I’ve ever done, worked harder than I ever have, written hundreds and hundreds of emails, all while still working full time in an operating room. I’ve given lectures, been on book covers, taught a workshop, and had my work in magazines internationally. I’ve worked with brilliant teams on fashion shoots and continued taking self portraits. I’m really starting to feel like I’m growing into my own both as a photographer and as a person. Three years ago I was a girl too afraid of her own shadow to leave her house. This year I killed any part of the girl I used to be, willingly and with joy. With each new travel and opportunity I feel I’ve come out a stronger person. And my goal for each year will always be to be stronger and kinder and happier than the last. I’ve met that goal and then some.

The two most insane things to happen to my career this year, though I can hardly believe that this is real life, was that I’ve had my photo on a signed limited edition Florence + The Machine Album cover:
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And I was in an exhibit in Milan hosted by Vogue Italy:
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I honestly can not tell you how powerful a tool the internet is. Without Flickr and Facebook none of this year would have happened. And a lot has happened.

I went to California in April and met up with some of my favorite photographers. This was the first Flickr meetup and it set such a precedence for all the crazy adventures that were to come with all my new photographer friends. I can not place enough value in meeting people that share the same passion as you. There is something so special in being able to create together without judgement and to be surrounded by people who fully understand you. My Flickr friends are all now family to me.

Photo by Sarah Allegra (http://www.flickr.com/photos/artosthebear/)



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I spent a week in July in Indiana with some of the most influential people I have ever met. I met my best friends. I modeled for photos and shot photos and dressed up and invaded Walmart with thirty something other photographers. We went to abandoned factories, almost died in the lake when the raft flipped over, slept in a tent with five strangers and sweated in the 102 degree weather. I have never felt joy like I did in Indiana. I never thought it was possible to fall so deeply in love with 30+ strangers I met on the internet but I did. Whenever I describe to anyone what my heaven would be, it is always Indiana and to forever live out the memory of this week. Everyone clicked instantly.

ImagePhoto credit Shane Black (http://www.flickr.com/photos/shaneblack/)

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Photo credit Joel Robison, one of my best friends and kindred spirits. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/joel_r/)

I spent a weekend in July being a tourist in New York City. I had the best Indian food I’ve ever had and ate falafel and walked until my legs were ready to fall off. I saw Times Square and Grand Central Station and was utterly confused by how the streets worked.

I hosted my very first workshop with a few talented friends in a park in New Hampshire. It was a brilliant day filled with laughs and creativity and golf ball sized hail 🙂
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I hopped a bus to Maryland for a fun filled week in August to a Flickr meetup spending most of the time laughing hysterically and meeting some absolutely talented photographers and being reunited with some of my friends from Indiana. We roamed around in abandoned factories and reservoirs and just enjoyed being together. We stayed up late to talk and shoot the stars and danced to Nicki Minaj. Leaving early was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. When you find such a connection in people, it’s hard to go back to real life.

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Photo credit Shane Black (http://www.flickr.com/photos/shaneblack/)


Photo credit Steven Sites our wonderful host (http://www.flickr.com/photos/steven_sites/)

I spent eleven days in October traveling around Oregon and Canada with one of my best friends. We spent four perfect days in Oregon taking in all the sites and driving over 800 miles to visit waterfalls and hike trails to time lapse under the stars and sleep in cars. I wouldn’t change a single second of this trip. I saw waterfalls five stories tall and felt so small under the brilliance of the stars when we stayed out late on a lake to shoot. I saw things I only dreamed about seeing. This trip completely taught me the value of how beautiful and kind strangers could be. We met so many wonderful people that gave two weary travels floor space, warms meals, and a shower.

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Then we split an eight hour train and bus ride to stay the night at Lizzy Gadd’s house in Vancouver before heading off on another fifteen hour bus ride to Creston for a Flickr meetup where I had the best Canadian Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. We stayed in the most perfect cabin surrounded by a lake and mountain that was literally right outside our doorstep. We stayed up late shooting the northern lights and the milky way. We laughed hysterically about a costume horse head and I lit myself on fire. We drank hot chocolate around a fire and roasted hot dogs. I fell so deeply in love with Canada and the people I never wanted to leave.

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Photo credit Lizzy Gadd (http://www.flickr.com/photos/elizabethgadd/)

And as this year comes to a close I feel so blessed I was able to create such wonderful memories with so many amazing people I am lucky to call friends. I feel like my life is a better now that I have so many people to share in the experience. My life has a purpose and a direction.

To create.
To move west.
To explore the world.
To connect with everyone I meet.

All of it made possible through photography. I thankful every day that I am able to live my passion and it has brought me to so many amazing places.

So find your passion and in it, find yourself. Be it in other people or just through the passion itself. Network and make friends. Find your purpose and pursue it with everything you have. Life is far too short to not do what you dream. Dream it and make it happen.