Well. This is going to take some explaining..
Back in 2010 a photographer called Rachael Brown reached out to me via email. Fast forward 3 years to March 2013 and Rachael along with Emily Adamson host their first ever photography retreat and called it 'A Bit More Soul' featuring some incredible speakers who gave talks about their work, their journey and what inspires them. It was a huge success and everyone left with a total feeling of purpose, of love and connection to each other....I was so proud of my friend for getting out there and making things happen.
A couple of months later in May this year, Rachael got in touch to see if me and Pete would be interested in speaking at the next 'A Bit More Soul'...... errrrrr WHAT?? Are you serious????? Not only was it a chance to see Pete's favourite country ever but we were also going to hang out with a group of wonderful people, including my long distance friend Rachael. We took a leap and said yes.... and it was the best decision we have ever made.
As we landed, Pete was in actual tears at the enormity of what we were doing, never in a million years did either of us imagine how far we would travel with this little business of ours. We were both just full to the brim with butterflies.. both the excited and the nervous kind. We collected our luggage, walked out in to Wellington arrivals and there in front of our eyes was Rachael Brown, Emily Adamson, Mike Hill, Jake Thomas, Oli Sansom and we hugged like long lost friends and chatted like we'd known each other for ever....
We then headed to the gorgeous house that we were staying for the week and met the rest of the team.. and got settled in ready for the retreat the following day...
The retreat was for 3 days and over that time there were seven speakers. For the majority of the retreat we all headed up to the wonderful Boomrock, a gorgeous venue on the top of a cliff overlooking the sea. We would spend the day listening to the speakers, eating the most incredible food, shooting, chatting, clay pigeon shooting, sharing, dancing, drinking, crying, laughing.. and just generally soaking up every bit of the most honest, emotional and inspirational environment I've ever had the honour to be immersed in...
..and I'm just going to lay it all down right now and say that the retreat was life changing for us. I think everyone expected to learn some stuff, make new friends, feel a new burst of energy but it went far, far, far beyond that. Firstly, all our fellow speakers.. Kate Macpherson, Fiona Anderson, Jake Thomas, Mike Hill, Oli Sansom, Si and Sophie (Bayly & Moore)... we clicked hard. Being around such amazingly talented, passionate, funny, warm, open, crazy, supportive people just blew us away. We all instantly hit it off.. we absorbed every last bit of amazingness from each talk.. learning SO much, in awe of how open and honest everyone was and then laughing, hugging, talking then laughing some more.. it felt like we had known these guys for years and I know 110% that from now on these people are going to be a big part of our lives. It's funny.. none of us had consulted each other on what we were going to talk about and each talk had a similar ethos, or similar messages but at the same time.. all were completely different, bringing something totally new to the table. Everyone spoke completely from the heart.. about what's important.. insights in to their own journey, their fears, what they've overcome, their passions. It was just an absolute honour to listen.. and absolutely petrifying to follow. Our talk was scheduled last and for the first two days of the retreat I felt a bit like I was behind glass.. sort of muffled. I thought it was jet lag.. but now I know it was most definitely nerves. A great big bag of them. Hand on heart I've NEVER in my life been as scared as I was before Thursday afternoon and Pete felt exactly the same. And the more speakers we listened to, the more we felt like standing up and running out the door. Everyone was SO good.. we felt like the biggest frauds and that we had nothing to offer. Bayly & Moore spoke just before us and talked about doing things that terrify you and then you go to bed fist pumping the sky.. I honestly sat and thought.. yeah.. but not this time Emma.. you and Pete have bit off more than you can chew here. We then had to shoot a couple.. in front of EVERYONE.. and again.. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow us.
But.. we did it.. and WE WENT TO BED THAT NIGHT FIST PUMPING THE SKY.. not just because we got through it but because by putting ourselves through it we had THE most incredible experience and have such amazing memories that will forever stay with with us and amazing new friends that we feel closer to than some of our oldest friends.
This workshop gave us so much. It reaffirmed, reignited and recharged us in so many ways. It took away all the bullshit.. all the worries.. all the 'admin' and got us back to why we do what we do. It gave us an opportunity to step back and appreciate, to step forward and be braver and it surrounded us with people that wanted to do the same. It actually feels a bit too difficult to explain just how good it was. It simply got hold of both our hearts and didn't let go..
In Pete's own words..
"As the retreat got going, we watched the other speakers share their stories and experiences, their visions and approach to their art, their work and most importantly their lives. Then it all began to dawn on me... although I've quietly taken pictures for years now, I have only been shooting weddings full time for about 18 months, that's nearly two years of shooting weddings with Emma, I absolutely love what we do, I adore our couples and the experience of the day, along with the months building up, we work seamlessly together and we give everything to our couples.
But when it comes to the art, to the photography, yes, I've been shooting but I've also been safely and comfortably sat in the background, taking no credit because the flip side is that someone might tell me I'm shit, so then it's easier to let it pass and convince yourself you're busy with everything else. But really I was feeling so frustrated and a little bit lost. I've always been creative, either in music, filming or taking photos and that's where it started to change in my head. Here in front of me were these exceptional, brave and artistic people, living their lives and living in the moment and being courageous enough to share it with a room full of other creative people...
Every single speaker sat and pretty much unzipped their heart and soul for all to see. It was a real eclectic mix of speakers, all of different styles and from different backgrounds, some were pure technicians, some were real heart n soul, some epic visionaries.. yet they all had a common message. It was to be the artist, to know why you are doing what you do, be generous, be giving, share your knowledge and it will come back to you in so many ways, be without ego, ignore the crowd, always be willing to learn, be without judgement, live in the moment, do something that makes you scared shitless when you wake up, so when you go to bed you feel like the baddest mother fucker alive! And that's exactly it.. you feel ALIVE.
What the fuck was I doing? Waiting for someone else's permission? Someone to tell me I'm ready?
A Bit More Soul was a workshop/retreat that was far more than anyone ever knew it could be. When Rachael Brown and Emily Adamson decided to put this workshop on I don't even think they had a clue just how enormous this would be for everyone involved. It really has been a truly life changing experience for me and Emma, both as individuals and as a team in every element of our lives together."
My only regret was that I didn't take more photos. I think a combination of wanting to soak it all up.. being incredibly nervous and just coming out of a very busy wedding season.. I just wanted to put my camera down for a bit. But once ABMS had finished.. once everyone had gone their separate ways.. I was totally gutted. I wish I'd just kept shooting and it was definitely a lesson learnt. So instead.. if you'd like to see a really good blog post of A Bit More Soul in all it's glory then you can check out Jake's post HERE.. he kept hold of his camera.. and I'm so bloody glad he did.
So.. now we're back home with a bump. A million physical miles away from New Zealand but feeling closer than we've ever been before.. to the place and to our new and wonderful family over there. We cannot thank everyone enough for making us feel so incredibly welcome and for giving us the trip of a lifetime. We have big plans to return already and we can't wait to see every one of these crazy fools again.. oh and if they decide to do another A Bit More Soul then you'd be a crazy fool not to attend. I guarantee you will get more out of it than you ever imagined.
Actually I did take some photos.. but as you can see.. they were mostly (*cough* ALL) of the party on the last night..
These were taken with my trusty Holga..
..and I think I'm going to start some sort of movement to bring back crappy £4.99 disposable cameras......
* Simon (of Bayly & Moore fame) is in a band called Streets of Laredo and for all the time we were in NZ we would play their album. I actually can't remember falling in love with a band so instantly and their music were our soundtrack to every single moment... the people we met, the journey, the landscape, the freedom, the inspiration.. so much so that when we arrived back home last week, I couldn't bring myself to listen to them. Pete had listened to them in the car and at one point I started the engine, I heard 10 seconds of a song and I started to well up.
Well I finished this blog post today and went and had a hot bath.. and I listened... and I smiled.
What an amazing adventure...
Just take a second to listen to this song. Look at your holiday photos or your wedding photos.. or look at your children.. or your partner.. or just sit and take a look out the window.. and think back to a time that makes you smile..
I'm Living | Found Footage from Streets of Laredo on Vimeo.