We shoot a lot of beautiful women here at the studio. The funny thing is…as I get older they seem to always stay the same age. What is it about youth we are so attracted to? When Kelly texted me images of these three incredibly beautiful, real women, women with businesses, with a history of past love affairs, and with a real friendship out in Montauk as a casting option for our Beauty + Truth story, I was in love.
Their grace, their confidence that only women who have lived a little can possess, their intelligence and peace were so inspiring I could have shot them for days. I could do a photographic study around the lines on their faces…the lines of life are signs of living, and isn’t life a beautiful thing?
As a photographer you have all the control. Whoever is put in front of your lens has to put complete trust in you: how you light them, how you make them feel when you’re shooting them; the crop, what you show and what you leave out; the direction, mood and feeling you set.
This week, I’ve been talking to you all about the ancient Egyptian idea of maat, which dealt with conceptions of balance, order, and truth. As with all the stories I tell, I’ve strived to come at it from a place of celebration, a love of beauty, and a simplistic honesty.
The quest for truth is a challenging thing. It’s been difficult for me to claim in this medium called blogging, especially as I have tried to redefine what this site means, making it about something greater, more important, and more interesting than simply myself. I’ve been writing from China this week, where censorship has made posting unbelievably challenging. I have to switch IP addresses with every paragraph, as I keep getting booted off each new server. Is aesthetic expression really such a threat? Well, personal truths do not seem to carry much weight here.
Our story began with three women, three mythical beings: Maat and her handmaidens, Beauty and Truth. In mythology and Egyptian heiroglyphics, Maat was represented by an ostrich feather. The equal-sidedness of the feather, with its division into halves, rendered it a fitting symbol of balance.
Feathers recur as a sacred talisman in many cultures, from the Egyptians to the Greeks, by Mexicans and by Native Americans, who used them in headdresses and in dreamcatchers. Just as Maat was trusted to control the daily path of the sun, so the moon controls the tides ~ and so people have believed for centuries that we can control our dreams.
Dreamcatchers originated with the Ojibwe nation, who believed that, when hung above the bed, only good dreams would be allowed to filter through their sinewy webs; they would pass through and slide down the feathers to the sleeper, while bad dreams would be caught and trapped in the net. The tides of today bring both nightmares and dreams, for along the shore we find countless cigarette butts and plastic bottles mixed in with natural treasures like seashells and driftwood.
In ancient Egyptian mythology, Ra was the sun-god, the creator of life, and Maat was his beloved daughter. She was one of the original goddesses, and when the boat of Ra rose above the primeval waters of Nu for the first time, she stood regally at its bow.
She sailed with Ra in his celestial barque, the ship that daily carried the sun across the skies, for it was she who had plotted its eternal path at the time of creation. She brought great joy to Ra, and thus to the world, and her presence was thought to be vital to the daily regeneration of the sun-god. The tides waxed and waned according to her measured axis, and there could be no tomorrow if one did not ‘live in maat‘ today.
The tides of our present-day tale began with three women, three real-life goddesses, three beautiful beings whose lives are lived in a very genuine pursuit of beauty and truth. Our central figure is embodied by the nurturing aura of Kumi Sawyers, our own modern Maat. I first met Kumi on the beach in Montauk, and was immediately transfixed by her staggering but unassuming beauty. As the summer wore on, I kept running into her, almost always with one or both of her friends Sian and Heather. The three were this bewitching little tribe of enchantresses, and like all really cool people they terrified me at first. All yoga teachers with gloriously siren-like hair and serious surfing skills, they’re those too-groovy-to-be-true kind of dream babes you usually only see in movies.
Fortunately, Kumi and her consorts harness their powers only for good. Her professional practice is focused on creating equilibrium and unity inside the body ~ a powerful, modern manifestation of the principles of maat. Exuding a confident grace and an insightful sensitivity, hers is an energy that quickly encourages trust. She is a skilled and sensitive healer specializing in massage therapy, yoga instruction and nutritional counseling. Deeply intuitive, she possesses an innate but fine-tuned ability to contact the deep muscles of the body, to create space and allow for freedom of movement.
I have been spending some time in my archive the past week and I stumbled upon this summer weekend when we were shooting on location in Montauk, the furthest point of Long Island. All of a sudden I could feel the sand in my tennis shoes, smell the salt in the air, and taste the lobster rolls from shacks we stopped at along the road. It is just about that season again…to hop in the car and head east, finding endless sunshine days and kissing goodnight summer sunsets again at the Surf Lodge.
He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about… like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Above & below: vintage hat, Rebekah Price necklace, Carolina Herrera top & ball skirt, Stuart Weitzman shoes