Creating Light photo adventures & inspiring stories.

I am

{ An essay written for Issue 01 - Normale. An independent arts & lifestyle magazine dedicated to celebrating women in creative industries. }

Normale Magazine

I am a creator.

This statement. This proclamation. It’s something that I only grew to be able to say this past year. 

I was once asked recently, “What did you want to be when you grew up?”

And I said, “An artist.”

The man looked down at the camera hanging around my neck and simply replied, “Looks like you are one.”

Sometimes all it takes is a small shift in perspective to grant you liberation from the thoughts that you didn't even realize were limiting you. To let go of being someone tied to a fancy title and fitting neatly within a box that someone else has created. To feel the truth of living in your own skin. And constantly asking the question of how you want to spend your days. Actively being present, and participating in those activities that feel ripe with passion and heart. 

I love to create. When that man’s words hit me they granted with them, a freedom. A relief that lifted the heavy burden of expectation I had been carrying. The permission to create art, to do the things I truly love.

I have been creating things since my earliest of days. My love of drawing, the messy artistry of hands and brushes covered in paint and my overwhelming adoration of colour. I was told that when I as a small child, I would point to things and instead of proclaiming what they were I would call out “yellow!” or “blue!”. Which now looking back makes complete sense. But in my mind this creative love was first bridled as soon as I had to choose a direction. I remember selecting my university program because it was the most “practical” of the creative degrees I could apply for. And when toiling in the working world this view tightened even further. So closely I tied my value to that held by my job description and corresponding salary. 

And not to say these factors aren’t important to consider. I’ve worked as a public servant for the past 8 years. Safe, steady, comfortable. Something to be absolutely grateful for, and an experience that has made me who I am today. But with this recent revival of my inner artist, the way I saw my world and my work started to change. It brightened, it felt lighter & expansive, and full of colour. 

I truly believe there’s a creator in all of us and we have the ability to design our own lives. To take the canvas of our days and fill it with the colours of our own individual expression and desires. No matter what the medium. Learning to enjoy the process and putting love and thought into each brushstroke to create a masterpiece that is uniquely our own. 

The biggest motivator for me is the undeniable whisper that each moment might be our last. I want to be proud and to live a life well lived. Bountiful with memories, and filled with the truths and experiences that align with my soul. I want to look back at my last breath and see a full, colourful, beautiful and honest canvas. That isn’t necessarily perfect, or picturesque, but filled with love, hard work, and inspired living.  

I am a woman.

Last year I broke the silence on a personal truth that I had been holding tight for a long time. As a teenager I struggled deeply with my relationship with food and experienced several kinds of disordered eating. I battled with this as a young woman. Every. Single. Day. I felt the ever-present desire to feel skinnier, more attractive and desirable. This, paired with my perfectionist personality created a distorted and unhealthy view of the world and my relationships. Especially the one with myself. It felt good when my body was starving and empty. People would compliment me on how thin I looked, and it was upon these opinions which I would often place my entire value. 

And this unsteady start created a relationship with my food and my body that has taken over 10 years to repair. I still find a lot of these same negative self narratives continuing today, except now with small shifts in awareness. I’ve been able to start to redefine my own source of beauty, perfection, and acceptance. Something that I try to photograph and write about through my 100 Portraits project. 

I see these similar narratives within the women all around me. And it’s heart breaking. The pressure. The cruel inner dialogues. The restrictions and rules. The over binging. The guilt. The starvation of nutrients not only for the body, but for the soul. 

I thought that by pushing myself that I could finally fit into that desirable jean size, to get that cute boyfriend, to be happy, loveable and successful. But all that energy, all that self agonizing and hurtful destructive actions just stopped me from enjoying some of the best moments of my life.

So I’ve started making it my business to put on that bikini and jump into the water and roll with the waves at the beach. Yes. With the cellulite, with that belly that jiggles a little, with no makeup and crazy frizzy hair. Because those moments are beautiful. Our body is simply the vessel by which we are grounded in this world. A body that lets you feel the caress of the salty wind against your shoulders, allows you to see the glimmering sunlit dance on the water’s surface, and lets you walk with the tiny glorious grains of sand between your toes. 

My love for food extends deeply, beyond all these emotional struggles. As an outlet for creativity in the kitchen. Especially the act of sharing a meal and cooking for friends and loved ones. The ritual of sitting down at a table together as one. A gathering, an experience. Familiar and basic but filled with a sense of intimacy, community and sharing. I see it as the best way you can express love and caring towards another, by cooking a nourishing meal. Even (especially) if it’s a place setting for one. 

I’ve started being gentler on my body. It’s taken me all this time to truly comprehend that it’s the only one I’ve got. And to make the daily effort to treat it with the love and respect that I would my own daughter. The unconditional kind that is filled with deeper compassion and acceptance. To put myself and my body first and to invest in it’s well-being instead of it’s critical destruction. And that means finding balance. To listen less to the internal chatter and the societal pressures, and training an ear towards listening to it’s true needs. And I’m not quite there, I still have a way to go. But it’s about the intention. Constantly committing to the small actions, and decisions. Because they add up. To big things.

I am light.

I remember the moment. April 22nd of last year. I had made up my mind with a determined, wholehearted promise to myself. 

To let go of the life I was living for others. 

To free myself of the limiting beliefs that governed my time.

To redefine what was possible. 

And to decide that I, was enough.

But the journey had started long before. In the bathroom of my parents house when I purged all that I ate that day. Those mornings when I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. All those times when I was trying to keep someone close by saying all the things they wanted to hear. When I stayed at that job for 3 long years beyond the point where my heart and body could take it. And that moment where I completely broke down emotionally at the side of the road and knew something had to change. All of these moments. What started as whispers turned into screams from the universe, guided me to this culminating point.

April 22nd. A day where I cast aside the what-ifs and took my first steps towards those heart callings. Daring greatly to chase after my mission to help women with their own relationship with food, health and their body. Even though I didn’t quite know how. 

A few months earlier I had taken on the challenge of creating something for 100 days. My chosen word of the year was light, based on one question. “How do I want to feel?”. I desperately wanted to experience lightness in my heart, in how I ate, and chose to interact with my life and thoughts. I wanted to shake the darker times that I had experienced the year before and express this daily exploration through photographs. This process taught me to find light everywhere, in other people, and most importantly in myself. I was so inspired by this practice that I felt compelled to capture the radiance I saw in the women that surrounded me. To showcase what makes them shine and all the inspiring work they contribute to the world. Exploring more deeply our interactions with food, wellness and health. And how they all intermingle in a sustainable, good-for-your soul way. 

And this became the Women Creating Light project; a portrait series where I interviewed and photographed ten inspirational women. A beautiful spectrum of life coaches, cookbook authors, yoga instructors, naturopaths, holistic nutritionists among many others. And aside from all being radiant souls, I also noticed something else. That every one had their own individual struggles and yet they pushed beyond. Chased after that desire to make a difference and to live more fully.  And I was completely humbled to be able to capture their presence. Something that started as a small spark - a desire to capture light - grew into ten beautiful connections and a collection of images that would later turn into a gallery show. 

This project taught me how to get more comfortable with being open and vulnerable. When you’re so used to shielding your truest needs and showing the world the most palatable version of yourself, it’s hard to speak your truth. Every time I would publish a new part of the series I would feel a wrenching pit of nervousness in my gut. I chose to take this as a sign that I was doing something aligned with my bigger purpose, finding comfort in the uncomfortable. Bit by bit, I peeled back the layers. The beautiful parts but also the pieces I struggled most deeply with. Insecurities and second guessing, the deep fear of my words and images not being accepted, that I, with all my humanness was not enough. And by sharing these stories and photographs it allowed me to take a good look inside and find stillness in my own being.  

We are all running our own races. To compare and compete is to diminish our own story.

I choose to constantly push to grow and learn. To be a better version of myself, but at my own pace. Fighting for the same finish line as another person is just asking to be disappointed and feel as though you’ve failed. Instead I’m learning to race alone, and create my own vision of success and happiness. Which often means not always running, but also taking time to stand still. 

My greatest advice is, find joy.

Find it in your every day work. The mundane. The transitory moments. Find ways of packing more of it into your time on this earth, giving yourself permission to release those things that don’t serve you. Our canvases might not be blank, but we can choose to forgive and learn to accept the blemishes for what they are, to make our own unique and extraordinary mark on the world. And enjoy and appreciate this beautiful delicious mess we call life. 

Abby Klages

Abby Klages, the creator of Normale Magazine. A light and an inspiration. Much love for the space she has created for women's voices. Read Abby's story