Marina Meier

Marina.

A magical, sparkly shop was where we scheduled our meeting, surrounded by stained glass lighting, imported handcrafted Turkish rugs and handbags, time pieces hanging from every wall, sparkling jewels and trinkets on every surface. The aroma of the coffee machine seduced us away from the window shopping and straight to Bengü, Gallery B’s exotic owner. Marina and I took our preferred beverages to the alfresco area at the back of this little wonderland.

Marina is a woman I have worked with before, I wanted to know her story, and how she found herself specialising in boudoir photography. She starts by telling me the photo sessions are a process of healing, healing for herself and the woman that she is working with. She takes a deep breath and starts what she tells me is a long story. How she feels she was pushed into the decision to take this path, but the backstory is important part of her journey that she feels is her destiny.

“As you know I was born in Kazakhstan, which was part of the Soviet Union. I have a German / Russian background and am from a small village, so quiet conservative. After the revolution there was all of this equality, and woman could do whatever men could do. There was no limits they could be engineers, they could be astronaut if they wanted. But at the same time, it was two extremes woman in Soviet Union was like traditional woman, who take of the family, who takes cares of the children, cooks, cleans, and takes care of her husband like another child. But she goes to work as well full-time”.

“But there is still a lot of degrading thoughts about woman like “chicken is not a bird and woman is not a human”. Of course it isn’t the whole society but it is still part of the culture. Woman body, nude body, sexuality, sex there was no talks at all about this. It is all taboo. There was all negativity around the body and it wasn’t like I had that sort of relationship with my mum where we would talk, when I was becoming a young woman. So everything about that body image and sexuality was taboo and it was dirty and it was bad.

Marina remembers negative dialog around a woman that had left the village in her twenties unmarried, studied, had her own money, apartment, a career women. Listening to this harmful gossip as a child Marina thought no little girl would want to grow up like this woman. Much the same if you got pregnant out of wedlock or divorced, women were pushed into a mould of being a second class citizen. Marina tells me about her beloved Grandma’s story.

“I feel her presence at the moment. My grandma had quite a difficult life, she was divorced. My grandfather he was an alcoholic and quiet aggressive when he was drunk, my mum tell stories that she would break a window to run away, when he was in this aggressive mood. And I guess if my grandfather didn’t leave the family then my grandmother wouldn’t get divorced from him because it was taboo and he left the family when my mum was young. My grandma, single mother of four, working full time. They did not get married because of love, they got married because my great- grandfather and grandfather were drinking together one time and well it became more or less an arranged marriage, it wasn’t love at first sight, it wasn’t a beautiful life and I think that it is best for my grandmother that grandfather left, but it certainly didn’t make her life easier. She never married or had another partner. At any family wedding or event my grandmother would sit in the furthest part of the room from my grandfather. When they were buried, there graves are next to each other. It is quiet ironic, it wasn’t planned, it just happened, my grandmother died first and then my grandfather died a couple of years later”.

“When we moved to Germany I was eighteen. I married when I was twenty. I started to study photography at the same time and the first few years, I was still influenced by my Russian/ German background. The first day when I went into the photo studio where I met my mentor who became my best friend, I opened the door and walked in, and there were pictures everywhere framed and unframed. The first picture that got my attention was a picture mounted behind the counter. It was a black and white a2 size, it was a pregnant women, just the torso. I couldn’t see much of her face it was turned to the side, she was a silhouette. She was nude. She was completely naked. I could see her bare breasts, I was looking at a nude pregnant woman. A nude picture of a pregnant woman on the wall. It was a shock for me. Who would do that! Why would they do that! In my head everything about nudity was supposed to be private and intimate. Your nude body is supposed to be very, very private, and it was kind of dirty. It was so shocking. I was so shocked”.

marina photo 1

“So every day I started to come to this classic portrait photo studio. Classic, you know, families, babies, new borns, pregnancy, weddings, passport pictures, corporate portraits, communion photos. But she also specialised in art nudes, studio boudoir sessions. There were not many at the time showcasing pictures like this, it was a speciality that she really loved. Sometimes, when we would put pictures in the window to display them, we could come the next morning to the studio and have a lot of cigarette butts in front of the window, there was also a lot of rotten eggs thrown at the window!

As her internship progressed Marina immersed herself in her role, the work, the people and their stories, she thrived on this experience where everything was different and new. She came to recognise that the women in these photos weren’t models. But, beautiful normal people, everyday women, teachers, mums, accountants, all beautiful.

“Looking at these made me see that, oh my god, these are normal people, it’s not Sodom and Gomorrah, they not prostitutes, it’s not dirty. At that moment I was 20 and I was naïve and had all of these background stories in my head. Then I started to meet these people because I was assisting my mentor while she was photographing. Over the years I would get to know these people, because they would be photographed when they first become a couple when they are so in love, and they wanted pictures for the Christmas for the family and then photograph their wedding and then photograph the pregnancy and the first baby and the second baby and then first day of school. Then mum comes in and says: “I feel like I have lost myself I want to feel sexy, I now you can take these pictures, can you take these pictures of me? I mean I know I have cellulite and my belly isn’t beautiful anymore because of the stretch marks.”

“I really did feel like a part of a family. We were giving pieces of our souls, because it was all analogue photography and I was standing in the dark room developing these images, and I would stand there and cry, because, I would remember the story she would tell us. The intimate stories, the sad stories, the happy stories and they would all make me cry”.

That is how Marina started as a photographer, she eventually out grew her surroundings in her professional and personal story. She needed to escape, so she ran as far away as possible, to travel and study English. She landed on Australian soil on the 26th October 2007. Flying back to Germany she resigned from her job seeking professional and personal growth elsewhere. Berlin became her new residence and her new partner her home. At the time, in the back of her mind was a dream to be self-employed one day. But she never felt ready, she knew she had the talent and skill to be successful and thrived on the connection with her clients. However, arriving in Berlin she was took on a job as Manager of a photography studio.

“When I started the job in Berlin it was very different because I was on my own, I was managing the studio, and at some point I got apprentice’s that I was responsible for. I didn’t have as much contact with the clients anymore, there was a separate studio and shop and to make it more efficient I only had contact with the clients when I photographed them. I never had a chance to meet them before the session or when they would pick up the images. It started to become more money making and not about connection and that’s what made me burn out”.

Marina’s health started to suffer. Marina wasn’t eating or sleeping, her body was expressing her soul’s unhappiness as physical symptoms. Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. The studio’s clients were happy with what they were getting, but this didn’t sustain Marina, she had lost the connection with the whole process. Her creative work wasn’t coming from her heart anymore, it was money making. Boudoir photography was growing in Marina’s portfolio in the time she was burning out at the studio. Boudoir is founded on trust. Photographer and client would meet before the shoot, she painted the faces of her client and then Marina captured the essence of the woman in images, during their three hours together. Marina would not be rushed with these creative connections with her clients.

“The boudoir shoot is how I got to know my clients, they come to the shoot and I was doing the makeup. This is where they were telling their stories, they were sharing things they probably never shared with anyone. I photograph them and see the transformation from shy and nervous, to working half nude in front of me, and we become friends, that was magical.

marina and bengu

Boudoir is not about sex, I see more of the sensual, intimate, yes it could be sexy but it is not necessary for it. It’s about the 40 something years old mum with five children that comes to me and says, “I can’t look at myself in the mirror, what I see there is so disgusting”. From being a young woman, to the abuse, to the five children, she is an amazing person I see the beauty in her eyes. Yes, she has wrinkles, her body carried five children, she nourished five children. I see the miracle of life, the miracle of giving life, the miracle and beauty of her. When she looks in the mirror she has lost the connection to her femininity. She lost connection to herself, to who she is. She is working full time, she is a mum, she is a wife, she’s a friend, a daughter, there is so much and she always puts herself last. Somehow there was something in her that realised she needs to change something that is why she has started to do things outside of her comfort zone. That is when she discovered what I am doing”.

After chasing this same connection with her clients from continuing her work at the studio and increasing her boudoir sessions, she applied for a job in Switzerland, she travelled for three days to explore the possibility. She cried for the three days, at the end of this release Marina’s heart told her that if she took this job she would be in the same situation but with a different view.

Big changes started unfolding for Marina, her dream to be self-employed started to manifest. She was petrified, fear of financial instability, but she had the support of her partner who was also going through changes at work. They started having hard conversations with life changing questions. Where do you want to be employed? Do you want to be self-employed here? Do you want to move somewhere else? They decided there new chapter would be in the place they met, the place Marina dreamed of as a magical country when she was a child, a place as far away from possible from all the struggle. They landed in Australia 14th October 2014.

Arriving in a new country Marina felt like a new woman, an independent woman, still fearful but excited. This is the part of the story where she was pushed into boudoir photography. The owner of the studio she worked for in Berlin, forbid her from using the images she had created and added to her online portfolio when applying for jobs in Australia.

“The images that I created the last four or five years I wasn’t able to use them, I mean I can understand if I was doing this and making my own studio maybe five hundred metres away from him but I was going on the other side of the world. It was devastating for me, this was my work, how do I apply for jobs without being able to show my work, fresh work. I was now depending on my partner, he got his visa and I was on the partner visa, I had a right to work and I had a right to become self-employed. I had no job and no website with images that I could use. I had to think about what had given me the most joy. When I was in this difficult time of depression and burn out I was thinking of quitting photography completely. I have been doing this for 13 years. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! What else could I do? This is when I started the process of self-development. I realised I didn’t love myself.

marina 2

That is where boudoir photography and loving yourself and loving your body, loving you as is, that’s where it all comes together. Seeing woman coming to me and willing to change something, willing to see themselves in a different way, wanting me to show them a different side to them, wanting to reconnect to their femininity or even discover their femininity. I felt like I was seeing this as a whole picture, and boudoir was something that I could without a studio. It was something that I was enjoying most from all the stages of my photography.

I was scared to focus, I was scared that it was too focussed. I was thinking things like; there are so many people who don’t like it, who don’t get it, who don’t understand it. Why on earth would you focus on that! You would lose so many clients, if you do family portraits everyone loves family portraits. Everyone loves baby photography! Everyone loves a new born photo, families spend so much money on it that would be easier. But, the best work I do is one on one that is where I can get to know them and connect. It doesn’t have to be boudoir it can be fine art, it can be editorial. So I kept myself safe with fine art, editorial and boudoir. When I would go to the networking events or telling people what I do I was hiding myself behind fine art and editorial photography. If I said boudoir people then say, what is that? Then when I would show pictures, some would get it wrong and then think it was dirty again, and then some would be like, “ohh, who wants to do that”!

marina workng

I wasn’t standing my ground. Now I say I am a boudoir photographer. It was a process of the last three years. There were moments where I was thinking, “gosh it is kind of going nowhere”. No, I won’t give it up. I know stories of the woman I have photographed. I have photographed a woman who’s 74 years old, who has got a husband who is sick for many, many years and she is caring for him, but she fell in love. She is 74 years old and she fell in love with another guy and she is having an affair. Or is it! I don’t know, I don’t care. She is a wonderful beautiful person and I don’t think it is bad, she is great, she is a woman, she is a human being, she’s got her needs, and it’s ok. I mean she cares for her husband. But, she is in love with someone else, and she came to me and wanted me to photograph her. For me, I want to be like her when I am 74, not the sick husband, but in love and still wanting sex and live my sexuality and not thinking, “oh, ok I am 40 and life is done”. There are so many more woman like this and I know what impact it has on their lives. It is addicting to hear their stories, and see them change and transform it is addicting. And it heals me. It is ok to love your body, doesn’t matter the scars, it doesn’t matter shape, size or age. It’s ok”.

Devoting her life’s work to women and their stories, what is the definition of woman for Marina?

“Woman there is so much that pops into my head, though the first things maybe that silhouette. The next thing is pain and growth and love and seeds, like plants and their seeds. Growing the seeds putting them into the earth and seeing them come up and growing and giving fruit”.

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Bella

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boarding

(bɔːʳdɪŋ )

  1. uncountable noun

Boarding is an arrangement by which children live at school during the school term.

I left my boys with my sister and drove down the dirt road for my interview with Bella, these interviews that I organise have me anxious and out of my comfort zone every single time. I arrived at Bella’s home and after initial greetings, and quick catch ups with her parents over a flute of champagne, Bella and I got comfy in the lounge room for a chat.

The first question that I asked Bella was, “tell me what boarding school has been like for you?” This eloquently spoken 16 year old young lady started her story.

“I left home in 2013, as a year 8 student at St Hilda’s on the Gold Coast. It was my first time leaving home for longer than a week or two.”

“It was terrifying, boarding is terrifying, but, it has been amazing.”

I promised myself on the drive over that I wouldn’t get emotional. Well, that first sentence killed that promise. My nose started to run and my eyes misted over.

Sport, socialising and being active in the community is big part of the culture of living in the bush. Bella has built close friendships from being a team player as a young girl. As luck would have it she was introduced to her closest friend at a sporting carnival playing netball, and the girls went on to board together at St Hilda’s. There are not only rural and remote girls at the boarding school but a number from Papua New Guinea, Asia, and some prefer boarding over home.

She tells me about the process of being dropped off at her second home.

“For first time parents they are advised to leave a bit earlier so it doesn’t get too emotional. Our parents settle us in and then we head to the boarding house.”

The head of boarding and the boarding mums are at the school for the arrival of the girls to support them in getting settled. Helping the girls set up their new bedrooms, getting comfortable in their new surroundings. Bella is following in her mother’s footsteps at St Hilda’s. She was blessed to be allocated to the boarding mum that guided her mum, through the boarding years. The boarding mum also holds strong ties to the family. Bella’s granny nurtured Bella’s new boarding mum when she was a student at St Hilda’s.

“A boarding mum is a lady that comes to work and looks after boarding girls, they are so kind. I had her in year 8, I was her granddaughter and she loved me the whole way through. So when I finished year 8, I moved boarding house and she moved with me – she was with me for the next two years. I then moved again and now she is looking after my sister. When I started, I mean we were the babies, we are their babies, the babies of the school. These ladies are our mums while we are school. They are a big part of us, I mean we spend more time boarding than we do at home. So they become very special to us.”

“They looked after us through it all. We were naughty, but god they love us.”

Tears are now flowing freely down my face. For Bella, knowing that this young woman is so loved by so many strong women. For her mother for being so courageous and dedicated to her daughter, her education, and growth and sharing her child with another woman that Bella loves so much. And the boarding mum, what a special lady to devote her life to opening up her heart to loving and helping raise teenager girls so far from home.

“As a year 12 girl I get an individual room. They are very nice. The mums come around at 7am and wake us all up. Breakfast is 7.15am so we get dressed and ready to go to breakfast or we can make brekky in the boarding house. We usually just sit and have time with the mums in the morning, watch the news, get ready and then off to school. After school is where we go and do co-curricular activities or tutoring if we have to, otherwise we just go back to our room and do whatever we want until 5.00pm. Prep is at 5.00pm, so we study time until 6.10pm and then go for our dinner sitting, 6.40pm we have prep until 8.30pm. We can study in our rooms or they provide tutors in the boarding house. Most of them are old St Hilda’s girls as well, they come up we chat and study. From 8.30pm is for showering, studying or visiting friends in their rooms. It’s just like home you go around and chat to the mums, chat to your sisters.”

Bella acknowledges the social skills she has developed from being a boarder, she tells me about the situations faced by boarders that sometimes are out of their comfort zone, and what she has learnt from that.

“Every term we change rooms, you find when you’re living beside different people you become better friends with them. A few years ago I was put beside this girl and I was like, “oh no, I do not want to be beside her”, but by the end of the term we were really good friends.”

I have to laugh at little when she is telling me about the deep friendships that are forged in the boarding house. She makes it sound like a five year slumber party with your besties.

“It’s so much easier in boarding to make friends. I mean everyone is your sister we are so open and comfortable with everyone, maybe a little too comfortable. We are always talking to people, always with people, you just get so much confidence. Best part of boarding is just always being with your friends. In the end you are boarding more than you are at home and they are your second family, they just mean so much to you. I mean we can go out on leave on the weekends, but sometimes you just want to say home and hang with your girls. I have boarded for five years and yeah this is my last year. So daunting. I mean I am not going to see all of those girls every day and it is going so fast. I mean crazy fast, and scary knowing it’s nearly over. The whole time you think:

“Oh gosh I want to get out of here”. But now, its like, “oh no! I am getting out of here soon”.

And with friendships established with the girls you live with, you also build relationships with their family. The girls are “allowed out on leave” every weekend. There are a couple of weekends a term that are dedicated to the families and them spending time together.

“I mean, for all the times that mum and dad have come down I don’t remember a time that we just had us as a family. We always take out my sister’s friends or my friends, if they are stuck in. My really good friend, her mum lives in Western Australia so every time mum and dad come down we take her out.”

Bella compares going out on leave to see her parents with the feeling little kids get on Christmas Eve. “Oh yeah, it’s like I can’t wait to see them, I mean we only see them a few times during the term”.

Then for the families the routine of drop off and settling in to school is repeated. Drop off at school, mums and sisters are allowed up to the rooms for settling in, but being a girl’s boarding house, dads can’t go in. Bella tells me, most of the parents sign their girls in at reception, the girls catch up with friends before starting their school routine again. Obviously this is easier on some than others.

“Lucky for me I get to see mine every few weeks, which is very nice. I can also go over and see my sisters in their boarding houses whenever I want, and they can always come and see me.”

Bella participates in a new initiative for the school. She has taken on additional “sisters”. The program starts before the little girls arrive at the school some starting in year 6. Year 12 students connect with them by sending Christmas cards and wishing them a happy new year. On arrival at the school the big sisters look after the little ones, help them with the settling in, they help with homework, and offer support when boarding is overwhelming. Bella is positive that this new programme has helped the little girls greatly.

“I know my first year we all thought we were pretty tough and would hold back the crying. You always end up crying. All you want to do is go home see your family, god, even see the dog. We never had any older girls to help us get through it. Oh, those older girls for me where so scary, they were so big and we were so little. By doing this we are breaking that, we are good friends with them, and both of my buddies are good friends with my sister.”

She is home now for the school holidays, I ask her what it was like this time coming home.

“It’s is so good, so amazing to come home. I mean everything changes. Last time when I was home everything was green, but on the turn to brown. But I got here the other day and there is knee high green grass and we have puppies”.

“I mean and coming home to mum and dad and my youngest sister, oh, it’s everything”.

She goes on to tell me that she hasn’t always been positive and accepting of her life of having to live away from her family to receive an education.

“I am ok now with going away, but in year 9 I threw the biggest tantrum. I was not going back to school. I was not going back to boarding. There was nothing worse. So I just refused. I was just like “nope, I am not going back”. But yeah, year 9 was my worst year. Year 8 is so surreal, so new and exciting. Year 9, I knew what to expect, I knew what was going to happen and I was just like nope, I won’t be leaving mum and dad and my sisters. It was terrible. Eventually, I got in the car and I was taken back. Year 10 was so much fun.”

Year 10 for Bella was not only receiving an education from the school but from travelling the world. Bella an active student at St Hilda’s participates in sport, the adoption of little sisters, and she also represented the school in an exchange program to Holland for six weeks.

“It was the absolute best experience. I had never travelled overseas before, and then I ended up going to Holland living there for six weeks, oh amazing. I was really keen to travel everywhere when I got home from Holland. But now I just love being home. Australia is the best.”

In her last year at school, having made the most of her experiences as a boarder and in her education Bella has completed a hospitality and barista certificate and responsible service of alcohol certificate. She is currently working on her certificate three in childcare and works at the St Hilda’s day care centre with the pre-preps. So what is happening next year?

“Next year I will hopefully go north, maybe the Kimberley’s and either go jillarooing or governessing for a couple of years. I want to eventually go to the Marcus Oldham College”.

This portrait was a difficult piece to create as openly as I normally write. When I was crafting this piece I didn’t simply have Belle to think of. But her parents were taping away at my heart as well, that was the prickly part. I wanted the story from the mouth of the daughter that lives this experience. I wanted this interview and this story because I bow down to the parents that share their pre-teens and teens with a second family so generously. A big thank you to Bella and her Mumma, love you both for sharing your unique story.

If you love reading this and would like to read more interviews. Why not back me financially? I am creating a platform for me to showcase my best work, build a community and get paid to keep on creating. The more patrons in our community means more interviews, and more stories. A portion of this money will be used to pay it forward, sharing the love with other women and girls and raising their voice.

Day 68

Day 68

 

I have written in previous blog posts that I completed a 7 day nature challenge (bloody hell me and challenges this year – at least they are positive and helping me grow) with the hope of being published in the Womankind magazine. I dashed into the newsagent, grabbed the bright yellow magazine and raced to the counter and handed over $14.95 to see myself in print. I jumped back in my car and had only a few minutes to get myself to work. I parked in the carpark and thought “I really need to take a selfie of this for the feature photo of the blog today”. So I uncomfortably snapped a couple of photos of me holding up the magazine. I took the selfies, and flipped through the magazine. Issue 10 is all about Vietnam there are  articles, photography and art work about the Asian country.  My heart was pounding and my nervous giggle came out. And then there I was in print, my words printed on the pages of a magazine that other people can read, people that I don’t know and in countries all over the world. The excitement, pride, fear and accomplishment is so addictive, it makes me just wanna tap my fingers over the keys and keep on working on my writing. To see my words in print on soft duck egg blue paper is exciting. So when I was driving in the drive way at work and passed my husband,  I stuck my head out the window and waved the magazine in his face, “I got published”.  He couldn’t stop as he had traffic behind him and I don’t think he knew what I was doing waving a bright yellow and red a4 thing in his face.

It is now 11.46. Illuminated by the stove light, I have just finished pawing over the other entries of the nature challenge. I am stoked to be among the woman that completed the nature challenge and were also selected to be published.

 

End of day 68

Really short entry today, I had hoped that I would find the magazine and be able to write about it, so hadn’t thought to write anything else.

Had Wednesday coffee with the school mum’s this morning. Paid for our Christmas holiday. Posted a photo for the #loveyourspouse challenge. It was a photo of us when I was 18 and about to board a plane to then board a cruise ship for 7 days.  After our very first major argument, I went to the travel agent and booked a holiday on my own. Had the most awful time, I was sea sick for 3 day and my luggage was lost for 4 of the 7 days