Morocco Three Ways: The New Yorker

Originally published on

Morocco was sensory overload.

It was overwhelming, almost too much to process in the moment.

Now, months after their time in Morocco, Lisa can close her eyes and see the country. She can feel it, too, in a tangible way.

She aches for a place she only knew for a week and a half.

Lisa and her friends, Daniel and Adrienne, spent 10 colorful days exploring Morocco.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)


The dusty buildings. The ambience from the light filtering into the souks. The rooftops, with cats jumping across them. The ornate carpets and handcrafted scarves.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)


The countryside. The immense fields they glimpsed on car rides and train trips. The tiles in their peaceful riad.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)


The city built into the side of a hill, the color of relaxation. The Jardin Majorelle, an explosion of foliage among deep hued buildings once home to a fashion designer.


The friendly parrot in their riad. The way night settled over them as they crammed into a hot train compartment, laughing and talking en route to Tangier. Flickering candlelight.


The muted hue of camel fur. The Call to Prayer echoing through the alleyways and squares from unseen speakers. The light while they watched the sunset on their last night in Fes.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)


Crisp napkins placed on laps while they tried tagine and drank mint tea. The snow, falling slowly while they dined with a Berber family in the Atlas Mountains.


Tiny bowls of strawberry ice cream and small sugary spoonfuls. Smiles. Laughter. Quiet moments with close friends.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Pink and white and green and grey and yellow and red and blue.


Lisa knows that they only scratched the surface during their 10 days in Morocco. There are more colors to be seen there, but she’s accepted that feeling of being unfinished.

After all, it gives her a reason to return.

Daniel Pierruzzini, Adrienne Pitts, and Lisa Weatherbee traveled to Morocco in the spring of 2017, and documented their trip on Instagram using #AParisianAKiwiAndANewYorkerInMorocco. You can see more of Lisa’s work on her website.

This story was written based on three separate interviews conducted with Daniel, Adrienne, and Lisa. Check out the other two stories in this series — The Kiwi & The Parisian.

Morocco Three Ways: The Kiwi

Originally published on

Adrienne always held off on visiting Morocco for one reason or another.

It was on her list for over a decade until, in the spring of 2017, she met two friends in the airport in Marrakech and they took off on a 10-day trip through the north African country. Choosing to travel there with Lisa and Daniel turned out to be the best decision she could have made.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Though Adrienne gravitated naturally to taking portraits, she had to approach things a bit differently in Morocco, a place where people often aren’t comfortable with being photographed by tourists.

Instead, she started shooting everything else, and found that the beauty wasn’t just in the dereliction.

The beauty was in the details:

Trying new food at the restaurants Lisa so expertly selected.

An overnight train from Marrakech to Tangier, the three of them stuffed into a cramped compartment with a Spanish man, eating cookies, laughing, and squishing themselves onto bunk beds that were far too small.

Turning around to find Lisa happily selling oranges with one of the juice vendors in Djemma El Fna, the main square in Marrakech.

Drilling their young Berber guide with questions about his life while trekking through the Atlas Mountains.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

The final evening in Fes, knowing they’d never forget the way the light felt as they watched the sunset from a park on the outskirts of town.

All the cats.

The candlelit nights in their riads, when the trio would talk and edit photos until sleep overtook them.

With Adrienne, Daniel, and Lisa, it was never about “going to get the shot” while they were in Morocco. Whatever they found along the way was good enough.

Morocco was nothing like Adrienne thought it would be, yet exactly like she’d imagined.

It was perfect.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Pitts (@hellopoe)

Daniel Pierruzzini, Adrienne Pitts, and Lisa Weatherbee traveled to Morocco in the spring of 2017, and documented their trip on Instagram using #AParisianAKiwiAndANewYorkerInMorocco. You can read Adrienne’s blog posts about the trip on her blog, and see more of her work on her website.

This story was written based on three separate interviews conducted with Daniel, Adrienne, and Lisa. Check out the other two stories in this series — The Parisian & The New Yorker.

Morocco Three Ways: The Parisian

Originally published on

Three cities in 10 days. A whirlwind. 

Daniel had never visited the country, and neither had his travel companions, Adrienne and Lisa. Morocco was a place they could explore for the first time, together. 

His first impression was of chaos and movement.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Marrakech was harsher than their other two destinations, but Daniel was surprised by how quickly they adapted to the crazy environment of the medina. In no time at all, they began to understand how everything moved and where they fit into it all. 

They quickly began to appreciate the Call to Prayer and the way it echoed beautifully through the city five times per day. These moments were quiet compared to the normally frenetic nature of the city. It was overwhelming at times, and they often escaped to rooftops or other silent spots around the city when they were in need of a break. After all, relaxation was only a cup of mint tea away.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

A train ride later, they were in Chefchaouen — the blue city. 

Blue in color, but in way of life, too. Time passed slowly. Children played in the streets — streets without names, all various shades of the same color. It was calming.

An old man led Daniel to his home, where they shared tea and talked about the man’s life. Though he couldn’t give the man anything, it was enough that Daniel simply listened to his story. A passing moment that never faded from his memory.

And just when they thought they’d gotten good at orienting themselves among the old medinas in Moroccan cities, they arrived in Fes. 

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

They chose a guide and scheduled visits to artisan workshops in Fes, tucked away in the maze of thousands of unnamed streets and alleyways. Scarf workshops and leather tanneries and carpet operatives and woodworking studios. They couldn’t help but bring home some evidence of their trip. This city was the roughest, but that edge gave it the biggest heart.

The trio moved at their own pace — taking breaks for mint tea, stopping for 15 minutes without complaint when someone wanted to try to photograph a wall in a way that was just right, eventually developing their own sort of language. A way of communication that only comes when you’ve discovered a good friendship. 

Everything in Morocco was different. 

A place disconnected from the rest of the world, always changing and moving, full of unexpected, rich details. Somehow, Daniel found comfort in the chaos.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pieruzzini (@nadmotion)

Daniel PierruzziniAdrienne Pitts, and Lisa Weatherbee traveled to Morocco in the spring of 2017, and documented their trip on Instagram using #AParisianAKiwiAndANewYorkerInMorocco. You can see more of Daniel’s work on his website

This story was written based on three separate interviews conducted with Daniel, Adrienne, and Lisa. Check out the other two stories in this series — The Kiwi & The New Yorker.

The Intriguing Dichotomy of Tunisia

Originally published on

In Tunisia, Zach Murphy wasn’t a novelty. He wasn’t hassled, and never felt like a tourist or an outsider. But the environment of the country felt completely foreign to him. 

That dichotomy intrigued him.

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Zach didn’t know much about Tunisia — just that it was flanked by two huge African countries (Algeria and Libya) and that some of the scenes from the “Star Wars” series had been filmed there. He always tries to maximize his travel efforts by booking effective layovers, and after a six-month trip around Northern Africa and the Middle East, Tunisia was on his way back to the United States. 

He enjoys visiting places he doesn’t have many expectations about, likes the discovery aspect it adds to traveling. Tunisia presented a bit of a challenge … Zach just didn’t realize how steep that challenge would be.

Unable to speak Arabic or French (the first and second languages in Tunisia), Zach found himself at a loss. He wasn’t able to order something to eat, let alone have conversations with the locals, and this disadvantage set him back.

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

The heat was unrelenting — sometimes upwards of 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, easily the hottest temperatures Zach had ever experienced. He pushed through the most sweltering hours of the day to take advantage of the light for photography, and found himself confounded by the men who were bundled in many layers in the middle of summer. And, several times, because of the lack of internal infrastructure in Tunisia, Zach waited hours on end for a bus to and from certain locations around the country. 

It was frustrating — one of the most difficult places he’s ever traveled — but rewarding, too.

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

When he set out to see the southern part of the country, he stumbled across huge ruins of past civilizations, just waiting to be explored. There were no admission tickets to be bought, no gates or tour guides. Monuments to former empires, seemingly forgotten, were his to discover. The lack of signs and informative plaques made imagination essential, and Zach could feel the rich history of this place as he wandered the ruins. There were layers and layers of history and stories beneath the sand.

In the evenings, when the air cooled and the cities came alive again, Tunisian men would take their seats at street-facing cafes. They’d smoke a cigarette, have an espresso, and observe life going on around them. There wasn’t much chit-chat, but Zach loved being part of the ritual.

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

Photo courtesy of Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)

When I talked to Zach about his recent eight-day trip, he used the words, “the pure exhilaration of exploration,” to describe his love for travel. 

It’s a phrase that seems to perfectly describe what he found in Tunisia — excitement and frustration; history and tradition; the known, and, more importantly, the unknown.

See more of Zach’s photos on Instagram or his website, and check out his photography project, Faces of Places

Always in the Mountains: Roman Königshofer's Outdoor Photography

Originally published on

Roman Koenigshofer was constantly in the mountains for work and couldn’t resist turning his camera toward the landscapes in addition to the snowboarders he was supposed to be photographing. Eventually, he started going to the mountains of his own accord.

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

In the late 90s, Roman created short video clips about snowboarding and skateboarding, which led him to pick up a DSLR for the first time. Now, nearly two decades later, he can always be found near the mountains. 

Outdoor photography is Roman’s lifestyle. He loves being outside, active, and even sometimes, off the grid completely. There is beauty to be found in the outdoors, and Roman is constantly discovering how to capture it. 

The Rockies. The Dolomites. The Alps. The Himalayas. Through his eyes, no two mountain ranges are ever the same.

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

He tries to keep things out of the frame, often purposefully isolating certain elements with his tele-lens and not including the “whole picture” in the photograph. Roman searches for scenes with great light that won’t need excessive post-production editing to be compelling. 

“A good photo doesn’t need much,” he admitted.

Roman hopes that people who see his photos will want to get out and explore for themselves. But he doesn’t want budding photographers to rely on copying their favorite Instagrammers. Instead, he advises travelers to focus less on the “likes” and to discover locations on their own, even if that yields uncertainty about what to expect visually. 

While being in the mountains can have its difficulties at times (not being able to feel your fingers well enough to click the camera shutter, for one), there is a distinct benefit.

“The fresh air up in the mountains is good for everyone,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

Photo courtesy of Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn)

See more of Roman’s photos on his website or Instagram.

6 Tips for First-Time Burning Man Photographers

Originally published on

Every year, a city is built and destroyed in Black Rock City, Nevada. 

Burning Man is a wholly unique experience — a place without any formal entertainment provided, but enough creativity and possibility to make the temporary city a form of entertainment itself. Art is created, then burned. The 10 guiding principles of Burning Man (among them: “radical” inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression) make it a haven for curious creatives and artists. 

The strange, yet fascinating experience can be tricky to photograph if you’ve never been before, so we consulted Alina Rudya (@rrrudya) and got advice for all photographers heading to Burning Man later this month.


Since Burning Man is a private event, you’ll need to get a press pass if you’re planning on photographing for commercial purposes. 

If you’re only taking photos for your personal scrapbook or to hang on your wall back home, you’re in the clear. Posting on social media (for non-commercial purposes) is fine, too, but if you’re planning (or even considering) using your photos from Burning Man for any kind of for-profit work, it’s better to err on the safe side and get a press pass.


As you’re packing for Burning Man, ask yourself this: Are you willing to sacrifice your expensive camera equipment, or would a smaller camera do the job? 

Though she did have her DSLR with her, Alina found that simply having her smartphone was enough in most cases. Burning Man is such a unique setting anyway, you probably won’t need a several thousand dollar camera to capture your experience in photos.


According to Alina, dust is your number one enemy at Burning Man. Dust storms can appear out of nowhere and destroy your camera if you’re not prepared. 

She recommends buying a plastic, protective case for your gear to protect it from the harsh environment in Black Rock City. At the very least, protect your camera with a plastic bag and lots of duct tape. You’ll thank yourself later.


The Black Rock City bonfires burn at night, and at dawn. Night photography can be a bit more difficult, so Alina recommends using a higher ISO, a tripod, and artistic blur to help take better photos.


Burning Man is a spectacle in and of itself, but it’s also a massive community art experiment. The installations are strange, wonderful, and never the same. It can be easy to get caught up in photographing the art, but all you’re doing is documenting someone else’s work.

Instead, Alina suggests turning your camera on the people. Your pictures will be unique if you capture the interactions between the people (Burners) and the art itself. Keep an eye out for unusual situations and try to capture spirit of freedom at Burning Man. Get up at dawn and make the most out of the light. Pay attention to the people around you and try to create a story that will capture the true mood of Black Rock City.


When it came time to edit her photos back at home, Alina stuck with only minimal changes. She made slight corrections in Adobe Lightroom — adjusting the color, contrast, and sharpness if necessary. Otherwise, she left the images alone. 

“With Burning Man photos you don’t need extra effects because it already looks like you’ve shot on the set of a sci-fi movie.”

In 2017, Burning Man will take place from August 27 to September 4. You can buy your ticket online.

6 Ways to Avoid Writing Dull Characters

Originally published on

The characters we create must breathe; they must be real. But creating life is no easy task. Too often, our characters are only partially complete, mere shadows of true, breathing people. Thankfully, there are ways we can avoid writing characters who will fall flat with audiences.

Don’t make them stupid 

Inexperienced storytellers are likely to create characters with lower levels of intelligence as a way of furthering the plot. Dumb characters can stand in for the audience — asking all the important questions and leading other characters to explain intricacies of the plot, whether that be legalese, medical information, or even trivial fact.

But these characters are hollow, and the audience will be able to tell. Instead, make your characters smarter than you and, more importantly, seemingly smarter than the audience. Intelligent characters force your audience members to remain engaged, to stay active to keep up with your protagonist.

Take Jane Villanueva, the protagonist of “Jane the Virgin.” Jane is a smart, driven writer and grad student. Her superior intelligence serves her character well, given the circumstances of her telenovela-like life, and allows her to be the ‘voice of reason,’ for her family and the audience. Or, examine Leslie Knope, the waffle-loving main character in “Parks and Recreation.” Leslie not only knows more about politics than her colleagues, but probably more than most audience members as well. Leslie’s ideas, caused by her determination to further herself (and Pawnee) moves the plot of “Parks and Rec” along season after season.

Don’t make them all one thing  

Most characters can be categorized as being an example of a certain archetype, but typical qualities shouldn’t be the only defining characteristics of our characters. As human beings, we are always more than one thing. It is our complexities that make us interesting, and complexities will make your characters feel more real.

“You’re the Worst,” FX’s comedy about two cynical people who fall for one another, could have fallen prey to this problem if its main characters had been cynical and nothing else. But the leads are full of contradictions and quirks that make them compelling. Jimmy is skeptical about relationships, but constantly falls in love; he is insensitive, but truly cares about this girlfriend and friends. Gretchen is self-sabotaging, but diligent; she is brash, but loyal.

Give your villains redeemable qualities (and vice versa)

Many superhero narratives create caricatures of “bad guys,” relying on our prior knowledge of the good-guy/bad-guy plot as an excuse for not creating fully-developed villains. But antagonists with redeeming qualities are sympathetic and more relatable, making your story deeper and more complex than the average blockbuster.

Take “Scandal,” Shonda Rhimes’ political drama, which, it could be argued, doesn’t have a villain. All of the main — and even many of the recurring — characters have made decisions and possess qualities that could easily qualify them as the “bad guy.” Even the protagonist, white hat wearing Olivia Pope, (poiler) has killed people. No character is free from flaw or mistake on “Scandal,” and, in their complexity, we are able to feel compassion for characters at their darkest moments.

Don’t rely on specific physical descriptions 

Though you, the writer, might have an idea of what a character looks like in your head, leave the physical descriptions out. Your story — when it finally makes it to the screen — will be better for it. Physical descriptions are limiting, not in the writing process, but in the casting process. When an actor is cast as one of your characters, you want them to inhabit the role. Ultimately, they will be the one breathing life into your character, and you don’t want your story to be limited by trivial physical descriptions such as hair color, height, etc.

When Shonda Rhimes created the Dr. Miranda Bailey for her long-running show “Grey’s Anatomy,” the character description called for a tiny woman with blonde curls. Had the casting director stuck to that description, Chandra Wilson wouldn’t have been cast as the inimitable fan favorite.

There is one exception to this rule, and that’s if a physical descriptor is crucial to the story you’re telling. For instance, in 2016’s breakout summer hit “Stranger Things,” it was important for Eleven to have buzz-cut length hair because it functioned in the plot. Similarly, the cast of plane crash survivors in “Lost” called for an Asian couple and a Middle-Eastern man, as their backgrounds played into the overall story arc in certain seasons.

Don’t choose race/gender simply for diversity

The issue of diversity and representation is justifiably brought up in regards to the entertainment industry. To that end, it’s important to take race into consideration in a meaningful way with your characters, and not simply for diversity’s sake. Making a character Japanese for the sole purpose of parading the fact that you have a Japanese character in your script isn’t the right decision for your story, nor your character.

Instead, use race/gender to breathe life into your characters. Embrace culture in an authentic way. Consider if making a character Latino would give them an interesting or different take on the situation set up in your story. Consider making a character female instead of male, or vice versa – see if it will change the dynamics of the characters in your script.

For example, look at the way Randal’s character functions in the story on NBC’s “This Is Us.” Adopted at birth, Randall becomes the third Pearson triplet, joining his white siblings and parents. Actor Sterling K. Brown recently expressed his feelings on the matter, saying to the Hollywood Reporter, “What I love so much about the show and about the character of Randall is that he’s black on purpose. So many times, for the sake of diversity on network television, there’s going to be a black guy or a Latino guy by happenstance — they just happen to be that. But the fact that he is black and we actually use that to tell the story of a black man being raised by a white family … I enjoy it a great deal.”   

Be purposeful in choosing your character’s’ race, ethnicity, and gender, but for the right reasons. Otherwise, you’ll end up with token characters who serve no greater value to your story.

Don’t reveal every detail 

The worst thing you can do is reveal a character to the audience in their entirety. You want there to be mystery. You want to have unknowns. It’s perfectly fine if you, the writer, know everything there is to know about your character — but don’t play all your cards at once.

Maintaining unknown facets of your characters serves an important purpose in constructing character arc. It allows your characters to grow, your audience to be surprised by certain quirks, and you to create full characters. As people, we’re always changing. Upon meeting someone new, we don’t automatically tell them every single detail about ourselves, so why do the same with your characters?

This can function as a source of comedy, as in “Broad City.” It isn’t revealed until the second and third seasons that Abbi has an alibi that only appears when she blacks out and that Ilana speaks Mandarin, respectively.


In dramas, not revealing certain details about your characters can be a way to structure your story. In Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” we don’t learn until halfway through the first season that Serena played a huge role in creating the dystopian state, Gilead. But once the audience learns this information, it significantly impacts the way we view her decisions.

As a writer, you want your characters to take on a life of their own. We’ve all heard of writers who preach that their characters are the ones making the decisions, not them. But in order to create characters who do make their own choices, they have to feel real. When your script is finished, your characters should not be characters at all, but real, living people.

How to Make Your Passion Project a Reality: Annapurna Mellor & ROAM Magazine

Originally published on

Maybe you have an outline for your next big project, the premise for a new company, or just the beginning of a great idea. Don’t let those things slip away. If they excite you, they’re worth pursuing. 

In this series, we talk to creatives around the world who have made their passion projects a reality. They’ll share every part of the process — the successes and, more importantly, the mistakes. Learn from them and then go out and make your passion project a reality, too. 

This week, we talk to Annapurna Mellor, co-founder of ROAM Magazine, a creative outlet for travelers, writers, and photographers. Annapurna (@annapurnauna), a freelance photographer whose work has been featured by National Geographic and Lonely Planet, came up with the idea for ROAM with her sister, Athena, and together they turned it into an online magazine.

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

When did you first have the idea for ROAM Magazine? And what form did the idea originally take? 

It’s something I had been thinking about for a while. I’d started blogs before but hadn’t continued with them. My sister and I sat down and decided to create something, and that’s when it came to life. It’s survived because we’ve both been working on it. 

I had an idea to create a platform that could showcase creative work based on travel by all these amazing people I know from Instagram, who were posting pictures but not writing stories about what was behind those posts. I wanted to create a platform that would be open and accessible to people — and it was a way for my sister and I to work together on content, too.

How did you go from having that original idea to actually making the website and getting it up and running? 

We just sat down and said, “Alright, let’s do it.” We had definitely brainstormed what ROAM would be, and we’re still brainstorming what we want it to be. We’re still shaping it every day. I think that with anything like this, you just have to sit down and do it. Actually creating a website doesn’t take very long — only a few days, It was getting the ideas together that took longer. 

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

How did you and your sister decide what was going to populate the website at first? 

There’s definitely a movement on travel websites and travel blogs with these “list” posts like “Top 10 Reasons to Love Berlin” — stuff like that. I do like reading those — there’s nothing wrong with them — but we wanted to create a site that went deeper into travel and was full of stories about what happens when people travel, as well as photo essays that looked at the culture of a place more in depth. We wanted to do something different. 

I’m a photographer, and my work is very much based on people and culture, so the passion for that comes from me. Athena loves outdoor spaces and national parks, so she really likes that side of it. I’m very visual, and Athena loves writing, so it works well.

Now you have contributors adding to the site with their own content. What was it like deciding how to make that aspect of the site work? 

We did the first few posts ourselves. Then, Athena reached out to one of her friends after seeing her photos on Facebook, and she was really up for it. I put a call out on my Instagram, and we got a few people from that. It’s been a lot of people that I know from Instagram — they’re always really up for it.

When you were getting it started, how did you decide what you wanted the tone of ROAM to be?

In the beginning, the idea was for it to be a place for creative travelers to write stories and put together photo essays. The focus was very much on the creativity rather than on the destination. We wanted it to be all destinations around the world — there was going to be no exclusivity around that — and really great work. 

That was the idea, and over time it’s evolved. Now we want to broaden it to focus on sustainable and cultural travel, so we’re going to hopefully bring more things into it going forward. Our vision has changed a lot over time. We’ve seen what other people like — even though we love photo essays, we’ve also seen that it’s good to be an informative source as well as an inspirational one. But our vision is always changing.

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

What were some of the challenges in getting the project up and running? 

There were a lot of nerves in the beginning. We were worrying about if it would be interesting, if people would like it, and if it would be something that could continue. 

Also — finding time for it. We set it up almost a year ago, and my freelance photography was taking off, so that had to be my priority since that’s how I make my living. You have to find the time between having a busy freelance life and pursuing a passion project on the side that isn’t making any money — and that you don’t see making money in the near future, but you know is beneficial in other ways.

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

How did you get the following to expand? 

Because our model is contributor-based, a lot of it comes down to that. We have people contribute, then they reach out to their followers and tell them about it. Then their followers check us out and it goes on from there. We love it. It’s become a community rather than just a website. 

We also had a couple of big magazines and Instagrammers feature us. We were featured on a list of “24 Best Travel Blogs and Websites of 2017,” and we’d only just launched — that drove a lot of views to the site. It’s little things all the time, just building and building. You think there’s going to be one moment — like, “I’ve done it!” — but it’s just little bits over time. 

What is your role? What is your sister’s role? How do you both split up the work and keep the site going? 

In the beginning, I was going to focus on the photography side and the visual content and Athena was going to focus on the stories. But because we have been focusing on photo essays, now we each do both. It’s a lot about who has the time to do it — I’m busier right now, so she’s taking the reigns on working with the contributors. We both do the Instagram and Facebook. But we often decide to sit down and just have a “ROAM Day.” 

When did you know that ROAM was becoming something that would live on its own?

It took a long time. You really have to develop it and pursue it without seeing the views or the likes come back to you at first. It was six months before we were getting a lot of views, likes, or people emailing to contribute. When that does happen, it drives you even more. You see people are reading it, so you want to do more with it. 

That’s a challenge as well — continuing in the beginning when you only have 200 followers on Instagram and you’re wondering what the point is. But there is a point — you just have to stick with it.

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

Photo courtesy of Annapurna Mellor (@annapurnauna)

What were some of the unexpected things you had to deal with in keeping ROAM running? 

Time management is the main thing. I didn’t realize how much time it would take to actually do it all. I’ve done blogs before, but that was just me. And, to be honest, when I was blogging I didn’t really care about the quality of the content. But when you’re trying to mold a magazine into something high quality and unique, you’re making sure everything is great. It takes a lot of time. If you had a full time job, it would be really hard. As a freelancer, I’m a bit more flexible. 

What do you get out of keeping this project running and seeing it to fruition? 

I like having a passion project. I’m a photographer and that’s my passion, so my life is a passion project in many ways. But sometimes I don’t want to use the camera anymore. I just get really tired of it, and it’s nice to have something else. I love finding amazing work online and creating the site and communicating with all these creative people around the world. 

What do you hope for ROAM in the future? 

We’re hoping to grow … a lot. We’d love to work with more creative people, but also more brands and tourism boards, and grow it in a way that will allow us to connect, travel, and promote creativity. We want it to be a well-rounded magazine, something that can be informational and an inspirational tool.

If someone is thinking about pursuing a passion project, what advice do you have? 

I think the most important thing is to just to do it. You can sit on these ideas for a really long time and they’ll never become anything unless you take the first step and make the website or do whatever it is. You have to do the first step. 

Then it’s about seeing it through, which, for a lot of people, is the hardest thing. When nobody’s seeing it, when nobody’s liking stuff, it’s just about going through with it. If you have a really good idea, you have to put everything into it in the beginning. You have to do it for the passion, not for the money. 

Check out the stories on ROAM Magazine, tag your photos with #ROAMtravels, and submit your stories to Annapurna and Athena on their site.

Bagpiping His Way Around the World: A Conversation with the First Piper

Originally published on

“I’m not trying to get a Guinness World Record, although if they give me one, that would be great,” Ross OC Jennings said with a laugh. 

Ross is a 27-year-old piper, making his way around the world with his bagpipes and kilt. So far, he’s traveled to 60 countries, and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. He wants to see — and play the bagpipes in — every country in the world.

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

How did you start playing the bagpipes? 

I grew up in China and have mostly lived abroad my whole life just because of my parents’ work. I had been in an international school in China for about eight years and then was sent back to boarding school in England. And the school wanted to start a pipe band. They were offering free lessons, so I did it. My mother is Scottish and my father is Irish, so I think my Scottish side of the family has always wanted a piper.

What is it like to play the bagpipes and why are they so unique? 

The bagpipes might not be as technically difficult as say, playing the piano, but playing bagpipes is physically exhausting. Imagine a snake charmer from India. The instrument snake charmers play are what you first learn on when you’re learning the bagpipes. It’s called a chanter, and that’s where you learn all the notes. Then once you’ve got the finger technique down, the tunes learned, you move on to the bagpipes and it becomes even more difficult. You have to blow into a bag, inflate it, keep it inflated, squeeze it underneath your arm — and it’s just physically exhausting. The first time I played I managed about nine seconds. 

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Bagpipes are one of the oldest instruments. They’ve supposedly been around for two or three thousand years. Some people think they originated in modern-day Europe, some people think Turkey, but everyone agrees on the Middle East. Then over time, they spread through Europe and were introduced into the U.K. by the Romans. And then they spread north into Scotland. Although they are conspicuously Scottish, the bagpipes are actually an Arabic instrument, which is what I love most about them. I can go to the Middle East, the Gulf, North Africa and everyone knows the bagpipes and absolutely love them. 

What led you to travel the world playing the bagpipes? 

It was a combination of different reasons. I wanted to be the first person to do something. I know that’s a little self-indulgent, but I liked the idea of having a record. I went to an adventure travel show in London right after I moved there and the speakers were doing awesome and wonderful things. They were all adventurers — they’d swum the Mississippi or hiked Greenland or skateboarded across Australia. Their life mission was to do what they loved and tell people about their stories. 

I left that day thinking, “how the hell can I do that?” I’d already played the bagpipes in a lot of different countries, so I thought, why not try to play the bagpipes in Antarctica. I went home, Googled, and up pops this photo of a piper in 1921 piping next to a penguin. So I had to do the whole world.

How did you actually decide to start your round-the-world trip?

I’d already traveled a lot with my parents while I was growing up, so I traveled with my bagpipes a lot. And I found out, by taking a gap year in between school and university, that bagpipes were quite a good way to earn money while I was traveling. So I thought it would be a good way to finance my trip. That, in combination with the fact that I’ve always wanted to travel full time and tell stories. 

I worked in London for about three months, handed in my notice because I didn’t like the idea of sitting behind a desk, and booked my first flight to Tunisia. I didn’t realize that the national instrument of Tunisia is also the bagpipes. 

Now it’s been three years and two months. I fund the trip by doing photography work, social media stuff, blogging, and motivational talks or workshops at schools around the world. 

How have you decided the route you’re going to take?

It’s totally random. I will be pushed and pulled in different directions depending on urgency, if I have a friend somewhere that I can visit, or if someone gets in contact with me. 

To give you an example of how my year panned out last year: it started because an international school in Malaysia asked me to do a performance and a talk. So I traveled Malaysia for a bit. Then I thought that, since I was in the region, there were plenty of other countries in Southeast Asia to visit. Then I flew back to the U.K. (I go back to the U.K. every two or three months because it’s nice to go back and wash my kilt). Then I had a friend contact me from Liberia, in West Africa, and tell me I had to get out there before the rainy season. Then I flew back to Eastern Europe because a tourism board in Montenegro got in contact … and that’s how it goes. There’s no set plan, but I’m getting a little better at planning in advance.

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

When you get to a new place, what do you do while you’re there? 

There are two aspects to that. The first involves piping: where I’m going to bagpipe and how I’m going to bagpipe. And the other aspect is where I’m going to stay. 

When I’m arranging to play the bagpipes somewhere, I always do three things. 

One, I try to talk at a school, whether that’s an international school or a local school. That gives me an opportunity to dip into the expat crowd, which is most familiar to me. It also means I’m able to tap into the local community.

The other thing is a challenge involving the bagpipes. So hike up a mountain and play the bagpipes at the top.

The last thing I do is try to do some kind of piping event. If that fails, then I’ll just perform in a public place. That sometimes gives me really heartwarming interactions, but it’s also just a great way to interact with locals. But I never busk; it’s just a performance for me. 

What kinds of songs are you playing? 

There’s an unwritten rule with piping that you never have sheet music in front of you when you’re performing, so you have to learn everything by heart. And there’s a repertoire of about 15 tunes that most pipers will know wherever you are in the world, which is quite nice because you can get together with other pipers and you’ll be able to play those tunes together. 

What I’m trying to do now is learn different tunes because in schools, after about one or two minutes of bagpipes the students get bored and want something they like. 

And the other day, I was chatting with a Shanghai taxi driver and he was like, “You must learn the Chinese National Anthem on the bagpipes.” So I worked out how to play it and decided that’s a good thing to do for each country.

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

What have you learned about music through this type of traveling? 

This is going to be dripping in cliches, but music breaks barriers. Whether or not it’s a language in and of itself, that’s a different conversation. Music has words sometimes, of course, but if it’s just an instrument like the bagpipes, it’s amazing how they’ve been able to put smiles on people’s faces. Maybe it’s the kilt and bagpipe combo … but even the grumpiest of policemen have been able to smile as a result of my piping. 

There’s definitely a unique aspect to the whole musical journey. And the bagpipes are such a conspicuously Scottish instrument, so I think that has the wow factor. If I was going around playing the guitar, maybe that would have a different impact.

What have you learned about your own culture through this journey?

Well, that the bagpipes aren’t actually Scottish. It’s important to maintain and look after these cultural entities, but you have to take it with a pinch of salt, because the idea of something definitely being from somewhere — the bagpipes or the kilt being from Scotland. If you look at different points through history, people borrow languages, instruments, cuisines, etcetera. 

In terms of learning about Scotland, it’s interesting how Scotland has impacted the world in different ways, but also how Scotland has been impacted by the world, too. So many cultures have adapted what is stereotypically known as Scottish culture. To give you an example, the bagpipes that I play are called the Great Highland Bagpipes. They’re so well known because of the British Empire, because every British regime would have their own pipe band. They introduced the bagpipes everywhere — and that’s why Qatar, Brunei, Hong Kong, I think even Mexico, all have pipe bands.

Have there been any challenges along the way? 

The bagpipes require a bit of an effort to travel with … just because of security. If the people at security know what it is, they want to share a lovely story with you. Or they’re like, “What is this?” I always allow an extra 30 minutes at the airport just in case. 

Working for myself and worrying where my money’s going to come from next month is terrifying. But I have to remind myself of the little things, like that it’s actually cheaper for me to travel full-time than it is to be based in the U.K.

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

Photo courtesy of Ross OC Jennings (@thefirstpiper)

What has all of this traveling added to your life? Has it changed you? 

Absolutely — I think I change every week, every day. It’s nice to have the overarching goal of trying to get to every country. But then life hits and I start wondering how I’m going to fund it. It’s a challenge, but I’ve learned to be patient and super flexible with my plans. 

I live out of a bag, and I don’t mind it. But when I go into my room back home I realize that I didn’t miss anything, and didn’t remember that I had a lot of the things I left behind. It’s a reminder of how simply we can live our lives. 

I’ve learned — and this isn’t just unique to me — that the world is a surprisingly small place and it is exceptionally friendly.

Follow Ross’ journey around the world on Instagram.

8 Italian Cities for Every Type of Traveler

Originally published on

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” (Giuseppe Verdi)

Though Italy has only been an official republic since 1946, it is the fifth most-visited country in the world by foreign visitors. The boot-shaped nation contains more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other, was once the heart of the mighty Roman Empire, and has inspired artists, travelers, and lay people for centuries. 

It’s difficult to choose a single city to visit in this Mediterranean country, which is why many visitors frequent several during the same trip. But in a country full of history, art, architecture, romance, great food, stunning scenery, and beautiful coastal towns, narrowing your list can seem nearly impossible. 

Here are some suggestions:

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)


Founded: 753 B.C. 

Region: Rome/Lazio

Known for: Being the capital of Italy and the seat and namesake of the once-powerful Roman Empire. 

Top attractions: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Vatican City, Spanish Steps

Best time to visit: October to April

Why you should go: If you’ve always been fascinated with the Roman Empire, a trip to the Italian capital should be top of your list. The busy streets and modern metropolitan areas, coupled with the ancient arenas and cobblestone sidewalks combine to give the city a unique atmosphere.



Founded: 59 B.C.

Region: Tuscany

Known for: Being the birthplace of the Renaissance and the home to Michelangelo’s famous “David” statue. 

Top attractions: Florence Cathedral & Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, Galleria dell’Accademia

Best time to visit: May, June, or September

Why you should go: Though it’s one of the more well-known cities in Italy, Florence still maintains a small-town feel since it’s possible to walk from one end to the other in a mere hour. The piazzas, yellow-tinted buildings, museums, gelato shops, and street art make this Tuscan city a quintessential Italian experience. 

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)


Founded: 421


Known for:Its twisting canals, charming gondoliers, and masked traditions.

Top attractions:St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, Rialto Bridge, the Grand Canal, Doge’s Palace

Best time to visit: September to November

Why you should go: Venice’s lack of motor vehicles makes it easy to believe you’ve stepped back in time. The maze of canals and bridges and alleyways is a delight to navigate, and the entire city is reminiscent of an empire lost to time. Ditch your map and make sure you visit soon!


Founded: 600 B.C.

Region: Lombardy

Known for: Being the fashion capital of the world and the economic power of Italy.

Top attractions: Milan Cathedral & Duomo, Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” Sforza Castle, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Best time to visit: April, May, or October

Why you should go: While Rome, Tuscany, and Venice get the Hollywood treatment, fast-paced Milan will give you a good look at what everyday life is like in Italy. Its more compact size also makes it easier to digest than the enormity of Rome.

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)


Founded: 1088

Region: Emilia-Romagna

Known for: Being home to the first university in the Western world, and the birthplace of a pasta sauce with a similar name. 

Top attractions: San Petronio Basilica, the Leaning Towers, Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

Best time to visit: September to November

Why you should go: Only 30 minutes from Florence, this hidden gem flourishes in the Emilia-Romagna countryside. Bologna is full of interesting museums, cathedrals, and towers, and its rusty red color will charm any traveler. Don’t forget to try pasta alla bolognese.


Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)


Part of Italy Since: 110 B.C.

Region: Tuscany

Known for: A certain famous leaning tower. 

Top attractions:Leaning Tower of Pisa, Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa Baptistery, Camposanto Monumentale 

Best time to visit: April to June

Why you should go: Come for the Leaning Tower, but stay for everything else. Pisa is home to more than 20 other historic churches, medieval palaces, and beautiful bridges over the Arno River. Make sure to venture inside the Cathedral and churches, too, as sometimes what’s inside is even more stunning.


Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails) 

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails) 


Part of Italy Since:10th-11th century

Region: Liguria

Known for: Its five colorful, cliffside towns and connecting hiking trails. 

The five cities (from north to south): Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore

Best time to visit: June or September

Why you should go: The five villages of the Cinque Terre may be known as one, but, if you take time to explore each, you’ll find that they have unique personalities. Choose one as a home base and explore all five, using the local train, ferry, or hiking trails to get from one to the next. 

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)

Photo courtesy of Gabriele Colzi (@gabdetails)


Part of Italy Since: 1137 

Region: Campania

Known for: Sun-drenched days, a citrus fruit and the liqueur it produces, and the winding roads along the coast. 

Popular towns of the Amalfi Coast: Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, Atrani, Vietri sul Mare

Best time to visit: May

Why you should go: There’s a reason it is believed part of Odysseus’ story took place in this coastal area. The Amalfi Coast — and the nearby island, Capri — sparkle in the constant sunlight. A winding road leads through towns full of colorful buildings and beach umbrellas, lemon trees and limoncello, handmade sandals and expensive trinkets.

The Secret to Creating Multidimensional Characters

Originally published on

Characters must be three-dimensional. We hear this phrase all the time, yet there’s never a corresponding blueprint or checklist for how to create a three-dimensional character.

In conversation with The Hollywood Reporter’s awards analyst Scott Feinberg in an episode of the THR Awards Chatter podcast, story expert Robert McKee shared this bit of wisdom while discussing the benefits of binge-watching long-form television series:

“In film we talk about three dimensional characters — Tony Soprano, in my analysis, is a 12-dimensional character; Walter White is a 16-dimensional character. If you sit there for 10 hours, watching dimension after dimension, contradiction after contradiction emerge out of this character, you see how he treats his wife one way, then he treats his friend another way, then he treats his enemy yet another way ... These brilliant cast designs of these great long-form series pull out consistent contradictory dimensions. That’s what a dimension is: a consistent contradiction within the nature of a character. After 10 hours, you have learned more about what it is to be a human being than you have ever in your life experienced in a feature film.”

When laid out that clearly, creating multidimensional characters seems simple. Dimensions are the result of consistent contradictions.

Consider Olivia Pope, the main character of “Scandal,” who, after it is revealed through supporting characters Quinn and Huck the first episode of the series that she doesn’t believe in crying, is brought to tears several times in the first season alone.

Or, take the characters in FX’s comedy, “You’re the Worst.” The two leads, Jimmy and Gretchen, are both cynical and self-destructive. Neither believes in the possibility of a successful romantic relationship, yet they find themselves in one nonetheless.

Look at Ron Swanson in “Parks and Recreation” or Dwight Schrute in “The Office.” Both have strong personalities — masculine and removed and serious and brash, respectively — yet both repeatedly show affection for various members of their offices time and time again.

A contradiction doesn’t have to be an issue of black and white, right or wrong, kind or mean. Like McKee says, it’s in the way Walter White treats the various people in his life. Contradictions can be found in personality traits, choices made, things said, or even subtle physical reactions. Sometimes contradictions are in the way these various aspects differ from each other.

Though McKee was referring directly to television shows, this way of looking at characters is also applicable to movies but in a slightly different way.

In television, writers have a seemingly unlimited amount of time (episodes) in which to tell a character’s story. They have the luxury of letting a character’s complexities reveal themselves slowly, and for a character to change over the course of an entire series. But in movies, that time is limited. A writer has roughly two hours to tell an entire story that features multidimensional, complex characters. Those consistent contradictions, therefore, must be more immediately obvious and lead to a greater change in the character in a shorter amount of time.

In “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” the narrator, Greg, assuages the audience’s worries early on and says that his friend, Rachel (the “Dying Girl”), doesn’t die. Upon making it to the end of the movie we learn that his statement was a lie, but the fact that he lies is a contradiction that reveals more about his character and his mental state given the circumstances. It makes him multidimensional and complex.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “Inception” portrays himself in a different way to each member of the team he assembles, with only one person knowing the truth, something that comes back to hurt him in the movie’s third act. Humphrey Bogart’s Rick in “Casablanca” is seen saying that he’ll stick his neck out for nobody, then proceeds to do the exact opposite. And in “La La Land,” Ryan Gosling’s character says he wants to save jazz, but turns his nose up at John Legend’s character’s modern interpretation of the music genre.

“That’s what a dimension is: a consistent contradiction within the nature of a character.”

We are complex, confusing, flawed, and that complexity is a direct result of our innate contradictions. No one, real or fiction, is simply three-dimensional. Certainly our characters deserve no less. 

A Pilot's Life

When he travels, Florian Trojer packs his suitcase, makes sure he has his passport and license, and drives to the airport. He thinks about the flight ahead, who he’ll be sitting next to, and where he’s going — the destination is always in the back of his mind. He’s usually at the airport two hours before takeoff. 

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals)

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals)

Though his travel preparations are nearly the same as any passenger’s, there is one distinct difference: Florian is the pilot.

While the passengers check their bags, go through security, find their gate, and wait to board, Florian is getting ready to fly a Boeing 777. 

He meets with the other pilots, and, together, they go to the flight dispatcher who gives them the documents for their flight: the flight plan, weather information, alternate routes, and airport restrictions at arrival. The pilots — there are at least three on long-haul flights — assess the flight and anything special about that day’s flight.

They meet the cabin crew, who tell them about anything unique to their flight — VIP passengers, unaccompanied minors, passengers in wheelchairs, animals. Then they head to the plane as a crew, where the flight attendants prep the aircraft and the pilots prep the cockpit. 

The pilots check the emergency equipment and enter the flight information into the computer. A mechanic briefs them about the technical status of the plane, and air traffic control gives them route clearance for the flight. 

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals) 

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals) 

Passengers start streaming onto the plane, the loading crew gets the luggage into the cargo hold, and the cabin crew makes sure the correct number of passengers are on board. Then the doors are closed and the pilots get clearance to push back and start the engines. 

They head to the runway, get takeoff clearance, and start to accelerate. 

During takeoff, what sometimes comes across as tension to the passengers is really just extreme focus on the part of the cabin crew. Florian, in the cockpit, experiences everything a passenger does during takeoff — he just gets a better view. 

Then, the pilot lifts the massive metal plane off the ground, and, finally, they’re airborne.

Florian’s office is at the helm of a 775,000 pound Boeing 777. 

His colleagues work as one — monitoring the flight progress, checking the weather, communicating with various air traffic control stations along the route, making sure the passengers are comfortable. They chat about work, sports, politics, hobbies, their families, and the places they’ve been.

The view out Florian’s window is always changing. Sometimes it’s day, sometimes night. There could be icebergs, oceans, mountains, or deserts. Sometimes he sees the sun rise, and other times he watches it set. He watches cloud formations, and can often spot other airplanes crossing in the distance. No flight is ever the same. 

Florian’s cousin was a pilot in the Austrian Air Force, and, when he was a teenager, they would go to the airport together to see the planes. He started flying gliders at 16. When he finished with university, all he wanted to do was start flying again. 

While training to be a pilot, he learned about aerodynamics and the principles of flying. His studies included a lot of physics, math, geography, and meteorology. He learned about radio technology and communications, how to cope with stress and navigate changing time zones, and the mechanics of specific airplanes. Three years later, he was flying short haul flights around Europe, gaining experience that would eventually help him get his current job — flying Boeing 777s. 

Flying just never stopped being interesting. 

Today, Florian is still obsessed with flight. He loves the romanticism around flight, and how a rainy night flying into Hong Kong is completely different than a sunny day over the Rockies. He’s fascinated with the technology of the engines, the aerodynamic aspects of the planes, and the sheer size of the machines he operates.

About an hour before landing, the pilots brief the rest of the crew on their impending arrival. They check the computers and make sure everything is programmed correctly. They calculate the landing distance and study the ground charts for the airport they’re landing in. 

Air traffic control issues descent clearance and eventually gives them permission to land. 

Sometime during the descent, the pilots will switch off the autopilot. They’ll steer the plane safely onto solid ground. 

Being a pilot has shown Florian just how special the world is and how much more there is to see. 

Every time he lands, he’s ready to takeoff again.

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals) 

Photo courtesy of Florian Trojer (@jetvisuals) 

All of Florian’s photos were taken during non-critical phases of flight, or from the cockpit observer seat as a non-acting crew member. You can see more of Florian’s photography on Instagram.

Wonder Woman and the Triumph of a Consistent Superhero

Originally published on

I’ll admit, I was one of the doubters at first. There was nothing missing from my cinematic life and I didn’t think I needed a female superhero movie. That changed completely when I saw “Wonder Woman.”


Less than a month after its release, Patty Jenkins’ movie has grossed over $430 million at the box office. It boasts a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, is the best film debut for a female director in movie history, and the trailer, which was uploaded to YouTube less than 30 days before the premiere, has been viewed over 10 million times.

But what I loved most about “Wonder Woman” wasn’t the way it continues to destroy records. I loved how, unlike most superhero movies, “Wonder Woman” triumphs because it maintains character consistency.

Gal Godot plays the Amazonian princess/demi goddess, Diana (Wonder Woman), who travels from her home, Themyscira, to 1918 London after an American pilot and spy, played by Chris Pine, crashes near the island and brings news of the war to end all wars. Diana, having been told from a very young age that it is the duty of the Amazon’s to protect mankind from the God of War, believes she can save the world by destroying Ares.

My favorite scene in “Wonder Woman” took place at the front. Diana, Steve Trevor, and their gang of misfit rebels are simply crossing through, intent on pushing forward to where the poisonous gas is being manufactured behind enemy lines in Belgium. But upon speaking with a distraught woman from a nearby town, Diana can’t stand by while the Germans fire on innocent people.

She dons the Wonder Woman tiara, sheds her cloak, and climbs up and out of the bunker. During one viewing of the movie I attended, someone in the theater actually cheered when she started climbing the ladder.

It took me a second viewing to understand why this particular scene captivated me and the explanation requires analysis of Diana’s character throughout the story and a jump ahead to the end of the movie. (Warning, there are spoilers ahead).

As a child, Diana idolizes the female strength she sees in her fellow Amazon warriors, and she grows up believing that mankind is good and requires saving from Ares, who corrupts and causes war. She believes, steadfastly, that if she defeats Ares, the war will end and peace will be restored.

While her insistence that Ares exists and she alone can defeat him are sometimes portrayed as comical to the audience and her fellow characters, that insistence shows consistency of character. Upon arriving on Earth and seeing the extent of the war, she is only more sure of what she already believes.

That belief carries her to the movie’s third act. Having found and killed the man she wholeheartedly believed to be Ares, General Ludendorff, Diana looks around, only to find that despite his death, the war is carrying on around her.

She is devastated. When you believe something as wholeheartedly as she believed Ares’ death would bring peace, it shakes you to your core. Because this fundamental belief proved false, everything Diana knows comes into question — the nature of mankind, her role in saving the world, even her ability to do so.

In the pivotal moment immediately after Ludendorff’s death, Steve rushes to find her and confronts her about what needs to be done to actually stop the war, but Diana is insistent.


“Ares is dead; they can stop fighting now. Why are they still fighting?”

“Maybe people aren’t always good. Ares or no Ares. Maybe it’s just who they are. Diana, we can talk about this later but I need you to come with me.”

“No, after everything I saw, this can’t be. It cannot be. They were killing each other — killing people they cannot see ... children. It cannot be. She was right. My mother was right. She said the world of men do not deserve you. They don’t deserve our help.”

“It’s not about deserve ... maybe we don’t. It’s not about that, it’s about what you believe. You don’t think I get it after what I’ve seen out there? You don’t wish I could tell you that there was just one bad guy to blame? We’re all to blame.”

“I am not.”

“But maybe I am. Please, if you believe that this war should stop, if you want to stop it, help me stop it right now. Because if you don’t, they will kill thousands more. Please, please come with me. I have to go.”

Diana refuses to go with Steve. And though in that moment she didn’t make the right decision, it was a moment of truth given what her character was experiencing at the time.

So many superhero movies feature accidental, reluctant, or begrudging superheroes. They are pulled into battles they don’t want to be involved in, fighting for things it’s not clear they believe in at all. After a moment like this one, those characters would do the right thing. But their characters aren’t consistent throughout the course of a single story and they rarely stand for anything.

Wonder Woman is the exact opposite. She is a purposeful superhero, and the story itself stays true to her character. Everything that happens over the course of the movie is in line with Diana’s character, whose personality is made clear from the start. That’s not to say she doesn’t change — she does. But it is the events of the story that force her to abandon what she previously believed was true and fight for what she now knows is truth.

Compare other superhero moments to that scene at the front, when Diana ignores everyone around her and walks toward danger. It’s the first of many scenes in which she stands up for what she believes, for what she knows to be true.

When I see Diana walk, unafraid, across the battlefield, it moves me because of what the act itself stands for and what it says about her character. She’s so sure of herself that she is able to walk without hesitation toward the enemy. She’s so sure of her beliefs that she purposefully makes a statement.

In a way, the movie itself does the same thing.

“I used to want to save the world,” Diana says in her closing voiceover. “To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside everyone one of them there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves — something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So now I stay, I fight, and I give — for the world I know can be.” 

The Art of Travel While In Between

Originally published on

Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness. (Ray Bradbury)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Habashi (@habashi)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Habashi (@habashi)

Sometimes creative partnerships come about in the most unlikely ways. That’s definitely the case with Lauren Randolph (@laurenlemon) and Michael Schulz (@berlinstagram), creators and curators of the Instagram account, While in Between.

While in Between began as a project for Generator Hostels, which is how Lauren and Michael met in 2014. Together, they were tasked with coming up with an Instagram Contest for the European hostel chain. They wanted a theme that wasn’t limiting and would allow for more creative submissions. So they went with something that evoked the act of travel itself.

“Part of traveling is the to and from, and we really liked the idea that there are these interesting moments on trains and planes, and in airports, train stations, and bus stops,” said Lauren.

“Especially when you’re starting your trip, you’re always in this mood of traveling,” Michael added. “You’re disconnected from your regular life. And there are all these little things you see in between.”

Lauren and Michael were surprised by the quality of submissions they looked through while judging the contest, and the hashtag #whileinbetween seemed to live on after the contest was over, a sign that it had meaning on its own. A few months later, Michael suggested they create an account dedicated solely to the “While in Between” photos. 

Once the account was created, the following and engagement developed organically. Michael and Lauren both promoted @whileinbetween on their personal accounts, and a second similarly themed Instagram Contest with Generator Hostels cemented a devoted While in Between audience.

Photo courtesy of Yvonne Reichert (@lovelyforliving)

Photo courtesy of Yvonne Reichert (@lovelyforliving)

The @whileinbetween feed evokes the sense of traveling through found photography, chosen by Lauren and Michael, who jointly curate the content. 

“I love good light and great composition and a story … these cinematic shots,” said Lauren. “And Michael’s very drawn to the dark and moody cinematic vibe. So naturally, we look for [photos] that are a bit more than the shot out the plane window.”

Both Lauren and Michael also find themselves more aware of “in between” moments while traveling themselves. They love that this project gives them a creative outlet when they’re in between destinations, and hopes others find the same inspiration.

“I love the plane to somewhere, or the drive to somewhere,” Lauren said. “There’s always so much about to happen, but that’s the exciting thing.”

“It’s the little things in between,” Michael explained. “The destination is not the goal. Traveling is the goal.”

6 Types of Non-Traditional Antagonists for Your Next Screenplay

Originally published on

Put simply, the protagonist is the main character of a story and the antagonist is the opposing character. But things are rarely that simple in storytelling.

Though we tend to think of antagonists as characters, the role of “antagonizer” is often held by a non-human force. No, that doesn’t necessarily mean an alien (although aliens are fine antagonists), it simply refers to anything that propels the plot forward by pushing against or challenging the protagonist.

In real life, we rarely come up against traditional villains. Batman may constantly battle Scarecrow and the Joker, but we don’t have true arch nemeses in our everyday lives. More often, we’re up against other elements out of our control.


Examples: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, About Time, 127 Hours


Often, the antagonizing force, the very thing the protagonists are working against, is time itself. The never-ending passage of time serves to forward many stories, in various ways.

The typical way to use time as an antagonist is to give your protagonist a time limit. In “127 Hours,” James Franco’s character, Aron, must find a way to survive before he runs out of time and resources. But in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Brad Pitt’s title character is antagonized by time in the way it directly affects his life — his aging backwards causes the conflict and moves the story forward.

Time can also serve as an antagonizing force in our attempts to understand it, as is evident in many time travel movies. “About Time” features a time-traveler who attempts to use his unique abilities to help him find love, but the rules of time travel are always complicating things.

The Environment

Examples: The Martian, Prometheus, Wild

Anyone who’s ever spent a night in the wilderness knows that sometimes it seems like the Earth itself is working against you. And for our purposes, sometimes it works against our characters. Using the environment (Earthly or otherwise) as an antagonist causes a struggle for survival.

Reese Witherspoon’s character’s solo hike in “Wild” challenges her to confront her demons, past and present. And characters in both “The Martian” and “Prometheus” go up against otherworldly environments, fighting to escape Mars or understand the place they’re exploring.


Examples: La La Land, Moana, Brooklyn

As is most common in real life, the antagonizing force we face is our own emotional state. Fear of failure, thoughts of doubt, and feelings of homesickness can all forward a plot and force the characters forward.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s characters struggle to achieve their respective dreams in “La La Land,” and it is their fear of failure and drive to succeed that moves the movie along (that and the occasional song). After moving to America, it’s severe homesickness for Ireland that causes Saoirse Ronan’s character to make the choices she does. And, in the only Disney movie without a human (or animal) antagonist, Moana and Maui journey to save Moana’s island. Though they face several physical antagonists along the way, it is Moana’s drive to prove herself that propels the story.

Health/Physical Issues

Examples: Silver Linings Playbook, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Still Alice, Fight Club, Forrest Gump, The Danish Girl

Our favorite characters often battle invisible antagonists when they are pitted against disease, mental illness, or physical complications. The main characters in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “Still Alice” face forces out of their control — cancer and Alzheimer’s, respectively.

Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, suffers from bipolar disorder in “Silver Linings Playbook,” which caused the incident that sent him to the mental institution where we find him at the start of the movie. While the antagonist in “Fight Club” appears to be Brad Pitt’s character, the audience is eventually led to the conclusion that Tyler Durden is only the physical manifestation of Ed Norton’s delusional narrator character.

Other characters face physical disabilities of some kind that spur the action of the entire film. Forrest Gump’s attempts to overcome the disadvantages of his leg braces as a child set forth the events of his life. And in “The Danish Girl,” Eddie Redmayne’s character’s transgender identity leads her to pursue the first ever sex-change operation.


Examples: Arrival, When Harry Met Sally

Any fan of romantic comedies knows that communication — or lack thereof — can provide enough trouble for the plot of an entire movie. Miscommunication does just that in “When Harry Met Sally,” Nora Ephron’s classic about two people unable to communicate their feelings for one another.

More recently, the idea of communication itself played the antagonist in “Arrival.” Amy Adams plays a linguist attempting to understand an alien language, but it is miscommunication between the nations on Earth that actually serves as the antagonizing force in moving the plot to its fruition.

An Event

Examples: 500 Days of Summer, The Shawshank Redemption, The Big Short

Last, but not least, an outside event is capable of setting off the events of a movie. In the indie flick, “500 Days of Summer,” Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character meets a woman who sets off the events of the movie. But it isn’t Zooey Deschanel’s character, Summer, that is the antagonist, it is the fact that Joseph Gordon Levitt met her in the first place.

But, more often, a different type of event sparks the plot of a movie. Take “The Big Short,” in which the 2008 financial recession causes the characters to take action, or the wrongful conviction that sends Tim Robbins’ character to jail in “The Shawshank Redemption.”


Next time you’re looking for an antagonist, don’t create a human villain. Look no further than the elements of the world around your character to create a proper, real-life antagonizing force.

Capturing a Lasting Legacy: The While I’m Here Project

Originally published on

“A hero is someone who does something extraordinary. I’m just doing ordinary things.”

“The most important thing, I believe, is what I’m doing now — trying to go and make something out of myself before I leave this world.”

“The legacy of myself is that I would be remembered in a positive way. That I did something good.”

These are the words spoken in the thematic intro for the videos in Canadian director Brent Foster’s passion project, While I’m Here: The Legacy Project.

Though Brent originally thought it the project, a series of profile videos, would just be centered in North America, it’s now gone worldwide. And one of the most recent videos, about a 100-year-old Kalinga tattoo artist in the Philippines, was reposted by National Geographic and was viewed more than two million times.

“It’s been the most important thing I’ve done as a filmmaker,” Brent said.

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

Where did the idea for this project come from?

I grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada, and there was a man who lived in the town here who used to sharpen everyone’s hockey skates — a super typical Canadian thing. He had this small garage and everyone in our tiny community knew that you brought your skates to Frank and he would sharpen them and then you’d go off and play hockey and he’d never take a dime.

As a filmmaker, I always promised myself that I’d go back and tell his story one day. My goal was to create a powerful short story that I could get on to a news network or hockey network to really honor his legacy and his story.

Time passed, as it does, and I was working abroad as a photojournalist. I ended up coming back home and I talked to him about telling his story, but he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away before I could. Out of regret, really, I started the Legacy Project with the idea that people’s stories are fleeting and if you don’t stop and take the time to tell them, they can be gone in no time. I started the project to tell everyday hero type of stories  — about everyday people doing really amazing things everyday, and telling their stories while they’re still here and while they’re still in the act of doing those things.

What was it like to get the project up and running?

Passion projects are really easy to come up with, but they’re a lot harder to execute. When the idea came up, I started chatting with colleagues and told them it was something I really wanted to make happen. And I asked if it interested them.

Pre-production started really quickly. I had a few ideas of types of stories I wanted to tell, but as a small team of volunteers, everyone got together and started making this happen right away.

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

How did you identify the first person you were going to profile?

The first one was the easiest, to be honest. It was the San Diego Highwayman, Thomas Weller. He’s this guy who rescues people on the side of the highway and he won’t take a dime, just gives them this card and says, “please pass this on one day.” I had actually met Thomas when I worked at the LA Times and did a short story about a ridealong with him, and he’d always stuck out in my mind as this incredible guy who deserved to be in a project like this.

So I contacted him right away. And he was absolutely game for it. That one was the simplest out of all of them.

When you were doing that first video, how was the project forming itself in your head? And how did the first video shape the rest?

The first one was one of my first films as a director and a fairly new filmmaker. It’s been really amazing because when we started the project, we were really learning the art of storytelling and learning how to craft films. We’ve all evolved and grown in different ways, but each project has become stronger and stronger as we’ve become better at our craft. We’ve learned along the way with each one.

What was your approach to the filmmaking and deciding how these videos were going to look?

I really wanted to make it this blend of documentary-style interviews and real-life moments that are beautifully cinematic. I look at the pieces as this mix of documentary and cinematic flare. It’s not a typical verite documentary where everything is unfolding in front of of you — we’re selecting scenes, picking the places we want to film, picking the right time of day to film the locations. We’re using things like stabilizers, gymbals, drones, and lighting and trying to add polish to the pieces that will make them stand out from the typical run-and-gun documentaries.

When I watched the videos, they seemed to each have a distinct feel. How do you tackle the storytelling in post-production?

When we first started, we gathered everything we could and made a lot of the decisions in post. We were learning and weren’t doing a lot of pre-production since we were figuring everything out on the fly.

But for the last couple of projects, a lot of pre-production went into those projects. We were working with producers or fixers on the ground who were actually meeting the subjects we were going to film in advance. They were taking location photos for us, helping us get to know our subjects, and helping them get comfortable before we started to film. And we allowed time on the ground to get to know the subjects we were filming and pick locations and craft the story in a way we hadn’t before.

The stories shifted — when we began, it was us figuring it out on the fly; and the last projects we’ve planned in advance how we’re going to tell the story and are making conscious decisions about what we’re shooting and why and how that applies to the final edit. So the post work has been a bit easier on the last couple of stories because we’ve spent so much more time in the pre-production phases of the projects.

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

How are you finding the people that you’re going to profile?

It’s really been a mix of different ways. For the second project, I came across a YouTube video of the bluesman, Leo “Bud” Welch, playing at someone’s birthday party. It was one of those shaky handheld videos, but I saw Leo playing and his face and his character …  I just thought it was an amazing story.

I came across an article about Ed Nicholson from Project Healing Waters and reached out to him that way. But most of it has been spending a lot of time researching on the web. The last couple of projects have actually come through other translators and fixers on the ground in the Philippines and Uganda — they’ve reached out to us and nominated people as potential candidates.

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

Can you tell me about a few of the other subjects?

It’s been really special because with each character we’ve profiled, we learn a whole wealth of life lessons from them. They’re all so different.

Leo — the Mississippi Bluesman — he teaches you that it’s never too late. Ed — the fly-fisherman from Project Healing Waters — he’s a much more quiet and subtle person, and he’s just patient and kind with people.

Whang-Od — the 100-year-old Kalinga tattoo artist behaved the youngest out of everyone we’ve met. It’s almost like the older the people we’re profiling, the more energy and enthusiasm they have for what they’re doing. That was a time in which we were able to tell the story of a tradition being passed on actively. We had the chance to spend time with Whang-Od, but also spend time with her grand-niece, Grace, who she was passing this tradition on to and see the contrast between generations of people choosing to stay in a village because they want to.

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

For the most recent project, we were in rural Africa with a woman named Nalongo. After she retired as a midwife, she took her home and turned half of it into a clinic. She’s delivering babies for women in her rural area, and on a mission to educate and empower the women in her area so they have access to family planning and a better understanding of how to raise a family and consider the things that come with that to keep their families safe and healthy and happy. Seeing life brought into the world is incredibly special, and seeing how one person can have such a ripple effect on their community is just amazing.

When I was watching some of the videos, it struck me that there seemed to be a conscious decision to include other people in the storytelling. Was it a conscious decision? And how did it affect the storytelling?

Each person we’ve profiled, we’ve definitely made a conscious decision about how we’re going to tell that story. As much as I had it in my mind to only profile one person per story, with Ed, once we met everyone there we realized that his story was so much more powerful when you heard other people around him and the way their lives were impacted. It’s a bit of feeling it out when you’re there and seeing what makes the most sense. At the time, we weren’t 100% sure we were going to include the other characters, but we still gathered the interviews so we had them as an option in post.

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

With Whang-Od, it really made sense to me to include her grand-niece. We could have just included Whang-Od and I think it still would’ve been a really strong story. But the passing of the torch to the next generation really is her legacy. It was important to include that in her case.

In the last story, with Nalongo, her granddaughter played a role in the story, but Nalongo’s story is about how she is empowering the women in her community. That’s the part of her story that we wanted to focus on.

How did the giving back aspect come into the project?

To be honest, it wasn’t something we intended to do. When we told Thomas’ story, the story of losing his prized car became a really natural part of his legacy. The night before we launched it, I decided to put up a GoFundMe and see if we could get enough donations to raise some gas money for him.

In my past work as a photojournalist, I was always taking photos in these really hard situations and constantly wondering if it was making a difference. But here was a chance for us to put something out there and see if it makes a difference.

The first morning, there was a couple thousand dollars in the GoFundMe account for Thomas. Throughout the next couple of days, donations poured in to help him. But what was even more incredible was the fact that hundreds of people came out of the woodwork who Thomas had helped over the course of the last 50 years. We were getting these incredible messages as the story was being picked up on various media sources — people writing in and saying, “28 years ago I was a single mom and I was stuck on the side of the road with my two kids. You came along and helped me and now I chance to give you something back.”

We decided then and there that with each project we would try to do something to help the subject continue to pursue whatever their legacy is. We’ve successfully done that in various ways. Especially with the most recent project — helping to build Nalongo’s clinic would be a dream come true.

How has this project impacted you personally?

On a personal level, just being able to spend time with people who are so incredibly selfless can’t not change you. Especially after working as a photojournalist and often covering very negative stories, being able to focus on the positive has been really refreshing.

Having a project like this to spread out over the course of a few years has also really allowed me to grow as a director. It’s also allowed our small team to become amazing friends. The experiences you get to have behind the scenes on trips like this are incredible — in a sense, you’re living your own legacy while you’re creating these.

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

Photo courtesy of Brent Foster (@brentfoster)

What does the word “legacy” mean to you now?

Legacy for me has taken on a new description. It’s not the way people are considering what they’re going to leave behind, it’s what they’re actually doing right now. That’s what’s so incredibly inspiring.

What are you hoping that people are left with when they’re done watching these videos?

I hope they recognize how quickly life passes you by and that you should cherish the moments you have with the people around you. I also hope they reflect on their own family members and friends and colleagues — and if they’re filmmakers or photographers or have access to just record audio, it’s worthwhile to sit down with your own friends and families and start to record their legacies.

What is the future of this project going to look like?

The goal was to do six stories. We’ve finished five. I have a goal of wrapping the project up in Northern Canada and telling the story of the passing on of traditional indigenous language. But if another project came along in the meantime, we’d definitely entertain that. The goal is six, but that doesn’t mean we have to close the doors on the project. I think it’s something that can continue on if the right person comes along.

Working for the White House: Duncan Wolfe and President Obama

Originally published on

Lincoln Motor Company. Collective Quarterly. McDonalds. Amazon. The White House.

These are just some of the clients 28-year-old Duncan Wolfe has worked with. Yes, the White House.

“When I was at the White House, I was just a part of this functioning machine whose goal was to help connect the world to the President and his message through the Internet,” Duncan said.

Photo courtesy of Duncan Wolfe (@duncan)

Photo courtesy of Duncan Wolfe (@duncan)

Duncan worked in the Office of Digital Strategy for the last 15 months of the Obama administration. It was a job that, as he put it, was a way for him to close out a huge part of his life — the part that included President Obama.

Before the White House, before he was even legally allowed to drink, Duncan’s life started to crisscross with then-Senator Barack Obama’s. In the winter of 2007, Duncan worked at the Iowa caucuses and witnessed the empowering moment when Obama, the underdog, won the Iowa primary.

That led to an internship at the Obama headquarters in the summer of 2008, which led to Duncan taking a semester off from college to work for a Senate campaign in Missouri in 2010. It was then that he realized the person with the camera always gets to be present for the most interesting moments.

Two important things were happening simultaneously. Duncan was getting experience in politics, and he began taking an interest in art (he even went so far as to change his major frompolitical science to art history).

“I absolutely fell in love with the idea that I could think and read and analyze and break down a visual culture,” Duncan said.

In his art history classes, he learned about the people in power and the art they commissioned to communicate some kind of message to the general population. He didn’t know it at the time, but that was exactly what he’d be doing at the White House nine years later.

After graduation, Duncan moved to Washington DC to intern for Pete Souza, the Chief White House Photographer. After those three months were up, he moved home to St. Louis, then to North Carolina to work on the 2008 Obama campaign, then to Chicago to do freelance work as a commercial director.

“I always felt like an imposter,” he said. “All the sudden people were calling me a director. I’d be on film sets and there would be a hundred people around and I was the youngest, but they’d be like, ‘what do you want?’”

Through trial and error, Duncan evolved into a creative director. He found representation, which led to work for Lincoln and Collective Quarterly, among others.

“You don’t need technical knowledge,” said Duncan. “You just need the will to fuck up. And you also need taste; you have to know what you like … When you’re starting out, you’re just trying to copy things you like and, in the process of doing that, in that mimicry, your own voice is slowly revealed.”

Photo courtesy of Duncan Wolfe (@duncan) 

Photo courtesy of Duncan Wolfe (@duncan) 

Then, when he was comfortable with his work in Chicago, the White House called.

Well, sort of. Technically it was a Facebook message (fitting, considering the job Duncan would eventually have) from someone he’d known as an intern five years earlier offering a position in the Office of Digital Strategy, an office created under President Obama.

His first instinct was to turn it down. But the more he thought about it, the more it started to make sense — a job at the White House, during the end of Obama’s second and final term, would be a fitting way to close the loop on the Obama era of his life.

So he moved to Washington D.C. and traded jeans and T-shirts for suits and ties, film sets for a desk in an office.

There were about 20 people in the Office of Digital Strategy, and they were responsible for everything from managing the White House’s website to sending snaps from the White House’s official Snapchat to setting up a Twitter account for President Obama. Their job was to see where people where, what platforms they were tuning in to, and figure out how to tailor the President’s message accordingly.

Photo courtesy of Duncan Wolfe (@duncan) 

Photo courtesy of Duncan Wolfe (@duncan) 

“We knew that we had a really good character — the President — and we had these amazing locations — the White House, Air Force One,” said Duncan.

Each week, the video team, including Duncan, would divvy up who was going to cover which events and spent the rest of the time editing or strategizing how to present that week’s material.

But even an office in the White House isn’t immune to typical office politics. As a relatively new branch of the White House tree, those in the Office of Digital Strategy were constantly looked at as the “crazy Internet kids,” even though they were more directly in touch with the American public than almost any other office in the White House.

Right after starting, Duncan came face to face with a lesson he’d learned years before, as a college student working on a Senate campaign — the people with the cameras get to be present for the coolest moments.

The small video team Duncan was part of were required to send members with the President, Vice President, and First Lady when they traveled. In his 15 months at the White House, Duncan went to 19 countries on five different continents.

He visited a refugee camp on the Syrian/Jordanian border with Mrs. Biden and was part of a secure convoy that took Vice President Biden to meet with the Palestinian Prime Minister. He accompanied Biden on his final trip to Iraq and Michelle Obama on her trips to Liberia, Morocco, and Spain for her “Let Girls Learn” initiative. And Duncan was also in Midway Island with the President when he announced the creation of the largest marine preserve in the world.

Photo courtesy of Duncan Wolfe (@duncan) 

Photo courtesy of Duncan Wolfe (@duncan) 

“It was an office job, mixed in with some of the most surreal moments of my life,” said Duncan.

The day-to-day reality of his job was punctuated with moments of pure awe Duncan had to learn how to ignore. At the end of the day, he had a job to do. Still, not everyone gets to fly on Air Force One when they go on business trips.

“There were some situations where it would have been nice to pause and look around and soak in the moment,” said Duncan. “But you can’t because you’re there to work.”

Though he was there to work, Duncan did get to witness the world from Obama’s perspective. As he traveled with the Obamas and the Bidens, he noticed the real-world effects of foreign policy.

“I feel like all problems in politics come down to when people put up walls between themselves and they don’t actually expose themselves to people in different circumstances,” Duncan said.“When you can have actual connection is when you can forge empathy with a person and see where they’re coming from.”

Time and time again, Duncan watched the President of the United States have real conversations with other people — whether that be a world leader in Southeast Asia or an average Joe in Indiana.

“There’s no substitute for going somewhere,” Duncan said. “You can read an interview or a magazine, or you can watch a show or a movie … but there’s no substitute for going to a place, meeting with people, and having a physical, face-to-face interaction.”

Now, a few months after he left the White House, Duncan is still decompressing.

“I see a lot of people just out of college struggling to figure out how to do this thing, and they look at [me] as if there’s some secret to how to make it work,” he said. “And honestly, you just have to grind and you just have to work.”

Since his move from D.C., he re-signed with his former production company, moved to Los Angeles, and found an apartment with lemon trees nearby and a place to work outside in the sunshine. He’s directing commercials and branded content, but slowly wading into narrative shorts and music videos.

Finding Zen, Part Two: Bali

Originally published on Passion

A fake world met them at the airport in Bali. Or, at least, that’s what it felt like.

They’d left Kamala in Kathmandu, the goodbye drawn out in repetitive statements and repeated questions. Adjusting to being back in a city after so much time spent with the only the mountains and each other was difficult. Everything felt more intense than it needed to be. But the world was still there when they descended from the mountains.

After 28 hours of travel, three flights, and a bout of food poisoning, Bali felt calm. Warm air met them when they walked out of the airport. This was a comfortable place, with an easy, but tangible energy hanging around everywhere.

They found normal in the strange, in the unusual.

Photo courtesy of Kate Parrish (@lifeonpine)

Photo courtesy of Kate Parrish (@lifeonpine)

On the edge of a huge cliff in Bingin, waves crashing below, they lay on small beds as monkeys lingered around. In a second, a Kindle disappeared, snatched by a sneaky primate. They laughed and bartered with him, offering an apple in exchange for the much more valuable object he held.

A yoga class with 80 other people who they suspected were all expatriates. Recommendations for places to eat breakfast and buy smoothies, all given because people just wanted to share the things they were excited about.

The discovery of a hotel made completely out of bamboo and a world-renowned school dedicated to sustainability. There couldn’t have been a bigger contrast between two back-to-back places on their itinerary.

Finding the “food truck state of mind” in Ubud but in a smaller way, with the men who stopped on the side of the road and cooked with a stove attached to their motorcycle. Seeing history in the temples and tradition in the banana leaf offerings in the driveways each morning.

Rolling green hills with rice terraces in between small surfer towns with motorcycles and healthy bowls of colorful fruit. Kate and Kyle reveled in the simplicity.

Their year of travel was simple in and of itself, but Kate couldn’t help but think about the needless stress in the life she’d left behind in the United States. Worries about clothes and wearing makeup, owning a home, and making enough money.

So much of what she’d seen so far had put things into perspective. But most of all, it’s the mindset, the feelings Kate hopes she will remember when she gets back to California.

While driving around the island, their favorite Balinese local made them stop at one particular bar to try a specific kind of coffee. They had time, so much time — why not? 

He loved meeting travelers and talking to people, making a living by transporting others from place to place. There was something genuine about him, something true that was present in every person they met on the tiny island.

Kate and Kyle found something special in this place of simplicity. There was Zen in Bali too, in an entirely different way.

Finding Zen, Part One: Nepal

Originally published on Passion

Chaos greeted them at the airport in Nepal. Baggage was thrown haphazardly into a pile and entire families waited for their loved ones outside customs. Handwritten signs were everywhere, held by expectant drivers crammed in between mothers and fathers and husbands and aunts and cousins and siblings, all waiting for travelers to arrive.

Photo courtesy of Kate Parrish (@lifeonpine)

Photo courtesy of Kate Parrish (@lifeonpine)

The roads were a free-for-all. The lack of streetlights and stop signs led to a glut of cars and motorbikes, everything jammed together, weaving in and out, moving fast.

Kathmandu was nothing like they expected it would be — full of air pollution, cars, trash, and friendly people — different, but special in a way that’s difficult to put into words.

A terrifying seven-hour bus ride on the side of a cliff took them from Kathmandu to the small mountain town of Pokhara where they would meet their Sherpa (trekking guide), Kamala. She took them to a shop in town where they could rent a few things they’d need for the trek — sleeping bags & warmer coats— then drove an hour into the mountains and started leading the way.

They had assumed there would be a lot of people trekking, but not as many as they found once they were on the trail. Big groups with music playing from speakers hidden in backpacks took over some of the trails, and everyone was headed to Base Camp.

On the third day, they veered off course, choosing to take a less-popular path over the typical Annapurna Base Camp trek.  Their trail wound uphill for two days — a challenging hike with equally beautiful views as Annapurna, but considerably less people.

The days consisted of getting from one place to the next, moving between teahouses and slowly climbing higher into the mountains. The nights were spent talking to other hikers at the teahouses, eating the typical meal of noodles or rice, and playing a round or two of cards before bed.

Kamala led the way, always walking slightly ahead to give them space. If she wanted to point something out — an animal they might see, a plant in the area, or the mountains themselves — she’d turn around. They always hoped she would tell them more about her life, but she didn’t like talking about herself.

The air got thinner as Kate, Kyle, and Kamala climbed higher.

Kate thought about the things she’d seen — men carrying heavy loads of food and supplies up the mountains, someone killing a cow for dinner that night, five month old babies drinking warm milk out of coffee mugs instead of bottles, the trash thoughtlessly thrown on the ground because of the lack of an organized waste system. It was a glimpse into a whole other way of life; a lifestyle lived on the mountains.

After a day of nonstop climbing, they finally reached the top. The only teahouse was run by two men — one 25 years old, the other maybe 12 — and there was a single, solitary fire. It was freezing, but they sat around the flames late into the night. A radio played static in the background, an oddly comforting soundtrack to the night.

When they woke, there were icicles forming on their pillows. A wall of mountains greeted them, huge and far away, but seemingly close enough to touch.

They wanted to laugh and cry from exhaustion, disbelief, and pride. Just then, everything — all the individual elements of their time in Nepal — came together. Zen was there to be found, though not in the way they’d expected. It wasn’t a place or specific location, but the collection of moments that made up the journey.

This wasn’t a place you could just go; you had to work really hard to get there.

Answers Found in Ghana

Originally published on

In a cab en route from the Accra airport to a bus station in the city center, Clement Boamah turned around to face Lisa Weatherbee.

“What do you think of Ghana so far?” he asked. “What are your impressions?”

Lisa liked Clement, had known they would get along from the moment they met back at the airport, but his question took her aback. She’d barely been in the country for 30 minutes — enough time to notice how green Ghana was, but hardly enough to form actual opinions of the place Clement called home.

When Lisa applied for Photographers without Borders, got accepted, then paired with an NGO in Ghana called the Thaakat Foundation, she had a million questions in her head.

What would life be like there?
Am I going to be safe?
What are the people going to be like?
Will I get along with my host family?
Are the children going to accept me?

Instead of trying to preemptively answer those questions, Lisa told herself to go to Ghana with an open mind and as little expectations as possible. She knew she wouldn’t find the answers until she got there.

But if she’d had the answers to her questions, if she’d had the answers to Clement’s questions, this is what Lisa would have known.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Weatherbee (@jungletimer)

She would have known that she would arrive at the house Clement shared with his wife, Bea, and daughter, Liz, in Techiman in the dead of night.

It would disorient her in the morning, when she woke in a foreign country, on a mattress in someone else’s living room and couldn’t remember where she was. But then Liz, a curious 18-month-old child, would have her morning bath.

Lisa would pick up her camera for the first time in Ghana and ask Bea if she could take Liz’ photo, and Bea would tell her, “Of course. You can photograph anything.”

She would have known that she’d spend her days accompanying Clement on his daily errands for the school he founded in Tanoboase, named Konadu Basic School after his mother. They’d go to the print shop for flyers, to the market for a goat, to and from the school Clement had helped build with his own hands.

In no time at all, Lisa would know about the school. About how Clement had woken up and decided he wanted to start a school. About how, in the beginning there had been one classroom, a handful of students, and Clement had taught all the classes.

But slowly, it had grown. From one classroom to six, a handful of students to nearly 100, no teachers to five or six. There started a mushroom farm and hired a cook and a principal.

She would have known that she’d stick out at the school, but only at first. Lisa and her big camera would fade into the background and she’d wait patiently for the perfect moments.

There would be portrait sessions with each of the teachers, a day entirely devoted to following one student, and photos of all the small details of the school itself.

She would have known that learning is a process that can be captured on camera. It’s possible to see comprehension on someone’s face, and Lisa would search for these tiny, universal moments in the classrooms every day.

Students would read their books, practice their writing, sound out words and learn how to read right in front of her — actions that looked the same in a school in Ghana or the United States. The schools may be different on the surface, but learning always looks the same. Teaching always looks the same. Being inspired always looks the same.

She would have known that when people said, “You are welcome,” they meant it in every sense of the phrase. Lisa would be welcome to anything and everything they had — their food, their home, their kindness.

But it would work both ways. People gave everything, but they expected everything in return. It was a genuine nature, a straightforward lack of awkwardness Lisa would come to appreciate.

She would have known that there would be a trip to a nearby waterfall on the school bus. Family, friends, and teachers would all pile in and they’d play drums and sing the whole way — 18-month-old Liz bouncing up and down on Lisa’s lap as Clement steered the bus down dusty roads.

There would be a day at Bea’s seamstress shop full of laughter as Lisa modeled a dress Bea had sewn right in front of her. She’d wear that dress to the 5-year anniversary celebration at the school later the next day.

She would have known that Clement would organize an African Naming Ceremony for her before she left. He would give her an African name — Adowa Agyeiwaa Boamah — that included his own last name because she had become part of his family and he would always be her brother.

They would spend a day or two traversing the coast of Ghana, Clement telling her about the history of his country with such enthusiasm and Lisa trying not to think about her inevitable departure. It was always destined to be a friendship with a deadline, but would become so much more.

She would have known that Clement and Bea and Liz, the school and the students, Ghana would stay with her long after she returned to New York City.

She would wonder if the students were any closer to getting a library, what kind of things Liz was curious about as she got older, and if Clement would help the school grow into a high school.

She would have known that she would always wonder when, or if, she’d see them again.

But Lisa didn’t know any of that yet.

In a cab from the airport to the bus station, Clement sitting in the passenger seat, Lisa sitting in the back seat, with the bright July sunlight streaming in through the windows, he would turn around, lean over his left shoulder, and meet Lisa’s eyes.

“What do you think of Ghana so far?” he would ask. “What are your impressions?”

Lisa didn’t have answers.