Life unfolds before us taking us where we need to go to become who we are. Shanta’s journey has been an inspiring one, seemingly absent fear. She is an excellent demonstration of how to tap into your heart of hearts, follow the messages and go forth!
You talk about how you “stole” your parents’ camera and took it with you when you left for college. But, your interest in art and photography began well before then. What are you initial recollections about your interest in photography?
Any vibrant images either in photographs in a National Geographic or various things I would see presented on the travel or discovery channel. There were always moments that felt like another world that I want to travel to and somehow capture. I guess you could say that the camera (along with my writing) has offered me a bridge into some of those worlds.
What kinds of things did you do as a child and a young person to nurture or express that interest?
That is a really good question. I honestly did not do much around images as a young person or child to nurture my photography. I took a basic (what I would refer to as a non-fancy) digital camera to Africa in 2007. I was in my 20’s and it was my first time leaving the country. I took a ton of pictures but years passed before I was drawn to actually purchasing a camera for my passion for another adventure out of the country. More specifically, in regards to images for inspiration (planting seeds for photography), I became drawn to various pieces of art. In my first office when I was 21-22 fresh out of college, I had to get a photograph print of the Taj Mahal. At that point, I did not know much about it, did not venture to research the exact location, but the view of it was majestic and inspiring on an unspeakable level. Looking in the rear view mirror of life seems to always be the clearest right? So of course, a part of me sees my attraction to this image (of the Taj Mahal in my office) as a part of the birthing story of my photography and eventual travel.
As a child/young person my writing was the first artistic medium that I really nurtured by keeping a journal.
You also write poetry. Tell us about your beginnings with your poetic writings. How did you start?
I originally started writing in a journal when I was about 13-14 years old and in between this time, I wrote poetry. My journal provided a voice during a time when I felt that I did not really have one. So it was essential for me to have a way of expressing my feelings and to chronicle things that were happening in my life at the time. As for the poetry, I went through several phases. I destroyed most of my earlier work (from my pre-adolescent days) during a time when I was introduced to the novel idea of workshopping my poems influenced by my short time at the Academy of Performing Arts during my senior year of high school.
Again, my writing started based on the ways that images and my feelings/interpretations of them collected in my head. Anything from the way naked tree branches appeared through the glass windows in the middle of the night to how adults just seemed bigger than life from my vantage point as a child all provided material for writing (both then and now!).
How did you know that you wanted to pursue those things? Was there a drive to always take pictures and to write? What was it that would happen inside of you?
I was always drawn to images and I guess you could say just being drawn to imagery eventually encouraged me to want to create or inspire that feeling in others. As a little girl, many images either through film or pictures provided a bridge into another time or place, even old family photos (whenever I would stumble upon them).
Story seems to be the constant thread for all of my art that I create and I seek to share stories through pictures, dance and writing. Expressing myself in these ways allows me to give back by perhaps creating this bridge (either to a story or into a world) for someone else.
What drew you to Uganda?
Actually, I did not choose as a personal trip Uganda but there is sort of a cool story with this. In 2006, I was working as the Public Affairs Manager for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England (Formerly known as Planned Parenthood of CT). Our department and agency started talking about participating as a Global Partner which involved choosing a country and doing an exchange in which a few of our key staff members would go to Uganda (and some of their staff members from a family planning association would visit the US). I was a part of a small working committee who discussed the details of the trip and other logistics regarding the global partnership. During this time I kept thinking to myself, “Gosh, it would be so cool to be a part of that, to be one of the staff members chosen.”
At some point in August 2006, I went to New Hampshire with my husband at the time and returned, my supervisor at the time contacted me and wanted to schedule time for me to meet with her and the CEO. I was so nervous and I automatically thought I did something wrong. My heart was beating a million miles a minute the day I walked in to meet with them. As I sat there they explained that three people were chosen from the agency to go to Uganda; I was one of them so I had to start making plans for my shots and other things I had to get ready for travel. I felt so lucky and felt like my wish/desire for wanting to be a part of this project was heard.
What was the most striking thing that you learned about life there?
Things will never be as you expect to be, but always better even if they are not as you envisioned. It is always easy to just believe what you see through what media shows you. Specifically, as it relates to visiting the country of Uganda, I was somewhere between carrying old images of the stereotypes of Africa and not really knowing what to expect. You see, this was the first time I left the country at the age of 29. As I walked around the market, smelled the various flavors in the air, encountered different people, and experienced my first safari, I vowed that travel had to become of my life especially because it is so integral to expanding my perception and world view.
What was the most striking thing that you learned about yourself during that trip?
That I was just as guilty of carrying around and at times maintaining stereotypes of what one might expect from the continent of Africa. In other words, I was an offender but seeing Uganda with my own eyes and experiencing it expanded and challenged my thinking.
And India? What brought you to India?
Ah, now India was not work related. In May 2011, my two-year contract ended in New Haven (and that same day my car died on the highway). I was able to land a summer consulting gig while looking for work. At the time, I was engaged, and both my fiance and I were jobless. I don’t recall when we made the decision, but we decided to take a break from job searching and use the time to travel and chose India while we planned our wedding.
I got married in August 2011, then by early October of 2011, I was on a plane to India. To say that it was surreal was an understatement. My husband at the time was someone who wanted to go to India for years and he’d even purchased travel books about it. For me specifically, my path to India was a bit more, well, off of the beaten path. I mentioned that picture of the Taj Mahal that I was drawn to, there was also a high school friend I had who would travel between the US and India often (we would maintain contact in between her travels). There were also other things that drew me to India over time–the myths, a historical fiction piece that shed significant light on the Mughal Empire (and included a little back story about the Taj Mahal). I believe that things never just come about but are stitched together by small bits and pieces……India was indeed a work of pieces of this and pieces of that all coming together in a certain way.
Neither my ex-husband nor I knew anyone in India yet we lied to everyone telling them we’d made some connections that we were going to visit. We did not want our family members nor loved ones to worry. I knew I was headed towards the right adventure because mostly everyone thought we were out of our minds for taking such a chance!
How does life in India compare to life in the U.S.? What are the similarities and what are the differences from your point of view?
It felt like India was more real in terms of not hiding the poverty and often blatant inequity whereas here in the U.S., one can take a different route home or into a city without coming in much contact with various disparities. I also felt like death was not treated as a disease or a problem to be tucked away or hidden. When I was in Varanasi (one of the sites for cremation) I noticed that children played, people did their laundry in the river, the cows roamed, and just a few feet away from living, there was the cremation pyre.
As far as similarities, the more I thought about it, I noticed that in the U.S. we also have many living “3rd world” (and by the way, I don’t care for that term) realities in our own back yard. Just go into any area that is economically depressed, rampant food insecurity, and/or where education or job opportunities are not available. Or just take note of how many people are living without proper access to health and wellness. In other words, we have our very own gaps that are covered up by the perception of wealth we may illustrate to other countries.
What was the most amazing moment that you captured on camera or through poetry during your trip there?
This is difficult to answer. At the risk of sounding cliche, I have to say it is one of my very first photos there. It was of a man who was standing at the Chai stand. It was the first day of my arrival and I did the very first thing that one is not supposed to do….go to a street cart, but how could I help it? It was Chai after all!
When the cab came to a stop just before asking if we wanted Chai, we hopped out and dashed across the highway. We were still very much in Delhi and hours away from Rishikesh. As we waited for the cab driver to talk to the guy at the Chai stand, we waited. I had my camera around my neck and noticed all of these individuals start to approach. There was a family in the car, and other individuals that seemed to come closer, all wide-eyed with curiosity. I was nervous because all of my life, I was chastised for staring and told it was rude. I had to adjust my thinking to what was happening in that moment.
What kind of work do you do to support yourself?
Honestly I only do what feeds my soul so ‘support’ also means feeding myself beyond just a paycheck. I am: a Director of Development, I organize the Slow Living Summit, and I have Media and PR clients (authors, artists, and some businesses).
And of course, I am an active artist though I have not started to sell my work yet. There is a common thread here and it is the fact that I have a fondness for storytelling and integrate it into my life. Thus, anything I can do to create a bridge or a connection through story that will inspire change or a positive outcome as a grant writer, through organizing and helping to bring people together for the Slow Living Summit, providing visibility for my clients through my media work, and/or through my art nurtures me deeply and my need to be of service.
How does dancing come into play in your life?
I have always been inclined toward movement though I always joke that I was not in dance at a young age. I set a goal in my 20’s that I wanted to learn different forms of dance. I was drawn to bellydance. This dance and art form connects me to something that I felt I was lacking as I became a woman–a bridge to the sacred feminine. It is hard to quite put it into words, but as I have done more reflection in my life, I realized that I was never taught how to be a woman. It also does not help that we don’t really have a right of passage in this culture. My bellydancing and the most recent Cameroonian dance that I have learned put me in touch with what it means to be feminine and tap into my inner Goddess.
You are an artist. You dance, write, do photography, call yourself “The Woman Who Dreamed” – and along with all of this artistic stuff, you also have a Masters in Business and an undergraduate degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality. How does your education tie into your artistry, or does it?
Yes in a number of ways. A couple of years ago, when I came back from India and did not have any paid work at the time, I used the opportunity to position myself for opportunities that were a match for what I had to offer. In business, there is something known as a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threats/Challenges (SWOT) analysis that is used to help identify gaps that need to be addressed while highlighting what is working well. I applied this to my own life, when things did not feel so fulfilling (like finding myself unemployed when my contract ended in 2011), I asked myself “What are the opportunities here? What are my challenges?” When I came back, I applied this analysis to creating some opportunities for myself.
My professional and education experience also taught me the art of building/maintaining relationships and strengthened my entrepreneurial spirit. As an artist, I noticed how my business and work experience has provided me with a strong foundation for thinking strategically about my approach to projects and creating key relationships.
There is a joke that sometimes artists don’t know how to market or self-promote or that they are so into their art, they let others handle that piece for them. While that is not true of all artists, I have certainly recognized where my degrees and past careers lend themselves to my artistic endeavors. And of course, even as I answer these questions about my art, I am thinking from a business perspective “What is my next step? How do I need to brand myself? What are my goals?”
Shanta L.Evans-Crowley, MBA
Check Out Perfect Imperfection: A collaborative photography exhibit and project by photographers Liz LaVorgna & Shanta L.E.
My Blog where I share thoughts and ponderings about everything from life to thinking inspired by conversation http://www.reformer802.com/realtalk/My photography site: http://storieswetellphotography.com/
Ponder This (Radio): Every week on Green Mountain mornings, I share thoughts and ponderings via radio, this piece is about Conscious Starvation (in the Emotional sense), it starts about 6:30 into this piece: