Remembering Atlantic City

Travel

Back in the late 90’s, when my family immigrated to the United States, some of my vivid memories include times we spent at Atlantic City. Although my family mainly made the trip for the beach, it was not the sole reason for the trip. The colorful hotel casinos, each trying to out-do the next, were quite the sight for a family straight out of Ukraine. Although my family does not gamble, we would still make an effort to enter the Casino’s because we admired the beautiful interiors. Each casino had it’s own personality and theme. Western, Asian, Exotic and 80’s Retro are among some of the interior styles I recall.

The trip always started out with us entering the Taj Mahal Casino, where everything was made to look like a trip to India. Walking through the casino was thrilling because the building looked like a palace, so it was no surprise that it was my family’s favorite. There was beautiful carpeting, chandeliers and animal statues along the way towards the back of the casino where one could exit into the boardwalk. Once you made it to the boardwalk, there was a pier directly across the Taj Mahal. This pier was the home of various carnival style rides and is probably one of the only things that still presently looks the same as it did almost 20 years ago (except newer rides of course). I remember  the ride ‘Crazy Mouse’ was my families favorite.

Processed with VSCO with c7 presetAlthough I have a positive past recollection of Atlantic City,  at the present moment, I no longer feel the same. I had the opportunity to visit AC a couple of weeks ago and I was tremendously disappointed. It no longer holds the fantastic luster and appeal that it had long ago. Many of the buildings along the boardwalk are either under construction or abandoned. It all looks quite sad and I couldn’t help but feel more and more depressed with each step I took, trying to make sense of what I saw as reality and my recollections collided with one another. I could only describe it as a bad trip down memory lane.

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Atlantic City has been on the decline for some time now and super-storm Sandy did not help. There was so much potential in AC and judging by the current visual state it’s in, it seems like everyone decided to give up. The original big players are still there, but there is no newness, nothing to attract tourism besides the ritzy casinos. While walking the boardwalk, I was looking for something to eat before settling for Johnny Rockets. Initially hoping for some unique restaurants, all I found were the usual franchises. The food options were just as unexciting as the boardwalk. Towards the end of the day, I had entered the Hard Rock Casino and realized that all of the restaurants that were worth trying are all hidden away within the casinos. Had I known this earlier, I would’ve eaten in one of the indoor casino restaurants instead. Even the Casino’s are trying not to give their customers the option of going out onto the boardwalk for a bite to eat.

AC 2

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So much has changed in AC, especially now that the Taj Mahal Casino was replaced with the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. What once looked like an arcade lit palace from a Hollywood film now looks like any regular casino from Las Vegas. In fact, most of the casinos have dialed down on their outrageous and glamorous exteriors. It’s a shame because the outlandish exterior designs of the casinos was one of the charms of the place since the boardwalk existed. The Atlantic City Boardwalk was the first U.S boardwalk (opened on June 26, 1870). The TV show Boardwalk Empire is based on it, yet even the historic value of the location is not worth the return.

Processed with VSCO with c9 presetOne thing that stayed the same is the beautiful sunset you can watch when on the pier. It’s still as beautiful as ever and almost allows you to forget how disappointing the whole place has become. While photographing AC, I made it my mission to try and capture the vibe I remembered when I was a child. Maybe one day, AC will bring back that ol’ glamour and thrill of an original boardwalk.

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An Inside Look Into Rare Co. Vintage

philadelphia

One of the advantages of living in or visiting a city is finding local gems like Rare Co. Vintage. Located on a side street in Queen Village, Rare Co. is a carefully curated antique furniture store. While I was exploring Rare Co. I couldn’t help but think that it felt like going through someones attic.  The feeling of  intrigue while looking over objects from the past, later followed by the thrill in finding a potential treasure. An interesting fact about Rare Co. is that the space is divided in sections where each section features a unique interior perspective. At first glance, everything might seem as though it is placed in a random order but that is not the case at all! Instead, the owner puts thought into the placement and selection of each object and furniture piece in each section. Unfortunately, when I was exploring the store and taking these photos it was during the time of the transition and setting up of the sections. Therefore, the finalized set ups are not featured in the photos on this post. Although everything was being moved around, the store was still fun to explore!

Although Rare Co. is mostly a furniture store, it does offer plenty of small trinkets, books and other miscellaneous objects. I found various books, vintage clothing, globes and figurines etc. I really liked the Black and White framed photograph pictured in the photograph below.

The store window of Rare Co.

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Grabbed a shameless mirror selfie, notice the B&W edit (trying to be vintage here folks!).

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But did you notice the flying pig though?

The check out counter of the store.

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Yes, that is me in the reflection, again!

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Address and Instagram info.

Another great thing about Rare Co. is that it joined to Moon + Arrow, a socially-responsible and environmentally conscious boutique for handmade and vintage jewelry, clothing, accessories, decor etc. The staff in both Rare Co. and Moon + Arrow are friendly, knowledgeable and willing to assist anyone that comes in. This place is a must for antique lovers and anyone who enjoys exploring thrift shops!

The street view of Rare Co.

The Traveling Musician from Belgium

People

Tell me about yourself.

So, my name is Anouar, and I am a Belgian Moroccan. I currently live in Brussels but have also lived in Morocco, Spain and other places. I have moved around a little bit and have traveled and watched how people live. This has really inspired me to write songs. Before doing music, I studied economy and information tech.

Tell me a little bit about what you do or where you are working?

So, my full time job is to play music and write songs. I would say that it is like a double full-time job every week because I need to work 24 hours. In the night and during the morning, my brain is always working. It’s true, it’s a really tough job! I really have no time to do anything else because I need to focus on the music and there is always something to do. Every day you wake up in the morning and need to answer emails, go over everything you need to do that day, and go to rehearsals.

I don’t write songs every day. Once every six months, I usually have one month where I write 4 songs and then five months of nothing. It’s not something I can decide because it is something that comes and leaves when it wants. I also organize jam sessions and concerts in Brussels. I live every day in the music field and the music world.

 

 

 

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Can you tell me how you decided to become a musician? At what point of your life did you decide that this was going to be what you wanted to do?

In my life, I have always had a point, a moment, I would even say 3-4 seconds that made me change everything in my life. Sometimes, I could be walking somewhere, when I see something and I say “Okay, this is what I want to do” or “This is what I need to do”. Sometimes I completely change my mind about different things.

One day I went to see a rap concert in Morocco and while I was at this concert, I could see the energy between the people and the guys on the stage. This energy was so strong and powerful, that I said “You know, I love this energy.” Before, I never played guitar. I never played any other instrument and I wasn’t even singing. In fact, I was 19 and had nothing to do with the music field. I didn’t even know if I could sing (laugh).

When I saw this energy, I just loved it and said “Wow, this is so strong, this is something I want to experiment with”. The power that people give you when you are on stage, and the power that you give back to these people is just crazy. That was the day I changed my life and decided that I wanted to be a musician and an artist.

An artist, I think, is a state of mind. You either have it or you don’t. Being an artist is someone who wants to give, someone who wants to share, someone who has a different view and is always exploring the different views and different ways to think, say and express themselves. It is something that you might not even know you have. It could be something that you can discover later in life, or much earlier. To be short, I really discovered the music field in a second. One day I said, “This is what I want to do” and I followed through with every step that I needed to in order to arrive to where I am now.

What do you love most about music?

What I love most about music is how it is like another universe. When you are playing your guitar, alone in your room or wherever, you are experimenting every single time. It’s like a language, it’s beautiful. You are talking to the guitar and she is talking to you or he is talking to you. Take it as you will (laugh). This is really great.

Music is also a way for me to express myself. Sometimes people can’t find a way or a platform to say the things they want to say. I think I am a pretty passionate man, I really have this passion where if I love something, I really love it. Deeply. When I had discovered music and performance, I just really started to enjoy writing songs and singing. I think I found something in the music that helped me towards saying what I want to say, to express and share.

 

 

Is there a moment in your musical journey that you can share with me?

Although I see everything differently now, there is an event that happened to me when at that time, I thought it was a spectacular moment. It was when I saw my name written on the Olympia Hall. The Olympia Hall is a really famous hall in Paris, all of the big artists of the world have played and still play there. It’s like the Madison Garden of Paris. When I saw my name written on this place, I realized that everything is possible. The week before, I couldn’t even have imagined that I would be playing there.

I think that every single moment in the music is special because every single step in the music is just crazy. When you start your life without even thinking about doing music and then you start doing music and being on stage, its crazy. You start playing with your first band, its crazy. You’ve been signed by Columbia Records, it’s crazy. You release your first album, its crazy. You hear your song on the radio for the first time, its crazy. You see people buying your album in the stores, it all seems crazy.

In the end, everything is possible with music although it usually seems impossible. There are so many musicians, artists and people playing music and everyone was telling me that it was impossible. “Go get yourself a job, do this, do that”, everyone is always telling you that your dream is impossible. In the end, you will realize that you need to follow you dream. You are living your dream every day and everything that happens is a special moment.

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Can you tell me what projects you are currently working on?

I am currently working on my second album. This album is much harder that the first one because the first album was everything I had written so far in life.  From the first time I had started writing, till the release of the first album. I put most of my ‘nice’ and ‘good’ songs on the first album. It was about 5 or 6 years of writing.

After an artist releases their first album and is starting to write for the second, they have to do it in one year or 18 months. Two years max. During these two years (that you need to be writing new music), you also need to be touring to promote your first album. You need to focus on the business of music as well as the music itself in this industry. You don’t have a lot of time to really write songs. Your mind is always somewhere else because you are busy with something. That is why this second album is taking more time than I expected, I still don’t have all the songs. Only about half. (laugh)

This is my project now, focusing on my second album. Arriving from nowhere (I was playing in little bars here and there) and then signing with Columbia Records, playing on bigger stages and being interviewed by different media platforms, everything changed for me in 3 months (although it felt like a second). During these three months, I didn’t really realize that afterwards,  it would be so difficult to come back with something better. Especially since people will be expecting you to come up with something ‘better’. After mainly playing in bars, I had no experience with these kind of expectations. I arrived with my album and just threw it out there without knowing what the future will bring me. With this first album, a listener can say “Coming from something to nothing, this music is okay”. When I return with a second album, people will not be so easy on me because they will be expecting much more out of me and my music. They will be expecting me to have understood and have learned from my experiences. They will expect me to know what I want and where I want to go (unlike when I released my first album).

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement thus far?

I will say that every day is a new achievement. At this moment, I am following my dream. This is an achievement. It is not easy and not everyone has the courage and strength to say “You know what, maybe I will live in a different way. Maybe I will live with lower income for the moment and have to do this or that. Deprive myself from this and that, but I am following what I want”. Many people are not ready to do something ‘crazy’ and leave their stable jobs for a risky future. That is why I think that my achievement, was me throwing all of my securities behind me and taking the risk to follow what I wanted to do and live the way that I wanted to live. I think I have arrived to a certain point in life when I threw away the handcuffs that society puts on each of us. That pressure of being like everyone else and fit into a ‘box’. Society wants each of us to look, dress, talk, work and be in a certain way, which I can do, why not? That’s why I think the bigger achievement is to take off these handcuffs that society puts on you and just live life the way I want. When you throw away these ‘handcuffs’, you live free.

Can you share some of your future goals with me?

First of all, I love the music field and I love my job. When I get on stage, I see people smiling. I see people receiving an energy, I see people getting something and taking it home with them. When I see these people happy with whatever it is they received, I hope to keep on doing this as long as I can. This is my goal.

I don’t really care if people say that I have a great voice or that I can play the guitar well. This doesn’t matter to me. The ego that I could’ve had, I have thrown it away. I just want to give to other people. If my listeners can have a good time and go back home with good energy, that gives them strength to keep on believing and living, then that is enough for me. My goal is to do this and give as much as I can for as long as possible.

What inspires you?

What inspires me are the people I meet. Everyone that I meet, has something to give or a story to share. Every single person that I meet is a whole world. I spend quite some time traveling and I spend this time meeting and listening to people. Like today for example, just listening to you and your life story, I imagine so many things. I try to understand what you do, how you do it, and why you do the things you do. I have been analyzing the whole day but that is just some thing I always do. What inspires me are the stories of every day. It’s not something special but what a person thinks about every day. What people think about love, loneliness, friendship etc. I have songs that talk about more of the the philosophical side of things.

I think my life changed the day that I decided to be positive. The day I decided to do this, to be positive with every single step throughout the day, I realized that positive attitudes started to surround me. Seeing the world in a more positive light also inspires me. For example, I have a song called Life is Beautiful which talks about taking a look around yourself and noticing the beauty. You just have to open your eyes and see it. If you don’t want to see it then you will never notice this beauty. I really like the song by Bobby McFerrin, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, because this is also my philosophy.  Everything that happens to you is an opportunity to change something in your life. Good or bad, it needs to be processed and you have to keep on going.

Going back to being inspired by peoples stories, I have this song called Lost In Babylon. It is about someone whom I saw coming to Europe from Africa. This guy arrived with all this will and energy to become something, to do something with his life. Yet when he arrived to this country, he realized that he did not know the language and the codes of these people. He became lost in Babylon. For me, Babylon is a big city like Paris or Brussels. Its nothing bad or good, but it is a place where so many people are speaking different languages and there are so many rules. This is an example of when I saw a person and their story inspired me to write a song.

Can you share some of your hobbies with me?

One of my hobbies is to play scrabble (laugh). I have become addicted and like to play online with people. I can be on the bus, anywhere, waiting for something and I turn on my phone and finish the game.

I also like to fish! For me it is like meditation. When you sit in front of the sea and you have your fishing rod in your hand, you look out into the immensity of the sea and don’t look and think about what is happening behind you. You are just focused on what kind and how much bait you need in order to get some action. It’s like I forget everything in my life that is currently happening to me. I don’t mean that I am having troubles but all of us need moments where we need to disconnect from reality. Some find this in meditation, yoga, going to church/mosque/synagogue etc others find it in sports or hobbies. Regardless, each person needs a place or hobby where they can disconnect. For me, scrabble and fishing are my appreciated hobbies (laugh).

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Can you tell me of some causes, issues or ideas that you are passionate about?

I have many things that I feel concerned about. For example, on my recent tour throughout the different cities in France. The theme of the tour was about fair trade. This is one of the causes that I think is very important to support. Traveling around the world, I have seen the local people and farmers who are really poor. Yet the prices for what they produce and which is later sold in Europe or USA is ridiculous.  So I wrote a song about this, the song is called Fair Trade and can be found on YouTube. This song explains that the world does not need charity. Developing countries today don’t need anyone to send them boats of rice or whatever. They just need people and companies to come and buy their products for the prices that these products deserve to be priced at.

For example, if you go to Columbia to buy coffee, pay these people the real price of what the coffee is worth instead of taking advantage of them. When you choose to pay the deserving price, you allow these people and their families to live a better life. They can afford to send their children to school. This money can be used in the community, allowing new schools to be built etc. By doing this and changing how we consume, each of us can change the world a little bit. Therefore, fair trade is something I support. If you buy anything with a label of fair trade, you are supporting the families and country from where you are buying the product.

I think that if there was something I wanted to do or spend money on in the future, it would be to invest in the next generation. I think education is important and it is something that everyone needs to support. Maybe someday I will choose a place and perhaps have a school constructed and give it to the community. Education is the base for each of us. By supporting education we are supporting a better world.

Is there any advice or personal life lessons you could share with me?

Be positive and follow your dreams.

If you liked the photo interview and want to keep up with Anouar, follow him on his instagram or facebook! Otherwise, till next time!!

Architect by day, Adventurer by night

People

 

Chris Hytha

Chris Hytha

Whenever I see Chris Hytha’s photography, I can’t help but feel his love for Philly. When describing my city to others, I have this dramatic dream version of Philadelphia in my mind. Chris has an uncanny ability of capturing this dreamscape through his work. Chris is an explorer who climbs various locations (usually abandoned) in order to capture the city in it’s full glory. Ironically, his current living situation is like those he likes to explore.

I met Chris through a Philly Mag  influencer event where I was able to ask him to invite me on an adventure (so I can take photos and interview him). Chris did not disappoint and invited me on an adventure to see the sunrise from an abandoned building. The day started with me waking up at 5 am and driving to center city area. After I met up with Chris, we climbed over a fence and trekked toward a building where we had to climb a 10 floor ladder. My hands still burn remembering that climb. Once we reached the top, we were welcomed by a birds eye view of the Philadelphia Skyline. I had a lot of fun on this photo-interview and I would love to do something like this again.

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Tell me about yourself.

My name is Chris Hytha. I’m from a small town outside of Philly. It’s like 30-45 minutes down 76, called Phoenixville. I went to Phoenixville High School and then I moved to the city to go to Drexel University. I am currently on my third year of architecture school.

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How did you get into photography and what do you like most about it?

Like I have written in my instagram bio, I am a Philly enthusiast. I’m not really into photography, I am into the city itself. The only reason I started to take pictures is because I love the city. I would literally get excited whenever I would see the skyline (even when I was younger). The city has an energy to it and pictures have a way of showing that. Like you were saying (how my pictures are your dream version of Philadelphia) that’s just how I always see it. I want to show that through my photos and I am glad you see that in my work.

Why rooftops? What is it about them that makes you take the time and effort to get to these locations in order to take a photo?

It’s just a different perspective, I mean, everyone says that (laugh). Before I got into photography, I really liked to climb things (like water towers or anything with a ladder). This was well before I cared taking pictures of these places. Eventually I realized that I could climb things in the city.

About two years ago, before I got into photography, a buddy of mine and I climbed a high rise in center Philly. I don’t know why we did it, maybe just because we wanted to climb? (laugh). I didn’t even have a camera on me! When I was up there, I thought to myself, “This is incredible, how do I capture this?” After that, I borrowed one of my brother’s camera, which was eight years old. I had no clue how to use it, I didn’t know what I was doing. Eventually I bought my own camera.

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Can you share a favorite moment while on one of these adventures?

It’s hard to say. I think one of the best ones was another high rise building I did in Philly. It was Cinco de Mayo and I was still getting into photography.  It’s interesting, in the beginning, I was terrible at photography but I was ballsy and bold, I would try anything. Walk into buildings and get into cool spots, although I was terrible with my camera. So this story, is from back when I was bad at photography but good at getting into places.

I saw a place that an instagrammer posted and I went on Google Maps, looked for it and tried to line up the perspectives. After figuring out which building it was, I hit up my friend and was like “I know it’s possible, let’s just do it.” It was 10 at night, we found the building, walked around it, found a way to get in and we walked up 45 flights of stairs. We couldn’t find a roof door and had to figure out this maze of a building until finally we got to the door, which was propped open. There was the whole city. It was incredible! It’s really special when you live your whole life on street level and you’re always looking up to the tops of the buildings. Then when you’re at eye level with the tops, it feels like you’re standing at level with all of the skyscrapers.

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Where do you work and are there any projects you are currently working on?

I work at Ewing Cole, a large architecture firm of about 400 people. I just started there a couple of weeks ago. I am doing whatever they need done, such as construction documents, grading, modeling etc.

As for projects, since I have started working, my time has become limited. I am taking classes at night. Pretty much, I work and go home. Actually, I don’t have a home right now, I live on a construction site. Afterwards I buy food, bring it to class, have class, then it’s 10 at night and I bike back to my construction site and sleep in the cold.

What do you mean when you say you live on a construction site? Can you explain?

It’s a very unfortunate situation (laugh). My dad does real estate, he buys houses and renovates them. He bought a house in Philly and I did the floor plans and design. We started renovating but ran into some delays with the city because there are a bunch of permits we need to get.

I had promised some friends that we could all live together in this great house that I designed, and now we are all homeless. It was a bad situation. Now, I am living in a house, but there is no drywall and there is no flooring, it’s just concrete. Bare, gets a little cold (laugh). It’s funny, I moved into the city, started classes. I started a new job, where for the first time in my life I had to wear professional, business clothes. Meanwhile, I’m living in a construction site and trying to keep the dust off my stuff. Yeah, it’s a tough time (laugh). This is why I don’t have any projects going on at the moment. Although I guess the house is a project! That’s a good thing to bring up (laugh). It’s kinda fun, with my friends, to play house and pick out flooring, kitchens, build a roof deck, watch some HGTV and do some home renovation.

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On our way down, we noticed this disabled phone. How could I not take a photo of Chris pretending to make a phone call? #YouUsedToCallMeOnMyCellPhone

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What would you say is your greatest achievement so far?

There are two big things that I consider to be my accomplishments. I biked to Florida, which was really awesome and took two weeks on the road. We slept in tents on the side of the road. It was really great! My friend and I were playing ping pong together one day and asked ourselves “What if we just biked to Florida? We just need to keep pedaling, right? It’s not THAT hard.”

I also participated in an Ironman triathlon, which is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and then a 26.2 mile run back to back. I consider this one of my greatest accomplishments because I am not into running, biking or swimming. The only reason I did it was to see if it was possible. The reason I decided to do the Ironman was because I was trying to one-up the bike ride (although I am not sure if it did). It was this crazy decision, where I realized that I was at that point of my life where I would be able to do it based on time and how physically fit I am. I knew that if I didn’t do it then it wouldn’t happen. So why not do it? Marathon running was abstract to me until I tried it out and realized just how difficult it was.

I’m really proud of these accomplishments because they are these impossible looking tasks, but when you break them down into small increments of training and researching, they become possible. Because I was able to accomplish both of these goals, I feel like if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything. Sounds cliche. (laugh).

Not gonna lie, but I almost had a mini heart attack when I was taking this photo..

Can you share some of your future goals with me?

I would like to start my own architecture firm at some point. I don’t really like being locked in a 9-5 job and would want to be able to do my own thing.

I guess a more unrealistic goal would be if I was able to somehow get paid to travel and take photos. I don’t know how one does this and it’s not something I am currently, actively pursuing. I am not ‘trying’ to become a professional photographer, but I am excited to see where my photography takes me. If it takes me towards being able to reach this goal, that would be great!

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What inspires you?

This is going to sound repetitive, but architecture and the city inspire me. The stories behind anything that architects come up with is fascinating. The fact that they create someone’s life in their daily routine. I once heard in a video that if you look at all the lights in the city, you can think of each light as a person in their cubicle or driving home to their condo building – architecture has a real power of forming the world we live. People spend so much time in buildings and I think it’s a big responsibility to design a place where someone is living.

As far as photography goes, all of these buildings I photograph are massive concrete and glass structures, all bigger than I am. It really humbles me. I don’t really know what it is about cities that inspires me. I think it’s the combination of  the aura, vibe and energy of the city. Not people as individuals, but the people as a collective. It’s weird because it’s not a community, it’s not like you know these people and you wake up every morning and say hi to all your neighbors. Yet all of these people, together, are working towards something simultaneously. I love looking at people walking to work in the morning and just thinking about how much we can get done if we all put our minds to it. Everyone in their suit and tie, going up their buildings and getting work done. It gives me pride for our country, in a sense. It’s exciting (laugh).

I get inspired by music a lot. I used to make videos (I would make more now if I had the time). I love listening to music and visualizing what it is the artist is trying to show me through their song. Sometimes I get a particular mood from a song. I listen to a lot of electronic music such as ODESZA, mainly instrumental and not many vocals (not dubstep). Music like this is very repetitive and puts you in a mindset. There is a vibe to it. Sometimes I think about this vibe when I am considering what kind of picture or environment will be able to capture it.

Can you tell me about some of your hobbies?

I skateboard and play piano. Regarding skateboarding, I have never been ‘skater kid’, although I have always been good at skateboarding. In middle school, I had my ‘skate posse’ and it was great. Eventually, my friends took the ‘skater’ route and started drinking, doing graffiti and doing drugs, the typical ‘skater boy’ things. I never got into this scene when I was young, instead I focused on my skating. In fact, I was hyper focused on it in order to perfect it. Nowadays, I still skateboard but more as a meditative thing. I am not getting any better but am mainly doing it to relax and relieve stress.

Piano is the same way. All of my hobbies are actually a way to do something and forget about any issue. I think that is the point of a hobby. I don’t know how to read music, don’t know many songs but I really wanted to improvise and just jam. I know one scale and I just play funk or jazz improv piano. I’ll just sit down for an hour and play the same thing over and over. Its hypnotic and meditative. I hate performing because I don’t have an opening or a closing to a song. I just have the jam! I wouldn’t be able to play with a band (laugh). The reason I started playing piano was because I used to play the saxophone. I took lessons and did it the normal way but it lost it’s magic as things do when you make it a task. With piano, I wanted to play whatever I wanted to play. I am not going to practice playing scales, I am going to play whatever I want to play and I will become better at playing whatever it is I want to play. I would recommend this to anyone actually (laugh).

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Can you tell me of some causes, issues or ideas that you are passionate about?

I am really fascinated with virtual and augmented reality. In the past, architecture has been this challenge to communicate with clients. Architects develop the skills such as visualizing things in 3 dimensions, drawing floor plans and sections, and sketching them in order to show what is in our mind so the client understands. Through virtual reality, I can imagine building a 3-D model and having a client walk through a new building. We have been trying to do that through drawing but it has been close to impossible. It would be a great way to show a finished product before it’s built. It would also be a way of learning. In architecture school, we have crits, where we design something and a professor comes and asks us about our decisions, why we did this and why we did that. It’s a challenge to learn how spaces affect you since anything drawn on paper is scaled down. Can you imagine being in that space and knowing what it feels like? Does it need to be more open? Does it feel light or maybe it’s too dark? On paper, you can only assume these things. Being able to go into and experiencing that space could open up a lot of possibilities and make it way easier to learn.

I think the reason I am not super fired up or driven for a cause is because I had a good childhood and upbringing, which I am super thankful about. I try to credit my accomplishments as a result of how and where I was raised. Because of this, I sometimes catch myself feeling that I am not an artist. I think there are artists out there who are really expressive because of their issues and qualms. A lot of people have tough things that they go through growing up, and I never had that. I constantly remind myself to be thankful for this because it is relatively rare nowadays.

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In the future, are you planning to stay in Philadelphia or are you considering moving to other locations to pursue architecture?

I grew up around here and never moved in my life. I always imagine myself here and can see myself as someone based in Philly. I went to San Francisco recently, and it kind of opened my eyes of what I could be missing out on. There are so many cities in the world, so many places to live. I realized that I can’t backup my love for Philadelphia with any other experiences. I am an easy-to-please person that sees the best in any situation. I can be happy wherever I land. Because of this, I am conscious of not getting too comfortable of where I currently am. Hopefully, I will move to another city and experience it. This way, when I come back to Philadelphia, I will have something to compare it to. I will be able to contextualize it and say “This is what I like about Philadelphia, this is what I don’t like”. San Francisco was incredible, I could definitely see myself living there. I think San Francisco is such an easy place to be a photographer, everything looks beautiful. Either way, I need to experience more before I totally decide where I want to settle.

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Is there any advice or personal life lessons you could share with me?

I think that it’s important for a person to find what it is that excites them. When you find something that you are really passionate about, you will be able to tell. A lot of people have found their “thing” but some people haven’t. If you don’t know what it is that makes you giddy and excited, makes you want to spend hours researching different things, then I would tell you to not be afraid to try different things. Something will click. Whenever I notice I put so many hours into something, that is when I realize that this is what I am passionate about. I am a risk taker and I am a fan of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and getting out of your comfort zone.

Another piece of advice would be to not being afraid to ask for what you want. The worst anyone could say is ‘no’! I love sending emails out with ridiculous proposals. Most of the time they end with a “No, you’re crazy” or they don’t get back to me, but what’s the harm in trying? I constantly email building managers to get on their rooftops. I even emailed a helicopter company and asked for a free ride in exchange for pictures. The answer was no, but I am still working on that (laugh). I am really passionate about this and it bugs me when people don’t ask or don’t take the initiative to get what they want.

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If you liked the photo interview and want to keep up with Chris, follow him on his instagram! Otherwise, till next time! Sayounara!

A Yogi named Octavia

People

Octavia

I am not quite sure what it was that had me so enamored with Octavia. Perhaps it was the confidence with which she presented herself. There was just something so interesting about this bad-ass woman and I knew that I had to meet her. My instinct was “on point” and I am so glad that she and I were able to create some photos and have a conversation. Octavia really inspires me. She doesn’t let herself get beat down but hustles through whatever is thrown her way.

For this photo interview, I decided to challenge myself and take photos in the evening  (this is something I do rarely). The location chosen was Dilworth Park , although we did end up wandering around City Hall.

 

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Tell me about yourself.

My name is Octavia, and the number one question I get is if that is my real name. It is my real name and I don’t have a nickname. I went to a culinary school for international cuisine and due to personal situations, I was unable to complete my education.

Would I go back and do it? Yes, I love cooking!

Am I able to? No, because it’s not a single parent career.

I am from Leesburg Virginia, a town close to Richmond. When my parents immigrated to USA, they were sponsored to live in Virginia. My mothers family was sponsored to live in Philadelphia, while my Father’s was sponsored to live in Virginia. My father’s side of the family did not stay in Virginia because it was too cold and they ended up moving south. After this, my mother convinced my father to move closer to her family, which was in Philadelphia. So I ended up moving to Philadelphia when I was three and for the most part have been in Philadelphia my whole life.

Octavia

Where do you work and are there any projects you are currently working on?

Currently, I own a company called 215Yoga. We specialize in onsite yoga and wellness. This means that I don’t have a brick and mortar. I have instructors, including myself, that go out to corporations and other locations (such as roof top pop-up events or private clients). We have customized yoga classes, guide in meditation, nutritional presentations or mind/body presentations. Whatever the clients needs are.

Sometimes it’s working with children with mental health disabilities. This whole summer I taught at a summer camp for kids with mental health disabilities and behavioral issues (CCTC/Children’s Crisis Treatment Center)  through a non-profit.

I also do real estate. I am a real estate agent in Philadelphia, primarily, although I sometimes travel outside PHL.

Octavia

What do you like about Yoga and what do you like about Real Estate?

I love interacting with people and helping them. What I love most about yoga is that it allows me to maximize my potential as a human being, while helping me learn what I can control and what I cannot. I am not talking about poses on a mat. Yoga, for me, is off the mat as well. It’s about taking care of your mind, body and soul. Not about doing a crazy back bend and post it on instagram and hashtag #inversion (laugh).

Real estate challenges me because each time I meet with a client, each one has different needs. Sometimes it could be a smooth transaction, where it’s just too good to be true. Other times, it’s extremely complicated. I love meeting new people and finding out where they’re from and what their stories are, just like you do.

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What would you say is your greatest achievement so far?

My daughter, Audrina. She has been my main focus for the past six and a half years. I am devoted in raising her and helping her maximize her potential. I want her to become a loving, caring, serving, compassionate person, not someone who is selfish.

 

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Can you share some of your future goals with me?

There is something that I’ve really, really, really, REALLY wanted to do, but life took its turn and I was unable to go through with it. I used to volunteer a lot with children, actually, I still do whenever I can. It’s difficult, as a full-time, single parent to have extra time – especially time to volunteer. I am already heavily involved in my daughter’s school, life and in the community.

I used to travel and work with children. I went to Montego Bay, Jamaica where I worked in orphanages there and Teen Challenge. We brought non-perishable food, clothes, shoes, school supplies to kids and spent time with them. 

One of my goals was to go and live in Thailand from six months to a year in a safe house. It was one of the safe houses for which I was helping raise money to help them out. I was selling bracelets from the  Red Thread Movement and was raising money and awareness against sex and human trafficking. Both of these huge matters are close to my heart and 100% of the profit goes to rescuing and helping more girls, children and humans. It’s not just targeted towards women. Anyway, these safe houses help train girls to have life skills. When it’s safe for these girls to return back to their homes, they leave. Otherwise, they stay and continue training. If I had gone on this trip, I would’ve been volunteering at the safe house and I really, really, REALLY wanted to go but now I have my daughter and I can’t even bear to be a day away from her. So, this goal has been put on the backseat.

Do I care less about this matter? No.

Am I still trying to raise awareness and whatever I can to help? Yes, I do.

If I could, in the future, do this, then I would love to.

In terms of personal goals, I would love to grow my company 215Yoga. I want to monopolize Philadelphia (laugh).

Octavia

Can you tell me what drives you towards your everyday and future goals? I want to know what it is that makes you work so hard everyday.

I know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the barrel. I’m not talking about starting from the bottom because my parents were immigrants. Yes, that’s one thing, but I know what it’s like to start over from zero. I am not talking about monetary but about starting over your identity. Starting over from childhood then starting over after marriage and starting over yet again after leaving the marriage. This is very, very difficult. I couldn’t have prepared myself for this difficulty in any way. Even knowing in advance what I would have to face, there was no way I could’ve prepared myself and said “Hey Octavia, this is what you’re going to face and this is what you need to do.” There is no law book, no blog, no word of advice that could fix that. It’s something you have to learn to do on your own. My daughter is basically driving me to continuously strive and I want her to know that. No matter where you are, whether it’s zero dollars to your name or in a sticky situation, there is always a solution. It might not be your ideal solution or the perfect solution. It might not even be what the world might consider a solution, but there IS a solution. It should never be an end all.

What inspires you?

Actually, it’s kinda corny, but seeing other people smile (laugh). Whether it’s giving someone a meal who may not have seen one for a couple of days, providing a piece of advice or tip for somebody or dedicating a couple of hours to assist somebody, whether paid or unpaid. Making someone else happy and putting your own selfish goals aside, makes me happy and is very rewarding to me. Especially since I’ve worked with kids in the past, in the orphanages, and seeing how these kids have nothing. Everything a child owns can fit in a bag or a single drawer. Seeing how minimalistic they are and with no attachments, it’s inspiring to see how these kids are willing to put a person above them. You come and they ask “You want this toy? You can have it.” Just being completely selfless, loving and helping others is something that inspires me.

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Can you tell me about some of your hobbies?

I am very crafty! I used to hang out on First Fridays and I would make and sell barbie shoe jewelry (laugh). I would import barbie shoes in bulk.. You’re laughing at me but I actually sold them for a couple of hundred dollars a pop! They were so tacky and I wouldn’t be caught wearing one (laugh). One of the designs I made was with all of the scrap shoes I had left. Usually I made them color coordinated but this one just looked like a box of Fruit Loops. I would give each piece of jewelry a name and a story, which helped boost my sales. So this particular one, I called Hula Baby because it looked like a floral lei. This one lady bought it for like three hundred and something dollars. The materials probably cost me about $10, although it took me a couple of hours to make it. It’s very tedious and there is no way you can cut corners. You have to punch the holes and move the wiring, your hands get really sore and you get tired of sitting. Anyway, this lady was so excited about it! Meanwhile I was thinking to myself  “Oh my God, I cannot spend this money, she’s going to return it, she’s going to hate it. This must’ve been a drunk purchase or something.” Eventually, this woman sends me an email and I’m like “Oh my goodness, here she is, requesting her refund.” I open the email and saw that she had sent me photos of herself wearing it out! (laugh). She was so excited about this huge necklace! (laugh) I used to make them with Swarovski crystals, sterling silver and feathers. I made them really fancy, Audrina has some of them now.

I really enjoy designing, crafting and making stuff. I made my website 215Yoga myself! I enjoy the challenges where I have to teach myself coding, what’s visually appealing or if its user friendly. Also, I do simple art projects with my daughter.

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Can you tell me of some causes, issues or ideas that you are passionate about?

We kinda brushed upon this earlier, but human and sex trafficking – which I believe go hand in hand. Many people say this is a women’s issue but it’s not. Many people ask me “why are you so passionate about this, you should be helping your own country”. Believe it or not but there are people who traffic for strip clubs and you don’t know what kind of threats they are under (such as whether their families will get killed etc). Just because these individuals are out there doing it, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are doing it out of free will. Even with nail salons, some of these salons traffic workers to be there. It’s very devastating that people are refusing to acknowledge that it’s right underneath our noses.

In addition to that, I have been vegan now for two years. Animal cruelty has also become a passion of mine.

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Is there any advice or personal life lessons you would like to share?

If you are faced with a decision, whatever it may be (whether it’s a personal matter, a career choice or any other kind of decision), if you don’t make that choice, nobody will stand behind you. Whether you come from a very religious or cultured family like I did, (when you feel like no one will stand behind you and you will be excommunicated), and you’re almost forced to make that decision. Know that that you are not forced to make any decision and you have the right to walk away and say otherwise. You’d be surprised how the universe works. I was faced with this kind of situation when my daughter and I had absolutely nothing, yet in so many different ways, the universe just spoke out and provided the assistance we needed, from aspects I had no idea were going to be available. Basically, if you feel like no one is standing behind you in a decision, it might feel like that in the moment. Once you make that decision and people see the confidence you have making the decision you wanted, people will rise behind you with support.

If you liked the photo interview and want to keep up with Octavia, follow her on her instagram! Otherwise, till next time! Au revoir !

A Dreamer Studying Sociology

People

Photo by Irina Belashov

“What beautiful eyes she has”, was the first thought I had when I met Britney H. I think that I had wanted to do a creative photo interview with Britney since the moment I met her. Every time we ran into each other during various Philly events, we would discuss how we need to find time to create something interesting and fun. Britney suggested us potentially using a piece of fabric to create movement in this collaboration. The location chosen was Washington Avenue Pier. I am strongest in my work when photographing outdoors but this particular session was a little bit more challenging for me. Since we could only do this session in the morning, I had to deal with harsh sunlight that every photographer genuinely dreads. Regardless, it was a great experience and I enjoyed Britney’s down to earth character. It was a pleasure trying to convey her personality and character through my photography.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

So, my real name is Brittney and my instagram handle is Olive, because I didn’t want to be found by my coworkers when I started my instagram.

Which do you go by now? Because I have you as Olive on my phone (laugh).

Both? I respond to both of them actually. People with whom I have relationships outside of my photo work usually call me Brittney. You can call me either one. I’ve lived in the city (Philadelphia) now for ten years but am from a little, suburban town called Perkasie. Currently, I live between Northern Liberties and Old City on Penn’s Landing. I work full time in HR at Kimpton Hotels and am also a part time student at UPenn, going for a degree in sociology. I am a really big fan of books, literature and words in general. I read a lot and if I am not reading a book for school then I am reading a book for pleasure. In fact, I usually have 2 or 3 books going at one time. I really want to write a book. I keep on creating timelines so I can sit down and work on it but every time I sit down and try to write, nothing ever comes out. So like I want to write the book, as a personal project but it’s just taking a very long time.  

Photo by Irina Belashov

Can you tell me the genre you want to write about?

It is based on a real life experience. It’s about how life moves for someone who is incarcerate versus someone who is not incarcerated. About how much life changes outside of that whereas nothing changes inside of it. Just to show the drastic difference of how time goes on when someone just sits there, dormant, waiting to be free again.

What do you like so much about sociology that made you decide to study it?

Coming from a really small town, I never really understood people’s differences. I mean the town I grew up in was probably 98% white, about 10,000 people. To me, it was a really sheltered life when compared to the city, where I realized how fascinating it is how we are all so different. All of us have such different views, backgrounds and perceptions of life. Yet somehow, we are all functioning together as one and just trying to live in harmony as much as we can. I just love studying how this happens, how people can come together despite their differences and work for the greater good. For sociology, I want to learn as much as I can about people in order to help them move forward, overcome challenges and become better people. I can’t do this until I fully understand how race, class, ethnicity and background affect people. So I am kinda looking into the future by starting from the beginning.

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Photo by Irina Belashov

What would you say is your greatest achievement so far?

I actually think that one of my greatest achievements is going back to school. I mean, I had gone back before and had fallen into that trap of where I thought “this is it, this is the life I’ve chosen”. I am really proud that I made the decision to put in the effort and go back, all while balancing work and school and pushing it to one degree further by going to UPENN. I feel that when I decide to do something, I either go all the way or don’t do it at all. The fact that I am still here and doing it to my best ability, is one of my greatest accomplishments. I think making a change in order to make that conscious efforts to better yourself is important and I see that as an achievement.

 

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Can you share some of your future goals with me?

One of my goals is to see a new country or part of our country (USA) every year. So just to see a new place every year is really important to me and I think it makes me a better person. For a work goal, I want to be in a position where someone reports to me. I want to be at a point in my career where people come to me for advice, guidance and direction versus me always being the one asking people for it. I enjoy the process of teaching and feel like I would enjoy the opportunity to teach someone what I’ve learned through my experiences. As for a school goal- one semester at a time! I want to make the experience mine. It’s so easy to compare yourself to other people. I remember my first class at UPENN, within 5 minutes everyone whipped out their Macbook Airs while I had a 50 cent notebook and a pen I stole from the last company I worked for. I remember feeling so bad about myself and thinking “how dumb did I think I could come to UPENN and get away with a notebook”. Although I did end up buying a computer, figuring out how to not compare myself to others and wishing I was like them is something I also consider both a goal and accomplishment.

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What inspires you?

Color and texture inspire me. Although I am not outwardly colorful or wear anything textured, I am very inspired by them. I try to bring it into my space and often find myself being attracted to and moving towards it. Cinematography and just the whole movie/film world also inspire me. What I like to tell people “I am not ever really living on earth, in my mind, I’m in some sort of movie, in another world or in a dream.” Rarely is my mind where I actually am. I feel like I picture movies, I think in movies and I imagine movies into my own world. This inspires me to create “movie moments”, like when you are riding your bike and you raise your arms up into the air. I see a scene like this in a movie and I think to myself “Let me put this into my life. Let me do this and feel the magic”. Silly stuff like that inspires me. Sounds cheesy (laugh).

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What are your hobbies?

I love to bake and cook. As a lactose intolerant pescatarien with a honey and potato allergy, I had to learn how to make food that’s good for me, is wholesome and will sustain and give me protein etc. I have been a vegetarian pescatarian for 14 years, practically half of my life. I cut out dairy almost 10 years ago and my food allergies were a much recent discovery. All of this really forced me to learn to be creative when baking and cooking. I show my love through baked goods and I love to cook because I know it will make me feel good and get me through the day. I like to go to the grocery store and plan out my meals and recipes. Sundays I spend cooking, it’s become a good routine for me!

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Can you tell me of any causes, issues or ideas you are passionate about?

In terms of cause, animal rights are very important to me. I grew up on a farm where we had goats, pigs and sheep.  I would often look into these animals eyes amd I feel like this gesture made me a changed person. Not enough people take the time to make that connection. People are quick to talk about cats and dogs having specific personalities but they don’t consider that cows, pigs and sheep also have personalities and feelings. Something I’ve always felt strongly about is that is people were more exposed to farm or other animals, they would start to think differently.

In terms of causes, bullying. I was bullied when I was in school. It started from casual bullying when I was in elementary, I was taller than all the rest of the girls. I had big boobs and big feet which resulted in me constantly getting picked on. In middle school, when I really started to figure out my own style, people were really mean. They threatened to pull my pants down in the hallway, because they didn’t like my baggy pants. In high school, people would put gum in my hair, someone would spit spitballs at me etc. Bullying, for me, is a personal subject. We need to have more conversation about it. We need to better educate our children about it. We need to better educate our educators so they know what to look for, how to stop it and how to intervene. I think there needs to be more awareness because bullying really hurts people emotionally. So yes, I am passionate about anti-bullying and bullying awareness.

For the idea portion of this question I would like to say compassion. I’m a very much “Live and let live” kind of person. Except for me, it’s about having general compassion towards people, understanding others, having empathy towards them and just not being so quick to judge. I just feel like that is the direction humankind will choose to go in the future. This kind of goes back to the animal rights I mentioned, just having compassion for other living things and not being so self-centered.

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Is there any advice or personal life lessons you would like to share?

One of my favorite quotes from one my favorite authors, Christopher Gutierrez,“Everyday, I strive to be a little less sh*tty than I was before”. Chris is from the band Fall Out Boy, and is known as the Chris from the line “Hey Chris” in their song Grenade Jumper, (Hey Chris, you were our only friend, And I know this is belated, we love you back). Chris went through some serious sh*t in his life and he wrote about these experiences. I’ve met him a few times, he is an amazing person. This quote to me is so simple and yet so honest. I want to be a little less sh*tty than I was before. You don’t have to make a leap but a little step to be a better person, better friend, better partner, better child, better parent, better sibling, better student or a better worker. You can always make that one little, tiny step to be a little less sh*tty. I think this has really stuck with me and this is what I would encourage other to enact in their lives.

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If you liked the interview and want to keep up with Britney, follow her on her instagram! Otherwise, till next time! Dosvedaniya!

 

Peaky Blinders Couple Session

People

 

O&D

In the light of the new season of Peaky Blinders, coming out, I wanted to do something different and photograph a couple in a more vintage setting. For this “couple” photo interview session, I chose David and Olenka Boyko. I had met Olenka when I was at Bucks County Community college but had lost contact with her when I left to continue my studies at Philadelphia University. I later found her on instagram, right before her wedding and asked if she and her fiancé wanted to do a “Peaky Blinders” inspired photo session. Thankfully, Olenka and David Boyko were totally cool with my suggestion and here are the results from that day.

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Tell me a little bit about yourselves.

Olenka: My parents are from Lviv, Ukraine and they came here to Philadelphia when my mother was pregnant with me. So, I was made in Ukraine but born in Philadelphia.

David: I was born in Brenton, WA. My family lived in Seattle, and later moved to Lexington, KY. After I married Olenka, I moved to Philly and here I am.My parents were also from Ukraine, Revinskaya Oblast.

How are you liking Philly so far?

David: It’s growing on me.

Tell me about your educational backgrounds, what you do or are a part of.

Olenka: I am finishing up my degree this summer and am getting my Bachelors in Marketing at Temple University. I am really excited about that! In the meantime, I am working at Nordstrom Rack, which I enjoy because I am doing more Visual Merchandising, which I really like. It kind of ties into my degree also, which is cool. I like thinking about how things look and what to do to make them look better. I consider myself more of an introvert and I prefer visual merchandising because of the subtlety of it in regards to marketing. I enjoy learning about what goes on behind the scenes and how visual merchandising psychologically influences people.

David: I’ve done a little bit of everything actually. I started working as a cabinet builder. Afterwards I moved on to become a “professional sandwich builder” in Panera Bread. I was actually impressed with how the company ensures that everything is fresh. The bakers bake all night and in the morning, someone comes in to cut all of the fruits and vegetables. After working at Panera Bread, I moved to Tempurpedic, where I did anything from customer deliveries to trade shows. Also, I do graphic design on the side by making logos, cards, invitations etc. I actually just built my new website, which will go live soon! I have been a second shooter for weddings. In the past I used to drive a truck cross country, hauling cars. I also did landscaping. I even worked in Banana Republic for a while. I had my hands in a little of everything! As for my educational background, I went to college for Graphic Design for a year but it was a total flop. I realized that going to college was not for me.

How did you two meet?

Olenka: Each time was a new meeting (laugh). The first time we met was in New Jersey, at a little tiny church. David and his friends were exploring the area and happened to visit the church. That evening, during a youth gathering, the night was getting to the part where the introduction/ice breaker games were starting. David and his friends approached my group of friends and asked if we wanted to hang out with them somewhere else.

David: That was actually the only time I have ever done something like that. It was done intentionally, I kinda had a crush on her.

Olenka: We had a good time, but I did notice that the longer David was with us, the quieter he became all while sitting in the corner by himself. I remember asking my friends “What’s wrong with that kid? Does he think he’s too cool or something?” I hadn’t really seen him for 3 years after that.

David: I saw you though. I saw you at conferences sometimes. Also, we followed each other on instagram. Whenever I saw you, I would think “There she is”… like a creeper, I guess (laugh).

Olenka: Yes, he confessed this to me. So, three years later, at a conference in Columbus, Ohio, I saw him again. It’s actually funny because he was sitting in front of me with his brothers and I remember thinking “That’s that kid… who was SO anti-social!”

David: Later that day, when we were in line for food, you kind of walked by with your friend who tried to introduce us. I was like “I know you..”

Olenka: Yeah, right. The way you did it was more like “Hi, I’m David”. I thought to myself “Seriously? This kid doesn’t even remember who I am?!” (laugh). I was like “Nice to meet you…”(laugh). I don’t know how it happened, but one we started talking, we really hit it off. Our friend groups ended up hanging out that whole weekend, so we were able to get to know each other a little bit.

 

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When did you decide that you were serious about one another?

Olenka: I actually don’t really know! It just happened! I could tell right away though because I felt really comfortable around him and he was so easy to talk too. It was one of those things where the more you talk to the person, the more things you notice that you like about them. This had never happened to me before because in the past, when I got to know a guy more, I would actually start noticing more things I didn’t like and that didn’t fit with me in order to move towards a serious relationship.

David: I think it happened when we met up in NYC. I was there with Tempurpedic and realized that Philly was pretty close by. I reached out to Olenka to invite her to spend a day with me. It was the first time that we were alone together, without our friends surrounding us. I remember thinking to myself afterwards “I’m done”. Afterwards, I was very intentional in my actions and feelings toward her and I let her know.

 

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What would you say is your greatest achievement so far?

David: Honestly, I am very happy with how my life has been so far. Growing up, all the guys surrounding me only thought about making money. Meanwhile, I was more focused on building a relationship with people. I never really cared so much about becoming wealthy. By traveling, I was able to see a lot and experience a lot. I just absolutely love that I did that. As I look back, I have so many great memories with great people. That, to me, is a great accomplishment.

Olenka: For me, I think it’s more about personal accomplishments. Like I mentioned, by nature, I am more of an introvert. About 2-3 years ago, I was kinda forced to go out of my comfort zone because a lot of people in my life were starting to date and not being so much a part of my life anymore. I had to learn to do things on my own instead of waiting around for someone to do it with me. I was able to become more independent, meet more people and put myself out there. I have always been surrounded by people, but I never really became as comfortable in my own skin as I have in the past few years. Not caring what others think and how others view me. I’ve learned how to find common interests and topics with people I have just met. It’s so interesting how the most unexpected people have the most in common with you! I have gained so much more confidence since the person that I was in the past. I still think of myself as an introvert, but at the same time, if I need to be, I can be more extroverted.

Who or what inspires each of you?

David: I think really thought provoking movies inspire me. Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorites. I just appreciate well shot movies, so I guess cinematography really inspires me. I would say that I am more of an ‘artsy’ person than a logical person. For example, if I go to a cafe and they have a nicely designed menu, then I will immediately like the cafe. Good design, in general, inspire me. I really love a good design! My parents inspire me. They moved to the USA in 1990 and literally, had nothing. Now they are doing better than some Americans who have lived in this country their whole lives. To me, that shows that hard work goes a long way. No matter your circumstances, you can get it if you want it. My uncle has a successful granite business. When I look at him, I think “That guy came from nothing.” When he came here, he probably only had two sweaters and a pair of pants. When I see people like that, I can’t help but be inspired.

Olenka: That’s how I am too. I am a very visual person, visual learner, visual everything… People watching is one of my favorite things to do. Also people that I know also inspire me. One of my good friends, she’s at Parsons in NYC, she just got a scholarship in Paris to design and work with designers. For me, that is amazing! Just to see people I know, who are talented and good at what they do, succeed, makes me really amazed. I am happy for them and it makes me inspired because if you work hard, try to be a good person then good things will happen to you.

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What are your hobbies?

Olenka: I am not sporty at all! I am the worst at sports. I love reading, since I was a little kid. I am always reading something. Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorites, I love everything he’s ever written. I think I might’ve read almost all of his work. I would literally go to the library, where the limit was 12 books for checkout, I would take out 12 each time and finish them before the due date. The Office is my favorite show of all time so I almost consider it a hobby with how much I watch it (laugh). I like going on walks or going on a hike, I really like chill activities.

David: I like so many things. I love sports, except for basketball. Volleyball and Tennis are my favorite. Photography is also something that I have really been interested in for a long time. I always told myself that a camera would be my first big purchase when I started working. That never happened although I did finally get one. I have always been interested in graphic design and reading. In class, I was always that kid in middle school and high school that was always reading during class. Sometimes I would even read through the night. I enjoy driving. I also really love learning. I am constantly watching documentaries or researching some type of topic. I guess my hobby would be collecting information!

 

What issues, causes or ideas are you passionate about?

David: I have recently have been getting into politics. Like I said, I collect information and recently most of it has been politic driven. I have been watching Ben Shapiro, and that is who I am passionate about. I want that guy to be president! He’s a libertarian, he’s not a conservative for the sake to be conservative. I strongly agree with what he says and everything he advocates for. The arguments he makes, he is able to support logically and I admire that. I like that although he is a religious person, Shapiro does not argue from a religious perspective but from accredited researched information and statistics. I am also passionate about meeting people from all communities. Finding good people and building relationships with them.  

Olenka: I think one of the things I am passionate about is the Slavic community, especially the Christian Slavic community here in the US. When one grows up in a slavic culture church here in America, you start noticing how much is culture driven vs religion driven. People are doing or saying things because they are used to things being a certain way. Just being close-minded and pushing opinions onto kids and the new generations without considering their kid’s worldviews. Being a first generation kid in a different country and with everything that is currently going on here, there is a dissonance between the parents/grandparents and their kids. It’s very interesting for me to talk about it with people from all over the USA and how they are dealing with this issue. We have a friend in Kentucky that doesn’t go to a Slavic church at all and many of the people we know only go to Slavic churches just because they don’t want to have an argument with their parents. These type of issues are why I am so passionate towards the teens in our community. Back when I was doing teen Bible school, I was able to have personal conversations with teenagers where I could explain the importance of having your own personal relationship with God versus it just being a “church thing”. I would stress that it has to be your own personal decision instead of doing it just because it’s what your parents want or expect. Especially at that age when many are questioning why they are in church and might even be a little bored with it. It is important for them to realize that it is their decision and that someone like me is available for them in case they need help or advice. It seems like the current situation in Slavic churches is very transitional. I am very interested to see what the future will bring.

Any tips or advice you would like to give anyone reading this photo-interview?

David: I have recently found a quote that I fell in love with. I don’t know exactly how it went but it went something like this, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of remedy”. If you see that something is going to happen, fix it then and this will save you a lot later. If you cut corners, something is going to happen and you will have more work in the end. Also, Olena got a cool t-shirt from United by Blue which says “Well done is better than well said”, and I completely agree with that.

Olenka: Every time I’ve looked back at different situations in my life where I was unhappy with how something turned out, I just wish that I had focused more on what I was doing and doing it well. I think I would’ve been much happier with the results. I guess what I am trying to say is that whatever you are doing, do it well. Even if it’s something that seems small and unimportant. I know sometimes a lot of the places people work in are very repetitive and I think that by trying to make small differences and changes in one’s life are important. Notice the little good things, compliment someone else and try to make every day different and focus on your own personal growth. Use what you have learned and give to other people.

David: Olena does this really cool thing where if she has a good memory, she writes it down, puts it in a jar and at the end of the year, during New Year’s, she reads them.

Olenka: Well it’s amazing how much you can forget about what happened. When I read all these “memories”, I catch myself saying “I can’t believe this all happened  this year”. It really makes me appreciate life more and also reminds me of everything I am thankful for.

 

I hoped everyone liked the interview! If there is someone you would like me to photo interview, please leave a comment below. Otherwise, till next time! Ciao!