Teaching photography seemed a natural progression of my photography career, a way to give back. All my photography teachers whispered in my ear during those four years, especially Hal Wells and Don Winslow. And of course, so did my Waldorf training teacher Dorit Winter. Teaching is a very humbling experience -- so much can and does go wrong, or not quite as planned -- and it is also one of the most exquisite feelings when things go right: seeing students have aha moments as they start to see light or first grok how their cameras work, or witnessing their last day of class comparing their first photos with their last and seeing them realize how much they learned. And to be able to teach at a Waldorf school? So grateful. My school is an exciting place humming with creativity, projects, performances, teaching and learning. Creating the photography curriculum was especially challenging and rewarding, distilling my 40 years of photography practice into an eight-week course of observation of light, exploration and discovery.
And starting Firefly Institute was a long held dream come true. After having attended Squam Art Workshops six years prior, I imagined a similar workshop with all photography classes. Such a workshop didn't exist, so I created it! Such joy in designing a three-dimensional experience for 50 women that they/we absolutely loved, filled with classes taught by amazing teachers, at the charming Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma, with lots of laughter, song and dance in the mix.
While both of these endeavors were successful and soul satisfying, they also required hours and hours, too many hours, sitting at the computer, foregoing exercise and social engagements ... a life out of balance. I knew something had to change.
For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to live in the countryside -- the green, rolling hills, pastoral kind of countryside, preferably dotted with old stone buildings. When I was 27, I met a remarkable couple who had left their urban lives to buy 100 acres in the mountains of southern France including an abandoned 15th century peasant village called Bardou. Jean and Klaus Erhardt spent their years fixing up the village, inviting travelers to come stay for free in return for work, and renting out the houses for a nominal fee for those who preferred to relax. Although in a remote place, they insisted on having art be a part of their lives, and when I was there we read Macbeth on their terrace one Sunday after herding their flock of sheep. They restored a performance hall and started a classical music summer series in nearby villages. And they were the ones who introduced me to Waldorf, the educational model based on the teachings of Austrian visionary Rudolf Steiner.
All along my magnificent photojournalism and photography career, I'd remember Bardou and Waldorf. After leaving photojournalism (after being held up at gunpoint by a group of teenage gang members who surrounded me in my convertible on a dark street in Long Beach), I eventually completed the Waldorf teacher training course and started teaching photography at the San Francisco Waldorf High School. While studying Steiner, I learned that he also inspired Biodynamic farming.
So, what is my life now? I left my teaching job and sold Firefly Institute to take a grown up gap year! I'm currently in France staying with my dear English friends the Atkins (with whom I made the movie If You Ever Get To Heaven in 2009) helping them renovate an old stone farmhouse in the green pastoral countryside in the Haute-Loire. I'm up on scaffolding most days cleaning the wood beams and stone walls with a wire brush and a sandblaster, very meditative and satisfying work.
Next week I'm returning for a week in Bardou where I'll work preparing the village houses for the season. And then I'm going to visit a Waldorf school in the French Pyrénées mountains to see their Biodynamic farm and school.
And in August, I start a one-year Biodynamic farming internship at The Pfeiffer Center, the educational farm in upstate New York!
How's that for life change?