I didn’t think I could top my last trip, but somehow this one managed to do just that. The Atacama Desert was love at first sight. My goal was relaxation, a true respite, shooting in the desert light again, getting away from it all, and reconnecting with my true self, desires and purpose. That’s all. My inner cowgirl got a workout on this escapade.
The landscape was absolutely stunning and varied in so many wonderful ways. I had great guides (by great, I mean young and hot), plus a town full of adventure junkies waiting to get the party started.
The desert was sophisticated and refined. Chile is distinguished by its combination of beauty, cleanliness, well-paved roads, manicured landscape, and great food and wine.
I stayed at the Hotel Altiplanico and shot several luxury lodges and many landscapes for Design + Destination, which were intoxicatingly beautiful. It is a place like no other. Salt pans, geysers, altiplanic lagoons, Salar de Tara, Valle de la Luna and so much more.
Tourists were so happy to be there, and an almost instant camaraderie formed. Naturally, when two Korean guys in their 20s asked to take a picture with me on a hike I said yes. After the snap, they thanked me and said they had never seen a non-obese American and wanted to show their friends back home. Happy to help.
Although just a short trip over the border, Bolivia is a million miles away from Chile in terms of politics, infrastructure and government. The group of travelers I was with that day paid immigration police a “fee” to enter and exit the country, which they split and immediately pocketed in front of us.
There’s a shocking socio-economic difference immediately visible at the border separating the two countries. It’s like going from Park Avenue to El Paso. The energy of the place and infrastructure (or lack thereof ) immediately hit the senses. The stunning landscape, however, was off the charts. Laguna Colorada was breathtaking, and the surrounding areas and villages were well worth the price of entry.
I’m not quite sure how the Around the World idea came about, but once it was in my head it was impossible to get it out. There was something about the concept of flying around the globe in a perfect circular way, making stops along the way that appealed to my inner Gemini. This trip was groundbreaking in many ways and quite a change of pace from my previous trips.
Each stop was dramatically different from the next, and some were not places that I’d recommend to a solo female traveler to go — which made it that much more of a task and achievement. Traveling carry-on only was the hardest here.
Different climates and cultural norms regarding dress made it a challenge unlike any other. I had a lot of lugging to do in between hotels and airports, but I made it work and was better for it in the end. It also gave me a source of pride flying home, having lived out of that little container for so long in so many places.
It was an incredible trip that I’m eternally grateful for, but I’m not going to lie — there were growing pains and not just wardrobe ones — all along the way. I started to think I had bitten off more than I could chew. As the saying goes, what you resist, persists. I was in family denial. It was the kale in my teeth that everyone saw except me.
Up until this point, I wore singlehood as a proud Girl Scout badge of honor.
I felt sorry for married people and assumed they were insecure or hadn’t read the fine print. Marriage was co-dependence. People who were tired of trying to be someone on their own got married so they could commiserate under a socially acceptable umbrella of mediocrity. Or at least that’s what I thought. Until the Spanish Inquisition started and persisted relentlessly on every leg of this trip.
Why are you alone? Aren’t you scared to travel by yourself ? What do your parents think of you traveling alone? Why aren’t you married? Why don’t you have kids? Why are you a big fat loser? How do you answer that? I struggled with being single and childless. Why here and why, now you ask? Because 10 of 10 people I met would ask me if I was married with children, and why not.
All of a sudden political correctness was out the door and big, invasive life questions pushed in like a gale-force wind.
I wasn’t sure if something was wrong with me or if an insecurity was sparked in them. In retrospect, it was probably both: 50 shades of envy and pity.
I was shocked at how far I thought women had come and the reality of how far we still had to go.
It really wasn’t OK to be man-less and childless out in the world. And surprisingly,it was other Westerners (Americans in particular) who probed the issue. In Vietnam, I met a really cool American couple and nice French couple, both of whom were stunned that I was there alone. “I would never do that!” they remarked in horror. “Aren’t you afraid of being by yourself?” “Aren’t you afraid if some- thing happens to you?”
Hotel staff also struggled with my solo check-ins. In one case, I was led to the lobby for ginger tea. After about a half-hour or so, I checked back with the receptionist to see if the room was ready. She said, “Oh yes, it’s been ready all day. We’re just waiting for your husband.” You and I both, sister. It felt like everywhere I went and every conversation I had, was about one thing: the audaciousness of me being a single woman, traveling alone.
My life as a travel femme fatale was losing steam. I felt lonely. I even missed my love avoidant ex-boyfriend.
Even he would have been a step in the right direction from where I was. I was also tired of being jerked around by cab drivers and people thinking that I was a prostitute eating alone in restaurants. I missed ordering shared plates and a bottle of wine at dinner. For the first time ever, I truly felt alone in the world.
Traveling through eight consecutive countries that don’t necessarily view women’s rights as human rights, and where women are not valued as equals, opened the door to a kind of sadness and depression that I had never felt before.
It was a shot to my spirit. It seemed that being single, regardless of gender, was not an option in these places. Not having kids is the second scarlet letter, and having a creative career and traveling alone would be a jailable offense if someone had considered that it might actually happen.
I took pride in being independent and not needing anyone. But an awareness started to seep in. Being counterdependent in life was a choice that was no longer serving me. I could do it, clearly, but not contently. Especially if I wanted to order multiple breakfasts and pass them off as my partner’s. Reluctantly, I’ll admit that having someone who had my back would have come in very handy here and would have made this trip infinitely more comfortable and enjoyable. While enlightened life coaches eschew comfort as the anti- growth drug, a woman does deserve a break every now and then.
The feeling that a woman’s place in the world was nowhere was starting to consume me. I felt alienated not from just the place I was visiting but from humanity as a whole. From West to East, women were defined, acknowledged and judged by their looks alone, and the fear of a woman being anything more than just an aesthetic servant was palpable.
I missed my tribe, my people. I felt that I was scratch- ing at the earth and having very little success on a large scale. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, perhaps even the wrong century. It was impossible to evade these issues on this trip. They were too much in the forefront — not only about where I was geograph- ically, but they made me wonder about the rest of the world, too. Was it better and had we really advanced elsewhere? Seeing women’s roles defined as subser- vient to men’s, hidden and the property of somebody else, forced me to ask: “Why am I here?”“Why was I put here in the first place?” I began contemplating whether or not photography was my true life purpose.
The trip began normally enough. Istanbul was a great start with its wonderful hospitality, amazing fine dining and a burgeoning contemporary art scene. It was probably the most westernized city of the trip and I felt fine here. I especially loved exploring the up-and-coming neighborhoods on the verge of becoming mainstream.
Israel was fascinating and full of contrast, and it was here that I started to feel like a fish out of water and pushed beyond my comfort zone. Tel Aviv was so liberal, had delicious, fresh food on every corner, crazy donuts with spoons to carve out the middle, phenomenal Bauhaus architecture, great art museums and artists. Comparatively, Jerusalem was a shock to the senses.
I sheruted (Israeli shuttle) there from Tel Aviv, a 1.5-hour journey but a world away. The religious conservatism on all sides was staggering, as was the melting pot of three major world religions descending on precisely the exact same spot. I felt for Jesus Christ because all of Jerusalem is uphill — figuratively and literally. I also never realized that all three major world religions have the same affection for black polyester garments. I rode in the special Shabbat elevators, ate unrefrigerated leftovers from the hotel, and took a taxi into the West Bank where my Palestinian guide showed me the cage Jesus was born in.
What? Yes, it was a cage. Perhaps not unlike the one I felt I was in, being a single female traveler. Getting in and out of the West Bank, a relatively short distance, was like a CIA mission. I had an Israeli driver bring me to the wall, then a Palestinian driver pick me up on a side street. The wall was gratified with the words “Whatever” facing Israel. I carried on to Masada and the Dead Sea, down to Eilat and did a land crossing over the border into Jordan.
I was proposed to by a Bedouin gypsy in Petra who invited me back to his cave. I was stared at like a porn star in my North Face burka in Qatar. I was tested in many ways in Vietnam, the longest leg of my trip. At one point, while staying in Hue, the hotel staff (which was extremely lovely) went off in mad search for my husband. Words cannot describe staffers’ looks of confusion when I told them I was traveling alone.
China proved immensely different from my previous trip — a country that had transitioned in so many fundamental ways politically and structurally. Japan was beautiful and much more in line architecturally and design-wise with my passion, so it was fun to get back into shooting there.
The scariest moment of the trip was traversing from Aqaba to Amman on the Kings Highway in Jordan. I hired a private driver from my hotel, thinking I would be safer that way. About an hour outside of Aqaba, the driver stopped and another man came into the car. I was sweating bullets in the backseat praying to God, Allah and Abraham that I would make it to Amman. I started talking about my “husband,” who was waiting for me at the hotel, and my imaginary child. Leave it to me to not have enough imaginary children, which caught their attention immediately. I had only one child who was female. Pity changed their demeanor and they wished me and my husband luck and many sons to come.
Choosing climatically diverse countries with very different cultures/religions and little aspect of human rights or solo female travelers all at one time, was an interesting and poorly thought-out choice on my part. Doing this with carry-on-only luggage and camera gear was ridiculous. Cathartic, but ridiculous. I was done with travel for a while after this trip. (At least for a full three weeks anyway.)
It was time to go back to places where women had a little more power in the world, even if only on the surface.
Next & Last Post in this Series: Sunday, December 24th at 10 a.m. EST / 9 a.m. CST / 7 a.m. PST
Being a solo female traveler, albeit generally very safe, does have certain setbacks. One is that other people cannot believe you are a solo female traveler. In most parts of the world, it will be assumed that you are a “woman for hire.” I find it’s best not to tell people you are traveling alone.
While you may think you’re making your mark on feminism, you’re really a weapon of mass destruction to the social order of 98% of the world. You’re upsetting the core belief of many societies all at once: Women are property of men and cannot self sustain. I’ll admit it does put a little smile in my heart.
You’re making an impact, but you’ll want to play your cards carefully if you want an expedited hotel check-in or to make friends with locals quickly. Take care of yourself and let society deal with their own limitations. Never let them see you coming. Feminism is like cooking eggs — slow, low and steady wins the race. Never turn off the gas, but also try not to scorch the pan in the first two minutes.
I don’t believe the world is more unsafe for women than men — in certain situations perhaps, but on the whole, it evens out as people are more apt to help a solo woman than a strange foreign man. Take pre- cautions, blend in, observe before acting, know your environment, mark your exits, and make sure you have safe transportation and someone who knows where they are going, i.e. preferably not a fellow foreign male traveler.
I believe that the future of travel is women. While businessmen have had their monopoly on travel, it’s women who are going to have the greatest impact on travel going forward and the world will be a better place for it. I find that women are generally more curious and better at adapting to different environments than men are and more socially conscious when doing so. Our connection with the world and other women in it is key to moving things forward.
You’ve come a long way baby, and you’re about to go a lot further.
This blog is an excerpt from Carry On Only: Confessions from 100 Countries. To purchase the digital book, please click here. To purchase a print edition magazine, please click here. To have more vicarious adventures with Jill Paider, please click here.
Next Post in this Series: Sunday, December 17th at 10 a.m. EST / 9 a.m. CST / 7 a.m. PST
There I was, in the dead of winter, in a car wash, reading a GQ magazine. As the water splashed, sprayed and hosed the ice chunks off my Volkswagon Tiguan, there it was:
The list of the top 10 pools in the world, and my favorite: the infinity pool at the Alila Ubud, a tropical escape in Bali. It was a done deal in an instant. I’m going to Bangkok and Bali.
My sister, KP, and I packed our bags. We hit the largest markets in Bangkok, got caught in a red-shirt protest and ate our way through town in spicy food before heading to Bali. Once we arrived in Bali, we were crazy spoiled at Alila Resorts — which, as mentioned, was really the impetus for the trip.
Alila surpassed the high expectations we had. It was a stunning resort with incredible service, amazing food and one of the best cooking classes I’d ever taken. We went fire dancing, saw the famed clairvoyant, Ketut Liyer (a la “Eat, Pray, Love”) and attended sacred Hindu ceremonies where I lost my sari and had to publicly exit the water sans clothing.
We indulged in daily massages and ate all the Balinese fried rice we could get our hands on. Our readings with Ketut revealed that we were both very powerful women ... who were destined to have three children each. Who knew?
My highlights were riding bicycles through the endless rice paddies and “resort crashing.” I think we managed to visit and photograph every luxury resort in Bali. Sometimes a car wash is all it takes.
SANTA MONICA (2 months later)
After years of prodding and cruel weather check-ins, the powers that be (my sister) convinced me to move to the West Coast. It was a big move in many ways — more spiritually and lifestyle-wise than anything else. I had started a business from scratch with a commercial studio in Chicago and had lived there for eight years. All my contacts were there and it required a huge leap of faith to risk it all for California, not knowing where the pieces would fall and exactly what I’d do with my business or myself.
When I arrived in the warmer climate, I leased a studio in Culver City, created my bachelorette pad in Santa Monica, and began a demi-decade of insane travel. It was the beginning of a new era.
I committed to keeping my overhead as low as possible and investing 25-35 percent of my business revenue into research and development—aka travel. The more I traveled, the more portfolio work I created and the more I got booked for high-end architectural work at home. It was a huge jump at first, but I had the flexibility to travel at any time of year outside of high season, and that alone made the expense much more reasonable.
A period of epic creative endeavors had begun.
I spent my spare time researching new destinations and travel opportunities and contacting photo editors to seal the deal. In a matter of years, my work appeared in Dwell, Architectural Digest and Italian Vogue to name a few.
Next Post in this Series: Sunday, December 10th at 10 a.m. EST / 9 a.m. CST / 7 a.m. PST
My business in Chicago was doing pretty well. Things were expanding organically at a good pace and I was certainly not short on travel and portfolio ideas. Many of my Chicago-based architectural clients were setting up shop in Dubai. With the world’s latest and greatest buildings under construction and a large expanse of desert, there were seemingly no bounds or lack of vision or funding.
My client Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was on the forefront of development in the Emirates. They were constructing the tallest building in the world, later to be known as the Burj Khalifa. I had several other clients with large-scale projects underway and wanted to connect with them on site and pitch shooting their ventures both in a documentary style while under development, as well as upon completion.
To say it was hot in the desert would be an obvious understatement. The sun felt like a blowtorch singeing my skin.
Carrying equipment in the heat exacerbated the sensation and I was unsure if my compact flash cards would survive inside the camera. It was extremely uncomfortable to be outside even for short periods at a time. Furthermore, the city had a haze over it at all times, which made getting a clear shot difficult at best.
I felt in some ways deserted by the desert.
I couldn’t quite find what I was looking for and the shooting prospects were a lot less than I anticipated. The interiors lacked integrity or a clear vision and it felt like the city was trying to find its voice in design, which was largely derivative.
The most rewarding part of the trip was hanging out in a British and South African expat community. I stayed at a beautiful, boutiquey, Philippe Starck-esque styled guesthouse and got the lowdown on what it is like to live and work in Dubai as an expat.
I was surprised at how intimidating the laws were for women. If you went in for a medical physical and it turned out you were pregnant and unmarried, you’d go to jail. Expat women in long-term relationships but not married were so afraid of getting pregnant that they abstained from sex.
Most were there in hopes of a big payout, hedging their bets in the financial industry, with the prospects of that happening seemingly further away each day. I met an Englishman in finance who was dead broke, but went to the extremes of borrowing his friend’s Porsche for dates and business meetings and pretending to live in an upscale hotel to foster the illusion of wealth.
Upon returning home, I met again with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in the Chicago office and was hired to shoot a permanent installation for an exhibition titled “At The Top,” located on the top-floor viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa.
In the end, I was happy with the documentary shots I had created and the ability to contribute to the viewing deck gallery, without having to return to the UAE desert. I felt like the opportunity and energy around new business was waning and it was time to turn a new leaf in terms of travel and location shooting.
Next Post in this Series: Sunday, December 3rd at 10 a.m. EST / 9 a.m. CST / 7 a.m. PST
Upon returning from China, I started to see my travel investment pay off. I had tons of new portfolio images and shots to pitch and sell to editorial clients. As a photographer, it’s always key to keep fresh work in front of potential clients. They also loved the travel vein running through the work and it of course made me appear larger than life, which never hurts in an industry whose foundation is smoke and mirrors.
It became clear that building my portfolio work and making client contacts abroad were my best options for upleveling. This inspired me to start thinking about other specific places to travel, and particularly, ones with great interior and exterior spaces. This time I was focused on high-end residential spaces and the destination of choice was none other than Cape Town.
It was love at first sight. If I could marry a city it would be Cape Town. I had an amazing stay both work- and travel-wise. I connected with SAOTA architects, arguably the top modern architects in South Africa, and possibly on the continent.
My second day in Cape Town, I met with SAOTA’s owner, the well-known Stefan Antoni. I arrived seven minutes early to his office, which was duly noted at reception. Stefan sat on the lower level in a pod literally dead center. He motioned me to come forward and sit down. I introduced myself and took a seat. Stefan waited about 10 minutes to look up, at which point he said, “I thought you’d be ugly.”
It’s not every day a woman receives a compliment like that.
His work was beautiful and to my great fortune, most of his clients owned five or more homes, so they were impeccably designed from the inside out and gently, if ever, used. I was able to build an arsenal of portfolio and editorial work here, some of which are still my favorite to date. Stefan started out shooting his own camera right behind me at the first couple of houses and lightly let up his grip as my weeks in Cape Town went by.
The guesthouse I stayed at in Sea Point was lovely and run by four women who promised to find me a husband the next time I came back ... in this case, that would end up being a couple of months later.
If Chicago was a man desert, Cape Town was a man tsunami. A vortex. I couldn’t walk out of the guest house without meeting someone. And as every good fisherwoman knows, you catch a lot more when you lower your net. It was good, clean, liberating, no-strings-attached fun.
SOUTH AFRICA PART II
I rarely travel to the same place twice. It goes against my constitution of discovery.
However, in the case of Cape Town it was inevitable. There was so much to see and do, and I made great connections which only fueled the fire for a return trip. I also had a major crush on a modern architect and that stone clearly needed turning. Not that I needed more of an excuse to escape, but Cape Town is a top shooting destination in its summer (the northern hemisphere’s winter) and thus the town is geared up for still and video production at all levels. I wanted to enhance my portrait portfolio taking advantage of Cape Town’s international modeling scene, continue with architecture with the top local architects, and also propose a pro-bono project for Mothers2Mothers—a non-profit organization that helps pregnant women with AIDS.
South Africa did not disappoint a second time. I was able to shoot more medium format film landscape-style, and cause more trouble with my greater knowledge of Cape Town and a romantic liaison that doubled as a driver and photo assistant. I stayed at a gorgeous boutique guesthouse overlooking Camps Bay, with stunning models coming in and out all day to shoot on my balcony. It was as good as it sounds on paper. Everything in South Africa I photographed turned to gold. It was a huge success on all levels— professionally and personally. I was shooting fish in a barrel, so to speak.
I met an Englishman who was desperate to impress. Over dinner at a fine dining restaurant in Camps Bay,
I heard about his family lineage, which according to him, went back to 30 B.C. early France. For the love of God! Fortunately, around 50 A.D., the waiter sensed a hostage situation and rescued me with another generous pour of red wine—I’m guessing my third gallon at this point.
I carefully navigated my way out of dessert and returned to my hotel, downed a bottle of Advil and passed out.
All in all, I had more dates during these two trips to South Africa than I had in Chicago in five years. The net-net of this fell in the positive column and the distance factored well into the love (avoidant) story I loyally subscribed to. I was also able to “up” my portfolio game tenfold with my key, high-level interior shots. The combination of indoor and outdoor beauty is unsurpassed in the world.
South Africa and this trip in particular, will always hold a special place in my heart.
Next Post in this Series: Sunday, November 26th at 10 a.m. EST / 9 a.m. CST / 7 a.m. PST
With a year into my studio and my business, I had very little cash in the bank. So I did what any rational person would do and bought a plane ticket to China.
I was getting a lot of work shooting interiors and exteriors in Chicago, an architectural capital, and really didn’t have a portfolio that portrayed my work and sense of style in that area. I was attracted to the energy, growth and regeneration that was going on in China. I wasn’t fully briefed, but I knew I wanted some of what they were having.
China provided a unique opportunity to 1) travel and 2) photograph the latest and greatest interior and exterior spaces that were being built in anticipation of the upcoming Olympic games.
It was epic in a way I didn’t understand at the time.
I liaised with the publisher of a design magazine to help grease the wheels in getting through the front door.
I got to uncover the “new China” that was emerging behind the cracks of communism and pre-Olympic euphoria.
It was a fascinating experience, to say the least, and my first time shooting Philippe Starck’s work.
Through a friend of a friend at Getty Images, I found a fixer to help translate and organize access to spaces. She was a lovely graduate student named Wu Yun. We traversed Beijing together, left, right and backwards, going to the city’s hottest underground restaurants, hotels and clubs. Keep in mind that this was a county where Wallpaper magazine and travel guides — publications that focused on design — were still banned.
I’ll never forget being in a cab with Wu Yun on the last leg of our trip and asking what her favorite part was. To my surprise, she was not at all impressed with the venues or the culinary tastings. She said that when she relayed to her friends and family what she was up to, no one could believe there was such a thing as a young, female photographer, and that she was working for one.
Her words struck me like a rock. It had never occurred to me that as a female creative entrepreneur, I wasin the .001 percent. Who I was and what I did was actually shocking to other people. I had a newfound sense of gratitude for my profession and freedom to practice it.
When I returned to China 10 years later, I was stunned by the political and cultural change that had taken place. It was almost unrecognizable to me. Places change. A lot.
Which is why I always say travel wherever you can, while you can.
Next Post in this Series: Sunday, November 19th at 10 a.m. EST / 9 a.m. CST / 7 a.m. PST
Around the time when celebrities (notably Madonna and Alanis Morissette) were finding enlightenment and sometimes even themselves in India—and singing about it, I had the chance to go there.
Through a Rotary Foundation program called Group Study Exchange (GSE), I spent six weeks in India as a photojournalist. The primary purpose of the GSE program was to give young professionals a vocational opportunity abroad during the early stages of their career.
My GSE training instructor said over and over again, “GSE will change your life.” As it was, I wanted my life to change, so I said “Giddyup.” And a truly life-changing experience it was.
The program allowed me to practice my profession in India while visiting many Rotary-sponsored humanitarian programs. The selection committee decided that it would be a good idea to send a man to keep an eye on the four women selected. Not surprisingly, he was the highest-maintenance one of all.
We stayed with a variety of different hosts and in many ways, got to see the “real” India through these families and the philanthropic matching-grant programs we visited. Slated in my memory are homes for the homeless, polio health centers, schools and the most heart-wrenching: the well-run orphanages with tons of children excited to have foreign guests visit them.
The sheer density of humanity in India is a shock to the senses. Witnessing it as it relates to poverty and particularly to children in need, takes it to a whole new level. I have always hoped to return to India to visit and return to the orphanages. In a sense, this is where I reconsidered having children – not having them myself, but adopting or supporting their growth and education on a larger level.
I loved my host families – all of them. The hospitality in India was unparalleled. The colors, fabrics, life and energy of one billion people add an element to everyday life that you don’t come across often. I was enthralled with the textiles, fashion, interior design elements and group culture, which was very different from what I was used to.
When I got sick from the antiquated anti-malarial medication I was prescribed in the U.S., I learned that my conflict-resolution style is avoidance and that I hated yoga. I disliked a certain member’s behavior on my GSE team. While I personally liked and got along well with him in the United States, he was the quintessential “ugly American” abroad and lacked the ability to follow the rules of engagement as “ambassadors” from the U.S. He was disrespectful to our hosts and it irritated the rest of us. Ironically, he was also the one who got us all signed up for the 6:30 a.m. class of The Art of Living every morning.
Cursing in downward dog, I learned that what I didn’t know about spirituality and acceptance was a lot.
At this point, I didn’t have a country number goal in mind — I was simply happy to travel as much as possible. Getting away, immersing myself, adapting to a new perspective and seeing things differently sealed my travel addiction. How else can you do that? There isn’t a prescription or even a street drug that can give you that experience.
I started journaling while in India and through this, I discovered that I really wanted a studio in Chicago. My favorite time in London was working in the studios in Back Hill, Farringdon. I loved creating in the studio and it was where I felt most in my element. It took a while and a leap off of a major cliff, but I did it.
I felt like an entirely different person when my time in India ended – a world apart from where I started. It was as if I had Stage 4 emphysema and my lungs were now clear.
It was an energetic up-leveling. I felt that anything was possible and that if I made the leap, the universe would conspire in my favor a la Goethe. How long in the Midwest would it take before that feeling died? I came back glowing. I had finally settled in and could really think about what my next moves would be.
To date, that was the biggest transformation I’ve felt from a trip. I love Indian culture, people and life. I loved the grit. It changed what I thought was possible and how I went about visualizing, meditating and journaling what I wanted – a practice that I continue to rely on heavily in work and life. I also had a huge connection to the orphaned children and dreamed of one day leaving everything behind and becoming headmaster at the one of orphanages we visited. I loved the children’s energy, their potential, and their unbiased outlook on the world.
In their eyes, I saw myself, and to some extent, the struggle of their fate as they would become single women in the world having to make their own way and support themselves in a culture that made it challenging. It felt like my purpose was to make that road easier for them in whatever way I could.
Ironically, as deeply as I was drawn to the orphanage and caring for children, the idea of marriage and having my own kids meant the end of life to me. The end of freedom. The end of travel. A life of misery, self-sacrifice and occasional trips to Chuck E. Cheese. To avoid this, I sought out the best love avoidants I could find in order to protect myself from the alternative fate.
India was eye-opening in many ways and really where I became one with the idea of becoming a full-time professional photographer. During my visit I focused on shooting humanitarian projects and a series on “Fashion in the Making,” which chronicled the process from cotton farming through textile weaving to garment design. The series was later featured at the Apple store in Chicago as a part of a live fashion show.
The frost crystals had barely melted off the leaves when the humidity rose to 110 percent. It was June 1977 and the air was hot and thick. Bell-bottoms curled and polyester leisure suits suddenly seemed like a bad idea. In this nook of nowhere, spanning quadrants of farm fields speckled with bars and churches, I was brought into the world — and, it seemed, not without a purpose.
Extended family came to visit, armed with Midwest delicacies: casseroles and slow cooker recipes that even Campbell’s couldn’t have concocted. Desserts carefully crafted from cereals were limited only by one’s imagination and the General Mills product line.
My 7-year -old sister carefully eyed up the goods and allowed VIP admission to those with chocolate-based treats, not yet sure how she would manage the dubious task of having a younger sister.
Local beer, Milwaukee’s Best, flowed freely from the taps. Towns were named longingly after their European counterparts: New London, Krakow, Luxemburg, Denmark and Belgium. Rod Stewart and Andy Gibb blared from radios and 8-track players — the last hope of an actual British Invasion.
My childhood was, by all intents and purposes, perfectly normal. I was a Girl Scout, went to church, inattentively babysat the neighbor kids, flogged pizzas for fund-raisers, waitressed at a chain restaurant and participated in school sports. But come age 15, I was running out of things to do at a very rapid pace.
As if being from the agrarian countryside wasn’t enough of a buzzkill, I was raised Catholic — which only exacerbated the already limited hope of inspired fun and feminine adventure. The misogyny was so thick you could cut it with a knife. It was a B.S. structure I saw coming from a mile away. I remember sitting in church at age 8, thinking it seemed extremely convenient that a woman birthed and raised Jesus and he got all the credit. And clearly, a higher power would have picked out a better wardrobe for his/her modern day disciples, procured palatable wine and traded communion for French petit fours.
I had lots of ideas for the Catholic church. Sadly, none of which found an audience.
I waitressed at Shoney’s, manning service for the infamous Sunday buffet where carbs of every order were offered to tide patrons over for the next four hours of pre-Packer tailgating. The overzealous owner, Shawn, trained us to sell Tropicana orange juice like it was Dom Perignon. At the time, Red Lobster was Green Bay’s virtual French Laundry, so I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.
In high school, you could be in one of several sports. If you didn’t fit the bill of mid-American life driven by football, basketball or baseball, you were S.O.L. Fortunately, I was on the pom pom squad — a sport created to help women sweat while remaining in the confines of their preconceived gender roles. Social conservatism ruled, because who could afford to live outside of the box? Outliers were not welcome here.
My goal was to move as far away as possible, never get married or have kids, and savor the immense freedom and opportunity that I could feel was right around the corner. My classmates were on to me and I was voted “most likely to move the farthest away.” I was also voted “most likely to have the most number of spouses.” To date, I have had the least.
Green Bay didn’t have enough people to merit a census count, but it somehow managed to wrangle its own NFL team and it wasn’t about to let it go. Locals lived and died for the Packers. Green and gold dominated wardrobes the way cheese and potato chips dominated the tops of casseroles. Watching football wasn’t just something to do — it was the only thing to do. It was and is Wisconsin’s raison d’être.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Midwest. It’s home to the friendliest, nicest, most genuine, down-to-earth people in the world. But as my writing coach says, no one wants to hear about the village of the happy people, so I’ll stop there.
I’m very grateful for my parents, family, friends and grounded upbringing. I wouldn’t change it for the world. But it was definitely time to get the show on the road.
It was killing me to find out what was behind door #2, and it appeared from pictures that every place outside of here was more exciting. Not to mention, I never really fit in in the first place. A gluten-free, dairy-free, non-sports lover born on the Midwestern axis of beer, cheese and Packers? All traits punishable by law, I was born treasonous.
Spain: My Gateway Drug
During my junior year of high school, the chance to go to Spain with a group of students from Milwaukee came up. It was a no-brainer. I would have jumped at the chance to go to Detroit. Selective, I was not. I was Spanish student of the year, three consecutive years in a row. (Full disclosure: I was the only person in the class for the last two years.) I wasn’t sure what to pack for the trip, so I grossly over-packed. My suitcase weighed more than I did — a rookie error that I did not repeat. I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited as hell.
Landing in Madrid was surreal. It was the outside world I had always imagined. The country mouse finally got her chance at city life.
I felt like Margaret Mead uncovering western civilization. I had only read about culture, art museums, theater, music, traffic, public transportation, ethnic foods, diversity, things to do, a community, buildings and architecture. Seeing it all in a foreign country instantly confirmed what I had been missing. Travel meant a chance at seeing the way the other 99 percent lived. Wine, disco piscinas, hot Latin guys, limited chaperones and being with other travelers — where had I been? I lived on adrenaline the whole trip. I loved everything.
Variety. Interest. Culture. Fortunately, from my current position, everywhere in comparison was unbelievably exciting. Nothing was taken for granted. I was armed with the ability to create my own fun in almost any circumstance. It was pure validation that there was so much more out there to see and do. This trip was my gateway drug.
Here's a sneak peak of Asian Design. Other titles coming out this year include: Mid-Century Modern, Desert Modern, California Modern, Globetrotting, Carry-On Only, The Art of Cuisine & Cuisine Libre. You visit Jill's publishing website here at http://www.gilliardmoshe.com.
In association with the American Photographic Artists (APA), Jill was invited to speak at Canon Hollywood about how to transform your work into a book, sharing samples from her 13 books. Photo by Lexie Cole.
The exhibition will be on through April 2017, then moving to Los Angeles.
Hermosa Design is now Jill's Meditations on Architecture and Surfer series both printed on large scale canvas. You can check out their beautiful design gallery at 618 Cypress Avenue, Hermosa Beach, CA or online at www.hermosa-design.com.
Jill exhibited her fine art series, 'Meditations on Architecture' in the APA group show at Santa Monica Art Studios this December. To view more of Jill's fine art work, please visit www.jillpaiderart.com.
Jill was invited back to guest lecture at the University of the Arts London, where she previously spent time as a Fulbright grant recipient and helped design curriculum for the new graduate diploma in photography course. She'll be consulting on the program as well as guest lecturing at the university for the month of October.
Jill's 8-page feature on mid-century modern design just came out in LA Magazine.
On December 10th, the Architecture & Design (A+D) Museum in Los Angeles hosted Jill's 5-Series Book Launch. The exclusive limited edition series includes: The Great Modern Architects, Design + Destination, The Book of Modern Interiors, Prefab & Villa Savoye.
You can view the book launch PREVIEW VIDEO here: http://bit.ly/1zh8nY5.
Jill had the pleasure of being on the Frank Fontana show this week. You can click here to view the segment on 'Globetrotting Design'. A very special thanks to the show's award-winning producer, Cherie Jones.