Joon, Millennium Park, Chicago

Today I photographed beautiful Joon at the Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. I met her at Nordstrom the other day, whilst shopping for a big puffy, bear like coat to keep me warm in the Chicago winter. She redirected me wisely to something far more sophisticated and exciting and, as I tried on the coat, I started to talk to her. I found her very charming and friendly and invited her to be part of my project and she said yes! Here she is, looking wonderful and enigmatic on a gorgeous bright day in Chicago. Joon came here from Korea when she was just 11 years old. She loves fashion, is super stylish and has a very endearing personality. She has just got engaged and is very happy!

“So what brings you joy?” “My family, I have been travelling with them the whole time in my life, from Korea to America- my family is everything and now.. my fiancé and his family as well- getting to know them and learning about them brings me joy.”

 

Tiffany, Manager at Lush and Environmentalist

I met wonderful Tiffany at Lush In Lincoln Park in Chicago. I was out shopping with Skyla in tow and we got chatting about life, Chicago, the environment and dogs. It was a quiet day in the shop! She talked about her love of cycling and one thing lead to another and she accepted my proposal – to be in my exhibition! Here she is in the Conservatory in Lincoln Park. The best part of doing this shoot, apart from having a lovely time with Tiffany, was the fact that the conservatory was warm to the point of being tropical. I felt like we were on holiday!

I asked Tiffany what brought her joy and this was her lovely response, “so, the simple things .. I like being able to ride my bike, I like being outside, being with people that I love and being able to make other people happy”.

 

A Portrait of Chrissy, mother, model and writer

I met gorgeous Chrissy through a friend at my children’s school here in Chicago. Over an outdoor brunch, before the winter weather finally took hold, I asked her if she would take part in my big portrait project and she said yes! She is very down to earth and has a lovely girl dog called Frank, who made instant friends with my dog Skyla, which did make our shoot slightly chaotic! We are hoping to do another shoot together in the near future. I am bursting with ideas and Chrissy is very easy to photograph.

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Gavin, bartender, musician and singer

I met Gavin the first weekend we arrived in Chicago. He was making drinks for a cool crowd in an even cooler hat shop in Buck Town – a cool and creative part of town (if you are a Londoner, think Ladbroke Grove with a sprinkling of Kensal Rise and a teeny touch of Chiswick). There was a little party going on there during a festival weekend (this city has a lot of street festivals during the summer as it’s all part of the big release after the very big winter) and I got chatting to him as he made the drinks.  I asked if i could take his photograph and he obligingly said yes, and five months later we finally did the shoot! His image will be part of my series for the exhibition, Chicago Stories, coming in September 2017.

Becoming an expat… how it all began

Moving country is not something to be taken lightly. First up, if as me you are a parent, you need to convince the offspring that moving house and country and leaving friends, family and familiarity is a really good idea. I can tell you from experience that this is not easy. It takes an awful lot of cajoling, faith and some excessive amounts of optimism. 

Our first move to Madrid took us two years to plan – yes – two years! It took us all a long time to decide that it was a good idea to break free of London and you know what pushed us, finally, to just say yes – the “Beckham Tax!” Yes, that tax incentive for England’s favourite footballer when Real Madrid were luring him to Spain, is now set in place for all future British expats. This meant that my husband would be on a really low tax bracket for the first six years, so we could actually start to save (who saves in London?) and have, we hoped, a pretty good life. On top of that, Madrid is infinitely cheaper than London and infinitely warmer. You can drive to the beach, the people like kids and the food is delicious!

Actually leaving our lives behind was harder than I thought it would be. The tears when my son Xavier (aged 7 at the time) left his tiny school, hugging each teacher tightly in turn, made my heart hurt. I have to say that it actually felt like torture during those last goodbyes and I did wonder what we were doing.

I decided we should drive to Spain instead of flying. I thought the children would realise how close we were to London if they could physically see how many miles we travelled and how easy it would be to just drive back. I was also worried about my little dog and how she would handle the plane. The idea of a road trip felt exciting and adventurous, rather than just another anonymous two hour plane ride.

As we had no fixed address yet for Madrid,  we found ourselves an air b and b. It looked reasonable but the owner, who was very charming, convinced us that we would be better suited to her other apartment, which was more “arty” and in a “livelier” part of town. Good idea, we thought, it will make our transition more fun until we found a permanent home. 

On the day of departure my father helped my husband load up the car with as many belongings as we could get into it and on top of it. We wouldn’t get our stuff for another two months so we squeezed it all in, – in went the computer, the music system, the dog’s bed, the dog, the kids (only just, it was a very tight squeeze), the clothes (for all weather, just in case), my special pillow, coats, hats, a kettle, tea (of course!) even the roller skates – it all got squeezed and squashed into the car. I really did wonder if it would just sink and give up on the way but off it then trundled, us all packed in like peas in a pod, our hearts a mix of anticipation, anxiety and sorrow. 

These were our first steps to an unwritten future, destination known, destiny unknown.

Pic: Xavier stares out to sea in Northern Spain.