LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
It was the second to last image we created*. (Editors note – I actually hate the word shot/shoot in this instance. Puts up a bit of a barrier in the collaborative process, of which most photographers will opine. Most famously Ansel Adam’s “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” You get the idea.) The moment, a test shoot in my “studio youth” that was off the cuff. The tattoo was fresh and so was moment. It was the first of many iconic images to follow over the years, the moment when I knew I had realized something worth saying.
It’s rare when you’re able to grasp those moments … like falling in love for the last time, having a baby, or whatever personally relevant event that fits this analogy. In some respects, as with most artists, I wish I hadn’t had it. The moment was/is always fleeting, and so we chase after the next one like an addict, only our drug of choice is one only we can provide, and the craft needs to be perfect if not godly to achieve satisfaction. This was one of those first dominoes to fall. A taste of how delicious the drug could be, not aware of the struggle and drama ahead.
Melissa’s struggle is one of many I’ve heard and captured in the last few decades in and out of the studio, and unfortunately will not be the last. Knowing then what I know now, I would have photographed her differently, and possibly lost the moment altogether. Moments in time mean nothing without struggle. So moved are we to celebrate in capturing art and sharing such stories as the one that lay ahead. Paired with Katie’s strength, and Tavia’s embrace of femininity, the struggle is real in this edition. Struggle hard and often dear artists.
I don’t come from a family of musicians; I come from a family of serious abuse. Trauma changes the shape of the brain, but music does too, and the latter gave me a bit of solace and a path out of what I was suffering through. I found the horn by accident, but it gave me a voice for the ambiguous “this” that sat between me and myself, though I was never really excellent at it until much later in life. In my formative years, most of my bandwidth was depleted by a struggle to survive, and honing one’s craft requires a certain degree of resources and safety that I just didn’t have at my disposal. I was desperately trying to make it through to an eventual freedom that I never really knew was coming, but somehow I believed I would get to if I stuck it out. That has always been my biggest experience with faith.
As I was slowly able to receive a more formal education, initially I portrayed the characteristic deference to the (male) “masters” that everyone else does. I fell in line with the same practices of hero worship, allowing myself to be blindly woven amongst the threads of racism, sexism, and classism that bind the tapestry of classical music so strongly. In a way, the entire institution is not much different than a cult built on trauma pedagogy. I didn’t wake up about these issues for a long time. When abusive or otherwise inappropriate behavior is so normalized in one’s life, it is difficult to notice when something is off.
I first came to Vienna in August of 2017, having won a Fulbright to study the Viennese horn with the Vienna Philharmonic horn section. This city is most famous for its musical prowess, strongly seconded by the sexism and nationalism so prevalent in its orchestras. As much as I was well-acquainted with its reputation and had braced myself for impact, I was completely unprepared for what I would actually face. I naively thought that I had some sort of winning combination of dreams, discipline, ambition, and agency that would grant me immunity to the stereotypes. Everything I suffered felt like it was converging on a singular, meaningful breakthrough—the thrilling transgressions of geography, gender, and class…But in reality, I had scaled the scala naturae and won one of the most prestigious awards in the world just to be told in my first lesson: “It’s a good time for you, a lot of the Philharmoniker guys are looking for wives.”
I’ve experienced a lot of sexism in my life, but that was the first time that I was utterly dismissed and reduced to the supposed limitations of my gender to such an extreme. It only escalated from there. It didn’t matter how well I played or that I had won a spot to be there. No one warned me that I would still be trespassing if I had the audacity to mistake myself for a fellow colleague and not a guest who was briefly passing through. Five years later, I’m still here, having been awarded an artist visa for my professional orchestra engagements in spite of the hostile reception of a female foreigner in what is still very much a man’s world.
Navigating this environment and negotiating my position in it had a deep impact on my identity as a person and an artist. I wouldn’t trade out the hardships for the world, the same way I would never wish to erase the trauma of my childhood. Persisting through both gave me the resilience that has served me so well all these years. That being said, I cannot help but question who I am, or who I would be if I did not have to carry the weight of what has been burned into my neural network. I have never truly felt a definitive identity, because so much of who I am has been reactionary or a coping mechanism established to deal with what I was forced to endure. This absence of a fully knowable self has been a wound that has caused me a lot of pain, but one that has also spurred me on to self-discovery and creative success. The only secure identity I have ever found has been in my art—it is both who and what I am.
My artistic identity involves a curious conception of self, as something existing prior to and apart from the social conditions that produced it. The ways I was raised and educated, the languages I learned, the abuse I suffered: all these factors created and constricted my identity. I doubt that at the end of my pursuit towards knowing myself, I will emerge as a singular being, having achieved some sort of brilliance by being hard-minded and unsparing, because I don’t think that this process ever truly comes to an end. I prefer to see this process (and my whole life, really) as a kind of palimpsest, to work on by constant amendment and adjustment. It’s simultaneously inspiring and exhausting, but art is not a resting on the given, it is a striving toward what might otherwise be.
With this in mind, I have metaphorically turned my back on the institution of classical music, and will turn back to face it with my own ideas, uncompromising. I know I am stronger as an artist because I now have a stronger connection with myself. Yet, this stronger self is precisely what the better percentage of my male colleagues can’t tolerate. Perhaps I am disingenuous for denouncing people or ideas I once praised, but change is important. Change is not an accident or a twist of fate but something that is achieved, deliberately. I will not shed the past like dead skin, instead I will sift through it, discarding old ideas and salvaging what I think can be used. I will treat classical music like the fossil that it is: something to recover, to preserve, to study. I haven’t changed my mind about music’s purpose so much as I have begun to see it more clearly. Undaunted, I am pursuing new paths, yet finding myself in the familiar situation of not knowing where I will end up. But I have faith that something good awaits me.
with Tavia Sharp
For as long as I can remember, I’ve stood for empowerment. In my younger years, I was often bullied for my distinct features, specifically my unique name and my naturally curly hair which I now embrace fully but it took me years to have a confident self image. Because of this, I’ve always felt called to help others feel stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and owning their authenticity through fashion and personal style.
Even back when I started my first business, a Brazilian inspired swimwear brand designed and manufactured in NYC, my goal was for women to feel confident in who they are, sexy in their own skin and free to embrace their feminine curves. This is why my business partner and I came up with the name, Avé Swimwear for our brand which represented women who wanted to feel beautiful, sexy and free.
Later when I started my style and image consulting company, I wanted to empower both men and women to feel confident, attractive and magnetize everything they want in life by helping them create their next level image. Because I believe everyone deserves to feel sexy, confident and empowered no matter who you are.
Most recently, I went through my own evolution. It’s been a two year journey of reconnecting to my empowered self and reigniting my inner spark. I had dimmed it and dialed it down for far too long. Having now done the inner work on myself, I’ve peeled back the layers I was hiding behind (including the way I dressed) and I’m now showing up as the more empowered version of me, Tavia 2.0.
This has also sparked something inside of me to step into my next level of leadership and start leading other women to awaken the fire inside, reconnect to the truth of who they are and embody her through style. So this year, I’ve partnered with other female entrepreneurs to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences in New York City including a VIP shopping experience with me as your image expert styling you in your “next level” wardrobe and professional photoshoots with Karjaka Studios along with your very own glam squad to capture every transformative moment of you showing up in your power and staking your claim in the world. Book an Image Accelerator Call with me to learn more about these transformative Styled Sharp Experiences.
with Katie Mack Fitness
Working with women and showing them what they are capable of in the gym lights me up. Over my last 10 years as a personal trainer who has connected with many women, I have found that most of us ladies grew up keeping our voices as small as possible, as well as our bodies.
Fortunately, times are changing. Women seem to be speaking up for themselves more boldly (unless this is a result of getting older :), and they are learning that putting on muscle (coined “the organ of longevity”) and getting physically stronger can help with metabolism, overall health and quality of life.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that speaking up for yourself, putting on muscle and gaining physical strength are often times uncomfortable tasks. If you are not familiar with setting boundaries and saying what you really want, then pushing out of your comfort zone to do so will take some mental gymnastics practice and can be physically unsettling. Putting on muscle and getting stronger is somewhat similar – both tasks require pushing yourself out of your physical and mental limits in order to make progress.
So while these tasks can be difficult to take on, they are rewarding to undertake. Whether it’s gaining lean muscle tissue and/or having a stronger body, each are capable of increasing your tolerance to stress. Life never gets easier, but we can get better at dealing with some of it. Emotions and tough times live on a spectrum, and all deserve a place to be acknowledged. Breakups, deaths, losing jobs, you name it…all result in heavy emotions such as grief, anger, sadness and more. And although these emotions are no fun to feel, it is best that they are felt and not ignored.
One huge reason I am so passionate about strength training with women is because of its potential for better stress tolerance. Essentially, that’s what good exercise programming does. A program that follows what fitness professionals refer to as “progressive overload” (the gradual increase of STRESS placed upon the body during physical activity/training) should teach your body to adapt to specific physical effects of stress. As long as other factors in your life are being taken care of (such as sleep, nutrition, lifestyle, psychology and relationships), the tolerance to deal with increased stress should slowly increase.
Stress is experienced by both the mind and the body, so learning to better adapt to the qualities that challenge the body and its physiology in the gym can have influences on how you manage stressors outside the gym. I have found that when you can tolerate stress more mindfully (MINDFULLY is the key) in the gym, you increase your ability to do so outside of the gym. Sitting with our physical discomfort can expand our ability to sit with mental distress.
As Pat Ogden (creator of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy) once said, “In our bodies, in this moment, there live the seed impulses of the change and spiritual growth we seek, and to awaken them we must bring our awareness into the body, into the here and now.”
Strength training is one outlet that can connect you deeper to your body and your mind, allowing you to live a fuller and richer life.
Katie Mack is a personal trainer out of Treasure Coast, Florida who specializes in strength training and body composition changes for women. She offers remote customized fitness programming and nutrition guidance. Learn more about her at www.katiemackfitness.com and feel free to contact her at [email protected]