Sole Sister Spotlight: Wandering Photographer Stephanie

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sometimes, even before meeting a person, you have a feeling that you already share a certain bond with them. That's how I felt when I first read an email from Stephanie Torres of Satori Photography. She had initially written me in February asking if we could collaborate. But instead of just writing a generic email, Stephanie wrote me a long letter telling me about her passionate affair with travel. These were my favorite lines:

"There's a difference between traveling and going on a vacation. Traveling is about wandering, finding adventure and letting it find you, gaining the courage to travel alone and finding bliss in it, exploring the unknown, getting out of your comfort zone, allowing the currents of the universe to flip your world upside down, conquering your fears, getting your heart broken by harsh realities, and falling in love endlessly with this world we know so little of."

And with that, I decided to invite her on a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland even before meeting her. And my instincts were right. In the few days we hung out and traveled together, we've had a lot of meaningful conversations and moments when we just laughed non-stop. Here are some snippets from our this Wandering Photographer:

What’s the favorite place you have visited and why?

That's always tough to answer. I've seen a lot of beautiful places in my travels, but a main reason why we love a place so much is a certain experience we had with it. And with experience comes the people you meet, the place you go to together, and the things you go to together. For me, my favorite place is Pai. It's a small hippy town nestled in between the mountains of Northern Thailand. I met the perfect people, at the perfect place, at the perfect time and had the one of the most incredible weeks I have ever had in my life. I couldn't have gone there at a more perfect time. I left a piece of my heart there.

What’s the best lesson you have learned from your travels?

That exploring and wandering is worth it all, always. That not being in control and getting lost is such a beautiful thing. That adventure is within the soul, not just the place.

As a photographer, do you sometimes get torn between documenting your experiences and simply living it?

There are plenty of times when I just want to let the moment be and experience it purely. But I have also come to realize the greatest lesson I have every learned in photography is to be present. To be here, now. That's what photography is about. I look through the viewfinder and I am instantly connected to the camera, to my subject, to my surroundings, to my body, to my emotions, to my subject's emotions, everything all at once. 

The camera becomes the extension of my soul. 

I am in the moment, I am capturing the very essence of that moment and everything else fades away. I apply this to my life as much possible. We all know how easy it is to get caught up in the illusion of time, in the past and the future because that's what our ego's cling onto. But if we could just pull ourselves into that moment and focus on nothing else, then everything else fades away. And you will find that there is nothing else to live for but that moment.

Show us 3 of your favorite photos and describe why they are meaningful to you?

It has been a dream of mine to connect with an elephant in its natural habitat. No zoos, no cages, no limitations. And I lived it. This photo was taking in Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. A sanctuary where they save working elephants all over Thailand and bring them here to nurture and take care of them. They roam around free and are taken care of by their mahouts, volunteers, and the tourist who come here. People aren't allowed to ride them. But they can feed and bathe with them. It's truly an incredible place and Lek Chailert, the founder just started with 2 elephants. Now there are over 24 and more coming. She's such an inspirational woman. There used to be over 200,000 Asian elephants in Thailand and now there are only 2,000. Lek is working to save these beautiful creatures. I'm glad I lived my dream here, in this place.

These are my Aeta sisters in the indigenous community of Manabayukan, Tarlac, Philippines. I spent a weekend there and it changed me. The children over there are the happiest children I know.

I went to Baler, Philippines with a friend I had met in Thailand. It was a day full of adventures. Surfing for the first time, majestic waterfalls, misadventures that led us to an adorable baby monkey, and above all the most beautiful tree I have ever seen in my life. The Balete tree in Baler is known as the oldest and largest tree in Asia. I knew it was going to be beautiful, to see it right in front of me. But we didn't expect it to be more than that. We were able to go inside and climb it all the way to the top. We fell in love it.

Is there any work you had to do or are currently doing in order to beef up your travel fund? 

I used to have a day job then I saved up all my money to travel then quit. Photography work has also beefed up my travel fund and I will continue to work on making it my main source of income for I can travel anywhere with no strings attached. For now I will keep doing this until work allows me to travel anywhere: work, save, travel, repeat.

What are the things you can’t travel without?

My camera, my journal, and a present mind.

What’s your favorite travel memento?

I try to get souvenirs from each country. I usually collect beer shirts (it's a better alternative to I <3 *enter name of country here*), necklaces and bracelets. But ultimately, my photos are my favorite keepsakes.

Who is the most memorable person you have met on your travels?

That's another tough question to answer. I've met many incredible people through my travels. But a particular group of people have changed me, in a way. Sole Sister Lois asked me to cover a travel assignment for Kultura Kamp to live with the indigenous Aetas for a weekend. The children I met there are the happiest children I know. They had little to none, all they have is their family, friends, and their homes. But they still found beauty in everything and are so grateful for everything I have. I will never ever forget them. The intoxication positive energy they radiate will fuel me forever.

Have you ever fallen in love while on the road?

A beautiful soul told me that meeting amazing people and then going separate ways is a part of traveling. And also that maybe part of the beauty of those relationships lie on their briefness. I held its truth. Wandering does that to you, hell, life does that to you. You’ll feel things you never want to stop feeling. You’ll love people who will leave. You’ll want to stay in places you wish you could keep in your pocket forever. But all you can do is to follow wherever the next sunrise and sunset takes you. And so we did, we did just that.

Where are you off to next and what places are on your wanderlist?

After half a year of being away, I'm going back to California for the year to focus entirely on my photography business. I plan on doing road trips and camping trips in Northern California and the surrounding states. And short trips to either Hawaii or Mexico to feed the wanderlust while I'm not backpacking long-term. And well who knows, who knows where this year will take me. 

But you can't keep me away from Asia for that long. In a year I will be back on the road, backpacking all over Asia. I plan to start with Bali, then Thailand, Laos, Burma, Vietnam, Malaysia, Nepal, India, and of course, the Philippines. I'll be gone for at least six months, maybe longer. Next after that on my wanderlist is well, everywhere :)

What's your advice for the travelers who want to be travel photographers?

If you love doing this, if this is your dream, then never ever stop chasing after it. Ever. I understand the pressure that comes with being a photographer. It's a very competitive field, it could be extremely tough. Some people will tell you no, you can't do it. They'll spill their fears and doubts all over you tell you that you're making a big mistake and that you should get a real job that will suck the soul right out of you. No matter who they are, don't listen to them.

If you have a clear vision, and this insatiable passion within you, an inner voice telling you to do it, and the determination to never stop until you live your dreams. Then do it. If it's your dream, you should never let any obstacle or adversity stop you. I haven't. And I've encountered plenty of obstacles and have failed many times. But I'd rather fail than never try at all.

Let the obstacles, adversities, failures and mistakes make you stronger.

We must always continue to grow and learn. To wake up to each day as a better version of ourselves. To never stop until we grow into our dreams.

Stephanie is a nomadic photographer, wanderer, adventurer, dreamer. She lives for capturing moments of bliss, wanderlust, inspiring hearts, reigniting spirits, and infinite moments of Satori. Follow her journey at Infinite Satori and get updates from her facebook page.

Want more? Read other features on Sole Sister Spotlight.

Do you know of female travelers who conquer the world one country at a time? Sole Sisters are fearless women travelers who find ways to travel within their means and have a lot of fun along the way! We would love to interview them for Sole Sister Spotlight. Please send us an email at solesisters (dot) weare(at)gmail(dot)com. We look forward to your suggestions!

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