Claire is a photographer, chef and artist who seeks ethical stories to tell and is also an advocate of a greener world, which transpires through her work and everything she brings to life. At Destination Namaste we were lucky enough to have a chat with this inspiring and passionate soul based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I have lived in Cape Town nearly all my life. Constantly curious and constantly amused, I am driven by interest in alternative journeys, history, remedies and experiences. Anomalies and unusual philosophical perspectives are also favourites. I love to know what’s in the human heart and mind. Stories of people who have gone against the grain, achieved their dreams and made a difference inspire me. The struggles and pains that come with living bring so much of what we as a human race need to evolve and expand our possibilities. I love what is considered as ‘far out there’, impossible or seems like magic. Developing my potential is my daily work, understanding the fabric of space, time and existence is my life’s work.
Where did you start out in your professional career and how did you manage to create a flourishing business doing what you love?
Everyone wants to know how to get to a position where they can do what they love. It might seem surprising, but I’ve had many jobs which were dreams at the time. After 11 years working in the food industry, I decided I just wanted to do something completely different, and was motivated by the idea of having more freedom. I searched my heart for what that ideal next move would be.
When I left being a chef, I didn’t actually know what I was moving to. I took two months off and went away to Hermanus in the Western Cape so that I could spend time each day immersed in nature, largely in total solitude. I had a large amount of time where I had no commitments, which opened me up to being able to hear the calling of my heart. The idea of travel and the beauty of art appealed to me, and I thought to myself, ‘What would be the best, most awesome job in the world?’. The conclusion I reached was Travel Photographer.
The first things I did was get a camera, a computer, learn photoshop and started with weddings, which seems completely ridiculous, but you can’t have too huge expectations in mind when you start , if not you’re not going to get anywhere.
When I ask the universe for something, it responds vehemently. Very quickly I was able to start doing photography jobs for people without having to rely on any advertising besides word-of-mouth. Guests at weddings hired me for family shoots, and their colleagues hired me for engagements, birthday parties and events.
After two years and many wedding shoots, two of my chef friends asked me to shoot their food at their restaurants. The request came out of nowhere, so it took me by surprise. Already thrust into my new dream of photography, I almost turned my nose up at the prospect of having to work with food again. It was an old dream and I was finished with it.
Soon more food requests came, and somehow I found myself in the middle of an incredible flow. Work was abundant and my calendar was jam-packed with shoots. If I wasn’t out shooting, I was at home editing thousands of images. I was so in love with my dream that it consumed all of my life. Needless to say, this threw me out of balance, and I promptly fractured my leg while on a shoot for a big client. I had to be out of action for six weeks while it recovered. During this time, I came to the conclusion that there is such a thing as too much of the good stuff, and I needed quiet time in my life. Being forced to be still for some time allowed me to hear the calling of my heart, and this allowed me to step into a new dream: food photography.
Once I had identified that I wanted to specialise, I needed to discover the steps to be the best food photographer I could be. How could I wring the most from this dream? I identified certain steps and goals: being published in magazines, having the most exciting restaurants as my clients and doing cookbooks. Within two days of making this decision, my calendar was filled for two months in advance with food clients. Thanks Universe!
For the next two years, I rode that train as fast as it would carry me, without stopping to breathe, and unfortunately I ended up injuring my back. It seems I hadn’t quite learnt my lesson the first time. Another six weeks of stillness were in order, and again, they allowed more than the original injury to heal. By the end of my recovery, my heart had shown me another pathway that needed following: painting.
I have found that my success professionally stems from the state of being I occupy. This is built first and foremost on faith in myself and in the process of co-creation with the Universe. I am also very accepting of my flaws and where I need to improve and I appreciate the precious opportunity that my life is. I do not regard my life as being any more or less worthy than any other person’s and I believe this helps me to live with authenticity, compassion and curiosity which allows me to flow in co-creation with the universe.
As you mentioned before painting is something you started rather recently, how do you manage to fit that into your already busy schedule as a photographer?
As I’ve said, painting came out the quiet time I had during recovery. Now that ‘normal life’ has returned, painting is something that has priority in my routine. I make time to sit at the canvas almost daily, and sometimes spend entire weekends doing little else but painting. Painting has become my meditation and quiet time now. It is my way of bringing balance into my life (and hopefully avoiding any more injuries!)
If I don’t paint, I find myself going out of balance quickly. I become melancholic easily, and painting is the only remedy that works. Luckily I keep getting drawn back to the canvas, because a particular colour starts to burn inside me, and it has to be painted. Today, for example, it’s indigo.
What would you say are your ethical and social commitments in your work and in your daily life?
The food clients with whom I align myself must have the same ethics as I do which are: using ingredients that are ethically farmed, sustainably sourced, and mindfully purveyed. Most of my clients are also socially aware in how they employ and look after staff and their broader communities. Many of them purchase from community building projects such as township farms and this means their practice has a broader positive impact.
I use sustainable, green products wherever possible: I say no to single -use plastic, I use re-useable glass straws and coffee cups, I recycle and I try to spread the message of doing this wherever I go. I’ve raised several eyebrows with my vehement refusal of plastic bags or straws at shops, but eventually it works. Keepcup is now stocked at my local coffee house.
What projects do you support?
I give small startup businesses very low rates because I believe in the positive difference their products could make, including food, greening and small farming products.
What is important to you to make this world a better place and why?
Kindness and compassion for each other and the environment. This really will solve all our problems.
As most of our Immersive retreats are held in Corsica, what words come to mind when you think of the Island?
Retreat, regenerate, discover, connect.
We know that you are very connected and inspired by nature but what would you say does Yoga, Meditation and Nature bring to your daily life?
Balance. A core point from which to expand, and to which I can return. During my recovery, I decided to get back into connection with my body by doing exercise, and I chose yoga. I’m a late starter, but once I started I did thirty days solid. When I drop out of balance, and then return to yoga, I find that all processes become rebalanced, like my appetite, my thinking, my stress levels, creativity and optimism. I don’t feel so overwhelmed. When I do yoga, I feel I am returning to the womb of the universe.
Meditation usually follows yoga, because I already have a calm state of mind. Yoga helps me to meditate without distraction. There is no remedy on this planet that is more powerful than just walking in nature. This is probably why I paint so much of it too.
contact @ http://www.clairegunn.com
Interview by Lara Boshoff