laura heald

Norway is for Lovers

There is something serene in the midnight light of northern Norway. It is unlike anything I have seen before or will likely see again.
The sky is blue, not black, and the stars twinkle like they do in a child’s dream.
The snow-white mountains glow in the full moon light, bringing day to night in a land without sun.
I like to lay in the deep snow and watch the clouds pass and shooting stars fall, as green wisps dance to the time of celestial music.
Florida is a distant memory in the land of trolls and twilight.
— March 2013 Journal

If I had to pick a place for romantic getaways, or otherwise - especially this time of year - I would pick Norway. Every. Time. 

Disclaimer: I've never actually been on a romantic getaway to Norway, but it has everything you could want. There are icy-blue fjords, snow-capped mountains, trolls, green lights in the night sky and reindeer literally dashing through the snow. 

I came across this furry friend in January 2013 while trying - and failing - to capture the northern lights on film in Tromsø, Norway. Bill and I were helping lead a photo tour with Dionys Moser and Raymond Hoffman, and the sole purpose of the trip was to find and photograph the northern lights. But weather got in our way.

The constant clouds hovering between us and the cosmos made for a stressful week. My stress and disappointment in our lack of aurora sightings were offset greatly by chasing this reindeer through the snow on a cold and cloudy day above the arctic circle.

The work trip failed, but I went back to Norway two months later, this time for fun with a friend - the reliably ridiculous Leigh Birch. We drank wine, made Bill drive us everywhere (keeping him around is a good safety precaution since he doesn't drink) and were surrounded by the aurora every night. 

Me (left) and Leigh Birch (right). She's British, if her hat didn't give that away.

Me (left) and Leigh Birch (right). She's British, if her hat didn't give that away.

On our last night, we ended up on the edge of a frozen lake. It was frigid outside so Bill left Birch and I on a block of ice with a bottle of Balvenie 12-year-old scotch, and escaped to the car. We drank for warmth, pretended our legs weren't numb and talked. We talked about her husband and whether or not she should have kids - they now have twin boys. We talked about me and what kind of person I might end up with - jury is still out. We talked about parties and parents. Brothers and sisters-in-law. And we talked about all the amazing places there are to see in the world.

With changes in our respective lives, Birch and I don't see each other as much as we used to, but every now and then I crack open my bottle of Balvenie 12-year-old scotch and toast my favorite Norwegian memory.

Turkish Delight

Capturing video from a rooftop in front of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (popularly known as the Blue Mosque).

Capturing video from a rooftop in front of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (popularly known as the Blue Mosque).

I was carried here with the wind. I drifted in like the countless seagulls that hover above the Bosphorous. 
East toward Asia, west toward Europe. Tinkering between worlds.
Byzantium. Nueva Roma. Constantinople. Istanbul.
Wanderers. Warriors. Crusaders. Commuters.
They have all been summoned here by a higher power; a calling and a prayer.
We are always going somewhere, just like the current that brings the fishing boats home at night.
But somehow we ended up here. Strangers in a foreign land.
Brought together by the only constant in this city of change - the wind, and that seed it carries of the unknown.
— December 2012 Journal

Bill and I went to Istanbul in December of 2012 with Andy Hancock and Jana Erb to meet Gen Umei and Toshiaki Ayiogi from K&L - an advertising agency in Tokyo whose largest client, Nikon, had asked Bill to make images for advertising campaign for the soon-to-be-released Nikon D4.

My love for the place was immediate. The colors, the food, the people, the antiquity of the place. Istanbul has been in the center of history for millennia. I was enchanted.

It was the perfect mix of east and west. It felt foreign, but familiar.

I had the sense I'd been there before, perhaps in a dream. Maybe just in a history book.

Every historical period is represented somehow in the city’s architecture. There’s the Column of Constantine from Roman rule. The Hagia Sofia from the Byzantine period. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (popularly known as the Blue Mosque) is newer, built in 1616 during Ottoman empire. Everywhere you look there is history, made and in the making.

Our time in Istanbul was full. We had a lot to cover in two short weeks. We had to make images for a brochure and a film for the web site, so there was no time to waste.

When you live life on the road, it’s hard sometimes to stay grounded. I find myself sticking to silly routines like what side of the bed I sleep on, what I eat for breakfast, what music I listen to during different times of the day - classical piano in the morning, Americana/folk at night - all in an effort to my head on my shoulders. But sometimes, when a job is particularly demanding, those routines get abandoned and I have to choose sleep over stability.

In Istanbul we were up before the sun rose every morning and in bed well after midnight. Planning, editing and negotiating take time, and the only time we had to do that was after the sun went down. Sleep quickly became my top priority. Yet, even without my routines, I maintained a level of sanity. 

After a few days I knew why. In Islam, there are six calls to prayer - the first is two hours before dawn, then one at dawn, then midday, afternoon, sunset and one more at the last light of day. The call to prayer became my watch, a constant I could count on during a hectic schedule. 

I remember one morning in particular when we were running a motion time-lapse at dawn, showing the incredible traffic around the city and through the Bosphorous. It was a cold morning and dense fog hung over the water. As the sun began to rise the fog first turned pink and then a deep orange. I could hear Bill and Jana laughing behind me as they talked to Gen. Then, as I sat by myself grasping the few moments of solitude I could find, the dawn call to prayer rang out. I’m not sure what mosque we were near, but it was loud and deep and hauntingly beautiful. 

That call was my rock. A reminder to be still and give thanks - even if only for a moment - and I think that’s a reminder we could all use from time to time.

Covering the Home Team


December is one of my favorite months. Temperatures are cooling, cookies are baking, and the college football playoffs are just around the corner.

This year’s Alabama team is the unanimous favorite to win the title come January. They are easily the best team of 2016, and possibly one of the best teams of all time.

In 2008, that title belonged to the Florida Gators. I grew up in Florida and am a third generation Gator, so I’m a little biased when it comes to college football, but I think it’s safe to say that their 2008 defense was one of the best ever. They had been dominant in every game but one, a 31-30 home loss to the Ole Miss Rebels early in the season.

At that point, I had been working as a photo assistant with Bill Frakes for just over a year. I had been to the Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, Final Four, Olympic Games, and was taking a semester off, interning for a few credits and working as much as possible.

I remember the morning of the shoot. It was a brisk December day in Gainesville. Sports Illustrated sent Bill for an early morning portrait shoot with the Gators defensive line and linebacking corps before their matchup with the vaunted Oklahoma offense led by quarterback Sam Bradford. 

Anyone that has ever met Bill knows that if it’s even a little cold, he has a hoodie on. His hoodie of choice that morning was a bright green University of Oregon Track and Field hoodie, likely picked up on a chilly night at the USATF championships in Eugene, OR.

As soon as Bill began taking pictures, Brandon Spikes - the leader of the Gator defense - looked at him with a perplexed expression and asked, “Bill, man, did you go to Oregon?”

Bill looked at him confused. “No,” he answered. “Why?”
“Man,” Spikes answered loudly above the chuckles of the others, “you’re wearing an Oregon hoodie.”

Bill looked down at his sweater and laughed. I don’t think he even realized he had put that on before he came.

“Someone please get this man a Gator hoodie,” Spikes said to the UAA staff member on the shoot.
“Where did you go to school,” Spikes asked?
“You don’t want to know,” Bill answered.
“Come on, man,” AJ Jones (16) added, ”Just tell us where you went."

The others chimed in with encouragement.

“What,” Spikes rejoined, taunting him, “are you embarrassed?”
“Fine,” Bill said, with a knowing smile, “I went to Ole Miss.”

The groups exploded in “Oooohs” and “Oh mans” and a lot of laughter. Ole Miss was their only loss that year. They were the one team who almost kept the Gators out of the title game.

“That’s cold,” Spikes said back to him. “You should have lied.”

After a few more minutes and a few more poses, Bill told them he was done and thanked them for coming out so early in the morning.

“We ain’t done yet,” Spikes told him. “Get that Gator in here for a new profile pic,” he said pointing at me.

The guys motioned me over, and I squeezed behind Carlos Dunlap (8) and under the massive shoulder of Brandon Spikes.

“We gotta level out that bad Ole Miss juju,” AJ Jones said to the approval of the rest of the defense.

And they did. The Gators went into Miami and beat Oklahoma 24-14 in the national championship game.

The Alabama Crimson Tide might be the team to beat this year, but my team will always be the Florida Gators.