Monday, April 20, 2009

April 10, 2009
Photo Shoot with Lisa Beck and Budhi Harlow, West African Dancers and Drummers

At the beginning of 2009, I wanted to manifest “working with radiant people and producing beautiful work that is appreciated and that I am proud of.” Since January, I have been so blessed already to have done photo shoots with two women whom I look up to and admire so much—my mother, Karen Custer Thurston (check out my last blog), and my mentor and good friend, Lisa Beck. Both are dancers, artists, and goddesses in every sense of the word.

In the past nine years that I’ve known her, Lisa has grown into this incredibly gifted singer, graceful dancer, powerful percussionist and instructor of West African Dance and Drumming. It has been a joy to not only be a friend and sister of hers but to have the honor of studying dance and drumming with her. She and her partner, Budhi Harlow, are the founders of the groups Panzumo and Konkoba and together they are a mighty musical force! Over the years they have produced several music Cds, taughts hundreds of students, and performed throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura County.

I first shot them about six years ago and recently did another shoot with them on the beach showcasing Lisa’s dancing and drumming for their website, blog, performances, and classes.

What amazes me about Lisa is not only her inner radiance but how much she shines in front of the camera. Her skin is a creamy white and she has an elegance and grace you don’t often see in West African Dance. Budhi is equally powerful in a very rugged, visceral way. Watching him drum and howl and create rhythm is an amazing experience, bringing out his inner warrior.

It was an absolute treat to spend a couple of hours with them on the beach at sunset….we got a little playful at the end of the shoot, moving beyond West African into more of a Men’s Journal/Vogue style swimsuit shoot…laughing in the saltspray as the tangerine sun disappeared over the Pacific.

Another one of Lisa and Budhi’s gifts is their ability to bring people together. Over the years and with the help of other local musical dynamos (Vanessa Isaac, Kim at Pulse Drumming, Steve Campbell, Lindsay Rust, Hunter, Sharin) they have created a very magical community of musicians and dancers among their students. Many of us their students look to each other as family. I often joke that we come to Lisa and Budhi’s classes for the music and we stay for the friendship!

Here's the slideshow that I created for them that is also available on Youtube for viewing:

Lisa's West African Dance Class

High on the euphoria from our shoot and amping up for a West African Dance and Drumming Camp several of us will be attending this summer, I decided to try to capture some of the electric energy that Lisa (with the help of Budhi and his students’ live drumming) imparts to her class. I put together a slideshow of her West African Dance Class. As a photographer, I was able to experience the joy of the class outside the eyes of being a dancer or a drummer. Alas, the only drawback is that I couldn’t be in the photos with my friends during class!

I hope you enjoy these photos as much as we did taking them. Work really shouldn’t be this fun! You can keep tabs on their projects by checking out their website and Lisa’s blog: