life . Portrait . street

Madison, WI


Fontana Giusti


Warning, this article contains a lot of words, but also some beautiful images, and it’s worth it, I promise.

Creative mom, photographer or other, let’s be honest, when is the last time you took real time off by yourself?

I know all too well what you’re thinking, believe me. Like you, I am not the primary breadwinner (by very far), I hear just as much as you do how much I’m probably not doing enough for my family (or at least I think I do), and from 2016 (the year I got pregnant with Emilio, my first of two sons) until sometime this year, I had given up entirely on extended time off by myself, doing what fills me up.

To make matters worse, I don’t even live on the same continent as our families of origin (all split up across Europe), so all the “vacation” time we made as a family for the past five years has been claimed by relatives who expect us to come back and tour them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there was no good in this, but for five years, I didn’t do much for myself, by myself. 

And that’s wrong. What’s even worse is that despite that, I felt guilt. My own guilt, for not making income (though it wasn’t entirely my choice), for spending money on childcare, for progressively losing my mind and myself in motherhood, for somehow not doing/being enough because I was definitely not running on a full cup, and for so many other things. And the guilt of not meeting the expectations that family and society at large had set for me.

However, lately I had several falling offs with family members, so last summer I canceled my flight and let my husband and the kids do the Euro-tour without me. I stayed home, thence claiming my summer back. It wasn’t really a holiday, I built a fence in our backyard among other home improvement projects, but I also took time for myself, driving a few times to Milwaukee to spend time with Maddie Mason and the amazing group of film photographers clustered there. 

And the best part was that in the end, everything was fine. The kids survived, Moritz survived too. My own parents survived not seeing me. And everyone felt better by the time school started.

And this brings me to the crazy thing I just did…

Fast forward to December 2022. I was feeling my seasonal depression quickly creep on me. I am not exaggerating when I write that every day I managed to avoid a panic attack felt like a victory. I’d go on long walks to fend the anxiety off and I knew it was not enough. I wasn’t getting enough light, as a person with a body but also as a photographer. I could only think of one thing: heading south. I had little money to spare, but enough for one flight, my flight, no kids in tow.

Before I could reason myself into not doing it, I booked a flight to Brazil, for two weeks.

Before I go any further, you should know that I have a twin sister, Aurelia, and that she’s been living in São Paolo since 2017. A trip to visit her was long overdue. How on earth could I allow children, family obligations, the pandemic, money stress and my own self to get in the way of such a simple thing for so long?

This is Aurelia, by the way, living her best tropical life:

The hardest thing was to chose which cameras and film to bring, but that’s not that hard, truly, I just grabbed half the contents of my film fridge, a 35mm camera my Yashica Mat EM, and I counted on Aurelia’s Holga 120 GCFN that wasn’t getting any love to do all the toy camera work I was planning on doing.

Within 48 hours in São Paolo, my anxiety lifted. The first two days we’d walk around town and I’d regularly stop us because my chest felt so tight, but then it dissipated. Maybe it was the sun, or maybe it was taking time away from being a mom, but it worked, and worked fast. Just like that.

So we unapologetically packed our swimming suits and headed for the beach, in Bahia. 

That’s when Aurelia’s Holga became useful, because once I felt better, I was ready to experiment, to play around without expectations. I still had my serious cameras, but I couldn’t get enough of the toy.

I did almost all the things: layered doubles, flipped camera doubles, experimental film, changing film mid-roll and re-spooling with my dark bag (that’s a really nice accessory to pack by the way and it takes very little luggage space), photographs while bathing, regular shots without expecting perfection, you name it. 

Toy cameras have the added bonus to carry less risk that taking a Yashica Mat, or a Kodak Retina, or whatever tool you use. I mean, even when we went to Rio, notorious for thefts and all sorts of other dangers, I had the Holga with me. 

Some people will inevitable disagree with me on this one, but the Holga/Diana is the best travel camera.

Back to my main theme, going on a trip in the middle of winter, while my kids stayed home and went to school/daycare and my husband prepared his classes for the semester was freeing, it was empowering, it filled my cup to the brim, and I came back with incredible images to tell you, yes, you, fellow mom who’s losing herself in motherhood, that it’s OK to think of yourself for a few days, it’s OK to take that vacation you’re dreaming of.

Just don’t forget to pack the toy camera.

Take it from me. You owe it to yourself, your family, and your art, because I guarantee you’ll come back a better person. You’ll come back a better parent. You’ll come back a better artist.

Yours truly.


PS: I write mom, but please interpret this as liberally as you need to. 

PPS: I know Brazil might be out of reach for some, but that’s not the point, the point is to take that vacation, and suit it to your needs, your budget, and your abilities, because there are many many ways to get that serotonin boost you may so desperately need.

I took all these photographs on a Holga 120 GCFN, with Fujifilm 400H professional, Fujifilm Acros 100, Lomography lomochrome turquoise, and Kodak Portra 160.

Before I end this article, let me just say, finally, that if my photography speaks to you (with a Holga or not), please check out my print store and consider making a purchase, I’ll appreciate it immensely, you cannot begin to imagine!

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