Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fantasy becomes reality in my garden

This afternoon on October 29, photographer Scott Belding came to my garden to capture images of two belly dancers, one who has become a much loved friend named Nagasita, and the other an instructor named Moria Chappell, who specializes in Odissi Dance, an ancient form from the eastern state of Orissa in India.
Odissi Dancers carved on the 13th Century Konarak Temple in Orissa
After arriving at my house, the two women dressed in extraordinary hand made finery and emerged as Goddesses in to what was an unusually warm dry day for the end of October.  The light was fully saturated and magnificent and the humidity from previous days of rain gave the stonework in the garden a rich hue.  The Gods were being very supportive of this event because it is pouring rain again as I write this.

Reflective white panels even the light for photography
The photographer set up white umbrellas on tall stands to diffuse the light of mounted flash mechanisms that reflected off of white panels to illuminate the niche wall and pool in my garden.  Moria and Nagasita gracefully styled a variety of poses based on Odissi dance positions, of which there are 52 basic hand positions called mudras, in combination with a number of others for telling a gestural narrative.  Every part of the body is incorporated in telling stories based on stories about people and their relationship to Gods of the Hindu pantheon.
Photographer Scott Belding showing an image to
Moria Chappell

When I built this part of the garden I was basically manifesting the idea of a harem, inspired by those I have seen in palaces in India and Turkey.  What struck me about these harems is that they were the most intimate and beautiful part of those incredible palace complexes, sumptuous halls and pleasure gardens for relaxing and communing amongst fountains and pools.  I had shipped back a number of salvaged stone architectural pieces from demolished old buildings in Rajasthan collected during my travels in India in the 1990's.  I used these antique sculpted sandstone window frames and panels mixed with special stones I had gathered from around the world to ornament the facade.  The wall for me is also meant to be a shrine in which to house a collection of bronze and stone Buddhas and Hindu deities that I wanted to give proper placement.  The wall and pool allude to a number of ancient palaces, temples and tombs I have visited throughout Asia, South America, Europe, and North Africa bringing the essence of these places in to my living environment and blending them with nature.

Nagasita Tiare Tashnick
I have since I built the garden, the fantasy of throwing a party with a harem theme, reconstructing something like an Orientalist painting where richly attired guests lounge on cushions while music and belly dance are performed.

We have had many wonderful Bacchanalian parties here, including one that lasted 3 days, but the harem theme has never been realized.  Nagasita had been to my house years before when a fellow dancer Aradia Sunsari was wintering here while I was traveling.   Nagasita has become a pivotal performer and teacher of Tribal Fusion Bellydance in Portland and performs at a great many events around town.  Her presence has brought an element of profound spiritual beauty to the shows.  I've had the opportunity to dance with her on the floor and every time we seem to move to another level of interaction, as if we are speaking to something divine through our bodies and hands.  It is a truly sublime thing to experience.  I was thrilled when she agreed to do a photo shoot in my garden.

I've seen a number or Indian classical dances performed in India and here in the U.S.  Traditionally they are meant to inspire divinity in the dancers and through them, the audience.  From experience, this really happens and the way I move on the dance floor to this day is profoundly influenced by what I have taken away from watching these amazing performances.  To behold these two women enacting various poses and holding them with great skill and grace while being captured on film was and ecstatic event.  I used my little Lumix DMC-LX5 camera to shoot images over the photographer's shoulder, often trying to synchronize with his countdown to try and capitalized on the flash.  This rarely worked but the light was so beautiful it didn't seem to matter.  I also took images from down low and off to the sides in order to stay out of the way.  But I was able to capture some truly wonderful images of great beauty.

I love beauty.  It gives life meaning for me.  To watch these beautiful women artfully creating classical vignettes on the stage of my pool and wall was incredibly uplifting.  Never has my garden been so divinely blessed through ritual gesture.  It was as if they were manifesting a dream.

Blessing the waters

What a wonderful day it was!   Fantasy truly can become reality!  Thanks for reading.

A Cleopatra pose
Moria Chappell in the bathtub

Nagasita, keeper of the Spring



The Spring of Life
Needless to say, I'm inspired!


  1. your place is beautiful but these women brought it to Divine levels, which is wonderful you felt it....a gift that lasts forever.

  2. This blog entry caught my attention because I work with landscaping, plants, and recently, in 2011, took-up an interest in portraiture photography.

    Lovely photos. In one of the photos, the intricate stonework with pebbles behind the dancers, reminds me of the walkway of the Chinese garden in Portland, OR.

    In your garden, it looks like some stones were moistened to bring out the colors more. Very nice.

    M. D. Vaden

  3. Stunning and beautiful Jeffrey. I shall feature your post on my blog in the next few days, with much pleasure...