Diamonds are precious because of their light. People are precious because of their light. It is only when darkness prevails that the diamond and the person get to shine their innate light. We had the chance to interview author/photographer Naomi Lloyd who is setting out to do an important photo-story in India on girls who are being rescued from human trafficking. The charity Naomi is working with, YouCanFreeUs, was set up by an inspirational man who survived the 9-11 terrorist attack in New York. The charity is also being supported by Bollywood celebrities. Watch this space for more!
Read on to discover more on the powerful choice humans can make to transform tragedies into light. Naomi also gives insight on her upcoming book, “The Magic of Diamonds” and book series, “The Tandro Connections”, both which explore the precious innate light each one of us holds.
You are about to embark upon a journey working with charity You Can Free Us to end human trafficking in India. Through photographs you are to highlight the stories of girls being rescued into safe houses. How did this come about?
I am an Ambassador for a charity called YouCanFreeUs which works to end human trafficking. I am going out to Mumbai at the end of November with the charity on a mission to highlight the story of the girls that are being rescued into safe houses in India. The founder of the charity is a truly inspirational man called Sujo John who climbed his way out of a terrorist burial site that threatened to kill him as the twin towers collapsed around him in New York on September 11th 2001. Sujo was the only member of his cohort who survived that day; the tragic near death experience had a profound effect on him. In the aftermath he had a choice: whether to crumble among the emotional debris that had fallen upon him or to find a new energy reserve. He chose the latter and made a life-changing decision – to dedicate his life to bringing a new light into the worlds of hundreds of girls in India whose freedoms get stripped away from them by the evils of human trafficking. The charity ” You Can Free Us”, which started as his mission and is now a movement of people advocating change from all walks of life, is one that brings hope, energy and light to young girls who have been kept in the dark
What are you hoping to portray through your photographs and how would you like these to make a difference?
I believe we can all help to make positive change and should use the skills we have to do this where we can. I am hoping that the photography and writing skills I have will be a worthwhile contribution to the charity’s mission to put an end to human slavery.
One project I am currently working on is a coffee table book called, “The Magic of Diamonds”. Researching for this book has taken me on a fascinating journey; one where I have encountered some amazing gemologists, designers and historians who have opened my eyes to the magic of science and romance; stars and energy; and diamonds and people.
It was through learning about the how diamonds are formed and also their unique traits that I realised that I could combine both my skills and my connection with the charity to create a powerful metaphorical photo shoot that would highlight the evil of human slavery that is occurring all over the world and show how people will naturally bond together in the face of suffering.
Diamonds are atoms of carbon that have been forced together in an extremely tight-knit community due to the exceptional circumstances of nature. Not only are the carbon atoms bonded close together, they are collected together in the same way in all directions – an isometric crystal structure. It is this compactness that makes a diamond so difficult to break, unlike other carbon minerals, such as graphite.
One of the chapters in my diamond book is dedicated to fluorescent diamonds. These diamonds fascinate me because they contain trace elements which make them glow (usually blue) when exposed to ultra violet light. The new light source (the UV light) creates a reaction within the atoms of the diamond; a release of energy which reveals their hidden colour.
The photo shoot in India will bring these two diamond concepts together; the strength of the bonds of union between the girls who have survived being trafficked; and their hidden magical light that is revealed when they are set free.
I have worked with a wonderful tattoo artist to create some bespoke fluorescent tattoo stencils for the photo shoot with the girls to represent a story of birds that have been kept in a cage and then set free to emerge as the strong, shining diamonds that they truly are.
It takes more effort to source fluorescent diamonds as they are scarcer and not as easy to get hold of. But they are truly beautiful when you do find them and make the effort to bring that different UV light source on to them – just like the beauty of setting the girls and their children free and giving them a safe light to enjoy the world and their surroundings. This is the message I am presenting with my photo shoot story for the charity YouCanFreeUs. These girls are valuable. It just takes a bit more effort to see this hidden magical light.
Describe the power of a photograph in three words:
Frozen memory power
Is there a particular photograph you once came across that moved you? If so, what was it about that photograph?
There are many photographs that have moved me across a wide spectrum of emotions and I could give you a list of famous examples of these different extremes: from photographs that have captured the pain that accompanies horrific evils (Nazi concentration camps) to frozen stills depicting the palpable chemistry between lovers (on and off-screen lovers, Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling kissing in the rain in “The Notebook”).
However, if I were to choose a photograph that moved me in a way that could be described as more than a feeling – but an explanation – I would have to say it was a very ordinary looking one from my childhood.
This photo creates a paradox of emotions within me; happiness that I was clearly so loved and cared for as a child; and heart-break that those bonds were broken through the pain of family disconnect that comes from an acrimonious divorce. However, it is also an explanation to me because it reveals so many clues as to what must have lain dormant in my subconscious for many years and has now come to the surface through my writing of my fantasy/romance book series: “The Tandro Connections.”
Two things struck me when I came across the photo the other day: firstly, the way I am holding on to my mum with such a strong sense of belonging and attachment; and secondly, the wallpaper!
The photograph reminded me of how important the mother/child relationship is to me and how, no matter how many different forces and disruptions have threatened to break our connection with each other; our ties to each other are stronger than outside influences.
As a mum myself now, I hope to hold on to these thoughts as my children enter the teenage years too!
The second part- the wallpaper- was even more of enlightenment because the design of a diamond with a pupil inside is very similar to the design I created with Johan Louw (Head Designer at Uwe Koetter in South Africa) for the logo (the neckpiece the Tandroists wear in the books) which I have called the Derado.
Besides from photography, you also write. Your two upcoming books “The Magic of Diamonds” and book series “The Tandro Connections”are due to hit book shelves in 2017. Let’s begin with“The Magic of Diamonds”. You explore the parallels between people and diamonds. Can you tell us more about this? (diamonds in the dark – inner light – personal journey)
“The Magic of Diamonds” is an exploration into the parallelism between people and diamonds. It is a photographically illustrated and factual book about diamonds that I am approaching not as someone from within the diamond industry, but as a wedding photographer and writer – someone who has exchanged countless conversations with engaged couples as they have browsed through my wedding albums about the day before the day; the ring before the ring; the moment when they saw their diamond.
The book is a quest to dig a little deeper into the connection a person can have with a diamond; a more romantic exploration into the idea that your diamond traveled through time all the way to you; that the world may consider a flawless, perfectly-cut diamond to be the most valuable and yet your connection with your diamond can be worth so much more.
From the Universe, to the stars, to the beginning of time, we are all made of star stuff and can all turn into diamonds under pressure. Sujo John, the founder of YouCanFreeUs, is one of my examples of a diamond person but there are also many others that I have connected with during my research such as the wonderful Denis Bellesorte whose dream in life is to fly diamonds in the sky all over the world and compel people to look upwards to the natural beauty of the stars in the sky instead of always looking downwards at the artificial light from their hand-held machines. You will have to read the book to find out how Denis flies his diamonds though – it is a wonderful project designed to reunite the diamonds with the stars – with where it all began – both for stars and for people – after all , we are all made of star dust!
I have also looked into the other facets of the diamond story : the beliefs by many that diamonds absorb energy – both positive and negative; the magic of the hidden secrets within the fascinating inclusions that many diamonds contain inside them and can tell stories of their journey through time; and, the magic that can occur when you find your diamond – the one you keep being drawn back to; the one you have your heart-crush on – just as we experience our unexplained attractions to the people we meet throughout our lives.
“The Tandro Connections” is an exciting fantasy fiction romance/adventure. Getting a glimpse into the synopsis, the stories portrayed are an emotional exploration of family, love and sacrifice! What would you say is the predominant message through your series?
I have always been intrigued by stories that make you really stop and think about human reactions to unexpected events: when life throws you a curve ball which forces you off your trajectory; the “what if” moral dilemmas that can test even the strongest of characters.
Equally, I have also always been drawn to the possibilities of life existing in an alternative universe and how connecting with this alternative life would most likely present mankind with some extraordinary dilemmas and force people to question the way in which we interact with each other.
The more recent willingness of leading scientists such as Stephen Hawkings to openly state their belief in the existence in parallel universes (alongside books such as, The Runes of Evolution which argues that if “aliens” do exist and we ever encountered them, they would look very similar to us) fuelled my desire to connect this to my moral dilemma writing.
And it is these two themes: human reactions to unexpected events; and the possibility of alternative life being the ultimate curve ball to mankind’s future, that forms the nucleus of the Tandro moral dilemma because it raises such questions as:
“What would your do if you thought you had the perfect life and then you actually met your alternative universe person.”
I had been playing with this moral dilemma idea for some time, often waking up with dreams of a planet where everyone wore different coloured diamond neck-pieces that released their coloured aura and allowed them to exchange energies with each other; living as single units without the “constraints” of marriage or family expectations.
But although I had the core theme of this story I felt so compelled to write, I knew there was something missing; the nucleus was there but I needed to connect the electrons around it make the whole atom.
A turning point came on one quite ordinary evening when I witnessed a palpable connection between two strangers at a party. These individuals were both happily married to other people, who were not present on that evening, but their meeting surprised them both; an unexplained connection between them – as though they had met each other many times before. The chemistry between them was so obvious that it led one of the other party guests to announce to them:
“In a parallel universe you two would be perfect for each other.”
It was at the moment that I thought: What if someone did make a connection with someone from a parallel universe that threatened a family’s bonds; if a love triangle was created out of this new energy force that would be introduced from another universe?
From thereon, the need to write about a pan-universal love story was like an imperative energy inside of me that I needed to get out and pour into my characters!
How would you define love?
Wow! What a question!
I think love is when someone digs deep enough to see both your light and your dark. It is about someone seeing all the hidden secrets and stories that a person collects on their journey that makes them unique and then both accepting that story and valuing it.
I still love this excerpt from a poem that was read out on my wedding day which says:
I love you, for putting your hand into my heaped-up heart, and passing over all the the foolish, weak things that you can’t help dimly seeing there, and for drawing out, into the light, all the beautiful belongings that no one else had looked quite hard enough to find.
Which Tandro character do you admire the most and why?
When you write your own characters you really do learn to love them and all their faults (with the exception of one character in Book One : Kieran, whose exploitation of 15 year old Erin leaves little to be desired).
However, If I have to pick one it would probably be Robert because his love for his wife is tested time and time again and yet he never stops fighting to keep her close and to bring her back to the family and bond them all together again.
He has his faults and weaknesses, which he shows when he slips up by having a “meeting” with Parador, one of the Tandroists; a meeting he tries to justify to himself as a means to securing medical treatment for a friend’s child, when in reality, he knows his decision is a reaction to the jealousy he feels towards his wife’s intense energy connection with her parallel universe lover.
But Robert is a survivor and he loves protecting Stephanie and their children so when their family structure is threatened he does everything he can to keep their bonds intact; to make sure their connections with each other are not severed beyond repair – even from across two universes.
Why did you choose to explore diamonds? How are diamonds significant to your story? (Bring in Diamond Energy here and aura)
The concept of a planet ruled by the diamond colour energy that is connected to a person’s colour aura was an instinct rather than an idea. I woke up at three in the morning on many occasions to scribble down notes. I even woke up a whole chalet of people in France on one holiday as I scrambled around in the dark to find a pen without waking everyone up.
The ideas just kept coming to me and every time I wrote something down it always came back to diamonds. By Christmas 2015 I was at the point in the book where I was going back in time to 1867 when the Eureka diamond was discovered in South Africa which caused a big diamond rush; an event which inspired me to create two parallel forbidden love stories between Tandro and Earth which would connect the planets due to a magnetic diamond energy charge.
I then decided to take the plunge and travel to Cape Town so I could set the scene for the end of Book One and also design the diamond collared necklace (The Derado) whilst I was out there.
South Africa has always been a country that I have been drawn to and going back there to write the end of book one was a powerful experience for me. It pushed me further into exploring more about diamonds in the non-fiction book (The Magic of Diamonds) and switched on another part of me that felt a need to connect more with the world around me.
It was not long after my trip to South Africa that I met the team of YouCan FreeUs which opened up more doors for me and know I can’t wait to travel to India to work with the charity and visit a country full of colour and where diamonds were first discovered.
Interestingly, the huge challenge that I set for myself – writing, researching and photographing for the diamond book, as well as writing a five book fantasy series – has slowly revealed itself to be a perfect case of life imitating art; or the other way around? I am writing two types of books from different genres (fiction and non-fiction) but they are almost parallel stories that connect themselves together. I have found that it all falls into place when you let the energy take you on the journey rather than only focusing on a final destination. A diamond polisher in Amsterdam (who holds the world Guinness Record for polishing the smallest diamond) told me:
“Diamonds have taught me to be patient. If you are not patient the diamond will break you.”
I love this idea and it is one I remind myself of every day when I am writing and photographing. Have patience and don’t let that diamond break you!
Character Erin is a teenager who struggles with her self-confidence and body image issues. Do you think social media has made it even more difficult for young persons now?
I have strong views about this and I think it is a huge concern for young people growing up in the digital world. Within a few weeks of starting to write The Tandro Connection stories, I found my teenage diary (written between1993-2000). I realised that it was a gift to the story because reading through it made me realise how different (and probably more difficult) these years would have been for me if the diary had been dated (2010-2017) – If I had been a teenager today! This gave me the idea that Erin would feel an intense loneliness and separateness from her parents who were focusing on her brother’s critical illness but she would be experiencing this at a time when she most needed their support; a time when she was under intense social pressure that is so prevalent for teenagers today living in the digital world.
I decided to use my own diary to explore what I had written to myself back in the nineties – before the internet was widely used or social media apps were introduced and became an integral part of our lives – to create a scenario where Erin would try to find a connection to her mum through the invisible looms of time and would find comfort in writing back to her teenage mum from her own notebook. I wanted to use this scenario to emphasise how much the devices that dominate our lives may seem to be connecting us to the outside world but in so many ways can actually disconnect us.
I have photographed many teenage girls over the last ten years through teenage photo parties that I run and I am very aware of the how much pressure they are under: to look pretty or sexy; to pose a certain way; interact online with boys and to be popular both in real life and in virtual life.
Whilst writing Erin’s struggle with online relationship with an older man and her need to try to connect with her mother by writing back to her diary, I consulted a number of teenage photo clients who have been very helpful when I was drawing comparisons between these two decades: the one Erin’s mother experienced as a teenager and the one that Erin is living in now as a teenager.