Belize Jewel Series: Tony Rath Photography

Earlier this month, I received a request from my publisher to submit an author bio and photo for my guidebook by December. It has haunted me ever since, because a) I cringe when I have to write about myself in the third person, and b) if you ask me how many times I’ve been in front of a lens since becoming a travel photographer four years ago, I can count them on one hand.

For all the months I’ve spent in Belize, the multiple round trips, the gorgeous backdrops I’ve captured and experienced, the thousands upon thousands of shots — I’ve rarely, ever felt the need to be in them. If I have a photo, either a tour guide or friend suggested it, or it was a quick handheld shot. I just don’t think about having my photo taken anymore. Ironic, for someone who used to model on the side, years ago — from bridal to local runway shows in Washington DC — and who loved doing the “tourist” thing back in my 20s (you know, the obligatory stand-in-front-of-everything photo).

Well, I spent the past week in Dangriga, to continue my work on the South Coast chapter and to attend the November 19 Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations.

Anyone who knows Belize and Dangriga, knows that the best photographer in the country lives here (in my humble opinion, he is the best). It’s a name you’ve probably even seen yourself, online or in print: Tony Rath.

I met Tony in person last year, albeit very briefly, but like most Belize aficionados, I was familiar with his photography long before, gazing at his stunning landscape and underwater shots.

This time around, I was finally spending time in his town. After sharing my plans for my South Coast chapter with him, he kindly offered to show me around the South Water Caye Marine Reserve and helped me coordinate my days on the islands. I had already been to the cayes and snorkeled from there, but I wanted a deeper understanding of the southern reef and a fresh look at the area for the next edition of Moon Belize.

The thing is, you can only be around a photographer so long before you become their subject. I didn’t notice his Canon telephoto lens on me at first — the image below shows I had no idea he was shooting, the morning of the Settlement day reenactment. Exhausted but thrilled to be there to capture the event, I was up at five in the morning and had only slept for two hours after the all-night parties, drumming and dancing in the “sheds” in town.

After a couple of days of pure festivities and immersion in Dangriga and the Garífuna events in town, we headed to South Water Caye, where Pelican has a sister property (some of you might recall how much I love that place).

Within minutes, we were off to explore the reef. How often do you get to snorkel with a trained marine biologist, and in Belize?  Not very often. Tony identified different species as we went along — I even learned how to dive in for closer looks, with >>

just a snorkel mask on. I realized how meaningless snorkeling is unless you understand what you’re seeing and know what to look for; I’m now debating taking a marine biology course while here, but I digress.

Two snorkel stops later, we headed back to the island so I could complete my lodging updates. When I was done, I mentioned in passing that I needed to submit an author bio photo for the book and had none to consider. As the afternoon progressed and the weather turned less than ideal, our sailing plans were canceled and we somehow fell into an impromptu photo shoot. I was extremely nervous at first — I couldn’t remember what it was like to be in front of a lens, much less one belonging to a top photographer!

I had no make up on, save a little eyeliner, was exhausted from a hectic two months so far of running all over Belize for work, my skin was dry from sun and salt, my hair was (and still is) all crazy (can’t recall the last time I went to a salon and I can’t find any leave-in conditioner to save my life here in southern Belize), my nails unmanicured, and I had no special clothes that I brought with me. I didn’t even have any earrings in my bag, I lost them while snorkeling that morning! Basically, all the things you have absolutely no time for as a travel writer on the road.

But I quickly realized — how often would I have this opportunity? A chance to remember being in my favorite place in the world, while working on my dream job, and being captured by a top notch photographer? Forget the author bio for now! I needed to take time out, for once, and do this for me. Just two months away from my big, milestone birthday in January — I’ll let you all guess the number — I couldn’t think of a better time to capture this time in my life, as a woman first and everything else second.

So I decided, I would just be myself, Make up or no make up. And trust the photographer. That’s what I tell my subjects when I shoot, and it was time for me to practice what I preached. Besides, this is what this journey has been all about the past four years: simplifying and being true to my path.

This image below is one of several other photographs that came out of that impromptu, very short (one hour) shoot. Is it possible to feel better about yourself as you age? Because I can honestly say that’s how this photo made me feel when I first saw it — quite a feat, and it speaks to the photographer’s talent methinks.

Many thanks to Tony Rath, a true professional, and to Therese Rath, Terry, Leonard, and Ricky out on South Water Caye and Pelican Beach Resorts for their  support and warm welcome during my time in Dangriga – not least of which was a wonderful Thanksgiving meal at the Raths’ home. I will surely miss this side of southern Belize. And on my birthday next year, should I ever freak out, I’ll be looking back at this photo!

 

Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning travel journalist, photographer, and guidebook author specializing in the Caribbean region. Her work has been published in major travel publications, including CNN, AFAR, Delta Sky, Lonely Planet, Shermans Travel, and BBC, among others. A self-professed "culture-holic," Lily left her native Ethiopia at age one, fast developing a passion for the expat Caribbean life. In 2008, she ditched her US corporate law career for the road and created Sunshine and Stilettos—a travel photography blog showcasing authentic ways to experience the Caribbean, through culture and nature. Lily has since partnered with Caribbean tourism boards and travel brands on major content projects. She also authors print guidebooks on three destinations, including Belize, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. Read more on her site, LebawitGirma.com

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16 Comments

  1. Lola 25 November, 2012 at 4:38 PM #

    One word -> Stunning!

    Work it lady!

  2. Therese 25 November, 2012 at 5:02 PM #

    Pictures don’t lie 🙂 Very lovely!

  3. Belize Hub 25 November, 2012 at 5:19 PM #

    Wow I love the photos! Great post Lily and I am positively sure you are doing a great job writing the guidebook.

  4. Natalie T. 25 November, 2012 at 5:56 PM #

    Great photo! You look stunning and not a day older than 21. 😉

  5. Lebawit Lily Girma 25 November, 2012 at 5:59 PM #

    Aw thanks, Lola..:) It’s like a whole new chapter!

    Thanks, Therese & Natalie! And Belize Hub! I am working hard! 🙂

  6. Tarra Stauffer 25 November, 2012 at 5:59 PM #

    Lily I gasped when I saw the photo. Your true inner beauty shines thru and I see you. Freakin amazing. Bless

  7. Lebawit Lily Girma 25 November, 2012 at 6:44 PM #

    Thanks Tarra… you are too sweet. Bless!

  8. Yaffa 25 November, 2012 at 7:56 PM #

    Stunning and exotic; a true Ethiopian beauty…

  9. Diana 25 November, 2012 at 8:08 PM #

    Simply gorgeous! The outside beauty doesn’t do justice to your inner beauty.

  10. Lebawit Lily Girma 25 November, 2012 at 9:29 PM #

    Thanks so much Linda!

    Diana thanks my dear!! I truly look forward to meeting you in person one day.

  11. karletta 26 November, 2012 at 2:29 AM #

    Yes, Lily, it is absolutely possible to feel better about yourself as you age because you are growing into the face that you earned.

  12. Lebawit Lily Girma 26 November, 2012 at 6:39 PM #

    The face that you earned! I’ve never heard that before, Karletta. Interesting!

  13. karletta 26 November, 2012 at 7:34 PM #

    a very old saying…first heard it when I was 18 and had no idea what it could mean. Now I do.

  14. Katherine - Kapcha 27 November, 2012 at 9:04 PM #

    Wow Lily – just beautiful. Not that we didn’t all know you were already. Stunning photos though and what an amazing oppotunity and experience. Just awesome.

  15. Lebawit Lily Girma 29 November, 2012 at 4:56 PM #

    Thanks Katherine!! Tony did an amazing job.

  16. Robyn 4 December, 2012 at 8:02 AM #

    Stunning….werk!

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