In memories and in the moment
–with photographer Birgit Loit
It’s Spring, almost two months into isolation. I find myself with a relatively free, warm Spring afternoon (if I discount the housework until the weekend). I’ve been meaning to reach out to friend and photographer Birgit Loit for weeks – to ask some questions I’ve had building up since our last Skype.
I’m in Amsterdam and Birgit is in Tallin, Estonia, where I was meant to be visiting this weekend. The Skype calls have been accidentally long, whole-afternoon-flies-by conversations – that roll from one topic into the next. We’ve only met, and spoken, a handful of times before now – introduced by a mutual friend back in Summer 2019, when Birgit lived in Amsterdam. But we clicked instantly. Maybe I say this often, but really, we did – initially talking photography for a project I was working on, then staying round for coffee to chat, and then lunch.
We talked stories and travelling and realise we share some pretty extreme levels of excitement about all the abundant possibilities ahead of us in life – in place, in relationships, in creativity and work. We light up at the prospect of planning a trip, a hike, a collaboration.
So here goes – my conversation with Birgit, who sees life ever unfolding before her, likely involving a stint living in Japan, a veggie garden she can tend to each day, and a motorbike.
Tell me about life growing up in Estonia? What are some of your memories?
“My childhood in Estonia is filled with fantastic memories. I grew up in a town called Viljandi with a population of 17,000. Yet it is in the top six biggest cities in Estonia, which only has 1.4 million inhabitants in total.”
“Growing up, my world was filled with nature. I’m very grateful that I had such a peaceful environment where my wild inner child could roam free. I often came home barefoot, muddy, with ripped clothes from climbing trees. I could spend days exploring outside and was ecstatic to play in the rain. I was definitely a handful, but I had two lovely, patient parents.”
Our conversation is already off to an animated start. I think back to my own childhood memories – running and jumping on the trampoline in the rain. The surge of energy, the sound of heavy droplets on the roof (that one takes me back to my own home town in a heartbeat), the smell of earth uprising as those droplets hit the ground.
“One of the earliest memories that comes to mind is me hanging around on the first floor balcony, asking everyone who walked passed our house ''who are you, where are you going, where do you live?'' I was a very curious child. My family was always saying I was living in a dreamworld, and I'm glad I never let that go.”
“I had very big dreams and little Viljandi couldn’t keep me fascinated.”
“We used to have large family gatherings with all the relatives, and I never wanted to sit around the children's table, it was so boring. I was always drawn to grown-up conversations.
“I craved to listen and talk, while I felt the other children with me didn't have that kind of patience. I consider myself an old soul, so I reckon there was some desire for me to be recognised as such."
I tell Birgit about one of my fondest childhood memories – making homemade lemonade with my nana, mum and brother in nana’s kitchen. It looked out into the garden – to a single lemon tree. There’s a great photo at my parent’s of my brother and I climbing in that tree. I can still taste the zing mixed with sugar crystals on my tongue. She tells me of another memory with her grandma.
“My Grannie's garden is filled with apple trees, berries and plums, rhubarb bushes and a tomato-cucumber greenhouse, which looked like a jungle to me. Reflecting back now, what a privilege to have your own veggie garden!”
And what about memories that stuck with you, even if maybe you didn’t want them to?
“Of course, life has its ups and downs, yin and yang go together. So my parent’s divorce shook a few things up. It felt like my childhood was cut short and I had to grow up quickly, take on extra roles. I had a very strong connection with my father and to see him leave was very hard on little Birgit.”
“It's bittersweet to know exactly when and where life's spark and thrive was put on pause. Yet all these memories make me feel tremendous gratitude as they brought me here today.”
How did you come to be a photographer? And what do you enjoy about this art form?
“I was always fascinated by people's essence and capturing timeless moments in a photograph. And so, I became a self-taught photographer at first and took courses later on. I was meant to express this art form and enjoy doing it, so a lot of the things come to me naturally.”
“I remember at kids’ birthday parties when I was young, wanting to capture dancing, laughing and behind the scenes, with my grandfather’s cool vintage film camera. When I turned 10 I got my own digital mini-camera and took photos and portraits of all my friends.
“At 22, I got my first professional camera and I started to explore my creativity a bit more. Initially my professional focus was on landscape and travel photography, during a five year period of non-stop travelling. But once I settled down in Amsterdam, and now Tallinn, I took on portrait photography, and expanded into lifestyle and branding.”
“I'm not interested in just taking photos, I'm there to make a connection. Capturing people's craftsmanship and passion is important to me.”
With the pandemic impacting all of our lives personally and professionally in the past few months, Birgit’s photography work was on pause for a bit, but now she’s exploring new ways of shooting from home, or nearby. And like many of us, engaging with clients virtually to arrange plans and discuss ideas.
How have you experienced this changing workflow? Especially after taking a few weeks away from it all?
“I love working remotely for now. Yes, I have less work, but the break was much needed for organising my mind, reflecting and finishing up old projects. Now I can kick off fresh again!”
“And I’m fortunate that even now, in the new norm, I'm grateful to have clients who still want to work together remotely and send their products all the way from Amsterdam to Estonia. It's amazing! So I’ve been doing some shoots from home with their beautiful wares, once they make it to me by mail.”
She's also been putting her newfound time into Souli – her side venture, celebrating all that's out there to discover for the soul. She'll be launching a website soon, featuring content "sharing others' talents, and around healthy, mindful living, moon and magic."
Life in the slow lane
As you know, during this time, society has had to shift its thinking and doing in various ways. In your time staying at home so far, have you had any thoughts about how this is impacting us as people?
“I personally love big shifts. We have to adapt to new ways of living, new ways of overcoming struggles and now more than ever, reconnect within and with other people remotely. Of course I know this is more challenging for some than others.”
Birgit feels a sense of familiarity in this time – to the feelings it can bring up for some of us.
“For me, my life, especially the last three years, has been all about going within, re-evaluating myself, so I feel very familiar with the notion.”
I reflect on that, because it doesn’t feel so familiar to me. I’ve personally felt incredibly stunted at times. But I do know I’ve had a few more inner conversations with myself, and there are learnings to be found there. And some of us have time to sit with them and turn them over until they materialise a little.
I have to commend Birgit too – on so confidently stepping into this wide expanse of time and taking a conscious pause. She tells me that April, she has decided, is a month for her to focus on herself, Souli and side projects. It won’t be about business or money making, but about connecting with herself and her goals. Really taking the time to ensure she is moving forward purposefully.
Though not for everyone (or available to all), I wager that this is an option a lot of us have had before us lately. But to embrace space and time, perhaps without much income on the horizon, isn't necessarily an easy one – even for those who have been craving a break.
“During these times we have to try to seek out the positives. This is the current moment we live in. The pandemic is here, we can’t change it – but we have a chance to start doing things differently.”
“There’s so much reflection going on. Stirred-up relationships, new beginnings, endings - it’s all good for the energies to be freed and invite the new in.”
And then she really throws in some (old) soul wisdom.
“Your mind can want one thing, but is it actually what you need in order to go forward and evolve? Are you blocking your own self-journey? Try to go with the flow and have faith that everything is going exactly as it should.”
“I hope people can learn that slowing down isn't a "bad" thing, and that spending time with yourself is an opportunity to find fresh balance. It’s not that life is unfair to you, it’s all for you, and unfolds so that stuck energy can be released.”
"This idea, this trust in the universe, has been a beacon in my darkest hours, supporting my soul and energy. Any energy I give out, the universe will reflect. I used to live in a very shadowy dark energy, with a lot of negativity, worries, fears, self-doubt, no self-love, victimisation, blaming others and so on.”
“I believe the universe is guiding me through life – in action, in choices and connections. But at the same time, I'm the leading role in my life, so I have to have the will for things to change.
Against the current
You're a self-proclaimed adventure-lover. You've travelled a lot, work freelance, and imagine a life for yourself that involves travel at any age – one that might involve a motorbike in the future, a veggie garden, and/or a home in Japan. Can you share more with me about these dreams and plans? What drives you towards them?
“Dreaming dreaming dreaming. If I ever write a biography , that would be the first sentence!”
“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had that feeling that I’m here to experience life. That little village in Estonia could not contain my expanding soul. I stray from the norms society has set – staying in one career or lane, settling down and following the world's routine.
"I’ve become a different person from who I was raised to be, rewriting my views and values. When someone tells me: ‘'Birgit, you have changed.' I feel joy hearing it , replying ‘'Great, I had hoped so!'
Again, I am struck by the confidence in Birgit’s words. And again I reflect on my own outlook on societal constructs. Which, comparatively, feels a little wishy washy at times. I'm less clear cut with what I know and feel, perhaps.
“In terms of moving towards these goals, or some of the goals I have “ticked off”, I have had to leave my comfort zone. Having a strong personality really helps. And being stubborn enough to stick with my own intuition, and harbouring enough curiosity to make a choice to go and travel extensively.”
“Alone, without any safety-net, without knowing anyone, I travelled from Estonia to Australia, where everything unfolded. That was a major turning point for me. I have been on the road since then, moving every year to a new place, until Amsterdam. Because of this migrating behaviour, staying in one place for a long time makes my feet restless and I start preparing for another adventure.
"I’m striving for freedom. Something new awaits and needs to be discovered.”
Ramen and veggies
With that in mind, Birgit’s dream is living in Japan in 2021.
“I have been dreaming about living in Japan for a long time. I used to be afraid of going there because of the earthquakes. Something that is totally out of my control, where nature reigns the sceptre. It was in 2014 when finally I visited Japan with my partner and Tokyo welcomed us with a 5,6 earthquake on the first day.”
The synchronicity of this feels pretty huge. As if to say, here are your fears to face.
“I can see myself living in or near Kyoto, Japan. That’s my next plan. Something is calling me there (it could be ramen!). And I trust my intuition enough to take on this next unknown adventure. Throwing myself into a totally different culture where I don’t speak their language or know everything there is to know about Japan won’t be easy, but bring it on.”
“My partner and I also want to build a home in Estonia. A sustainable house with a glorious veggie garden. I have two sides. One is enjoying the slow life, drinking my morning matcha on a forested property in Estonia or Japan. Cooking soul food from the veggie garden, making pottery in my mini studio and enjoying this amazing life. The other is driving my motorbike on empty roads, travelling, discovering new paths and making new connections.”
"I’m excited that we don’t know what’s coming next in life. Curious about the new lessons, the new chapters, the new connections and self-growth. For me, that’s what life is about."
All photos by Birgit Loit.