london

[1Month2Wander] Stop 1: A London Homecoming by Amanda Liew

Note: All photos in this post were taken on an iPhone, not a DSLR. 

Oh how quickly things can change! In just a few short weeks, I went from job searching to sitting in my friend Stephen's flat in London, enjoying a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner. In an exciting turn of events, my social impact job search has come to a close, and I am ridiculously thrilled to start a new position in January 2016. Fortunately, this meant that for the rest of 2015, I could take advantage of my true time off by backpacking through Europe! Since I unabashedly love unnecessary hashtags, I'm calling this one #1Month2Wander because that's truly what it is. After embarking on my incredible Jordan Solo Trip, I realized I was completely capable of setting off across the world by myself, albeit with a travel group. With the encouragement of my friend Megan, blogger over at Drifting Not Aimless, I decided I was in fact going to backpack without a firm plan! Not going to lie, it has only been a few days in, and I've bounced back and forth between having mini freakouts and total zen. On one hand, I wanted to kick myself this morning when I realized that a Eurorail pass probably would have made more sense for me given the unpredictability of my travels, but it requires enough planning to anticipate the 3-4 days of shipping. Not to mention, nearly everything is just so much more expensive at the last minute! On the other hand, it's pretty awesome having total freedom over my schedule - my weeks have been in flux nonstop & I like that I'm not particularly tied down to anything at the moment. 

One thing I did know, though, was that my trip had to begin in London. Just a month ago, I was lamenting that I couldn't come back to London for Thanksgiving this year, only to discover last minute that in fact it was possible. My incredible friends Stephen & Beccy threw open their arms and welcomed me to London with literally only a week and a half's worth of notice.

Honestly, I'm so happy I decided to start my trip here! Ever since my ABCD Trip this fall (yes, yes, I'm rather behind on blogging about that...), I've been more aware of the way a trip's "flow" impacts my experience. It's been wonderful starting off a really big trip on a little bit more stable ground; a homecoming of sorts. I've already seen most of the big sights, so there's no franticness to the pace of my day. I'm here to have good conversations, get my bearings on the world, spend the day cooking American dishes for a medley of British & Canadian friends, and explore new parts of London that the tourists don't get to see. There's also the relief in being able to easily navigate the tube system myself & knowing I should stop at Boots to pick up a toothbrush or Oxford street to replace my broken boots. I love that I don't have to get fish & chips this time around (although I might), and instead Beccy and I can stop by her local Malaysian-Thai restaurant for some good curry laksa. I love that I don't need to see Big Ben for the thousandth time, and instead can spend a solid hour with Stephen at the temporary pop up British Museum of Food sampling chocolate in sound booths, sitting in massage chairs to feel what it's like to get digested, and jot down our recommendations of what a hopefully full-time exhibit should include. There's just such a feeling of comfort and familiarity that has made this such a great time already.

For that reason, all of these photos are just iPhone snapshots rather than DSLR quality photos. Bringing it back to my traveling roots and original style of blogging, really! Most of the snapshots below are of the British Museum of Food's butterfly effect room highlighting the importance of butterflies in the ecosystem for pollination. We were so impressed that they were able to build a complete rainforest atmosphere and that we could even watch a few butterflies coming out of their cocoons! The pink lighting is due to the type of lamps they had to create the environment. We literally stumbled across the exhibit, and couldn't be more thankful for it - it was only 5GBP, so I highly recommend it.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Up next? Copenhagen with Patrick! I'm going to do my best to semi-live blog my travels if I can! 

On "Shooting Men" & Max at Camden Market by Amanda Liew

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Given that I am still relatively new to photography (this year marks my 2 year anniversary!), I'm always trying to challenge myself whether that be through direct prompts and challenges (The Photograph Collective) or various techniques that I want to try out (oof, gifs were a tough one...). One thing I've realized recently is how almost all of my portraits are of women! On one hand, most of my close girl friends are comfortable enough to ask for portraits, while on the other hand it seems that society has deemed photoshoots to be more "acceptable" for women than for men. In the past two years alone, I've had dozens of girl friends ask for a photoshoot, while I've only had two or three guy friends ask for "a new LinkedIn photo." Of course, I've absolutely loved shooting the sessions with the women in my life and have been so happy to share the gift of beautiful photographs which each one. Each woman I've shot has a different personality, a unique style, and something different to portray which still adds a significant amount of variety to my work. Lauren of The Pear Shape and Samantha Davis of @stylemediator are both fashion bloggers, but with completely different looks and attitudes. Even in photographing two girls who I'm exceptionally close with: my best friend Janet for her Penn senior portraits and my "little sister" Kiersten in San Diego, the experience has been completely different, and the photos certainly reflect that. During Merry & Kelly's engagement shoot, however, I took some photos of Kelly that I really loved - in particular, the shot of him looking off to the side. There's something very different about photographing men, although I'm not quite sure I've figured out what it is yet. In terms of very broad generalizations, I think that women are often times more comfortable in front of the camera due to years of group photos, mini photoshoots with friends, etc. After 4 years in Chi Omega, I can pop a skinny arm and sorority squat in .15 seconds, flat, and one of my good friends even has a head tilt that is somehow at the exact same angle in every. single. photo. In contrast, whether it's due to societal pressures of what's "acceptable" or just a pure hatred of being forced to take photos, I've encountered plenty of guys who have absolutely no idea what to do in front of a camera. Max, who I'm featuring in this post, never had any idea what to do with his hands. When I was abroad my junior year, I literally made a folder of photos where he was throwing up a peace sign, a thumbs up, a fake gang sign, or some other ridiculous gesture - they were all hilarious and a continual joke, but he just insisted he didn't know what else to do. Beyond that, I think a lot of it also has to do with who I am as a photographer. I feel comfortable "directing" shoots with my female friends. Saying "That looks stunning! You look beautiful! Yes your hair looks so great in that light!" is much easier with women than it is with men. Nevertheless, for 2015 I've sought to give myself a little mission of "shooting more men" (how hilariously questionable does that sound?!) and to do it well. When I did my very first portrait shoot with Kareli, she gushed at how beautiful she felt when she looked at those photos. While my photos might not evoke quite the same response with guys, I do want to produce photos that they are happy with, more confident because of, and truly appreciate. So with that, I present to you these portraits of one of my favorite Brits, Max, whom I visited in London over Thanksgiving. He put up with all of my running around, trying to find good light, constantly yelling conflicting directions like "Smile! Wait don't smile! Be serious! Step forward! Wait that light is bad, move back!" and was just a good sport all around. I'm quite happy with the way the images turned out - he sure is the handsome fellow, isn't he? And if you're a photographer as well (or aren't!), I'd love to hear your thoughts on taking photos of men, or perhaps of the opposite gender. Do you find yourself more comfortable with female subjects? How do you give confidence-boosting compliments to the opposite gender without making it sound creepy? These are real questions, and I think that being a good photographer involves so much more than being able to frame a good shot technically. Making someone feel comfortable, especially if you're a portrait or wedding photographer, is crucial for their experience, yours, and ultimately the outcome of the photos.  _DSC0129_British Thanksgiving_DSC0141_British Thanksgiving _DSC0144_British Thanksgiving

A British Thanksgiving (Yet Again!) by Amanda Liew

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Back in 2011, I started a travel blog hilariously titled View the Liew in the Queue about my adventures at King's College London. In a whirlwind, I visited WindsorBrussels, Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Bath, Barcelona, and Amsterdam. And while all of those were beyond amazing, the true treasures were the experiences I shared within the tiny dorms at Stanford Street Apartments. It was there that we all came together - British, American, Italian, and more - to celebrate a Thanksgiving feast. Stephen somehow managed to cook a turkey, I learned how to fry onions for a green bean casserole for the first time, and half of the dishes weren't even remotely close to what would be served at Thanksgiving back in America...and it was all so perfect. We made little pilgrim hats to wear, ate until we wanted to sleep, and made memories that will last a lifetime. Three years later, and my blog has grown up quite a bit. It's shifted to the more mature (and boring) amandaliew.com, but has much better photos if I do say so myself. Beyond that, my friendships from KCL have stayed stronger than I could have imagined - the Brits made an epic both-coast-visit in 2012 where we reunited with the other Americans who were scattered about, Max studied abroad in America in 2013, and Stephen and Sarah came to NYC in 2014. Finally, it was time for things to come full circle with a trip back to London & yet another memorable Thanksgiving. I'm so beyond lucky to have these people in my life - who would have imagined 3 years ago that we would have become so close? Though my trip was short, we managed to jam pack everything possible: Camden Market, South Bank, afternoon tea, and of course just good catch up time. In contrast to my typical vacations where I plan an itinerary for every second of the day, the purpose of this trip was to see my wonderful friends. For Thanksgiving itself, Stephen spent 2 full days cooking and somehow made 18 dishes...for 11 people. It was unbelievable! At one point someone said "I'm so full...but I want to keep eating!" to which I responded with "Welcome to the American way!!" It was truly perfect.

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London's Bluebird Cafe by Amanda Liew

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Sometimes simplicity is all you need. I didn't have many things on my check list for my British Thanksgiving since I have already been fortunate enough to cross all the major sites off of my checklist, but the one thing I did insist on was grabbing some afternoon tea! Rather than go for a multi-tiered tea experience (while quite lovely isn't exactly an "everyday" event like Americans seem to believe), we decided to take a little trip out to the ever so quaint Chelsea to visit Bluebird Cafe. For an affordable £9, we ordered the a Tiny Tea which came with homemade scones and a delicious assortment of jams and clotted creams. It's amazing how something so simple could be so satisfactory, but the meal was just that! We all agreed the scones were some of the best we had ever had (a much higher compliment coming from the Brits as opposed to myself!) and we asked for jams upon jams to try them all out. The courtyard seating was lovely, even with the chill of November, and each table had blankets available to keep yourself cozy. The only downside of the experience, however, was the terrible service - and I don't say that lightly. We were routinely forgotten by all staff members (waiters, hosts, busboys alike), and had to ask 3 or 4 times for each item - it was all quite odd and we couldn't help but wonder if something had happened for them to all be so off their game. Nevertheless, for the price and scones, I would probably deem them to be worth a second chance! _DSC0253_British Thanksgiving _DSC0244_British Thanksgiving _DSC0248_British Thanksgiving _DSC0254_British Thanksgiving _DSC0258_British Thanksgiving _DSC0266_British Thanksgiving _DSC0270_British Thanksgiving _DSC0276_British Thanksgiving _DSC0239_British Thanksgiving