An Open Letter: Colour 2018
Behind the beautiful stage of Colour Conference is a world unknown to many. For 7 days this place gets invaded by a group of people that is alive with different cultures, backgrounds and various untold stories. A community rich with gifts and talents. A company of people with the same interest. A society to build His Kingdom. We are Hillsong Creative.
I walked into the Arena ready to document what is taking place and parked myself in a corner on a couch. Waiting. Watching. Taking note. Normally I will tell you about the great tension between comms and the events team has to share a room. The one is louder than the other. One is obsessed with creative storytelling and the other not so much. And on the other hand, it’s all about who gets to nap on the couch and who can’t.
Singers, songwriters, dancers, you name it. Together we outwork a God-ordained vision of the Colour Sisterhood. The language used is a poetry in motion and we design visuals that will rest in the rhythms of your heart. But this creation of beauty is an absolute mess.
On the last night of Conference, I started writing. I never do it so quickly. I was alone in a small office, facing a mirror that confronted my own thoughts. Thoughts as to why I serve on the team I serve in and questioning what I bring to it. On my right was a little card that said “We can’t believe we get to do this… with you!” Even in the mess of our own hearts, we try our very best to bring a beautiful Creator to this world.
Working with creative thinkers can give you grey hair. Believe me, I’m not the easiest person to work with. Colour.18 was never about the photos. But about the observations. I’ve seen a few things over the past couple of days that wrecked my heart into so many pieces.
In less than 24 hours I saw friends become family. To be honest I don’t think I’ve ever seen a room so tangible with people that are so vulnerable. Sitting backstage with guys desperately seeking God’s face. Desperately seeking a breakthrough for friends and family. I saw friends cheering for one another during items. Encouraging each other to do what they do best in order to help advance His Kingdom. It wasn’t about individual applaud, but rather a mature mindset of how we bridge the gap between God and the hearts of each delicate.
For some the platform is a distant dream, for others, it’s about someone seeing their photos. Personally, I love watching people do what they are gifted to do. If you want to know what is the secret to my photos, here you go… Do what is required in your season through honouring God. It says Grace all over the image…
A Beautiful Mess
In the 13th century, history was made in Murano, Venice. Italian monks crafted the first visual aid by providing the initial set of spectacles to people who could not read small letters. This authentic set was either made of iron, horn or wood. Heavy, but needed… Vision is important.
About three years ago I had an encounter with a beautiful mess. Having a massive fear for foyers filled with people, standing in the front and nowadays the awkward ‘one minute to mingle’. I started hiding. And out of hiding, I fell in love.
I became intrigued by the people and conversations between the four walls of our production room. 6am call time. Worship leaders rocking up with no make on, with children in their arms fast asleep. The smell of coffee alongside loud yawns was a raw familiarity. 6am to 8:15am, every Sunday, became normal. I started seeing things the greater congregation did not see and had a desire to show a different church experience. Art became alive with every drumbeat. An untold story, ready to be revealed.
Those Italian monks had a desire to restore vision. A vision that would enable small letters to be magnified. Rolling cables, cleaning the platform or manning the clock is magnified in the big picture. Serving with no hidden intention. Why? Because the vision is clear. “Building a church to build a nation.”
The one can be amazed by the perfection of light during worship.
The one can be captivated by the heart of musicians.
The one can be fascinated by the beauty of lyrics.
The one can be drawn to the art on screens.
The one can be gripped by the vision.
The one, can make a difference.
It’s that time of the year where I find myself back in the Grand West Arena, not so ready for the annual Christmas Spectacular. Seeing that my default is creative I thought I would just wing it. But with a heart torn in two, I was standing with empty hands. Okay, that’s maybe a bit dramatic.
It’s Friday night and the passages are filled with new faces, ready to experience the full swing of eating hot chips, no sleep and people having conversations in the middle of the door. Why though? Did we not learn anything from Colour? As I walked into the backstage docks I quickly became familiar with the smell of metal rigs and coffee beans. These creative cats and their coffee, you can’t seem to separate ‘em.
The Arena is buzzing with excitement. The atmosphere is tangible and the tension tight. When pressure hits me I’m in my element. For a change of habit, I decided to get a bowl of popcorn before team meeting starts. For some random reason, the whole congregation thought it would be fine to have some of it. Take note; some of these people have been setting up for hours and working very hard, I do applaud you, however, I don’t share food… ever.
The plan was to stay for an hour or two, shoot some behind the scenes and connect with people. Low key I left at 1:30 am in the morning. Let’s just say that I’m not so confident with sticking to a plan. I came to Spec with no plan. No plan on what I wanted to shoot and definitely no plan to write a story. But the question I got throughout the show from fellow team members are; why do you always just shoot backstage?
My simple answer is this:
Every individual has a story. When we’re together these stories combine and it creates a tension. A medley that is still being crafted into a heaven song. Us together matters more than anything else. Individually we are strings. Together we are a beautiful God breathed tapestry. My heart is to show the church off the platform.
Having only slept 2 hours the night before I knew this weekend will be a stretch. Coffee in one hand and my camera in the other. At some stage, I was sipping on my camera. For those of you who actually know me will know that I sometimes do the dumbest stuff. Yes, I’m finally admitting it. But somewhere along the morning I woke up and started shooting and didn’t stopped…
Here are some of my favourite photos, hope you enjoy them.
An Open Letter: Colour 2017
Surrounded by off-white corridors and the smell of only Grand West Arena. This year Colour Conference looked a tad bit different to me. Photography brief: stay backstage and capture everything that happens behind the scenes. One week, one corridor, one objective: To the creative, I see you.
Shooting behind the scenes is most probably my favourite thing. I have a scandalous love affair with our creative team and its vision. It’s no secret that I love telling stories through images and capturing moments off platform. This year marks a 10 year photography anniversary for me. I started shooting when I was 15, a very delicate age for any young girl not knowing her identity. A camera became a part of me, who I am and what I believe.
Photography is my default. Even when I started following God, creating images is all I knew. As a creative I tend to be a perfectionist, my work had to be seen. I don’t want to be good at what I do, I want to great. Pride and arrogance kept me going, until I burned out. You can’t build character on pride and you definitely can’t grow closer to God with a mindset like that.
Fellow creative’s, today I want to write to you. Don’t be the person I use to be. I use to strive for affirmation and I promise you there will be a day where you work your ass off and no one says thank you.
To the creative; I’ve been watching some of you. Some roll cables 6am in the morning and others rehears songs ready to lead people into worship. For 7 days I found myself backstage with the majority of people that make Colour happen. The ones that rocks up at 5am and leaves at 2am, the ones that help with stage design and setup, the ones that puts up poster all over the place and the ones that has the honour of capturing the story unfold.
This week I followed a few around. Some don’t care about their titles. They walk around the corridors with no shoes on, eat their cooked meals upstairs in a dressing room and have random conversations on a staircase. My eyes opened to what true community looks like. To actually have a conversation with someone with genuine kindness and care. To be loved…
Colour 2017 was not really about the photos. This year I decided to be more present and observe.
1) Creative pastors; you really eat a lot of Steers chips. Yes, I saw you!
2) Why does everyone meet in doorways? Can’t you stand somewhere else?
And 3) Why does the events team talk so loud?
One particular day I decided to sneak into the creative’s leaders meeting. You would think that it’s this stiff meeting where no one smiles. To be honest, I walked out crying of laughter. It was a great reminder to have fun in the midst of it all. It reminded me of why we do what we do.
To the creative’s; I pray that the beautiful mystery of God becomes personal to you. I pray that you will mature in your relationship with Him and serve out of overflow. I pray that God will speak to you in new ways and that you will seek Him more and more.
Because; Can You Believe We Get To Do This?
Let There Be Light.
Shining a light on what happens at rehearsals.
Early mornings, late nights and a boatload of flat white’s is nothing new to the Creative Team. Or let’s just say nothing new to those who make call time. Shots fired. But for real, after a few years of Christmas Spectacular I’m convinced that we spend more money on coffee than water. If you look on the bright side, there’s water in coffee.
Oh hello Grand West, it’s us again. You might remember us from Colour Conference, the group that has the best actors, singers, dancers; you name it, or maybe, the team that takes the whole wall to write their names. By the way, why do you keep on painting over it? Heck budget is tight; one can only afford so many pens in a year.
It’s always nice walking into the Arena with ‘Guess who’s back?’ playing in the background. Ok, maybe in the background of my head. ‘Cause you know, I’m not that special to get an intro. Speaking of an intro, as I walked back in I didn’t realise there’s a curtain after the doors, like wasn’t the veil torn? You see what happened was, I walked in and you know when you look for the end of the curtain? Ya, that curtain went on for eternity. I finally managed to get in. That’s 6 minutes of my life I’m not getting back…
Guess who was responsible for the volunteer photo? Me. You might remember a particular event that ruined my little ego a few years ago. I take some serious pride in what I do, but that day Miley Cyrus came in like a wrecking ball and I couldn’t think straight. This time was a little bit different, they gave me the microphone. I may or may not have a slight inappropriate side to my apparent “quietness”, so on that note, praise Jesus that the microphone cut out when I cracked my first joke… Let’s just say I just want people to know that photographers are good in the dark. But I did need light, and the photo came out good.
Let me tell you about the rest of rehearsals. It’s like being found in the mystery but sadly I tripped and found myself between the chairs. Anyhow. Rehearsals are always fun. Not only do you get to see the whole production, but you also see what goes into it.
I think my favourite item would be the intro of King Julian. Ha yeah, that happened. I’m pretty upset that I didn’t get a palm tree outfit. I have to admit that I’m pretty good at throwing shade… But our Where’s Wally outfits were a win. I don’t like stripes. But the stuff you would do for your team hey…
The most creative thing I did at Spec this year was the dance at the end. I have to say that my moves can make it in a Colgate ad with a tagline that says noticeably white. I can’t move my hands and feet at the same time and to make matters worse, I end up with a wedgie stuck between my lungs. So no dancing for me. Some people that can dance on high heels are more stable than my entire life. I always thought that I was pretty stable until that one prayer meeting when I stood on a massive wooden bin and the lid decided to come lose. Like, why does the lid have to make such silly decisions? I may or may not have slipped. To save myself from worse embarrassment I changed my mind on where I want to stand for the next meeting. You know, let’s just lie on the floor because you can’t fall over.
Listen, I love what I do. These backstage things are my highlight of the year! These are the stories you would never hear of. You would think that this post would have been pretty profound. But I’m just sitting here telling you some interesting stories from my perspective and there’s a lot more. Until next year!
An Unforgettable Experience
(Bethel Worship SA Tour 2016)
An Open Letter: Colour 2016
Sitting alone on a cold floor, editing, waiting… “You really can’t be that tired, it’s not like you actually serve people.” A comment I came face to face with a few months ago.
After a year I found myself back at Grand West for Colour Conference. This time, a completely different story. No late nights watching rehearsals, making notes, planning, preparing, nothing… Just shooting. Sadly this day I found myself facing a small mental problem that I’ve been battling with for over a year. “Nicolette, are you taking the volunteer photo?” A question I got all week. I distanced myself so far away from that stage that people didn’t even know I was at the volunteer rally. If you haven’t noticed; I am driven by excellence, task orientated and an extremely aggressive shooter. I had one chance to prove myself. And I didn’t.
Lights off, gear packed and ready to go. Like always, normal routine check done. Camera bag in the same spot, laptop packed and all camera batteries on charge… ready for Colour Conference. But today, the familiar got interrupted. I sat at the table with a cup of coffee, face to face with an old friend… Depression. Some people travel through isolated deserts and others through beautiful wildernesses. Not me. I went camping in the epicenter of hell and I actually didn’t want to live anymore. Let’s just say I was stuck in a bad season.
Some things started to surface in my life. These “things” are the things that church leaders don’t talk about, don’t struggle with or even mention in a corporate setting. For as long as I can remember depression has been part of my life. I didn’t want people to know, so I created an image. The confident photographer known by everyone. Until I burned out…
Bright and early on the Friday morning of Colour 2016. Photography gear cleaned and packed. Wearing all black with white high-tops and on my way to the Colour Network High Tea. Everyone was expectant. Some people were sharing about what God has done in the first conference and others show their anticipation for the next one. I enjoyed shooting it, but Heaven on Earth it was hot! With a smile on my face I was still waiting… waiting for breakthrough.
By the time I got to the arena the place were packed with people. Girls were already standing in lines waiting for the doors to open. As I walked in I saw all the worship leaders on stage doing the final sound check. I was super excited to shoot worship. The lights looked absolutely amazing. I went backstage, walked up those wonderful stairs and started setting up. Camera ready, fired up and ready to shoot.
I stood in my position waiting for the opener. The atmosphere was thick and tangible. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait any longer. I was standing face to face with 5 000 women ready to worship. I took a deep breath as the lights dimmed for the opener to start. And Boom! Start of Colour Conference 2. This is what I live for! As soon as the opener and worship was over I ran back to go and edit.
The start of day 2 will be the only time when the whole foyer smells like coffee and perfume. I wouldn’t say that that blend would sell. But who cares? Getting ready for a long day of shooting, I had to convince myself why I do what I do. I sat backstage with a coffee and a smile. The smile was very important, because no one could know about the brokenness and sadness that I’m currently facing.
I mentally prepared myself for the warfare prayer and worship session. The speakers started to share their personal stories and with tears streaming down my face and uncontrollably crying, this is the first time that I’ve ever heard someone on a platform talking about not receiving or seeing miraculous healing take place. This has been an ongoing battle inside of me every time I’m in a corporate setting. I felt butt naked and vulnerable as I was sobbing over the fact that I haven’t received my healing. But for once I can relate to someone. By the way, crying and shooting is not necessarily the best combination.
Standing backstage, knowing all masks are off. It was time to be real. Hiding behind a camera won’t solve my problem. Photography is what I do, it’s not who I am. I had to be real about the fact that I actually have a problem and that it is not something to be ashamed of. It’s not easy being a leader right up front helping everyone but also in the back of your head struggling with suicide. To be honest with you, I don’t know if I will be healed and if my healing is on the other side of Eternity.
The biggest struggle that I’ve had was to prove myself over and over again. I had to get a revelation of if Jesus stood in front of you asking “I see you, is that not enough?” Will I be content? Will I say yes? I kept looking for my identity in the wrong places, people and activities. I lived with the fact that depression is part of me and it started to rule me. It was an excuse for my actions and behaviours.
The hardest part was the realisation that there are about 10 000 people between the 2 conferences and they are walking around with the same problem. This blog won’t heal you and it’s definitely not the answer to your question. But I can say that I understand. I had to learn how to let go of the past. I had to learn how to trust my friends and leaders. I had to learn that the people that I do life with are for me and not against me… I had to learn that I am loved.
I didn’t walk out of Colour Conference made whole. I walked out with hope and appreciation for the people in my life. Let’s just say, there was a lot more, but it’s not going to fit my story at this moment… I want people to understand that depression is a real struggle.
I hope that my personal story shed some light and life into yours. I pray that you would hold onto the promise of healing and not give up and I ask that you will let people into your life that will help you walk the journey.
An Open Letter: Colour 2015
April 9th, 2015. There was this crazy buzz in the foyer of church. Creative Team Night set aside for Colour Conference rehearsals. For the first time the whole Communications & Media team was put in one room. People I knew, people I didn’t know. Photographers in the first row and Film in the second. I sat at the back of the room, staring at my competition, scouting who would be my biggest rival. Yes, that’s me, a dark secret that I’ve been carrying… I am, extremely competitive.
Colour would be the biggest event for our local church. Two conferences. Almost 10 000 people at the Grand West Arena, with a total of over 1000 volunteers serving in a space of four days. Last year that was just a number to me, this year I’m part of that number.
Walking into the Arena the Monday of rehearsals, Production volunteers were all around the place. Some was laying cables, others testing microphones. Everything had to be excellent. We wanted every woman who walked into the conference to feel special. As I walked in I remembered the smell of the backstage rooms… Being able to shoot rehearsals is a big plus. Being a professional photographer you want to be prepared for anything and everything. I was listening close to everything the creative leaders said, making notes of changes and memorising the whole set. Believe me that is possible.
April 14th, 2015. Volunteer rally. All the volunteers under one roof. People from all campuses. Everyone showed up expectant. People stood in awe. This was actually happening, again. Shooting volunteer rally was easy, or so I thought. No shot list. Only a speaker shot, a few interesting things and then the big volunteer photo. Standing next to stage waiting for the call to take the photo I turned around looking for Philip. I was under the impression Philip would take the photo. I mean, Philip is Philip. But no, he looked at me and indicated that I should take it. The first thought that went through my head was, “Dang Philip, now is not the time to be humble”. A lot of emotions flooded me. Standing alone on stage with over 1000 people staring at you is frightening. On my left, Global Creative Pastor Cass Langton, guest speakers, our SA lead pastors Ps. Phil and Lucinda Dooley, and the front row stacked with our key team. Honestly I was scared to death. This was the annual photo everyone anticipates. I was staring at FJ for advice. Hands waving around, he just said go wide. I had a Canon 16 – 35mm f/2.8 on me so wide was definitely not a problem. Ps Phil made the call, everyone went crazy, and I took around 30 photos. Looked at my LCD screen, one should be ok. I nodded my head and walked off stage. I knew I messed up.
All the photographers got together for a quick brief. We went up to our office which was situated on the other side of creation. I now understand why all the people in the Communications team are so fit. I clearly didn’t get the memo. Standing in a room filled with photographers and videographers we had one mandate; and that is to work as a team with excellence. Christen shared something, I wouldn’t know what, because I was so distracted by the fact that I just messed up the biggest photo of the week. I wanted to kick myself, I mean, how I managed to mess up a photo like that is beyond me. A lot went through my head.
I started editing as soon as we were done. Emailed my best shots and left the Arena. I got home, raided the whole kitchen for food and sat on my bed crying. If this was how Colour starts, I don’t want to know how it would end. I messaged FJ to say that I’m sorry about the photo and knew that I had to pull myself together because this is the start of something big.
A few months ago we had Christmas Spectacular at the same place but, this time was different. This wasn’t just a production; this was Colour Conference Cape Town 2015.
Only a few people got shortlisted to shoot at Colour. The magnitude of this global conference is indescribable. The pressure is on. There is no turning back. We are a team, a team that has to showcase photos to the world…
We split into two groups. One group shot the first conference and a different group shot the second conference. I was in the second. Sitting in Block B I was staring at all the photographers wandering around trying to get the perfect shot. In my head I was wondering who had what lens on and what settings they were using. I had everything planned out. Where I was going to stand, what lenses I’ll shoot with, how many shots I’ll take… I just needed a camera. Overwhelmed with frustration I could not wait for the second conference.
By Friday I was dead tired. The night before I cleaned and packed all my equipment. I was ready to shoot my first ever Colour Conference. With sweat dripping down my forehead and a cold autumn wind rushing through my shirt I walked into the Arena. Put everything down and mentally prepared myself for the evening. I had one photo on my mind and that was to shoot wide. After the opening ceremony I waited for Justin’s call to go and edit. If there is one person on the team I have 100% trust in, that would be Justin. Going through hundreds of photos I quickly edited my best, emailed the photos, grabbed the wide lens and ran to the other side of building. As I walked out I saw a staff member of Grand West standing behind the curtain listening to the message. I knew I only had one shot to get the image. It was difficult. Overexposed on stage and underexposed behind the curtain. I took one photo, it sounded like a gunshot that went off. She turned around and looked at me as if I was crazy. I turned around, looked at my screen and I knew I had the photo.
There is one shot I needed to get. I quietly walked up the stairs praying to God I don’t pull a hamstring. I was at the highest section of the Arena. I started shaking, my throat wanted to close and for some reason I got emotional. A lot of thoughts rushed through my head and for a split second I looked around and it hit me.
One of my biggest dreams became a reality. This wasn’t not about me, the photo that I want to get or the equipment I use… I caught myself daydreaming in a reality. Sitting in the corner, I had a slight smile on my face. This is it. This is my calling. But, it wouldn’t have happened if everyone didn’t work as a team. Sometimes as a photographer I become so self-centred in what I want to do, but not here. There was no time for that.
Pushingmy bad attitude and competitiveness aside I slowly walked down. I got the shot and at this point that was all that mattered. I walked back to the office to edit. While my photos were copying to my laptop I remembered the staff member behind the curtain. How easy is it for some of us to get so used to the idea of church on such a scale. Almost every Sunday I walk in and out with a camera in my hand. For some, that is not normal, for me, that is a lifestyle. Take it away and I’ll go ballistic.
I got home, did my routine equipment clean up, charged my batteries and packed all my bags for the next day. As tired as I was, I could not sleep. Something truly happened to me at the top of those stairs. A 5am wake up call, I am not a morning person, everything before sunset is early. I got to the Arena still trying to wake up. Everyone walked in with smiles on their faces. Who does that at 7am in the morning?
It was the last day of Colour. The foyer was buzzing. Ladies standing in lines with coffee cups waiting for the doors to open. Pressure on! As a photographer you walk around looking for moments. There was a lot happening. I got overwhelmed by the amount of people in one building. You could smell freshly ground coffee beans and hear people talk about their excitement for the day.
The first two sessions went past so quickly. By the time the boys did Uptown Funk I was buzzing. I couldn’t wait to shoot it. I remembered the full rehearsal; I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Done and dusted. I went back to the office to go and edit. I went through my photos. Stefan Green nailed it. He was absolutely brilliant! The funny thing is; he saw me and he knew exactly where I was standing.
A few minutes later Ps. Cass Langton walked in. Philip was busy with the global ‘Colour highlights video’ and she needed to see it. I couldn’t show my excitement. FJ, Christen, Philip and Cass were sitting and talking about changes on the video. I made a cup of tea and stared at these people. Creative geniuses right next to me. While I was eavesdropping on the conversation I closed my eyes for five minutes. My body aching and as tired as I am; the last session was still coming.
The last opener was difficult. It’s fun and it pretty much sums up Colour. I got distracted. Missed everything I planned and yet again completely messed up the shots. Disappointed with myself I went back to the office. I knew I shouldn’t get myself down. The last segment was still coming; the wave. This year we got our national flag. It was one heck of a crazy moment on stage. The moment everyone was waiting for. You could see the anticipation on people’s faces. We took our positions to shoot. The wave started and unexpectedly a massive crowed joined us on stage. This wasn’t planned. The dancers were running around. I got smashed in the face by my own camera. They spontaneously started singing Shozoloza. It was just crazy. You could tell that everyone was enjoying themselves. The moment was over and I went to edit. I walked up the stairs with a smile on my face.
All fun and games, but the night ended. Colour was over. Tears flooded my face. This just happened. Colour conference just happened and I was part of it. Looking at all the volunteers, dancers, singers, actors, photographers I couldn’t contain myself. Everyone did extremely well! Our leaders led with excellence. The office was buzzing and everyone went crazy. But it was over…
Everything packed up, lights out and we went home. What a week?!
I cannot explain the pressure, the excitement and rush we worked with.
Yes we did it. We… because we are a team.