Cartagena Love: Jewels and the Behind the Scenes of my Colombian Photoshoot
Posted on February 19 2020
This is Old Town Cartagena.
Within the walls of Colombia's oldest city is one of finest examples of preserved colonial architecture in the Americas. It is a visual delight with its abundance of colorful churches, monasteries, plazas, palaces and mansions with their famous overhanging balconies and shady patios. It charms with its narrow cobble stone streets, horse drawn carriages, vibrant street vendors and how it perfectly pairs chic renovated facades next to delapitated ones.
Prior to my second ever time in South America, I started to research photographers in Cartagena because I was so captured by the images I saw in my guide book and on blogs. "How fun to showcase exquisite jewels from the city while still in the city itself," was my thought. But it wasn't until I entered the ancient walls did the enchantment of this Caribbean gem truly grab hold of me.
While waiting for my hotel room at the adorable Casa Bugo to be ready I secured a photographer (I researched by using #cartagenaphotographers on Instagram). Yay! I sent her payment, and took a moment poolside to congratulate myself. But by the second sip of the complimentary iced limeade (very refreshing in that humid heat btw) my mind was swirling with "to dos". I needed jewelry *from* Colombia (I did have pieces from the week before in Mexico, but of course I wanted to wear local jewels), a minimum of 3 outfits and *EGADS* someone will need to do my hair!
The next 3 days were a whirlwind of scouting the best artisan jewels in Cartagena, dress shopping (not complaining about that), trying recommended local cuisine (I did have the best ceviche in my life at La Cevicheria), coffee swilling, learning how to say, "Can I borrow a dress steamer?" in Spanish (sort of kidding here, I do speak Spanish so I asked for an iron...but got a steamer instead. Loved it so much I am getting one for home!) and finding a hairstylist that would be willing to come to my hotel room at 5am before my 6:30am photoshoot (one has to dodge the multitudes of tourists in Cartagena, and getting up with the roosters is one way to do it).
The following parade of pictures is the "after" of all the before effort. My local photographer, Marina A. Maldonado, was remarkably talented and a delight to work with. I am not the most comfortable nor natural in front of a camera (frankly it gives me a headache), but she made the whole experience fun for me.
PLUS I could not have dreamed of better images from our time together.
Earrings Handmade and curated in Cartagena. Shop them HERE!
My hair looks pretty well-coiffed in these, right? Which clearly means I didn't do it myself (I wish I had a stronger hair-fixing skill set). BUT I did have the most lovely young Colombian hairstylist come to my room at 5am to give me a "servicio de Blower" for the big shoot.
Her name was Estephanie. Marina, my photographer, originally connected me to a stylist named Maria and the original plan was that I would go to Maria's salon in the Manga neighborhood at o'dark thirty. Something happened between our first texts and finalizing the appointment because instead of confirming with Maria, I started getting WhatsApp texts from Estephanie.
Estephanie does a lot of off site weddings (mostly for foreigners she told me...I guess getting married in Cartagena is less expensive than having one back home for most of us), so coming to my hotel room to do my hair was in her wheelhouse. She was so professional and on the ball that within a few texts I didn't have a worry in the world that she would show up at 5:15am. In fact she knocked on my door at 5am...right as I was toweling off my hair from the shower. She came accompanied by her live-in boyfriend who sat most patiently on my bed as she went to work.
Thirty minutes, a half-can of hairspray, a hairnet and a few bobby pins later I was ready to go (the hairnet was to further help hold the curl in my hair in the intense humidity until the shoot started).
This white dress I bought the day before the shoot at a little boutique in Cartagena after my "free walking tour". Like the earrings, it too was made in Colombia. Colombia is actually quite well known for its textiles.
In this picture as I sit in front of a lion head knocker, you can consider me a protector of the pretty Colombian made and curated earrings I am wearing.
The pair of earrings in the top two images have already sold, but a similar pair by the same Colombian designer in a different color pattern is available HERE.
These are them! Shop them HERE!
Of the outfits I managed to miraculously throw together for this shoot, the one you see above and in the following two pictures is my least favorite. The skirt I did bring from home, but the black tank I bought at a shop in Cartagena called Tenis.
The best part of the ensemble however are the jewels.
Above are artisan earrings I curated my first night in Cartagena by one of the most talented street vendors I met, Afro Bendito. They are made from handwoven rice fiber.
Shop them HERE.
This image above, like all in this outfit, were the first of the early morning shoot. Not sure if you can tell, but I was *so* self-conscious at the beginning and I think it is reflected in these pictures.
Thankfully as I got to know Marina and became more comfortable I started to be more natural...although I still had a headache at the end of it all. :)
The stunning geometric and embroidered earrings in this picture are by the talented Mexican designer and shop favorite, Gaby Vilchiz.
You can scoop up this one-of-a-kind treasure from Oaxaca HERE.
The necklace is also one that I curated in Taxco, Mexico. It was handmade in .925 silver by the Rodriquez family.
Shop it HERE.
To change outfits, Marina and I would have to trek back from whatever location we were in to my hotel.
My room was on the second floor and as I was walking down the stairs to head back into the streets after an outfit change, Marina said, "Wait, let's take some pictures in here."
This is one of those pictures.
The eye-popping skirt I bought my second night in Cartagena at a chic local boutique called Azulu. It is hand embroidered and OH-SO-COLOMBIAN with all its ruffles and flare. It is probably my most favorite thing I bought for *myself* during my trip.
Impossible not to be happy in such a vibrant part of our world.
Earrings are cool too.
Shop them HERE or the same earrings with black beads HERE.
As the morning went on and the city started to wake-up, the streets got more crowded. I loved all the daily life that was happening around us and I asked Marina to include them whenever it was possible.
While I did get stares and respectful words of encouragement, Marina noted the locals are quite use to these type of shoots in their streets.
Okay...but have they seen someone twirl like this?!
...or oh-so-nonchalantly gaze in one direction while holding wooden window bars like this (something I would never do in real life, btw)!?
Back at the hotel!
And because I know you too are drooling over this exquisite necklace I curated in Taxco, Mexico, you can take a break now to go SHOP it!
It really is something special.
There is *nothing* about this picture I don't love!
Shop them HERE!
This lady wins the award for being the most dedicated and thorough worker. It didn't matter if we were mid-shutter click, if she needed to sweep exactly where my feet were in that moment, she would work that blue broom of hers. Frankly it was quite entertaining.
This tranquil look is because I know the shoot is almost over!
Earrings like these hand beaded ones can be SHOPPED here (just in a different color scheme).
Ocean breezes and ruffly tie-skirts: hard to tame either.
That's a wrap!
We finished around 9:30am so I was still in time to have the delicious homemade breakfast made by my hotel.
That afternoon I ended up taking a little nap while watching the movie based on the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera.
I also gave the steamer back to the hotel. :)
Thanks, Leslie! It was fun…once I am in the rhythm I am not so nervous…plus with that city at a backdrop, it was hard not to have fun with it. Marina was so great too about reminding me to switch jewels. Loved it all :).
Wow and wow! What beautiful photos! She did a great job and you look gorgeous, so stop being nervous in front of the camera :-). The varied backgrounds added so much. And of course the jewels look lovely! Your travelogue was really interesting, too. Thanks for sharing!