Photography to Cyndi Goetcheus Sarfan is a full-body experience. It offers mental challenges, physical exploration, inner healing, and emotional release.
Sarfan moved to the Outer Banks in 2014 after a particularly difficult second divorce. “Alone and unemployed, not knowing a soul, I had an opportunity to start a new life entirely on my own,” she said in a recent email. “I was trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be in the next chapter.”
She bought a camera and immersed herself in photography, which was not as much of a stretch as it might sound. Sarfan grew up in a creative family. One brother is a portrait photographer, another is a painter and surfboard artist. When not practicing law, her sister creates purses, tote bags, and other crafts. “I think my siblings and I all got the creative bug from my mother who to this day, in her 80s, is still crafting and sewing!” Sarfan said.
Sarfan, who has a master’s degree in management information systems, had to that point taught computer programing and worked for a law firm in Raleigh, handling trust accounting and office management. But after discovering her passion for photography, she began to feel cooped up in the office and realized how much she missed the water. “I owned a rental property here at the Outer Banks and decided in 2014 to start a whole new life for myself in Kill Devil Hills as a photographer,” she said.
Sarfan’s re-start is reflected in her photo practice and business, which she called CJ Newlife.
Upon moving to the Outer Banks, Sarfan met a host of photographers. “The great shooters in the Carolina Nature Photographer’s Association OBX Chapter were all wonderfully supportive and encouraging, people like Eve Turek, Ray Matthews, George Wood, Dan Waters, and Dan Beauvais to name a few,” she said. “I have learned so much from all of them.”
Technically self-taught, Sarfan also buried herself in photography books and went through a lot of trial and error. As a fine art and nature photographer, she works to capture what is “serene and simple.” She is inspired by waves and the colors and moods of the ocean.
“It is poetry in motion,” she said. “I have found that I am quite drawn to the color blue, all the different shades found in the ocean and sky.”
Images of rippling sands and blooming sea oats are captured by her lens. Birds call to her, as well as the creatures at the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge. Landscapes, architecture, and motion blur photography finish out her portfolio. Currently, Sarfan is working on a series called “Water Studies.”
Sarfan dabbled in a lot of mediums before settling on photography. She spends hours in nature with its sounds and visions. “I feel transported when I am creating,” she said. “I feel very present in the moment, and that allows me to forget the cares of the day and the worries of the world.”
Creativity, to this artist, also means finding her own true voice, vision, and style. She strives to evoke emotion in the viewer. “It is immensely rewarding to hear that an image speaks to someone on a deeply personal level or that it soothes them in some way,” she said.
“The sweeping sandy landscapes, the dramatic clouds over the ocean, the dark starry skies at night, sunrises over the ocean and sunsets over the sound, the pelicans soaring over waves in long trains, the sanderlings flitting about at the shoreline, the immense numbers of migrating birds in the winter – just to name a few things,” she said.
Reminding people of the beauty and simplicity in the world is Sarfan’s goal.
“My early work as a photographer was all centered around the concept of ‘wabi-sabi,’ an ancient Japanese idea that there is beauty in deterioration, aging, and solitude and even sadness,” she said. “I carry that idea into my Outer Banks work as well, especially the beauty in solitude.”
Definitions of wabi-sabi have evolved through centuries, and today it’s often described as valuing imperfection and impermanence, and in art, flawed beauty. Sarfan’s wabi-sabi work appears in the book “Embracing Life as It Is” by Dr. Alan Gettis and Carl Genjo Bachmann.
Today, Sarfan feels comfortable calling herself an artist, which to her is about being vulnerable, putting yourself out there, and pushing forward even if you experience rejection.
“Be willing to learn from every rejection and challenge yourself to find your niche one way or another,” Sarfan said. “I have finally gotten to a point where I trust my own creative instincts enough to know that someone else may appreciate an image in the same way I do, even if the image doesn’t have a broader appeal.”
In the end Sarfan looks to find a way to show a subject in a new light or to give it an emotional quality. “Art can heal a wounded soul,” she said. “Art can bring peace and joy.”
Who: Cyndi Goetcheus Sarfan, photographer
What: Nature photography and commissions
Where: KDH Cooperative Gallery, Kill Devil Hills; Dare County Arts Council, Manteo; Dowdy's Farmer's Market, Nags Head, July-August, Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.