The Artists Voice Photography Retreat La Pitchoune - Provence, France. May, 2016


Ahhhh… and well might you ask. I think of it kind of like the hybrid baby of a photography workshop and a spiritual retreat.

In the former, you’re focusing ONLY on photography. You’re possibly given direction, then ushered around as a large or small group to see and photograph the sights of wherever you are.

In the latter, you’re moving more slowly, mindfully, focusing upon your inner workings, while being lead through various practices that relate to whatever discipline you're studying. That could be yoga, meditation, writing... or even photography!.

Welcome to La Pitchoune.

Once upon a time in Provence (or "La Peetch" as it's known to friends) the crisp french country air was filled with many a wondrous aroma as it wafted from this picturesque country abode. For Julia Child used to spend her summers here creating gloriously scrumptious dishes.

I extended an invitation: come join me on a unique photographic journey of finding your voice as an artist, and immerse yourself in the aromatic and visual pleasures that now resonate from this beautiful country home near the The French Riviera (or Côte d'Azur) Mediterranean coast of southeastern France.

The “Finding Your Artistic Voice” retreat had elements of both a spiritual retreat and a traditional photographic workshop. It was born from years of being asked how I do what I do and really having no single/simple answer.

I realized that a lifetime of doing a multitude of things to a really high level… training horses, figure skating, dancing, singing, acting, photography, writing, voiceovers – and coaching people in all of the above for 40-ish years… has given me a unique perspective. And that pretty much everything boils down to a few core concepts and practices.

They are what I created the retreat around. In France. At La Pitchoune, in Provence.

It was the first of its kind – and it was amazing.


Yeah. THAT house. Where Julia wrote cookbooks, became fast friends with author and chef Simone Beck (upon whose property La Pitchoune or “La Peetch was built)

… and which the amazing Makenna Johnston (Held) recently purchased.

We were the first photo retreat there EVER at La Peetch… and the first retreat under Makenna’s new ownership.

The night before it started, I snagged a few photos of this wonderful, historic French country farmhouse.

THAT kitchen!
From the big bedroom with the little writing desk where Paul Child wrote his wonderful books and poetry to Julia's room, to the living room and moonlit veranda... every square inch was French country divine.

I wanted a small group of dedicated explorers to join me on this first retreat. Folks for whom photography is an important part of their expression. They didn’t have to be any particular ability level – they just had to be willing to dive in & experience a new way of looking at the world. That’s exactly who showed up! Sharon Willson, Debra Tufts and Elle Bruce were there to take the virgin voyage with me.

The Fab 3

Everything begins with a desire. One of the most basic ones is the desire to be heard and seen. It’s a fundamental human need. It’s also why “finding your voice” lights up for so many people. It’s like a unicorn. Everyone wants to have their own - and for it to be strong enough to carry their message forth to be seen, felt and heard in its one true, unique and very unicorn-like glory. It’s the same, whether we’re talking physical voice or expressive voice.

Truth is, we each have a unique expressive voice. It just needs a little help finding its way out sometimes. To pull that off, you have to know where your inner unicorn/voice lives and how to invite it to come out and play.

I know this for sure, from many, many years of both coaching voice and using my own: in order to show up fully in anything you do, you need two things: 1. a simple, portable, works-every-time way to focus & ground yourself quickly and 2. a way to tap into the powerful (and very unicorn-like) subtle body energies that align you with your own creative force - and voice.

Do those things & magic happens.

The retreat began by taking everyone through the same process. It's a practice that involves breathing, grounding and focusing, body awareness all done in a particular way that is energizing and clarifying. It clears the way for your deepest self to speak through whatever you’re creating, without the stress, anxiety and mind chatter that can de-rail everything. It’s how I personally bring myself back to center if I get de-railed.

Makenna shared her Tibetan bowls. Yummmmmm! She used their sound resonance both in the room and upon our bodies to establish even more grounding and energy… which felt absolutely wonderful!

Then she shared EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), a practice used by over 10 million people to help with performance, emotional balance and healing. By the time this segment was over, we we all focused, energized and ready to go!


Why go to all this trouble with non-photography techniques? Because each one of us who picks up a camera (or a paintbrush, or a pen or a ceramic wheel, whatever) has something to say. Getting out of the way of what our heart, soul and spirit want to bring forth is the trick. Inviting something greater than yourself into your work is both practical and mystical. And one helluva lot of fun!

I sent the ladies out to explore all around La Peetch, just to see what drew their attention and what kind of patterns, textures, colors, what subjects caught their eye and to notice what happens inside when it’s right. There’s usually a definite “Aha!” in the form of a body sensation, a breath, something identifiable. You have to start gently and pay close attention.

It was a mellow and lovely first day, with a delicious dinner that Makenna prepared for us (in the kitchen Julia cooked in no less!!) to punctuate it. Food, conversation, wine and delight.

Welcome to France!

Each day of the retreat, I took the group to slightly more complex areas. La Peetch was a great start… lots to look at and photograph, without distractions or disruption. It gave me a chance to begin seeing how each person SEES. It was their chance to pick up a camera with this new feeling and see what happens. It was also their chance to capture the house – and the kitchen as well, which the previous owner never allowed to be photographed. So many firsts!


Next, we visited nearby Valbonne on market day. Valbonne is a true medieval village: the youngest building in its midst was built in 1590. The rest is all 12-century stone construction. Upgraded inside, of course, but original stonework intact.

Along the way throughout our adventures, I'd pull out my iPhone to share the sights and sounds of wherever we were. Here, it was the Friday market in Valbonne, a local favorite…


Broadening our scope, we next hit Antibes, another medieval town. It had a bit more going on (i.e. distractions, people, shiny objects = more challenging!), presenting a more complex new place to photograph. For instance, It’s known to have largest yacht harbor on the Mediterranean, plus a fun market, an old town and lots of old-meets-new to explore. Plus alot more people…

One of the things we kept focusing on: preparation (of self) & discovery (don't push. Instead, allow.).

For our purposes, preparing to go out and photograph meant grounding, focusing, breathing and centering first. That allows you to relax into photographing in a new place sooner. You can then begin to trust that the most amazing things will happen as if someone brought them purposely to you. Kind of like magic! In fact, we chose “magic” as something to look and account for every day. The more we did that, the more it happened!

Here's another one of my vlog-style videos, this one from the Antibes market...


Of course, living an artful life in France is as much about the food as the photography. One evening, I asked Makenna to give a cooking class to our group, right in THAT kitchen! Makenna’s THE BEST and she made it so much fun!

We kicked it off by watching a YouTube video of one of Julia Child’s TV show episodes on Omelettes…

On the menu for us that night: Salted fish French country style, fresh salad, bread and cheese.

Everyone was so excited and dug right in! OK, maybe the fish was less excited…

I love France

Finally, we headed up to Grasse. It's known as "the perfume capital of the world". I was so excited to share this lovely town that had woven itself into my heart!

Their annual Rose Festival was going during the retreat and this was the last day. We photographed, shopped, bought gorgeous locally created perfumes – and photographed some more!

And, as happened every single day that we ventured out, something completely unexpected and magical occurred. It made us giggle with glee and realize that #Magic is close to us every day, just waiting to be noticed, welcomed and experienced.

All we have to do is go inside and ask for it to be revealed…

Suffice it to say it was life-changing.

Mere words can’t really describe how I felt about this place and retreat. Maybe 'Magic' is a good one. It’s fitting. The change in everyone’s work from the beginning to end was, in a word, astounding. To the person, I watched images shift from being general and generic to deeply personal; a revelation of soul. I could hear each of their unique voices singing through each frame. Feel what they were feeling, understand what they were telling me. They were clear, specific and beautiful. I had goosebumps watching their final slideshows, seeing the differences from Day 1. It was truly jaw dropping. And to think, this was only a beginning!

I'm as excited for each retreat as I was the first time!

Find you voice... free your soul!
Created By
Karen Hutton


Photo by: Karen Hutton

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