gaby esensten photography

Antigua, Guatemala // February 2016

Hola de Guatemala, my favorite country on my trip. I started off with an exciting reunion with one of my oldest friends, Victoria. She only had six days to travel so we wham-bammed and got right into it by going directly to Antigua from the airport in Guatemala City.

This town used to be the colonial Spanish capital of Central America and is the most visited place in Guatemala. It is known for the beautiful colors and colonial Spanish architecture of its buildings, the volcanoes that surround it and the crumbling ruins from a devastating earthquake in 1773.

Victoria and I took a couple days to walk through the cobble-stoned city, exploring the Parque Central, the daily market, a ruins site, and hiking to the Pacaya volcano, which I will share photos from in my next post. I fell in love with the delicious colors of the buildings, the flowers, and the woven textiles of the local Mayan women. Antigua is truly a color lover’s dream.

the infamous chicken buses that provide transportation around the country

Vicky G looking fly!

Monasterio Y Templo De La Recolección

Mexico City, Mexico // January + February 2016

Here are a few snaps from my week exploring Mexico City, mostly with my wonderful, new friend, Margaux. Some of my favorite memories are sneaking into the Sears café across the street from the magnificent Palacio de Bellas Artes to take photos and Margaux explaining innocently in her French-Spanish that we didn’t know we had to wait in line to buy something and that we’d be on our way. As many photographers, and my art historian photographer mom sometimes say, ask for forgiveness not permission. :)

After a long day that included Casa Azul, a Tamale Festival at the Plaza Jardin Hidalgo, and an impromptu photo shoot in the beautiful Viveros de Coyoacan Park, we metroed up to Chapultepec Park to soak up the rich history of Mexico at the Museo Nacional de Antropología.  On my last day in the city, I visited the Museo de Arte Popular and reveled in the richness of Mexico’s art, from the vibrant Trees of Life to the wonderfully silly representations of the Devil and death, to the dreamlike, painted sculptures of fantastical creatures. I had a glorious time in Mexico City and cannot wait to return. Next up, Guatemala!!

Zócalo Plaza

Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de México

Palacio de Bellas Artes

a sculpture across from The House of Tiles

Av. Francisco I. Madero

Museo Nacional de Antropología

Mayan creation story

Plaza Jardin Hidalgo

Me at the Viveros de Coyoacan Park


La Condesa Neighborhood

Museo de Arte Popular

La Casa Azul // Coyoacán, Mexico City

La Casa Azul was the birthplace, home and death place for the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. She also lived and worked there with her husband Diego Rivera for a number of years. I had the opportunity to visit last week with my new friends Tania and Margaux.

The home is absolutely wonderful, featuring bright colors and lots of light filled rooms, especially in the studio. I had so much fun capturing little vignettes and playing in Kahlo’s environment. It made me feel creative and inspired. I hope to have a home like it one day!! 

Teotihuacan, Mexico // January 2016

Teotihuacan is an ancient Mesoamerican city located about 30 miles from Mexico City and I walked the ruins on my second day in Mexico City. The day before at my Mexico City hostel, Casa San Ildefonso, I met Carla and Karen, from Taiwan and Brazil respectively. We decided to take the local bus from Autobus Del Norte the next morning to visit this site.

The universe has been working in really beautiful ways on this trip thus far. After I sat down on the bus, Margaux, a French woman living in Irapuato, sat next to me. Margaux had decided to visit Mexico City that weekend and had JUST made our bus to Teotihuacan. We became fast friends and toured the city together for the rest of her stay.

These photos capture this group of seriously awesome women walking from the Temple of Quetzcoatl, The Serpent King, down the Avenue of the Dead, lined with vendors, to the Pyramid of the Sun, and finally, my favorite view, the Pyramid of the Moon. We learned how to make natural paints from cactus from a vendor name Victor and bought noise-makers that sound like birds. I was in awe of these structures. After 3-4 short stretches of steep stairs, you reach the top of the pyramids and look out at the vast terrain. It gave me goosebumps to think about the gatherings and rituals that happened there, drawing thousands of people to honor elements of our universe. And they are still here for us to experience…SO COOL!

Gracias y merci, Margaux, for the photo of me taking in all that beauty!! ❤️


Melissa // Portrait Session

I had the immense fortune of meeting Mama Mel in Sayulita and staying at the home she shares with my friend Sarita. Melissa is from Canada and found her way to Sayulita as many seem to: she visited, fell in love, went back home, then took a chance by buying her one-way ticket back. I was lucky to experience her Kundalini Yoga class at Paraiso Yoga and gain wisdom from her in conversation.

On my last evening in Sayulita, Melissa invited me to go on a journey with her to the cemetery to give offerings and then to the intimate beach, Playa de los Muertos. We happened to be present for a funeral of a man who had died on the highway while riding his horse. The horse died as well. There was a large brass band playing music, men on horses and his family embracing in a circle near the grave. It was a true celebration of life, a cathartic expression of grief and love.

These pictures of Melissa are my attempts at capturing sacredness of ceremony that celebrates both death and life. Honoring the ones who came before us and made us who we are and celebrating our amazing opportunity to exist and thrive on this earth. Thank you Mama Mel for letting me experience this ritual with you and I hope these photos bring you much joy. ❤️

Sarita // Yoga Session

Last August I bought my ticket to the Envision Festival in Costa Rica with the idea I would travel before in Central America. In September, I found myself photographing my dear friend Taylor’s wedding, where I reconnected with Sara. We met in Los Angeles a few years earlier and had a handful of lovely, but fleeting, interactions mostly at festivals and on the Internet. We got to catch up at Taylor’s wedding and she told me she would hopefully be living in Sayulita in a few months. Her positive energy and warm spirit moved me to immediately start formulating plans to visit her. And the rest, as they say, is history.

We messaged on Facebook a handful of times but honestly, there was little to do but show up. Sara and her seriously magnificent roommates, Joann and Melissa, graciously opened their beautiful home to me. I spent a week playing with them in this beach town, eating, shopping, exploring, meditating, yogaing, and dancing. I didn’t really know Sara very well before this trip but I quickly learned that she is a dear sister that holds similar values and dreams as me. Her gratitude practice and her deep care for the people around her are things I especially admire. She is one of those people that will bring light into my life whenever we hold space together.

Not only do we connect deeply on a personal level, but she is a muse. Her yoga and aerial silk practices are stunning and I had the opportunity to marvel at this with my camera on the beach in Saylulita one sunset. I know we will continue to create and play together throughout our lives and this is only the beginning.

Gracias mi amor Sarita. Te amo mucho. ❤️

Sayulita, Mexico // January 2016

Hola de Mexico, amigos! I am writing and posting on my iPad in a hostel in Mexico City. I arrived yesterday after spending a week on the beach in Sayulita, Mexico. This is the beginning of a 6 week trip abroad I planned for myself that culminates in the Envision Festival in Costa Rica at the end of February. I’m trying my darnedest to post once a week here, so keep checking in!

These photos are just a small taste of Sayulita, a small, beach town near Puerto Vallarta that stole my heart this week. It is near sacred ground for the indigenous people called the Huichol, and, some believe, a portal to the afterlife. With all of this magical and spiritual energy as a foundation, it makes sense to me why Sayulita attracts so many surfers, artists and healers.

This town is like a constant festival and celebration of life. I have never been to a place where I felt so immediately enveloped in community and love. People from all over the world live here in harmony with the native Mexicans. You can find pretty much every type of cuisine and the shops are full of beautiful craft jewelry, clothing and housewares.

My week here was especially sweet because I stayed with my friend Sara, a Portlandian who recently decided to set down her roots in Sayulita. She is an absolutely beautiful spirit, a talented yogi and aerialist, and seemed to pretty much know everyone around town. Her roommates Joann and Melissa, from Kansas and Canada respectively, became my soul sisters very quickly.

It brings me to tears as I type this because of how many beautiful and honest connections I made in such a short time. I met so many people on my wavelength: grounded and spiritual, physically active and highly creative, non-judgmental and friendly, motivated yet easy-going and trusting of the flow of the universe. A week was too short and I will surely return someday soon.

Muchas gracias Sayulita. Tienes mi corazon. Para Sarita, Juanita, Melissa, Pepe, Nico, Janelle, Tom, Carolina, Marley, Tyler, Elias, Kelvin, Katie, Janice, Manny, Antonio, Javier, Jose + fam, and everyone else who received me with such warmth. Tarda una hora en conocerte y solo un dia en enamorarme. Pero me llevará toda una vida poder olvidarte. ❤️

Taylor + Jordan // Portrait Session

I had the honor of photographing my dear friends, Taylor and Jordan, the day before their wedding in Carmel Valley, CA. We decided to shoot the day before the wedding to take full advantage of Magic Hour light and journey to the sweeping entry of their venue, Gardener Ranch. I love when clients want to take photos outside of the wedding day itself! It is always leads to more low-key and relaxed shoots where we can take our time. We were able to play in that golden light and I think the shots capture the glowing love flowing between and around these two.

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