A visual learner, Lysa De Windt (30) considers portrait photography so much more than merely clicking a shutter: “that person in front of me feels vulnerable… I’m to earn their trust by trying to understand what they want to communicate to the world.” Operating under this understanding about people has allowed Lysa to earn trust from students, peers, managers, clients and sponsors throughout her career. Lysa realizes the incredible value inherent in being able to understand people and longs to create… “anything, really, as long as it connects people and fosters greater understanding!”
A Finance major in college, Lysa credits the Semester at Sea program during her junior year with shaping her world view. Sailing to 9 different countries (Venezuela, Brazil, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Hong Kong, Japan, Myanmar / Burma, Hawaii) in 100 days exposed stark country- and cultural differences and Lysa’s versatile language skills (Papiamentu, Dutch, Spanish, English) came in particularly handy while volunteering in these countries. “My languages allowed me to help people of all walks of life understand each other a little better and I felt so incredibly privileged to be in that position.”
Lysa wanted to play a bigger role in the world when she returned to New York City her senior year and found herself re-evaluating her future and at a loss for words when it came to communicating her experiences. So she set out to develop the rolls upon rolls of photographs she had taken during her trip. Her Photography professor was so impressed by the first few images that he entrusted her with the keys to the dark room. “I’d spend day and night in there, some days I’d forget to eat, drink.”
Slowly but surely Lysa gave birth to hundreds of beautiful, thought-provoking images. Among her most memorable is a pensive little girl sitting by a fence of a war memorial in Myanmar / Burma, staring at all the ‘strange-looking people’ taking photographs. “The outside world was taking a piece of her sanctuary… and yet, the intrusion sparked her curiosity… just goes to show, we’re all foreigners until we communicate and learn to understand each other.” Lysa’s dedication to the stories she had documented culminated in her school’s first-ever solo student photography exhibit.
After graduating college Lysa worked as a Fund Accountant and Investor Relations Specialist in the Hedge Fund industry in New York and Amsterdam. About 4.5 years in, her passion for photography and visual communication compelled her to go out on a limb and email renowned Amsterdam-based fashion photographer Carin Verbruggen asking if she might need an assistant. Lysa’s ‘cold’ email struck photography gold: she was given the opportunity to learn the business side of photography up close and personal, working alongside Carin and her husband for six months. Carin underscored the importance of gaining subjects’ trust, balancing passionate work with a healthy family life and remains a valuable mentor and inspiration to Lysa.
Fast-forward eight years from her first photography exhibit, two moves (New York to Amsterdam to Curaçao), one career switch (Finance to Photography), founding her own creative concept development business (Concept Company N.V.) and Lysa has embarked on yet another adventure: founding Curaçao Cares with longtime friend Deva-dee Siliee (27).
Avid volunteers having volunteered in various countries around the world – Deva and Lysa want to make volunteer projects more easily accessible in Curaçao. After burning the midnight oil for several months in a row (learning about non-profit management, web development, the ins and outs of Adobe’s Suite) and rallying the generous support of a few founding private sector partners (GiroBank, BearingPoint, Ernst & Young) – Deva and Lysa launched Curaçao Cares’ beta service in June 2013. On the surface Curaçao Cares aims to connect volunteers with volunteer opportunities, but on a deeper level Lysa hopes it will spark meaningful dialogue and create deeper understanding among Curaçao’s people.
One such example is a visual arts education program Lysa organized for approximately 90 special needs students (ages 7 – 14) of the van Houte School in Brievengat in partnership with Maduro & Curiel’s Bank. Lysa wanted to expose the students to a new way of visual communication: after all, the camera lens compels focus on little details (color contrasts, light effects, relative size). Lysa’s exercises encouraged the students to make well-thought out decisions and view their surroundings differently. MCB’s volunteers gained more sensitivity for special needs students. The best part? “Experiencing the students’ growing self-confidence and their parents’ resulting pride! They’d light up upon seeing their portrait and photo collage at the final exhibit (…) I think we should encourage kids to find their passion… My parents help nurture my creativity and support me every step of the way, I’m extremely thankful for that.”
Lysa feels happiest and most effective when she’s exercising her creativity – whether she’s photographing people, teaching kids, planning volunteer projects for large companies, or scoping out period film sets. Lysa hopes to make Curaçao and the rest of the world a better place by facilitating a little more understanding – one volunteer project, one photograph, one translated conversation – at a time.