Tantra Bensko Interview, by Teri Lee Kline
TLK: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me on this rainy Berkeley afternoon.
TANTRA: Thank you for doing it, Teri.
TLK: Would you prefer to be called Rosemary or Tantra? Assuming Rosemary is your given name and Tantra your nom de plume, can you speak to your name a bit? How did it come about? Why did you choose Tantra? Do your friends and family call you Tantra or Rosemary?
TANTRA: As an interviewee I am Tantra. As a friend, I like Rosemary better. I really don’t care what anyone calls me, though. My family has never called me Tantra. Most friends do. I changed it when I was 27, but now, lately, I’m preferring Rosemary and that can be awkward, trying to change back.
TLK: Did Tantra come from the Tantric Yoga practice?
TANTRA: Yes, Tantra Yoga. It means “the web,” the interconnectedness of all things. By being named that, I’m avoiding labeling myself. I am everything. Everybody else is everything, too. I’m the other person and I’m the vibration of the universe. There are no edges to where I am. Tantra also has some religious aspects and associations to it and I don’t care for that much, which is why I am trying to change it back, with my friends, to Rosemary.
TANTRA: It will always remain Tantra for all purposes in my writing, though.
TLK: It is interesting to think about nothing have “edges”. About everyone being everyone else and everything being everything else.
TANTRA: I used to have a group that I started and I named all of us Nadas. Nada is the sound of the pulsation of the universe. None of us were labeled as anything because we were everything.
TLK: In reading your work I get a strong feeling that you have been a lifelong writer? Is this so? Will you talk a bit about your childhood? Did you have a vivid imagination? Did you make up stories? Did your parents and teachers encourage you?
TANTRA: Yes, I started when I was very young. I had a very supportive mother with that. I wrote stories and made things up, but I guess all kids do. I don’t know that I did more than most. I had a scroll, though, and I drew all the different places in our land in Indiana that I would name. I would turn it into more elaborate things on my scroll.
TLK: Fantastical things?
TANTRA: Yes, fantastical things. Then the scroll would be tied to the land and also to my imagination.
TLK: How old were you when you made this scroll? Do you still have it?
TANTRA: I was under age ten. I do not have it anymore. I wish I did.
TLK: You have a strong connection to the South, is that right?
TANTRA: My mother’s family homestead was on the land on Sand Mountain in Northeast Alabama. I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent so much time of my life living there, visiting there and being a part of that community. It has only 900 people and most of them you don’t see because they are all in the woods. There is no town center. There used to be one stoplight, though, and a place to get dentures and a place to get junk.
TLK: Were the people of this town connected? Were they social? Was there a sense of community?
TANTRA: There is not a village center, but a lot of us are related so would get together. And then I think probably the most social thing is the church. I’ve gone to a lot of church services in the general area, including one that was believed to be haunted and another that was a snake-handling church.
TLK: A snake-handling church?
TANTRA: Sand Mountain is famous for snake-handling churches.
TLK: And your father? Is he also from Sand Mountain?
TANTRA: No, but he moved there from Indiana decades ago to Mama’s homestead. My father’s family is Melungeon. It’s a mixed race and they were treated differently than Caucasians. This was in Hancock County in Tennessee. They are a very obscure group. Elvis Presley was one. He was proud of it. They were not going by normal rules. People were afraid of them. Some were escaped slaves. They have a very complex background that is still slowly being unraveled with DNA.
TLK: This all sounds like a treasure trove of material for writing. Do you go back to that part of your family’s history for writing material?
TANTRA: The first novel I finished, in high school, was about Sand Mountain. I didn’t try to publish it through.
TLK: So if you finished your first novel while still in high school, I imagine that is when you first identified yourself as a writer.
TANTRA: I always have from the very beginning. I wanted to do a lot of things at once. I wanted to do art, to dance, to do music, and to act. But the most important thing to me was writing.
TLK: Who were your most admired writers in your youth?
TANTRA: I had a William Faulkner shrine in my room. I loved Faulkner in particular because of the way he would look at things from more than one perspective. Instead of a linear narrative, breaking it up into different characters’ viewpoints. I also remember Rimbaud being important to me. I think for this kind of alternate space that he would put you in and tell you to get in. He said to “Systematically disorder all your senses.”
TLK: Disorder your senses? That is a tall order!
TANTRA: It is like dissociating. That state you get in when you’re writing and it’s just in your imagination and you’re not so tied down. What happens to me is — I’ll write something from my ordinary life and come up with something more dreamlike, I’m not particularly a huge fan of his writing now, but I was then because of this dissociative quality it had. Another was John Steinbeck and his East of Eden. Then in high school I started to get into the phenomenological French New Novel, like Claude Simon and Alain Robbe-Grillet. They used an approach I was interested in using.
TLK: Where did you go to college?
TANTRA: First I went to the junior college in Sand Mountain, Alabama. I was living in a little cabin in the woods. Across the road from me was a relative who was often tied to a tree and yelling. During the middle of the second semester, I fled. I went back home to Indiana.
TLK: Um, yes, seems like a reasonable thing to do. So would have I.
TANTRA: Then I went to Tuscaloosa, The University of Alabama for a couple of years. Then I went to Old Dominion in Norfolk. Then I went to Florida State and that is where I got my BA and MA. I was a teacher there, also. I taught for a couple of years at Memphis. Then I went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was also teaching there at the same time. My writing and art were my focus through all those years.
TLK: The writing program at Iowa is very illustrious. How was your experience there? Were you concentrating on prose or poetry when studying there?
TANTRA: I studied prose in all my years of university but my MFA was in poetry. I Iike prose, but my husband was a poet. We went to so many different colleges because of his teaching career. It was partly because of him that I focused on poetry, and we would help each other edit each other’s work. I liked Iowa a lot. I really appreciated the chance to go there and I thought they did a great job. I liked the program at Florida State just as much, though. It is not necessarily as well known for that, but I thought the teachers were great, like Hunt Hawkins was just wonderful.
TLK: Do you still write poetry?
TANTRA: Not much. I have a few poems lingering that if somebody asks me for a poem for a magazine, I’ll send it to him, but otherwise I don’t have much to do with it these days besides teaching it. Poetry was great training for me as a prose writer. Poetry was excellent for that because I really focused on sound. I wrote my MA thesis on Richard Hugo’s use of sound in his poetry. It also gave me a chance to delve into knowing how to end a story: what the final word should sound like. The last sound must be emphasized. It should not just fade off into the air. It gives it more a sense of melody and finality. I think very strongly about the rhythms in my writing.
TLK: Do you think the techniques of poetry are more important in very short fiction, flash fiction, than in longer fiction?
TANTRA: Yes, because with flash fiction, since you have to be so concise, it’s more like poetry. But, I think that poetic language is important no matter how long my piece is. My favorite writers use the most poetic language. Tom Robbins, for example, uses so much word play. You are reading these incredible sentences and not paying as much attention to the overall plot. I don’t even care a lot of times about the actual plot. If I’m happy sentence by sentence because of the fresh use of language, and how it sounds, that is great for me. Even if I don’t know what the hell they are talking about. It’s still all right with me.
TLK: That is interesting. Are you teaching presently and do you still enjoy teaching?
TANTRA: I adore teaching. I’m always teaching. I teach for UCLA X Writing Program. I also teach Writer’s College and with my own academy. I love all my students. I’m excited to read their work and see them progress and see them get all enthused about their own writing. Yes, I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to teach.
TLK: Do you feel that teaching creative writing in any way compromises your own writing?
TANTRA: Only in that my time and energy and pain levels are used up. In a way, it encourages me because the more I publish, the more students will find me at my academy. And I’m inspired by my students’ work.
TLK: I’ve heard that you had a connection with Allen Ginsburg?
TANTRA: Yeah, Allen came to teach at my husband’s Beat and Hip Literature class and stayed with us. When we went to New York, we visited him there. Allen’s students would hang out at his place even when he wasn’t there. I have fun memories of him playing his harmonium and all of us singing. It was a mystical experience. I have great memories of him, but I don’t necessarily approve of all he did. It was his direct promotion of the use of LSD that I have issues with. He was really trying to be sincerely helpful. He thought it was a good idea to foster the CIA’s MKULTRA Program. I don’t.
TLK: You have been very successful in many creative pursuits. Photography, art, performance art, and dance. What are some of the highlights of your non-writing endeavors?
TANTRA: My art and photography kind of blend so it is hard to separate them. My art traveled all over Europe. For example, a curator in London included my work in a lot of shows; it was at Salon Mondial in Luxemburg and at venues all along the Spanish Levant for years, and at many different galleries. I was also in a lot of art magazines and photography magazines like the Times Journal of Photography where I was their World-Class Photographer with a long feature and lots of my art and an interview. I kept hoping the world wouldn’t end before it came out!
TLK: The literary community is very active on Facebook and other social media. Has social media served you well? In what ways has it helped or hurt you?
TANTRA: That is a really good question. There is a lot that I just love about Facebook. I feel so much palpable love for the people that I am connecting with there, that I can’t really think it has done anything but help me. I see that people are reading my work and sharing it and commenting on it. It feels good and can only help. I appreciate them. I also appreciate being able to read and share what others are writing and posting. BUT, I do have some mixed feelings because a lot of what I write and think and believe is kind of controversial. Facebook has been good for teaching me where those boundaries are in terms of how much to share publically. When I do share things on Facebook and those ideas are not in sync with the majority of the literary community, I sometimes feel a little bit on the fringes because of it.
TLK: I notice you love to ask your followers probing questions from time to time.
TANTRA: Yes, for instance, today I asked, “If you were a shape shifter, what shape would you want to be.”
TLK: There were so many interesting answers, but Tantra, you did not answer. What shape would YOU want to be?
TANTRA: UMMMM let’s see. A snail would be nice.
TLK: A snail.
TLK: Very protected, just come out when they want to? Slow moving? Is that it?
TANTRA: No. That is not it. I’d want to be a snail to have sex.
TLK: Pardon me? To have sex?
TANTRA: Yes, I want to have sex as a snail. There was a sex scene in the movie Microcosmos. A snail sex scene. It was ecstatic.
TLK: Are you telling me that snails have wild sex?
TANTRA: Well, it is very ballet-like. And slow. And beautiful.
TLK: All right, then!
TLK: In reading your work, I find it rather difficult to classify. In which genre would you place your work?
TANTRA: You’re just full of good questions! An author in the Science Fiction and Fantasy critique group said, “Well, all writing in this genre is really the same thing, isn’t it, just presented a little bit differently…. except for Tantra’s.” You should see the people in that group trying to figure out how to classify my work.
TLK: I can relate.
TANTRA: A lot of it is Fabulist. My goal now is to make it as a Genre writer. That is what I am writing and having published these days. Genre has been seen as “less” by the academic crowd. I have at least as much respect personally for Genre fiction and in a way, I think it is almost harder because your goal is to entertain a lot of people and to make your living at it. And so, it can’t be ever self-indulgent, you know. It has to be something that is very entertaining. I’m particularly interested in Genre also because with Literary Fiction, politics is mostly avoided. Genre delves more into political fiction, in Thrillers, Suspense, Mysteries, and SF. I feel like my audience is the Genre readers for those political ideas. And the novels I wrote are Science Fiction.
TLK: The title?
TANTRA: Unside: A Book of Closed Time-Like Curves.
TLK: Has it been published?
TANTRA: It is coming out later this year by Driven Press. And it has a sequel, which I recently finished, called Crimson.
TLK: What is your feeling about self-publishing? A controversial topic in the writing community…
TANTRA: I’m all for it. People are doing great with Genre works. There is still some degree of stigma with Literary Fiction, though. I hope that goes away because people really are making money with it and I think more writers deserve to make more money.
TLK: They work hard.
TANTRA: Yeah, it is a lot of work. Like in Germany, for example, the top ten best sellers are self-published. People are realizing more and more that self-publishing is the way to go. I think there are wonderful things to be said about Traditional publishing, and that is mostly what I have done, but I really support those who self-publish.
TLK: Other that Science Fiction, in which other genres do you write?
TANTRA: I write Slipstream a lot. The term comes from going behind a boat and there is a wake behind the boat in the water. So you are going along behind the person in the boat, but you are in the wake, in the slipstream. You are following along genre lines, but you are not really Genre.
TLK: So you are saying that Slipstream is a type of fiction writing that is close to, but outside of the world of Genre?
TANTRA: It is. It is not one of the top genres. It is not like Speculative Fiction. Speculative Fiction is Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction. But Slipstream combines all of those AND Literary without sticking to the usual rules. The viewpoint is post-modernism and so there is a sense that you can’t ever really know a lot of things about the world. We just do not have the science yet to be able to answer some questions. And so that is a big part of Slipstream and then there is the post-modernist and nonlinearity and experimentation. Those are a big part of it as well. The book of mine that just came out, I call a Neo-Noir, Slipstream novella.
TANTRA: Equinox Mirror. I label a lot of my work as Slipstream. I have a website and one of the pages is called Interstitial Genres. Interstitial genres are Slipstream, Neo-Noir, New Wave Fabulism, Magical Realism, Weird, and Surrealism. I teach a class online about these different sub-genres and what separates them from one another. I really want people to understand what these things mean because the titles are getting diluted and I think they are all really important.
TLK: Have you ever frightened yourself by something you wrote?
TANTRA: I think it is very normal for people to get scared by what they write. But I don’t know if I have. Nothing is coming to mind. I do write a lot of really scary stuff, though. I’ve had quite a few Horror pieces published. So I go into the world and I live with those characters. I never used to write about death or violence and I decided I was going to now. Now I have death and violence in most of my Genre work now.
TLK: Is it because you have something on your mind that is making you turn in the direction of death and violence?
TANTRA: It is partly because that is what people like to read about. I’m not just writing for myself; I’m writing for the readers. I’m very curious about these dark topics and what in our society would lead someone to resort to such violence. I tend to have a lot of compassion for the criminals I write about. I write from the viewpoint of the criminal or the victim. I am not as interested in writing from the viewpoint of, say, the police. Even though some of my stories are very violent, it doesn’t scare me. I feel like I got to know this new person that I made up.
TLK: Have you ever lost yourself, or at least started to, in one of your stories? You know how film actors will sometimes get so far into their character that it leeches into their real life. Has this ever happened to you?
TANTRA: That is a fabulous question. I wish it had happened so I could answer it more, but I would say, my novel Unside has been such a huge part of my life for years. There have been synchronicities where I think: Wow, that is amazing! I feel that the book is so real and so much a part of me that if it never came out I would not fully exist.
TLK: How about feelings of love? Have you ever fallen in love with one of your characters?
TANTRA: Probably most of them. I fell for Dirk in Unside. He is very eccentric. He can see auras and life is like one big aura for him to conduct. He is just such a non-functional kind of person. So dysfunctional that I am just really kind of sweet on him. I like that about him. And the protagonist in the sequel, his nephew, is a darling!
TLK: Have your friends and family ever recognized themselves in your stories? How much do you take from your real life for your stories?
TANTRA: Mostly I don’t tell my family or relatives anything about my writing and they know well enough to stay away from it and not even look in that direction. Except when my father was at the end of his life and he was bedbound and blind, I would read stories I had written to him that are in Collapsible Horizon because they were influenced by my being there with him. His other caregivers would also listen and they loved it when they recognized themselves. They were giddy.
TLK: Far be it for me to offer such a successful writer any suggestions, but the story I would love to read by Tantra Bensko would be a story about living in nature without shelter. Fiction or non-fiction. Either one…
TANTRA: Yes, that has been a big part of my life. I tried writing fiction about the experiences of being alone with the animals, but life was so good living in the wild, there was no conflict for the story. I was so at peace. I like the idea of going beyond a story and where nothing happens and you’re just being, and not caught up in lots duality and problems and stuff. That is easy to do if you’re living out with the animals, and I didn’t really want to add conflict in it and ruin the peace. So I’ve never written stories about those specific memories, like with the sea lions and bears. But I wrote a lot of stories about characters living outside, and most have been published. That’s part of why I lived adventurously, for the sake of material. But writing a non-fiction piece about the times with just the animals is probably a really good idea. I’ll take you up on that, Teri!
For me, living outside was healthier than being around a lot of toxic chemicals and such. It was a way I could live as simply as possible without creating any more trash than I had to, and relying on much outside myself to survive in a way that was useful to the world. I’d feel a little hypocritical to be an activist, but dependent on the society I was critiquing. I lived in a pristine way. It was a traditionally Tantric ideal way to bring in the vitality I needed to do the intense work I did at the time, so it supported my livelihood and the charity work I did. It was beautiful bonding with nature. I loved it.
My home was the earth and the trees around me, and the caves. And my neighbors were the bears and the sea lions.
TLK: How long did this experiment go on?
TANTRA: Several times throughout my life, sometimes for months at a time. Sometimes I would leave my home to go and live in the woods for a long period. I would sleep outside my home because I prefer sleeping outside. Only recently do I sleep indoors. And if I had a place where I could sleep outside in the yard now, I would.
TLK: Well, I know you live on the Oakland/Berkeley line. I wouldn’t suggest sleeping outdoors in Oakland.
TANTRA: I know. But even when I was in Atlanta, I lived in a house right next to the train station and I slept outside there, too.
I wrote during that time when I lived outside off an on. I wrote much of the poetry and fiction I’ve had in magazines and anthologies as well as non-fiction. A small press put out five of my books and a magazine in the early ‘90s.
TANTRA: Most of it is not overtly political.
TLK: I was asking this question now because living outside may not seem overtly political, but…
TANTRA: But it is. It is extremely political. I avoided that kind of conflict and duality in some of my writing, like I was mentioning, like sensationalized death and violence because I am not really comfortable with the idea of the default plot that we have because it is so much based on — the protagonist against the antagonist. There always has to be somebody striving for something. He wants to achieve something, buy something, look good.
TLK: The obstacles.
TANTRA: There are obstacles and an enemy, and we always have to see things in terms of good and bad in some way. And so I tried to find as many ways that I could think of to avoid that and to write in other ways, like circular plot of expanding beauty and understanding rather than a linear, up and down, of the climax and the resolution.
TLK: So what is your mission now? Are you trying to be hammer or a mirror, as Brecht asked?
TANTRA: Interesting question. I want to get people reading about these things that do happen, but maybe they’re not familiar with them happening. And as they read it, they can picture it… and say, “Ahhh I can see that happening.” And then when they’re presented with the real world in which that happens, they don’t just look away, but they are maybe more able to understand it.
TLK: To have a more open mind about unexplainable experiences?
TANTRA: Yes, that is it. Not necessarily inexplicable, though, because I reference proven real world events. I am a very politically oriented person, unless that word conjures up images of Democrat vs. Republican, and so is much of my writing, such as my novels.
TLK: I think you write for an International audience. Do you have a feeling that other cultures respond to your work differently than American audiences? I’m talking about both your art and writing.
TANTRA: That is another great question. Some of my work has been translated into Romanian. A good deal of traffic on one of my websites comes from Romania. I have quite a bit of fiction published in International venues here and there, and a lot in the UK. They seem pretty open to things that are a little more obscure, but I don’t know why. With the art and photography, they had a good reaction to it, but I can’t say if it is any different or not. I want to go toward translation of my longer works. I have plans for reaching a broader audience.
TLK: How about religion, Tantra? Is this a topic that enters your stories? Do you believe in God? Is this belief or non-belief evident in your stories?
TANTRA: What a great question. No interviewer has ever asked me that question. Religion does figure into my writing, like the story about the snake-handling church. I have great respect for the people in the snake-handling church. I love those folks. In the short story about a snake handling church, though, I took it in a dark direction.
I’ve written a work that I think of as mystical. One story relates to reincarnation of sorts where all their lives exist at once. But I don’t believe in reincarnation or a soul or god or religion or any of those things. I can’t say they don’t exist either. I never discount peoples’ experiences. As for religion itself, though, I strongly question that in some of my writing. I see it as problematic overall, and Crimson is ultimately about that.
TLK: Straight from religion to sex. Do you write about sex a lot? Overtly or undertones? What are your thoughts on gender? Do you feel you write stronger male or female characters? You can answer any part or all, as you wish.
TANTRA: I don’t want to miss any of that! I like the idea of going beyond gender. Some of my best friends have been Other. I support questioning the typical gender roles in writing or even the necessity to say someone is male or female at all. I tend to write about people who don’t behave according to traditional gender expectations. I like that to be inclusive so that all people are not all the same orientation. I do not think of myself as writing erotica per se, at least not as Tantra Bensko.
TLK: OH? Maybe as someone else?
TLK: Do you think it is appropriate to ask an author about the meaning associated with his or her creative work? How do you answer questions about meaning?
TANTRA: I think is a great question, actually. I mean with some people their meaning is going to be sub subconscious and something that even they don’t understand. The meaning sometimes comes from the readers rather than from the author.
TLK: I believe poets are particularly hesitant to speak about meaning.
TANTRA: Yes, I think it is because with poetry — and fiction, too — but especially poetry, you simply cannot explain it. It is about sound and rhythm and images creating an experience. So you can’t take this experience and label it and paraphrase it and make it into a sound bite. I like that part of the creative endeavor.
TLK: Like Keats when he talked about negative capability. That it is more about experiencing the poem, rather than trying to sort it out.
TLK: This question can be uncomfortable so do not feel compelled to answer it, but could you name two or three writers, writing currently, who in your opinion are doing stellar work or work you would like to recommend or that you particularly enjoy reading?
TANTRA: Yes, Kyle Muntz. Every prose piece I’ve read by him I’ve loved. Steven Paul Martin, and Owen Kaelin, as well.
TLK: What works of your own are you most excited about right now? What is coming down the pipeline?
TANTRA: I’m excited about a story that’s about to come out in an anthology called Strange Little Girls from Belladonna Press. They are in Norway. My story in the anthology is called “Pinhole.” It’s about some girls interacting in their neighborhood, making a game based on one of the girls they find strange, which they watch from a distance. I want people to buy that anthology and read it, please!
Unside, and its sequel, Crimson, the SF novels, are about a few people’s dynamics in the context of propaganda, gaming, virtual reality, the news and movies affecting culture’s sense of reality. . . especially when used in conjunction with covert testing, surveillance. They reference occult history, DARPA’S proposed technology, and factual scientific studies. Those novels are the most important to me of anything of my writing, and I’m looking forward to having fun playing with them when they come out.
TLK: It sounds as if things are very exciting for you right now! I wish you the best of luck with all of those projects. NOW, Tantra, finally, I have my rapid-fire questions. Seven rapid-fire questions based upon the number seven. Is seven a good number for you?
TANTRA: Yes, seven and I are friends. I am ready!
TLK: Where do you see yourself in SEVEN years?
TANTRA: Maybe I’ll be promoting my Unside novel/movie/game as trans-media.
TLK: Excellent. Let’s hope that happens. Next: Think back to when you were SEVEN years old. What image first comes to mind?
TANTRA: Well, because I have a photograph of it, the image that first comes to mind at age seven is me dressing up as a poodle for my ballet recital.
TLK: I can see why that would be unforgettable! Next: What are SEVEN words you love?
TANTRA: Gruntled, Smelly, Combobulated, Fun, Mama, Papa and Bear.
TLK: Next: SEVEN films you admire.
TANTRA: The Heart of the World, The Color of Pomegranates, Alice (Svenkmajer), The Cabinet of Jan Svenkmajer, Fire Walk with Me (David Lynch), The Conspirators of Pleasure. Beasts of the Southern Wild.
TLK: Next, SEVEN people you admire.
TANTRA: Cynthia McKinney, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, my son – Tommy, Ralph Nader. Rachel Carson. James Corbett.
TLK: Next: SEVEN people, living or dead, with whom you would like to have a long conversation in order to more fully understand the actions they took with which you strongly disagree.
TANTRA: All of your questions have been fabulous, but this may be the best of all. Here goes: William Colby, the CIA Director. The con artist who stole my father’s money. A lumberjack who cuts down Old Growth trees. An employee of Monsanto. A person who rides his bike on the sidewalk without being nice to those walking. William Dudley Pelley, Edward Kelley.
TLK: Last question: On the spot, this moment, write a SEVEN word scary story.
TANTRA: I’m so sad it is the last question. I will try to write a seven word scary story for you in the next minute. …. Thinking … I’ve got it:
TANTRA: “Answering the doorbell, I greet myself, armed.” Isn’t that scary?
TLK: Yes, actually, it is. Very scary.
TLK: Rosemary, (at this point I feel as if I can call you Rosemary) thank you very much for this incredible afternoon. I loved conducting the interview. I learned things, was entertained, stunned and beguiled. Be well.
TANTRA: Thank you, Teri. You’re a fabulous interviewer and I’m sure you’ll be having a lot more interviews coming down the road.
TLK: Thank you.
Interview conducted by Teri Lee Kline
Interview photos by Craig Thompson
Header image base photo by Petra