“Thus, the task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees.”
In the summer of 2014, I was fortunate and honored to be featured by The Luminous Landscape in an essay entitled, “Portrait Of An Emerging Photographer“. The timing was such that it coincided almost to the day of learning of my very first major publication. The Black & White issue of Outdoor Photographer Magazine, August 2014, in a feature about Yosemite National Park. The trip to Yosemite had been in back of my mind for years after having read John Muir’s The Yosemite. The trip, fraught with bad weather and low moral resulted in a pivotal moment in my photography.
The essay featured in Lula produced an unexpected convergence into my unassuming photographer world. Within minutes of the essay being published, I had thousands of people viewing my work via my blog and website from all over the world. I started receiving literally hundreds of emails which took months to respond to. I was contacted by some very recognizable names in the photography gear industry wanting to know if I used their products or wanted to use them. I had offers to co-host workshops in exotic locales, free software, book deals and product endorsements. As Dorothy said it so aptly, “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”.
From all over the planet some of the kindest most thoughtful critiques, congratulations, comments and questions arrived. Questions about my photographic philosophies, intent and opinions. Questions about marketing, style and post-processing technique. New photographers looking for guidance and direction, from me? It was an experience that in many ways forced to me to think perhaps for the first time about sincerely and honestly defining my photographic self. Asking myself the hard questions, the important questions. The words of Jack Dykinga coming back “What do you want to say?”, suddenly made sense. Up until this time, I’d just been working tirelessly at educating myself, exploring the terra firma and getting out there every free second I had to shoot and refine my photos. I’d been working on my writing and recounting my experiences via my blog but I wasn’t completely prepared to represent myself on a global level as a real (emerged) photographer. To be fair, Kevin Raber did warn me. However, I was never prepared to define my photographic voice or direction or to even consider that it mattered.
Whereas my entire technical education had been garnered via the internet, video tutorials, books and blogs, for those soulful questions about meaning and intent, I disengaged from most of those places. I started spending my time after work sitting under a tree with my dog. I started hiking more and following social media less. I started reading and re-reading the works of Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey and John Muir. I sat for long hours alone hiking in the way wilderness just to contemplate these new developments.
Strangely, the more I disengaged the clearer my path emerged. I started to carry a little journal with me everywhere and noted instances of pure spontaneous joy. Moments that brought unsolicited and socially unforced happiness. Noting moments of organic smiles, I jotted it all down. Like watching the expressions my dog makes swimming in a creek or deliciously languishing on a freshly mowed lawn on a summer morning. Standing on a remote sand dune in the complete darkness to witness the first hues of twilight and radiant warmth of the rising sun. Laying in a sleeping bag watching the moon, coyote songs in the background. Packing my SUV for the open road and researching a new landscape. Reading the words of Edward Abbey before bed by lantern.
Being a newbie in the field, I relied perhaps a bit too naively on the words of professionals or experts. That being said, I do owe a great deal to a few very fine professionals who over the last 2 years have given me their time and selfless mentoring. Too often I’d taken to heart anything written by photographers whose works I admired and I bought into all the strange and bizarre social media and blogosphere arguments about pro. vs. amateur and the rants about proper or improper post work. Constantly confused by the overly pedantic philosophical bluster about what constituted art and whose photography was art and whose wasn’t. I’m a Fine Art major and I even began to doubt my own worthiness. Either way, it all left me feeling out of place, heading in a direction that just felt wrong.
When I studied my journal writing I realized that none of all that mattered anyway. Maybe the social media photo-sharing sites are truly the downfall of modern photography, frankly I couldn’t care less. Editors asking to publish my images never asked me if I was a professional or an amateur. Photography is an art form and others will disagree, I’m O.K. with that. What I do care about is that my time on this planet, on a cosmic timeline point of view is a mere blink of an eye. That’s not a lot of time to manage or waste so I’m making my photographic endeavors joyful and that sure simplifies things.
My intent for now is based on the celebration of the wilderness and finding those moments of magic. Crawling into the dark spaces just to watch the light play upon the geology that has fascinated me since childhood. Capturing the twilight, the first light and the last light, the magic of a monsoon season, the implied silence of a heavy snow and the mirror of a still pool. The changing seasons, the lines, curves and mysteries of the desert. My intent is fueled almost solely by curiosity. As business models go, I’m an underachiever, happily so.
This would go against the advice by some who caution, I should be printing, selling, having shows, trying to go full time and watermarking more. I should be fighting all the temptations and evils of the internet photo-sharing sites as they try to mold me into the masses of conformists or seduce me with meaningless and addictive accolades. I can’t even write that last part without laughing. I turned down the gear, endorsements, co-workshops and book ideas for now because any sort of branding at the moment doesn’t feel right. Perhaps in time, but I’m still learning, still a work in progress and recognize that my views on intent and branding may change as I evolve. Right now, I’ve learned to follow my own heart and be my own brand so to speak.
So, Kevin Raber and Michael Reichmann I have to thank you for sort of forcing me to get my act together, rather quickly. Defining my own priorities a bit more gave way to a clearer photographic vision and mind set. Having said that, this new change in thinking lead to an amazing year of emergence. Since the essay, I’ve been published a second time by Outdoor Photographer Magazine. I’ve been published by Arizona Highways Magazine and Popular Photography Magazine. I’ve written for and have been published by OnLandscape Magazine and the Arizona Republic Newspaper. I’ve been featured and interviewed by Aperture Academy and OnLandscape Magazine. I’ve been invited back by several magazines to be a contributing writer and photographer. I’ll have a few new articles in wings by other publications coming this year. I’ll also be a part of Arizona Highways 2016 Calendars. Most importantly, the journey thus far continues to be joyful and I’m going to keep it that way, my way. Cue, Frank Sinatra.
The journaling experiment would change the course of my life and my photography. The more I consciously recorded those joyful moments, the more like moments I had. I realized I didn’t necessarily need a major game plan or business model, I just needed to continue being myself. A painter and a hiker with a camera. A lover of the written word. The rest would follow with much less resistance. Most of emails from individuals had to do with post-processing and marketing (that’s another essay) and I answered them all the best I could. I thanked all the company inquires and was honest about whether I used their products or not.
After the dust settled, my heroes remain the same and perhaps I have even more admiration for those Sierra Club “battle-book” photographers, Ansel Adams, Philip Hyde and Eliot Porter. I keep grounded by the words of Edward Abbey, Aldo Leopold and John Muir. I’ll continue to explore the American southwest which satisfies my love for the desert formations, geology, hiking, backpacking and photography. I’ll continue to share my work so that others will share in the love and fascination with this amazing planet we live on and realize that even though we may be here for mere cosmic seconds we bear the responsibility of being compassionate stewards. I hope my work speaks to that heartbeat.