Tuesday, December 30, 2014

“One love, one heart, one destiny.” 
― Bob Marley

A recent interview for a photography magazine about my images and time spent in Sedona had me reminiscing about the evolution of my work and how without sounding cliche, it changed everything about my life. 

After my mom died, I sort of threw myself into hiking and camping and Oak Creek Canyon and Beaver Creek became my favorite areas to explore and spend time.  I decided to start a writing project to document and create trip logs for my hikes and camping  for my blog.  I always carried a little Olympus C-770 point and shoot digital camera in my backpack but my hand-held and unsophisticated images just didn't do the landscapes justice.  I wanted a much more professional look for my blog and frankly, I blamed the camera. 

In what was a monumental purchase for me and marked the seriousness in which I approached this project, I bought a DSLR.  I worked two jobs and after almost a year I had enough money to buy a Canon 450D Rebel and a Sigma 17-70mm lens.  I came home with my new camera and unpacked it, stared at it, attempted to read the manual and broke out in a cold sweat. I was in way over my head and I put the camera back in the box and wouldn't touch it again for a year. I started checking out photography workshops and found that most cost even more than the camera did and I seemed back at square one.  It became clear after attempting to decipher the manual that everything evolved around the concept of exposure. 

I would sit on my floor and hold that camera and to me, it was one of most beautiful things I'd ever owned.  Yet, its complexities eluded me and in truth I was afraid of it. I had to teach myself how to use it and I needed a basic education in photography and starting with exposure seemed like the best place. I did a lot of research to find which particular book most people found helpful and I came up with Jeff Wignall's book "Exposure Photo Workshop" and that's where I started and it became my bible.  I started watching the video tutorials on how to operate the Canon 450D and slowly but surely things started to make sense. 

So I headed out. I had a small Canon backpack that held my little Rebel, one lens, water and snacks for an entire day and my book on exposure.  I'd camp at Beaver Creek or Manzanita and spend the day on either the West Fork Trail or the Bell Trail and practice my photography and I did this faithfully every weekend and every free moment I had. The images were mediocre at best but started to gain some attention via social media. I wrote often and honestly about my quest. The trials and tribulations, the frustrations and the set backs of a newbie photographer but more importantly discovering that in those countless hours of solitude among some of the most beautiful scenery, a life was transforming

The interview brought me back to one particular moment. A pivotal moment for so many reasons.  I had been photographing just down the creek from Slide Rock in Sedona and was trying to set up a composition that required me to get into the creek.  This was a cold and stormy morning and it wasn't particularly smart for me to be in the creek.  I was in up to my waist and it started to rain as the wind picked up.  I headed back up the side of the canyon and sat under the bridge for shelter. I was freezing and it was a long walk back.  I huddled under the bridge hoping the rain would subside and I had this clear realization that wasn't kind.  Sitting under the bridge in the rain and just started to cried.  Who was I trying to kid?  I couldn't afford workshops or the education that others could. I couldn't afford the gear or even a decent backpack.  I couldn't even afford the proper clothing to be out in the elements, hence sitting like a drowned cold rat under a bridge and I couldn't even tell my mom.  It was a spectacular moment of self-pity.

Delving into the world of photography in some ways has been more about defining my own character  than simply taking images. I can't even count how many times I've asked myself, "how bad do you want it".  In relating this story once to a photographer friend, I said I've always felt like the poor kid looking in the window at the more privileged, the drier warmer privileged.  In truth, I can't say that some of those sentiments don't still linger a bit with the constant barrage on social media of the daily posts of those purchasing the latest most advanced gear or exotic workshop locations far out of my own reach at least in this lifetime. 

A couple of years later, I'm still here. I still feel like the kid looking in but different. More at peace and extremely grateful because now I know why I'm here. I'm here because I simply love photography.  I love chasing the light, I love reading everything I can about doing just that.  I love those countless hours of solitude tinkering around sand dunes and studying rocks. I love capturing an image in those seconds of the day that are magic. I love editing and I still sit on my floor and hold my camera and think it's the most beautiful thing I've ever owned.  

Eventually, with hard work and time, I've acquired most of what I'll ever need.  I bought a down jacket and good winter clothing and gear that allows me to stay in the elements longer and dryer.  I upgraded to a full-frame DLSR (used) and added a few previously owned lenses.  I edit on my Mac laptop that I carry with me everywhere. 

So this is why I tell people that I learned my photography in a forest, the enchanted forest of West Fork. Countless hours wandering and studying the light. Working on sharpening techniques and simplifying compositions. Testing exposures  and new ideas. I never really needed anything that made me cry that one day under the bridge, except maybe the jacket.  Since those early days, I've branched out further and explored more complex locations. It's still all a learning curve for sure. 

I think of photography like I do poetry.  You can sit poised with a precious golden pen or an old pencil but either way, the art comes from the heart. Doesn't matter what you write with. 

In getting back to the story, I'd been contacted by a columnist at a major photography magazine (details later) who asked if I would do an interview and talk about my photography in and around Sedona. Now this alone, given the journey I'd just talked about was enough to put a huge smile on my face and certainly gives one that sense of validation but it gets even better.  The columnist just happens to also the be the author of that very first book I read on exposure.

That's Destiny