Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Free To Be

Death Valley was about the light. Certain landscapes just lend themselves to an almost animated state washed in the first rays of a sunrise or the simmering glow of a sunset. No doubt about it, Death Valley is one of those places.  My itinerary was this; Sunrise, Sunset and canyon exploration in between and I did this for 6 days.  On several occasions I missed a sunset by misjudging distances but these things happen. A location of note in that I kept moving, hiking, working and exploring from sunrise to sunset in a state of complete and utter blissful exhaustion.  I'd stop into town to eat occasionally, charge camera batteries and when the electronics would spring back to life I'd connect with family and the outside world. For the most part I found myself alone and content. 

In these long periods of aloneness, I started to contemplate, my aloneness. I realized that I had come to view myself with a sense of duality. The person that I became on these adventures I'd come to love as a friend. Gentle words, views and philosophies.   My own company had become rather pleasurable and was something I sought out.  Away from the static and stress of city life, I looked forward to the conversations I had with myself in these immense and strikingly beautiful landscapes.  I had become my own best friend and as strange as that may sound I count that as one of my greatest achievements.  An achievement cultivated over years and years but no doubt nurtured in these last few years as a photographer wandering the vast open spaces. The grand vistas, starry starry nights, remote campfires, sunrises exuding warmth beyond words have proved a fertile ground for cultivating a great friendship and bond, with myself.  Small in the landscapes experiencing a sense of being connected to the earth was nothing short of feeling the hand of God's loving touch itself and it had softened me. 

One of the things I've noted about these trips is that within each one lies a greater lesson.

Aside from the exploration, hiking and photography, there has always been a significant apologue.

Photography is the passion that fuels that quest and brings me closer and closer to finding my own rhythm, my own story and my own truth.  Recognizing that now, yet knowing that at this point it's still all in the journey and the final chapter is thankfully yet unwritten.  What I do know is that I return from each adventure changed. 

As I sat on my dune that morning in Death Valley, I had an epiphany, a moment of clarity.  In the grand scheme of things, I'm a novice photographer, something I fully recognize.  I don't have years under my belt, I've never shot with film, I'm not magazine published and I've never even offered my work for mass printing. I am a newcomer.  However, I don't love the craft any less than any full-fledged professional but I'm honest about who I am, I always have been.

Sitting on that sandy hill, my gear next to me, I sat there and looked down at my hiking shoes and ran my fingers through the sand.  The sun was out now and my down jacket was making me a bit warm so I took it off and tied it to my waist.  I saw myself as a shadow on the dune across from me and laughed. The sun felt glorious on my neck and I stared off into the distance lost in thought. I started to think about the what it meant to be a successful photographer, better yet, how did I define success.

Cut-throat competitors, being up-n-coming, who's who and who cares. For God's sakes should anyone care about my top photos of 2013? I hope not. I knew none of these things meant anything to me.

I realized I wanted out. I want out of the game, the race, the pecking order and the score keeping. 

I concede, if you want to be better than me, I'll let you. I'll even celebrate your "better than me-ness".  

It hasn't served me well in any shape or form. I had to lose something that had great value to me to realize that none of these things so valued by others and used to define success had ever any real meaning to me.

When I reflect on this last trip, there I was on my sandy hill, my head bowed surveying the little world at my feet and feeling the sunrise on the back of my neck.  Glorious relief for a cold hiker and I sat there and closed my eyes.

Little human atop a sand dune on Carl Sagan's pale blue dot and the life affirming warm touch of a star 92,960,000 miles away. I never felt so alive and insignificant at the same time and it was a wonderful revelation. 

With great clarity I recognized the petty from the profound. Funny how in the city, dog eat dog seems apropos. In the quiet and solitude of the nature world, your heart closest to the natural rhythms of the universe these truths are but a whisper. I sat there and gave myself permission to exit that race and look out for what's best for my own creative spirit. I am an observer of life and this is my journey. It's personal, artistic, expressive and it's mine. Judge not. Almost spontaneously a huge burden seemed to be lifted from my shoulders. I'm out.

I'm free now to just be a photographer and hike and enjoy the medium I so love. To experiment, create and learn.   I'm free to just be an explorer of the landscapes and to venture, camp and listen to the coyotes sing in the moonlight.  I'll share my work with those who care, be it an individual or a publication but it's not a goal. I'll continue to be inspired and learn from the immense amount of talent and true artistry out there. For those who don't care it's simple, look away.   

I'll continue the quest I sought from the very beginning, to be the best photographer only I can be at my own pace and with my own sense of grace. 

There is no finish line. 

The dream I'd had the previous night about my mother laying a gift on my bed for me, now made perfect sense. The gift was in the knowing.