Location, Location, Location: Photography and Natural Light

So much of life depends upon location. Realtors know this better than most, but photographers also are expert in understanding place. Yesterday I photographed my friends Natalia, Antonio and Derek. Natalia and Derek are realtors. Hence, the title.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-20A favorite collaborator over the years, Natalia Lockwood has become a powerhouse broker of homes and it is fun to watch her grow.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-5This is Derek Scranton who was voted Capitola’s “Best Realtor” in the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Readers’ Choice Awards. Super nice guy, easy going and fun. Contact him if you are in the market for a home.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-24What a team! Their smiles say it all. We chose Loch Lomond for our shoot, and found some great pockets of light along the lake. FYI, you are allowed to visit the lake for fishing and hiking, but no hanging out, as we learned.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-26The homie Antonio is a capoeira master and with supreme flexibility he busted out some moves real quick. JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-27Had to take the opportunity to get a few shots of one of my favorite couples.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-28By the way, Antonio and I talked about podcasts the whole time. He’s the only person I know who loves podcasts as much as I do. Always fun to link up with kindred souls.

JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-29What are your favorite podcasts? Going to be brainstorming some ideas with Antonio. Could be something cool in the works! These are wild times and we need to be discussing the issues.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-21

Mountain Cure

With all of the tragedy going on in the world, mental health is super important and hard to come by. Exercise is key for my mental well being. So is being in nature. With a camera on my back, I jumped on my bike to put in some miles on the trails to achieve both goals and to make some photographs in the pretty early-summer light.JJT.13.June.2020I’ve been thinking a lot about how photography is so much more than a way of documenting the world, and when I experiment with long exposure blurs it sometimes matches how I feel better than a tack sharp image. I like to experiment with drawing with the light. It decomposes the image and shows how cameras work while using all of the points of light to draw lines. JJT.13.June.2020-26I think that there is a value to both kinds of photographs: experimental and documentary. While I enjoy the feeling of experimenting with a camera to get surprising results there is also something really rewarding about a photograph that looks and feels like the world it was made in.JJT.13.June.2020-5JJT.13.June.2020-24JJT.13.June.2020-4JJT.13.June.2020-7JJT.13.June.2020-3

Eden Edwards’ Power Surfing

It’s fun to photograph Eden Edwards’ surfing. She’s a friendly person, smiling and making jokes, but make no mistake: she’s part shark. Once in the water, she lurks and waits till the ocean shows certain bumps on the horizon and then she starts moving around in the lineup and as the best wave of the set rolls closer she’s in position and she paddles with the confidence of a surfer who has caught thousands of waves.

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As the Lane mostly serves up chunky rights and she is goofy footed, Edwards has mastered the art of the bottom turn to backside hack, a la Ruffo, and each year she is more aggressive in her approach and more stylish in her execution.

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Stay tuned for more ripping surfing from one of Santa Cruz’s bright young talents.

Natural Style

Richie Schmidt in SC

Surfing with style is hard to do, it’s an art form with a steep learning curve (ba dum dum cha).

Drawing lines

Richie Schmidt draws lines in the water like a painter attacking a wall.

Ramps that move and break

Richie’s surfing is a reminder that when you have a passion for your craft the results show in your style.

4 Fun Reasons Why I Enjoyed Shooting the Hanloh Pad Thai Meal Kit

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1. The ease. You ever feel that sense of flow when everything is just kind of happening gracefully and you don’t even need to push, there is just a beautiful controlled forward movement? It’s like riding a skateboard down a hill with a gentle incline and smooth surface, you can go as fast as you want or just cruise and enjoy the feeling of effortlessness.

 

It’s been a little like that for me at times lately with my photography. I’ve been embracing the opportunity to work on studio lighting and creating still life compositions with products and food at home. The result of that work is that sense of fluidity that allows me to work fast and get great results.

 

Now, I don’t want to give the illusion that this flow has come easily. It hasn’t. I’ve worked my ass off numerous times and for a long time to get where I am in my abilities. I know what feels good to me, so I can pretty reliably say when I am on or off and the results always follow that feeling.

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For me, an important part of the process of shooting food is appetite. You have to be hungry. That’s why I work out so hard, doing my 700 pushups and squats and hiking or biking tons of miles. A lot of photography is sitting at a computer, so it’s super important for me to be as physically active as possible. You don’t often think of fitness and photography in the same context, but for me it is critical that they go together.

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Well, when I received the text to shoot the meal kit, I was hungry as could be from working out, so I was all primed to go. For those who don’t know, Hanloh is a Thai food pop-up here in Santa Cruz and they always have delicious authentic flavors. I was excited to see what this Pad Thai kit would create.

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2. The aura. The variety of color texture and form inside this meal kit made a beautiful subject to shoot. As soon as I opened the box, I could tell that it was going to be fun. Sometimes things just have that kind of magical presence to them and good marketers always try to create it for the consumer. It comes from the combination of an authentic and powerful cultural object and an enthusiastic appreciator.

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It’s like when a kid sees a skateboard or an electric guitar for the first time. That thing kind of hums and glows with this magical aura and that is exactly how the ingredients appeared to me. I also feel that way about wine and beer. To me, those drinks are almost more beautiful to look at than to taste.

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What makes something pleasing to look at? Where is the source of beauty? While I have studied these questions for thousands of hours, the experience is the only thing that really makes sense. We don’t know why we like things, but we’re lucky we do.

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3. The people. All of my work is motivated by people I respect, and this was no exception. The beer is from my sister’s brewery Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing. Through working with Emily (the best community builder I have ever known) I met Lalita Kaewswang, who is the woman behind Hanloh. An intensely smart culinary artist, Lalita is passionate about her craft, and that always inspires me.

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The other people who motivate me are the people of Santa Cruz. This is the community I know best and care about most and it is the small businesses, the surfers, the entrepreneurs, the brewers, the naturalists, the teachers, the yoginis, the musicians and all the other brilliant and beautiful kinds of folk in this town. If Portland is where the dream of the 90s still exists, Santa Cruz is where the dream of the 60s was born and where its best parts still thrive. We support our own, here. We shop local.  That’s how we maintain our unique character. It’s the people who are working hard every day to provide the people of Santa Cruz with the culture they enjoy who inspire me.

 

4. The food. Like I said earlier, I work out a lot and that makes me very very hungry. Well, let’s just say that none of this food went to waste, lol.

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It was a pleasure to shoot this meal kit for Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing and Hanloh Thai Food. Thanks for reading my blog and for looking at the photos and I hope you get a chance to try the food and beers!

You can order your meal kit, HERE: https://scmbrew.square.site

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Positive Energy Express

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With all of the strange changes going down right now, it’s important to be able to find ways to adjust your attitude, especially if you do creative work. What gives you a fresh look at things? For me, one of the surest ways to regain my sense of humor and to renew my will to be productive is exercise. Physical activity helps me to stay in a good frame of mind.

 

I’ve been pushing myself to hike lots of miles during these weeks and that has been a super productive and inspiring practice. Hiking plays a key role in me being my best self and living my best life. I get out to some remote locations during obscure lighting situations for the rarest of photo opportunities. Since photography is writing with light, it helps to have as much information about the terrain you will be describing and the light you will be using.

 

That is one of your biggest jobs as a photographer. Know the landscape. Because it changes day by day, the seasonal variations you experience are invaluable knowledge to getting the best shots. Hiking is ideal for this kind of practice because of the slow and deliberate nature of the decision to go on foot.

 

Although I love the minimalism of hiking, especially when I leave on foot from my door, there is another tool I love to use to explore the landscape and that is a bike. One of our greatest inventions of all time: the bicycle. What a slice of freedom a bike can be.

 

I’ve been teaching my daughter to ride her bike without training wheels for the past week and seeing the amount of joy she gets just by pedaling down the street with me on a skateboard beside her is about the best feeling I have ever had. It reminded me of that pure feeling of freedom you get from movement, with the wind in your face and the ground moving fast underneath you everything feels a lot better. Going fast is fun. Of course, it comes with danger, and learning to be safe is a big part of the project, but seeing the release, especially in this time of emotional confusion and frustration is a beautiful thing.

 

I have also been watching the homeboy Brendan Schaub become a mountain biking maniac. His podcast The Fighter and the Kid, with Bryan Callen, has been a bright source of positive energy during this quarantine, because he refuses to give into the fear and steadfastly keeps finding ways to make the most of his days. For a guy with millions of dollars, he is getting out and mixing it up on the trails and I think it is about as pure and inspiring a project as I have seen.

 

I have also been seeing one of my friends, Natalie Earl, posting about her own bike rides. Getting out for some fresh air and sweating out some worries is a great idea and so I linked up with Nat for a ride. We left from her house and wound our way through weekend traffic up the coast.

 

There’s something so vital and almost primal about getting around on a bike.  It forces you to tap into your instincts. You need your gut to guide you. And the rhythm that develops from dodging traffic gives you a kind of sense of flow that is very much related to creativity.

 

So, this week I joined the Thiccc Boy Bike Club with my friend Natalie and I’m hoping that we can continue to find some joy and release by hitting the road. I’m not going to be giving up hiking, though, because there is no replacing the intimacy of being out in the wild on foot where you can encounter the details and the animals on an even footing.

 

What are you doing to keep your energy positive? How are you getting exercise while staying safe during these strange times?

Songwriter with a Guitar

Hard times call for simple measures. No room for anything that doesn’t make sense. Less is the new black. Well, clear your listening schedule to make room for something soulful. Anthony Arya‘s music is a recipe for enthusiasm in a bleak cultural moment.Anthony.Arya.BW.Wrigley

The path of the independent artist matters because it is the purest way to fulfill a vision. Stand-up comics who don’t have to defend their jokes to a network have the chance to speak truth while making people laugh. A writer with a computer can create an intellectual movement. And a songwriter with a guitar can make music that is true and that reflects their love of music.

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What a person can do with some simple tools and artistic will is amazing. We live in a time when art is available to us at all times, and there are multiple channels to publish your own work. The freedom of speech has never had more power, and using our time to to debate and to create new forms is more important than ever.

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Anthony Arya released his second album this week, and the world is a richer place for it. Arya is about to graduate from high school is on his way to Stanford next fall and is leaving a path of dancing feet, smiling faces and happy people in his wake. Check out The Road on Apple iTunes to experience the latest work from a great young American songwriter and performer.

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We make the world.  Being born and dying off and in the middle of this maddening froth of grief and fear, the role of music and art is essential: it helps us to understand the ineffable.

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Barney Moon

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One of the side effects of the shutdown, the shelter in place order, or whatever you call this corona virus crisis is weeds. Great bushy volunteers crowding unkept sidewalks. We are in the middle of a drought. Otherwise the weeds would have swallowed us all up by now.

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The stay home order has given people a renewed appreciation for simple things like a walk through your neighborhood park. The last light on Cypress trees indicates the setting of the sun.

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I like to use a 400mm lens to photograph the landscape, especially when the moon is going to be a good subject.

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The almost full moon making us all remember that we are in this together.

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Spring brings winds and longer days to Santa Cruz. You can feel Summer on its way.

JJT.5.May.2020-93Before long, the Southern Hemisphere will awaken and send us powerful long period south swells.

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Last night as I walked back from photographing the moon, I saw a couple of great waves smoking and spitting and generally rolling through in true Steamer Lane fashion right as I passed Barney’s bench. I have some theories about what he’d be doing during this time, but I’ll save those for a podcast sometime.

Photographing the Path

One of the things a photographer should do if they want to be an artist is to show the public things they are not used to seeing. The novelty of something that is not immediately recognizable is often magical and often takes up a lot more attention than maybe it even deserves. What really matters is when a photographer can show you something new but it is also lasting.

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Most of the new directions don’t work. That is the nature of experimentation. Most don’t work, but occasionally there is a spark and a match ignites and the fire can be used to light a stove. In these cases, where we end up cooking, there is a lot of energy for the project until it too becomes well known and unsurprising.

 

Any photographer who chooses the natural world as a subject can tell you that there is always something new and surprising even in a place that you have photographed a thousand times. The sunset continues to stun us with its awesome qualities because every time it does something spectacular it feels like it is brand new.

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That is one of the great lessons to learn from photographing the same place many times: the dynamism of light and life. Everything is constantly changing and the moments that make the most magical photographs may only happen for a few brief seconds.

 

The other night as I was hiking, I came upon a great horned owl sitting on a post. It was totally unaware of me as it was focused on the grass in the last light of the blue hour. I got out my camera and lens and set up my tripod and just as I was focusing the owl plopped down into the grass, belly-flopping onto some rodent in the field, which it took away up into a tree for its meal.

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I didn’t get a photograph of the owl at all, but moments like that are why you go out into the field looking for anything and nothing in particular. I almost always get the shot. That is one of the reasons why I decided to write about missing this one. The exception underlines the rule.

 

I have this thing that I have felt as an artist for a long time, but Norman Locks helped me to realize it as a photographer. That is, you want to meet things eye to eye. You have to have the integrity to believe that you and your subject are equals and that this moment is going to make a photograph because you and the subject are coming together out of the flow of life for a split second of connection.

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This means that you have to have purpose out there, too. If you are only hiking to find the animals, then they have the leverage and you have positioned yourself more as a hunter than as an artist. The artist doesn’t need the animal to have an experience, so if the animal becomes a part of the experience then it just so happens to be. It is not forced, though.

 

In order to do this, it helps to give yourself some sort of difficult goal that impresses even you when you accomplish it. I have been pushing myself to hike long distances on a regular basis and that gives me the gravity to just go out there and whatever comes across my path will be part of my experience. I’m not chasing images. I’m cultivating the strength and the patience to be out there enough so that when it happens, it happens. It is what it is. Nothing forced, nothing faked.

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Doubling Down on Imagining Sustainability

This is not going to be an article on the you-know-what. I’m tired of giving that horrible thing attention. Neither is this an article about silver linings. I’m not trying to peddle some false positivity. Nope, this is back to what I care most deeply about besides my daughter, my family, my friends and my dog: art and the environment, in my case: photographing Wilder.

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For about the past half a year, I have been working on a project that I started with my girlfriend at the time. It is a study of a local park that is accessible on foot from my studio. It started with Madison, and it has continued even while we have not been able to be in contact due to the current situation.

 

The project is about a connection to a place. There is something about hiking, about the slow methodical speed of walking, that makes a great energy for making photographs. Being connected to a place also means being connected to people. Love is always at the core of any artwork I make. That is my motivation.

 

Of course, love is a complicated set of emotions and actions. There is romantic love, familial love, the love of the natural world, the love of art. Love is a drive, and attraction to an idea, thing or action. Love is at the root of philosophy: it is the love of wisdom. If you can cultivate the energy of love as a driving force, then everything you do becomes more meaningful. Coming from a place of love is seriously underrated.

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In our current culture, we have a challenge in thinking sincerely about love. We do not honor or think deeply about the most important things: truth, beauty, goodness and love among the top of the list. We are obsessed with sex, money and power above all else. What happened to the powerful influence of love as an attraction? Love that guides us to protect and build up what we need to survive is lacking in a world riddled with techno-addiction and cyber-war. Fundamental concepts like love come across as childish or naive.

 

And yet, the most enduring things are simple but powerful and we should return to them. Now is the time to start making the work that is coming from a place of love and imagining sustainable development. We are always developing, always in process, never not building, and if we can focus our energies and resist the urge to chase after our addictions, then we might just be able to present a vision to the world that will inspire us to live in a way that makes more sense.

 

What does this mean in the context of Santa Cruz? Santa Cruz is a very strange place, but not in the ways that most people think. I often find myself cringing as I overhear people talking about Santa Cruz from an outsider’s perspective. What does it even mean to be local to a place? Why does it matter? I think it comes down to a matter of respect.

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A side note: for our communications to work we need to have more than a little common understanding as to the meanings of words, but all words have multiple meanings and are interpreted differently. We know that language is a dynamic and slippery medium, so it is always worth doing the work to define terms. That might be one of the most helpful things that writing can do: help us to come up with common understandings of concepts.

 

The push for greater sustainability in our development starts with a locally based love and respect for the landscape which leads to a desire to protect. In Santa Cruz, this plays out with a hyper sharp focus in the area between ocean and land where famous surf spots attract wannabe waveriders from the CostCo riddled hinterlands. Now, it is more than fair to say that nobody can lay claim to a part of the ocean.

 

The ocean is for everyone. But, not everyone deserves it. The ocean should be for those who respect it, who love it and who protect it. These three things are way more important than your home address. Love leads to respect which in turn inspires an effort to protect. You see a lot of people who come to the ocean with a predatory and entitled attitude, looking for opportunities to score one way or another and unconcerned about their impact on the place.

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This is true for our parks, too. The pristine trails climbing through redwood forests and up long grassy meadows with the opportunity to see wildlife and all of the intricacies of light and leaves and the interactions of organisms in an ecosystem at work is beautiful and attractive for good reasons. Access to the parks for everyone tips us in the direction of an egalitarian democracy, and so of course they should remain open to the public, but again not everyone deserves them.
Every weekend and then all summer long, people come to the area as tourists and treat the place with anything but respect. Part of the character of internet culture, which is evident among other places in high relief on Twitter, is a kind of jaded gallows humor and cynical lack of response to the things that happen in the world.

 

In other words, the dominant culture of Twitter is the culture of New York. The dominant culture of Instagram is Los Angeles. Facebook is the Midwest. We have a critical world-weary sarcastic sophisticated style of interpreting the world and an exhibitionistic flamboyant hedonistic showcase of contemporary versions of primal instincts. We have the seen it all by the age of twelve.

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Both of these approaches are what they are, and one thing they are is conceptual straw men. In the context of a megalopolis the need to be heard above the continual cacophony of millions of people all trying to get the same cronut creates a tone of such hyperbole that mainstream culture, porn and the absolutely illicit all merge in one wretched shriek of madness. That’s how I see culture right now. It stinks like 8th avenue on a hot morning, like rotting food, cigarette smoke and vomit.

 

We have ulcerous stomachs and flabby arms. From the couch, we judge the world like disappointed gods condemning our own creations in some twisted self-hating turn, a demonic yoga posture. A new variation on the ouroubourous, we have eaten too much of ourselves and are now instead vomiting up our own being.

 

This is the character of internet culture, generally, but it is not the culture of Santa Cruz. I don’t know what could make one culture better than another unless it is the abundance of love, respect and conservation for the place itself. If people are actively celebrating, taking care of and protecting the place where they live, is there not something better about that then another culture lacking those important qualities?

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The only reason to judge a culture is to promote the version of culture you want to take over the world, and as maniacal as that may sound it is also simply inevitable. If you want to have a world with greater sustainability it has to be the entire world, since we are one global system with oceans and atmosphere connecting us. What Elon Musk sends into space affects all of us for good and bad.

 

In the end it is a competition of ideas. You can’t blame people for liking what they do. You have to give them something better, you have to lead by example. That is what I try to do in my photography and in my life. I chose to create my content by walking to locations and syncing my instinct for making pictures up with the landscape the lighting and the mysterious elements of unpredictable change.

Will it be enough to move the needle? Will it help to push the people of the world to reconsider what we value? Who knows, but regardless of outcome the job is still in front of us and we can choose to do the work or not with attendant consequences. If we want good outcomes, we have to do the work.

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For me, this begins with walking long distances over and over again as I collect images and make photographs. Those are two distinctly different things, as I do one casually and without much work with my phone camera while hiking and then I also have my backpack with camera equipment, and I also carry a tripod for when I want to make a photograph that requires more technique.

 

One of the most ridiculous and counterproductive feelings I can remember from before I started this project was the frantic attempt to find a good location as golden hour approached. Sometimes you could see that the sunset was going to be amazing and so you might be racing around in your car to be in the right spot. What a bunch of horseshit that is. Since I now make photographs while in the middle of a five-hour hike, I have to use a much different set of instincts to get myself into the right position to make a photograph during the best moments of light.

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In order to do that, I have to align my instincts with the landscape. This is an ancient art known by farmers and practiced by surfers. I learned it from mainly from working with Anthony Tashnick, who is the one human most keenly attuned to the ocean I have ever known. All professional surfers have this instinct. It is a prerequisite to the job, just as a fisherman has to find the fish. The surfer has to be where the waves are good. The photographer has to position themselves for the right compositions at the right times. It is all the same in some way. You have to study the patterns and intend to be in the right place at the right time. It is an exercise of using desire to change your behavior. You have to want to get the shot and then work to be there for the moment when it happens.

 

Another, less positive, way to think about it is like the instincts of an alcoholic or junky. The need for that thing is so strong that there is almost a supernatural attraction to it that creates the ability to know where it is at all times. Just like the alcoholic knows where the liquor cabinet is when they walk into a home, the surfer knows where an incoming swell is going to break, and a photographer knows how to be somewhere amazing when the light peaks.

 

I certainly am not suggesting that I have it all figured out, but I do have some things wired. I know that the more I hike the better photos I get. I know that it is a great honor to be a photographer and I respect the art and its tradition, so I feel compelled to work at being the best artist with a lens that I can be. I very much approach the task of making art with some kind of militant warrior spirit. I believe that it is as much about conquering my own fears and temptations through discipline as anything else. Working on photography is one thing: working on the person making the photographs is another altogether. Facing ourselves and being honest about what we find is an act of courage that is transformative.

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This project is an attempt to align those things, too. I want to improve in all aspects of my being, but especially as a photographer and as a person. How can you gauge your improvement? How do you know when you are getting better? It is just a feeling. It is all subjective anyways. But, you have to live with your feelings, so if you can conquer the negative self-talk then you create space for some much more interesting dialogue.

 

The best way to earn the respect of people you care about is by being respectful and that starts with how you treat yourself. Hiking for my photographs gives me a sense of achievement and a confidence that I know something fundamental about myself. My desire to keep pushing myself physically and artistically gives me a sense of self-respect. I know what my intentions are. When I feel tired or sore, it reminds me of my decision to double down on imagining sustainability and it feels great.