The Value of Landscape Photography Part One

Exploration and Creation

The process of searching for something that you want to photograph, of looking for landscapes you want to depict, can be a mysterious process. What makes you want to make a photograph? Searching for meaning in a landscape could seem a foreign or futile process if you are uninitiated and unexperienced, but the process of looking for subjects in the environment to photograph is exciting and inherently valuable.

One of the interesting things about landscape photography is that it is very accessible. Access is not the greater challenge. Cameras exist in great abundance, and there are lots of parks with forests, mountains, streams, beaches, and other interesting things to discover. What makes it difficult is the not knowing.

To want to make a landscape photograph, you have to become accustomed to the process of exploring. Exploration already implies a lack of knowledge. It means you are looking for something hitherto unconscious. It requires going out into the world with the goal of bringing back something different.

Studying the Landscape

Through searching for subject to photograph, an artist gradually grows to know a place intimately. Hiking becomes a form of reading when you enter into this mode of searching. Any landscape is constantly changing with the seasons, and even a small park is infinitely full of potential subject matter. This means that it is virtually impossible to fully know any landscape. By paying careful attention to it, however, you can become very familiar with a space.

Only through putting in the time can an artist know a space. It is a relationship that requires work and patience. Similar to studying English Literature, or the history of Chinese Painting, this is a process that could never be complete. There is always more to learn.

Facing Fear and Grief Without Flinching

Knowing Your True Friends

When you go through something heavy, like losing someone you love, you have a difficult path to follow, but it is also an opportunity to learn a lot about yourself, the people in your life, and the things that you do and consume. This is a time to call upon your courage. It’s also a time to cut out anything that is not really helping you to be your best version of yourself. For me, this meant stopping things that I may have been using as distractions, ceasing all escapism. 

I am currently in the middle of a grieving process, having lost my father at the end of October. Since that time, I have gone through intense emotional pain, but I have also learned a lot about myself. What I have learned, ironically, I already knew somewhere deep down. I knew who had my back and who most certainly did not, and, in both cases, it was me. I was fooling myself. No more.

Emotions and the Ocean

Some days, the bay looks placid and peaceful, more like a lake than a raging sea. Other days, it howls and fumes venting some unknown fury on the land and its inhabitants like a vengeful god. It’s no wonder the Ancient Greeks made myths out of the forces of the ocean.

Something similar exists with human emotion. Storms will arrive and with them the normally calm state of our being erupts into destructive chaos. Therefore, it is critically important to know yourself emotionally. To weather the storm, you must know where to go and where not to go. 

Full Moon, Raging Storm, and People on the Cliff

These past few days have brought the crazy out of people and it has brought the crazies out. I’m reminded of the first few days of the lockdown, when people were forced to stop working and it felt as though the world was going to end. I would walk with my daughter and our dog through the neighborhood to get some exercise and to create a new healthy pattern that would feel normal. How do you explain to a seven-year-old why the world is suddenly so scary?

I remember seeing people I knew, and they were so full of fear they wouldn’t even acknowledge my existence. People who had previously been powerful were reduced to idiots mumbling and stumbling around with their mouths open. It’s been the same with this storm. It has stirred up some old musty fears repressed so deeply they forgot they even existed. 

When I walk around town, I keep alert to these emotional zombies because they are dangerous, much more dangerous than the homeless people strung out on meth. They are the ones who do not see you in the crosswalk, who have lost all sense of decency and would run you over like a bug. People jacked up on pharmaceuticals and financing who have lost their sense of the order of things and the significance of human life.

One Lone Surfer

At the height of the storm, I kept thinking about Tazy. If I didn’t know where to go, I would just think of him. Go where Tazy would go. So, I’ve been to some pretty cool spots. I have no doubt that if he was still in town, he would have surfed the guts out of this series of storms. That’s just what he does because he is a sea creature who is made for this. I don’t know where he is or what he’s up to these days, but I have nothing but love for Anthony Tashnick and Santa Cruz is much less cool without him.

I was especially thinking of him when we had a low tide and enormous swells rolling through with such a wild combination that was breaking so far out beyond Saber Jets it was insane to witness. I had no doubt that he would be out there, but nobody was. I saw a couple of jet skis and that was it. Then, yesterday I saw the video and it made me cry. Shaun Burns caught one huge monster of a wave and rode that thing for a mile. Why did I cry? It reminded me of Barney and Tazy and my dad and their courage so big that even mother nature couldn’t stop it. I miss those guys with all my heart, but it gave me so much joy to see Burnsy get that wave.

Hey Santa Cruz brands! Give Shaun Burns all the sponsorships. Thanks, that’s all for now. 

Beauty and Carnage after the Storm

New Year Day in Santa Cruz

The year started out with a perfectly sunny and gorgeous day here at the top of the Monterey Bay. I headed down to the San Lorenzo river mouth, to see what had washed up and was amazed by what I found. The sheer force of the flooded river brought a wild tangle of driftwood and trash to the shoreline.

Puddles, Textures, and Color

While the shoreline was a havoc of debris, some puddles had remained closer to the Boardwalk providing the perfect opportunity for some reflections. Even when it is closed, the Boardwalk is an epicenter of fun, emanating joy with the cacophony of colors. There were also some amazing textures left behind in the sand, showing how strong the wind and waters were.

You Can’t Outdo the Ocean

Never to be outshined, the waves were perhaps the most beautiful things I saw as I explored Main Beach. I used my long lens to capture some of them breaking with the Lighthouse in the background. Flocks of birds were enjoying the surf, and they made the photos that much cooler.

Prints from this series are available! Email to purchase your print, today!

The Storm before the Calm

A River in the Sky

2022 went out with a soaking wet bang here in Santa Cruz. The final day of the year brought a deluge of water to the county with as much as 7 inches coming down in Ben Lomond. It’s a strange thing to look at the world around you with swollen rivers and flooding streets, and to couple that with the fact that 100% of the county is still in a horrible drought. Well, for at least one day, we drank.

It was a good day to stay inside, but the storm passed around 10pm making it possible to go out for a walk to get some exercise and to inspect the aftermath. I bundled up and headed out, b-lining for the coast and turning left towards the San Lorenzo River. I have no doubt that body of water will one day be renamed, but it will continue to have its strange effects upon this region. It’s a filthy river and one that divides us. But, it is the river that comes down from the mountains, and I love it.

I made my way carefully to the river mouth. In order to get there I had to pass through the Boardwalk. I almost never feel any fear walking around SC any time of day or night, but I know that New Year’s Eve brings out the worst in some people so my head was on a swivel. There was a dance party bumping upstairs of the Jack Lounge and another one out at a restaurant on the wharf. Other than that, the only signs of it being the last night of the year were a few puddles of puke from eager revelers who couldn’t pace themselves.

Since ’82

This is one of the biggest storms since 1982, when my brother was born up in the mountains of Ben Lomond and the roads washed out and many people were killed by the natural disaster of Love Creek. This seems to happen periodically and we are likely witnessing the most recent episode. This week has more rain in the forecast and without enough time for the land to absorb the water it is looking pretty sketchy to say the least.

After hooting and hollering at the river for a few minutes, I made my way back to West Cliff. It was getting close to midnight, and I wanted to be in position to capture some photos of the fireworks that usually light up our skies on New Year’s. As I stood with my camera on my tripod composing shots of the ocean and the wharf where I thought the works would likely be visible, small groups of drunken partiers cruised past on foot. Well, the clock struck midnight and a large group of people on Main Beach let out a series of primal screams and ran into the ocean for a baptismal dip.

Loving and Leaving

I recently made the commitment to move to Rio del Mar, to be closer to my daughter, her sister, and her mom. This means leaving the Westside of Santa Cruz, a place I have grown to love wholeheartedly over the past 8 years. There are so many people, things, and scenes that I will miss and with the timeline for my departure set those things are becoming clearer to me every day. While I was trying to get a good shot of the fireworks that were rather underwhelming, I turned around to photograph one of my favorite trees on West Cliff.

There is a palm tree that is tall and skinny and beautifully bowed by the omnipresent offshore winds. It has grown like a bow loaded and ready to fire arrows off into space. The half moon was drifting in and out of misty clouds, and I composed a shot before walking the remaining few blocks home to go to bed.