The Road to Photography

The UFO seeking Kodak Instamatic 104.

The Earliest Memory

In retrospect, photography was always there. My first "creative" photographs utilized a thrift store acquired Kodak 104 Instamatic in an effort to transform a vertically tossed black frisbee into an unidentified flying object. My best friend (the frisbee tosser) and I would sell these front-page worthy UFO images to the National Enquirer for boatloads of cash. I was maybe seven then, already in feverish pursuit of the American Dream.

My photography in the Varsity Football section of the yearbook.

Stepping Up

Further up the grade school ladder, I produced my first black and white photographic print in Mr. Gustafson's 5th grade darkroom, a California curriculum standard still practiced (very rarely) today. In high school, as sports editor for the yearbook, I took up the challenge of photographing varsity football as well as the less glamorous sports of track and field and girls tennis (no offense Julie Kidwell, you rocked).

A modern interpretation of the original inspiration.

Finding Inspiration

College found me a UC Riverside Highlander in the smog-prone sweaty armpit of Southern California. A good friend, Michelle, was pursuing a photography degree. Our mutual desire for escape led us on road trips to Arizona and Utah, usually with a convenient late-night stop in Las Vegas for penny slots and free drinks (life advice: when opportunity knocks, take it). Being soul searching spiritual college students, we'd become fascinated with Native American culture. On one trip crossing the Hopi Indian Reservation, we journeyed up 2nd Mesa where I became transfixed by late afternoon light illuminating a small group of adobe structures. The urge to photograph the scene consumed me and I begged Michelle the use of her camera. In the end we never saw the fruits of our labors — a very disgruntled (and extremely beefy) Hopi man confronted us, demanded the camera, but ultimately settled on just the film. I now understood the traditional Hopi belief that photographs capture a part of one's soul.

Still with me today, the original Nikon FM-2N.

Making the Leap

Despite the photographic bad luck, the inspiration from the experience filled me with a desire for more. Exploring the backroads and geologic wonders of the Desert Southwest became my mission. Carrying just a point and shoot camera, the hand-sized drug-store prints failed to capture the power and magnificence of these extraordinary places. So I dug in, combing through magazines, reading how-to photography books, and discovering the father of 20th century landscape photography, Ansel Adams. Backed with a post-college desk-job income and Ansel's advice to master manual photography first, I applied for and received my first bank loan enabling me to purchase a brand new Nikon FM-2 camera, two quality lenses, tripod, and accessories for the then hefty price of $1933.03.

The Sentinel: One of my first personally “successful” images from 1995.

Pursuing the Dream

Long weekend trips to Utah and Arizona became the norm. I'd drive all night making the 700 mile trip from San Jose just in time for morning light in Zion Canyon. I eventually discovered local photographer Michael Fatali, a large format color photographer who worked with master printers to create amazing color Ilfochrome prints. The possibilities I saw in the prints were a profound revelation. Under Fatali's encouragement, I migrated to medium and eventually large format work. I even moved to Utah to work for Fatali but eventually had a falling out over the egregious Delicate Arch incident.

Digital vs. Film

Returning to Silicon Valley I found work at Apple Inc. just as digital printing (Light Jets) were gaining interest and respectability. After months of internal agonizing I made the decision to print digitally and spent over $5K to build a 20+ image portfolio working with Bob Cornelius of Color Folio. Despite the creative flexibility and the technical beauty of the digital prints, I just didn't feel right about the work I was producing. I went into a sort of hibernation that lasted nearly two years.

The Magic of Craft

I broke out of my hibernation to take a workshop out of UC Santa Cruz. "Landscape-Mindscape" was a week long class in the White Mountains where I met the instructor, Stuart Scofield, leader of Mono Basin Photographics. The week proved to be revelatory. While I felt I was by now certainly a proficient photographer, Stuart took everything I knew and turned it upside down with a dedicated focus on pursuing a creative life through the chosen medium of photography.

My first Polaroid Type 52 image made in California's White Mountains.

Pursuing the craft of photography requires a self examination that gets at the heart of why you do what you do in the first place. For me photography is all about intimacy and direct engagement in the creative process. While I couldn't deny the technical advances and options presented by emerging digital workflows, my passion to hand craft my work led me to the ultimate decision to invest in my own traditional wet darkroom, a long frustrating journey that I can now say I wouldn't give up for the world.

Ironically, or not so, in the years since I made my commitment, I've had some of the most productive photographic experiences of my life. Expanding my interests to include 4x5 B&W Polaroid work opened up a whole new way of seeing images. And the relationships I built with the Mono Basin Photographics group has given me the opportunity to assistant teach and present my work and philosophy to students I find struggling much the same way I did and still do.

It's good to be in that company.