The Road to Photography

When I look back I see that photography has alway been with me. My first pictures were futile attempts with a Minolta to turn a tossed black frisbee into an alien spacecraft. A friend and I hoped to sell these to the National Enquirer for untold riches. I was about 7 or 8 then. A few years later I made my first black and white print in our 5th grade teacher's darkroom. In high school, I took to documenting my friends and our antics and photographed sports for the yearbook.

Black and White print from 1993
An early B&W print made in an elementary school darkroom (1993).

During college I made many road trips to Arizona and Utah. I was a comparative religious studies major and fascinated with Native American culture. A friend, Michelle, was a photography minor and we travelled together. One particular trip we ventured on to Hopi 2nd Mesa to photograph the pueblos. Michelle was the active photographer but around one particular bend, I saw late afternoon light illuminating a small adobe hut across a ravine. I had never seen light this way and the urge to photograph it was overwhelming. In the end I never saw the photograph - a angry Hopi resident confronted us and demanded our film. It was my first real introduction to cultural taboo.

Despite the bad luck, the feeling I had experienced would not go away. I made more trips to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Monument Valley. The more I saw the greater the desire to document what I saw consumed me. I began to read photography books, particularly ones by Ansel Adams. His camera advice led me to take my first bank loan and purchase an all manual Nikon FM-2N outfit with two pro-quality lenses.

The Sentinel, Zion National Park
The Sentinel: One of my first personally “successful” images from 1995.

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.

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.

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.

Incinerator, Type 52 Polaroid
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.