“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.”
-Herman Melville (Moby Dick, or, the Whale)
Last year I picked one photo for every month. This year I am organizing it by theme because one single month this year could not be described with a single photo. So this year I give you a year of themes that define adventure, from the four elemental forces of air, earth, water and fire to the places and people that lead us to discover other places and ourselves.
There are days where the sky seems to explode with whites and grays and blues that make me take a detour and look for the whole scene to come together. Sometimes I’m hundreds of miles from home and am not familiar with the area. Sometimes I’m standing in my backyard. Either way, I try to get lost. In getting lost, I find what I’m looking for.
If you live or play along the Lake Michigan shoreline, you no doubt have seen firsthand the unpredictable nature of this beast. It sits quietly reflecting the dunes in the morning, deceptively transparent, cold yet inviting. By afternoon, as the sun warms the air and stirs up the atmosphere, it is pounding more of the fragile hillside away, turning the shoreline a murky tan with the sand and clay from the once sturdy hillsides. Gradual hikes down to the beach, 35 or more years in the making, are reduced in a matter of days to hazardous climbs up and down of a few feet or more.
Alternately, when the air is calm, there is peace in being out in the middle of the water alone. Also some fear knowing there is nothing but a thin layer of plastic and a shaky sense of balance separating you from a soaking (I speak for myself). But the prize is the adventure and discovery, physical and emotional.
Very few things overwhelm me these days. Having grown up in a prairie state, mountains were transient companions at best, limited to occasional ski trips to the Rockies. Those were always Winter trips so I never saw them in the Summer until I was in my 20s and could travel more freely. I love climbing, not with ropes and chalk, but hikes up to the tops of places in general. If I don’t see an obvious path up or down, I’ll make one.
You witness life and death in many forms, permanence and impermanence, violence and comfort. On a grand scale, it is overwhelming. Regardless of how strong it looks, everything is broken down to it’s elemental parts. Trees will fall, rocks wear away, flowers will die. The permanence of impermanence. The perfection of imperfection. Yin and Yang in balance.
I covered this in “Where’s Your Fire?”, but it was metaphoric fire with real fire photos. This is real fire, but contained and directed. Sparks and flame and light created by controlled explosions. This is fire no longer existing its primitive elemental form.
Most of my life, lightbulbs have been incandescent, a filament glowing white hot from the electricity running through it. Today, you are mostly going to get your light via LED, safer and cooler, but they really lack the warmth. Either way, we get light. And we can use light in very creative ways. Below was a five minute exposure down in Fishtown, Leland Michigan. A light wand (much like a light saber) held out and moved around very slowly, tracing onto the camera sensor, to create a globe.
And I would be remiss if I did not include Electric Light Orchestra. 🙂
For a city boy like myself, the opportunity to photograph some of these majestic and elusive creatures is a safe setting was hard to turn down. I didn’t brave the elements to find and follow a mountain lion in the wild because, well, I have a job. If you try this on a weekend, you will more often than come up empty and disappointed. That doesn’t mean I won’t in the future, but why wait? The care that Triple D Wildlife has for their family of animals is evident in how the handlers treat and are treated by their “children”.
But I also got to walk through a truly wild place in Florida, where the wildlife was free to come and go, or just sit…
In 2018, I was introduced to the world of the “abandoned”. I put abandoned in quotes because one particular property, the old General Mills Plant in Kankakee is being repurposed for use by the American Center for Emergency Response and Education as well as doubling as a haunted house in October. I was also led around Detroit to several discarded buildings ravaged by time and taggers.
In April, I got the opportunity to walk through the ramshackle remnants of a couple of old homes in rural Virginia.
In February, in a driving sub-zero wind, I found gold on a hillside near Galesburg. I can always find something unique driving down the back roads. There, remnants of the past are probably regarded as old detritus to some, but for people like me, I realized, they are a fascinating look into the past. They make you assume backstories, challenge your own assumptions, make you want to go back and live a day in their life. In so, I find that yes, I am dumb enough to climb on discarded furniture, walk over a carpet that might not have a floor underneath, or venture down a dark hallway seemingly built for horror movies.
Pursuing this hobby, I’ve met hundreds of people like myself, creators online and in-person locking fleeting moments in time on a frame. If you were with me at the time, whether you shooting with me or watching, I remember fondly not only the scene but the company I was with, so you are part of my image even if you are not in it. Thank you for being part of my adventure!
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