Last week I traveled from Colorado to California by train to catch a bus to Las Vegas for a photo assignment. I know, complicated. But it worked. Riding the train was an interesting way to see the West and learn about the historic route. The section between Denver and Salt Lake City is said to be one of the most scenic routes on the rail. Still, the most interesting sights on the train to me were the people.
Like many people I looked back through all the pictures I’ve collected in 2014 and sifted and sorted to find photo’s that sparked a special memory or spoke to a new style. These aren’t necessarily my best pictures of 2014–although some of them are favorites–but they each tell a story.
They tell stories of courage, travels, new friends, exploration and beginnings.
…and the treats accumulate!
It’s been a whirlwind of life changes over the past few months. I graduated from Western Washington University, guided and photographed for Rustic Pathways in Peru for the summer (blog posts to come!), returned to Bellingham, Washington to grab my belongings, catch up with friends, and try to buy a car, then rolled over to Paonia, Colorado to work for High Country News as their new Associate Designer.
Halloween and the start of a new month seemed like perfect timing to show off some pictures. I captured the antics of trick-or-treating in a small town, which I remember fondly from childhood. The night progressed from little toddlers shuffling up to doorways, with their parents in tow, to pre-teens crashing through fallen leaves to knock on as many front doors as possible and collect as much candy as they could. My 8-year-old friend Ellie gave me the “in” and let me trick-or-treat with her while I took pictures of the holiday tradition.
I had the privilege to be in a class (The Science and Management of Contaminated Sites) that explored the relationship between science and media during my last quarter at college. The class prepared graduating toxicologists and journalists for the important work of talking about science to the general public. With a dream team of a toxicologist, a writer, and me (the visual journalist), we created a documentary about activated carbon, an emerging sediment cleanup technology, and reported on a lab group studying the effectiveness of activated carbon under a variety of environmental conditions.
I spent a ton of time with the lab group documenting their progress and learning about the experiment they designed. Unfortunately not all environmental science can be done outside, so I had to make sure I could portray the lab environment in a variety of ways.
Dance has been a huge part of my life ever since I can remember. Expressing music artistically through my body is both exhilarating and meditative. I dance to smile, I dance to cry, I dance to love.
I was recently in a performance that featured choreography by the Bachelors of Fine Arts dance students at Western Washington University. The beautiful culmination of their hard work exhibited mastered technique, told fascinating stories, and made the audience laugh as well as stare in captivation. I was able to photograph the performance during dress rehearsal as well as backstage. These are some of my favorite performance moments:
*”No Big Deal” was the name of the piece in which I danced.
Four of us and a dog crammed into a car on Memorial Day weekend to cross to the other side of Washington State in search of some climbing. We pulled into the campsite, just as the sun sent golden rays across the valley, next to our friends with an American flag flying high from their car. For the next two days we climbed basalt pillars in Vantage, Wash. Some of us climbed for the first time, others put up their first leads, and one of us (Annapurna the dog) learned how to chimney (kind of).
This trip I focused on taking interesting pictures in camp. It’s important to be able to capture beautiful scenes that aren’t about peak action or extreme locations. I also took the opportunity to try harder routes and teach some of my friends how to belay, so I became lost in the moment rather than engrossed in capturing the moments while at the crag. In this age where everything seems to be photographed, I think letting go of the documentation to be in the now can lead to a different enriching experience.
So here’s to the downtime and approaches:
I made a huge mistake. When I made the mistake I was hanging on a fixed rope from the top of “Neat,” a 5.10 crack where I found my rhythm. Tears washed a week’s worth of dirt off my face and I kicked the sandstone cliff, finally feeling pain in my numbed toes, to get out my frustration. But I had to compose myself because Morgan Foster was starting to climb up “Hayutake,” and I wanted to take advantage of my vantage point from above.
This was the day before I left Indian Creek, the crack climbing mecca in Utah where sandstone buttresses are clustered in a desert valley. Approaching the cliffs involves trudging up scree fields of fallen boulders and the road to our campsite out an unmaintained road at Bridger Jack was an off-road adventure. We had spent the past week relishing climbing sustained cracks, the lack of cell service, golden light that swept across the cliffs each morning and evening and sleeping under the stars. I had taken countless photos of the climbing culture and my friends and family dancing up hand-size splits in the rock. Sunshine peeking through ominous clouds and perfectly positioned boulders where I could get shots of climbers’ faces gave me the chance to work on photographing a sport that I love. I even had filmed a bunch of b-roll to compile a video about the trip.
Jamming your hands and feet in cracks is a masochistic hobby, but it’s a fun one. I have a fair share of bruises dappling my legs from gear swinging against my body (I bruise easily), and all climbers get gobies (open sores) even if they plaster their hands with athletic tape. I climbed a variety of routes that had me squeezed under chock stones and 120 feet off the ground. Every time I got back to the bottom I was stoked, even if I cursed my way up because I was jamming my calf in an off-width crack or pulling with only the fingertips of one hand.
I was stoked because climbing requires me to focus. I zone in on the problem in front of me; thumb down, twist wrist, scoot feet up, stand, pull up. A bird nest lies nuzzled in the crack where I squeeze my fist and I reach the top of a climb, look at the landscape spread around me, and break into an ecstatic grin. Pushing my physical limits and appreciating the natural world just makes me happy.
This is all while I’m constantly thinking about how I can document the world of climbing. Experience drives my photography and I want to capture moments that make a viewer feel as if they were there. My photographs are my livelihood and my memories. Which brings me back to my mistake.
As I was hanging from that fixed line, I had just pulled my camera out to start shooting. And then, who knows why, I formatted my card. I thought all was lost and I’d never be able to recover my pictures from the past week, but luckily when I got home I was able to download Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery and retrieve the pictures I had accidentally deleted. The shame I felt making that mistake was replaced by the relief of recovering tangible memories and photos that mark multiple learning processes in my career. Needless to say, even though I now have the software, I will never make that mistake again. Maybe it needed to happen so I won’t make a careless mistake when it really matters. What an unfortunately fortunate lesson.
And here’s a few photos from a week of sand and stone in Indian Creek: