PART 4: HEAVEN’S GATE
The Keys to the Kingdom
For me this project is about showing you that despite the shit-show we face each day, we are still surrounded by beauty. All of us need to take time out of our busy lives to appreciate that!
In 2017 after the first snow of November, I had to get out of town. Feeling the warmth of the sun on my face a little more would help me prepare for the 6 months of misery known as western Pennsylvania winter. I started up the Jeep and decided to drive south. I would stick to the backroads and look for photographic opportunities until finding a place warm enough to relax. 5 days later I found myself in Key West, unable to drive any farther. It was warm enough to go snorkeling on Thanksgiving Day. The mission to warm up before winter accomplished.
Earlier in September, Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc throughout Florida. The entire state was trashed worse than a frat boy’s house who had customized beer cans made for the occasion. Palm trees all across the state were knocked over, or propped up with lumber until new roots could take hold. Routes through the national forests in Northern Florida were barricaded by fallen trees and debris, making it difficult to find campsites. Whenever I did find a place to camp, all of that extra wood and debris made for a nice warm campfire.
The farther south I drove through Florida, the worse the destruction. The Keys were completely devastated. Homes were blown clear off the islands, with everything tossed around like the toys from that 8-year-old YouTube kid’s toy box. Cars and mangroves all twisted together, boats laying all over the road, and RV’s bobbing up and down in the water. Along Highway 1, garbage mountains rose to heights of 30 feet on both sides, with some ridges extending 10 miles.
There was no shortage of destruction to document with a camera, but I wasn’t interested in any of it. I wasn’t down there to document destruction. For me, photography is an escape from a world that’s falling apart at the seams. I watch the news just enough to see that happening every day. I know that we need people who are willing to get out there and document what’s happening in the world. It’s just not my job to do that. There are plenty of ambulance-chasers and paparazzi who can take care of it.
I met a former photographer for the Associated Press while we were both early for the sunset at a very popular viewing spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Before the crowds began to show up for “combat photography hour,” he shared stories with me about his career taking photographs of death and destruction. This guy no longer wanted any part of that after retirement. Now he spends his time behind the lens shooting wildlife and nature.
I don’t mind being a “combat photographer” if it means I’m elbowing and shoving people around who are trying to creep into my space. As someone who’s worked my way up to the front of every metal concert I ever saw, shoving some skinny jeans hipster out of my way is no issue. Be that as it may, I don’t want to take a picture of a guy’s head blown off, with his brains laying in the street.
Back when I was in art school, a maniac driving 80 miles-per-hour on city streets ran into a pedestrian a block away from our school. The impact sent the guy flying right out of his sneakers to his death. he landed 100 feet from where the car hit him. All of the photography students at school went running out the door with their cameras in hand, trying to be the first ones to capture the splattered body before the coroner showed up with a body bag.
As Austin Powers would say: “That’s just not my bag baby.” I have no desire to run around chasing photos of violence, car accidents, dead bodies, pollution, natural disasters, and other negative things.
“Nobody Will Hire You Anyway”
My choice to embrace the “not giving a fuck” lifestyle with religious fervor will inevitably result in not being able to land certain photography gigs. I don’t see grandma and grandpa hiring the photographer who talks about Jesus covered in urine to shoot their grandson’s circumcision. And don’t worry about it, I’m more than happy to pass that opportunity off to someone else.
Back when I was in art school, our instructors fervently told us with that same religious conviction: “Don’t go around thinking you are so good that you can afford to turn down work.” The problem for me is that when I am being hired to shoot photos for someone else, I now have a client with pre-existing expectations. These aren’t my photos anymore. For me, that would put me right back in the same place I am trying to escape. The last thing I want to do is set myself off on a new career path I’ll grow to hate.
I’m Not For Hire
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. But I do have some ideas of what the fuck I will NOT be doing. I won’t be spraying a bunch of chemicals on fake food, to trick you into thinking a Big Mac is a fresh, enticing meal. I won’t be taking photos of fake corporate assholes shaking hands while wearing fake corporate smiles. I won’t be taking photos of racially diverse customer service representatives, wearing headsets and more fake smiles. When the fuck has someone ever been happy with a customer service job?
I’m not going to shoot your wedding. If you made it this far into my story, do you think I’d be the right guy to have in the room while some angry Bridezilla is throwing a temper tantrum on her wedding day? I’m not interested in shooting events unless I am at the event on my own volition. I’m not expecting to land too many press passes with my bad attitude, but the perspective isn’t always bad from a participant’s point of view.
I’m not interested in standing behind the camera making faces and shaking a rattle trying to make your kid smile for a portrait session. Trust me, most babies cry uncontrollably whenever I’m in the same room, so it’s just not going to work out. I’m not fond of taking posed or staged photographs at all. My best photos are always spontaneous, where I happen to be in the right place at the right time. I capture candid photos of people in public spaces all the time, but I’m not running around with a team of lawyers carrying clipboards with model release forms.
I’m not going to remove the corporate logos from city skylines and vehicles. If the point of my photography is to show people what I saw, hiding all of the people and brand names defeats the purpose. Any editing I do during image processing is meant to convey the reality of the scene.
And while it may be nice to get free tickets to stand on the field during the Super Bowl, I’m not jumping into a mosh pit of photographers while holding down the continuous shutter button. If you guys want to snap 6,000 images of the same Sportsball player catching the same ball, at the same time, and from the same angle as 50 other photographers, have at it!
I’ll never be standing in the Press Briefing Room at the White House. I don’t want to fight for a space to stick my camera lens so I can set my continuous shutter to full-auto and shoot President Trump. I don’t have time to pour over 3,000 images of an orange doofus to find the one with the dumbest look on his face because Time Magazine wants it for the cover.
There’s no way I am going to spend my life racing around town with a camera trying to keep up with the Kardashians or driving 100 MPH through an underground tunnel trying to get a shitty photo of Princess Diana through the tinted windows of her Mercedes. If I wanted to play Grand Theft Auto all day, I could do it from the safety of my own home. From what I’ve seen so far, I could make a few million dollars while I’m at it.
Live, Laugh, Love
Every basic bitch I know has that poem on a wall in her home, but it’s not a bad philosophy. I just want to spend my days shooting sunshine and rainbows, but I’ll never have the personality to match. People say that fine art photographers sell more work because of their personality than their artistic abilities. When I look at someone shelling out a million for some paint splatters Jackson Pollock threw all over the ground, I figure he must have been a better bullshit artist than a painter.
If you can identify with where I’m coming from and how I arrived at this place in my life, stick around. There’s more on the way. I will be posting thousands of photos along with the stories behind them. Most of them will be available as high-quality prints, or digital downloads for editorial and commercial use in some cases.
My plans go beyond selling photos. I intend to branch out to teach all of you anything I can from my knowledge and experience as a traveler. I can teach you how your camera works, and how to take great photos. I’ve been teaching my 10-year-old kid since he was 7, and now he’s pretty good. I can certainly teach you. I’ve been editing digital images professionally for over 25 years, and know Photoshop better than most photographers. I’m such a washed-up old Walmart greeter that I’ve been using it since the first version.
Can you trust product reviews from someone who wears his heart on his sleeve as I do? I have no issues with discussing the pros, and certainly no problems talking about the cons of any equipment that I use. And don’t forget about travel tips from someone who’s crossed the country more than once with only enough money for gas and food.
Maybe I’ll just give up on all of that and turn my ridiculous video game collection into a YouTube channel. I might be able to rake in enough money playing video games to fund a travel photography business where I never sell any photos! Anything is possible. If that gets difficult, maybe I’ll create a new channel where I run around kicking random guys in the balls.
Even though I’m a total smart-ass, I am truly humbled if you took the time to read my dissertation. I would be even more humbled if you took the time to purchase one of my prints! If that’s not for you, it’s ok. I won’t stop sharing photos even if I never sell a single print. I’m in this game whether I make it or not.
I’m always looking for new things to photograph, places to explore, new experiences, cool places to camp, and the best local bites and brews your town has to offer. If you would like to share any of those things with me, I would love to know!
Finally, if you know of any more ridiculous ways I could become filthy rich instead of the ideas I’ve already presented, please share. I would like to devote an entire section of this blog to those ideas!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more images to process while you try and process everything you just read.
TO BE CONTINUED…