Year Four – How Presence Can Change Our Past

This sequence of images was at the end of my first “real” year with photography. I’d made the decision the previous year, just before my 50th birthday that it was “now or never.”  I purchased a camera, took a class, fell madly in love, broke my heart completely wide open, then set off on a 3,600 mile long road trip to see if photography would actually work. 

To my relief, it did.  Photography distracted me from some of the heaviest emotions I’d ever felt, but it also gave me an outlet that I’d always wanted but never been able to quite achieve. There were some incredible sights to take in on that first, real trip, and more importantly the learning through the experience was invaluable. I can look back fondly now on the images that were taken and see my early process, from composition and technique, to post-processing.  I was so fortunate with the timing of the images and had just enough knowledge about settings and how to actually use the cameras.  While I am a much more informed photographer now, what hasn’t changed is my desire to repeat this trip, to take my new knowledge and hopefully a healthier emotional state back to these locations.

I went on that year to take images of sunflowers, high-country aspens, and even the night sky, images that I’d never captured before.  Before the year was to end though I had one more sight to see and that was the former missile range, now the White Sands National Park. Admittedly there are hundreds of beautiful sights scattered throughout New Mexico, but the White Sands were one location that I’d be yearning to see since first arriving out west, in 1988. I’d first read about them in Edward Abbey’s semi-autobiographical novel, “Fire on the Mountain,” and later on in various motorcycle and travel journals.  Seeing images of fiery sunsets and glowing sands just fueled my desire to see them.  With a long Thanksgiving Break not too far off, I started to make the plan to head down, and tour not only the White Sands, but also Silver City and the Gila Cliff Dwellings in central New Mexico. Needless to say the White Sands did not disappoint, only my limited time there did.  

In my second public showing this image brought the “Best of Show” award, in a room full of amazing and beautiful work. During the sunset that November night, I was focused on the San Andres Mountains to the west, the same mountains where Abbey’s grandfather, an old vaquero stood in defiance of the Federal government as they tested their long-range missile systems and forced other ranchers to abandon their homes and property.  In the last few minutes I turned a camera to the east, to capture this glow over the sands, the valley that stretched out to Alamogordo and the Sacramento Mountains in the distance. This light was absolutely breathtaking, turning the gypsum sands into a winter-like scene. 

It truly is one of my favorites in my entire catalogue, and a highlight of that first year of photography. In that year I learned that happy accidents and emotionally heavy moments can combine together to fuel beautiful images. I learned that technically perfect didn’t always create the perfect photo. I learned that pretty places were more important than pretty pictures. I relearned the joy of new sights, and adventure. And, while I struggled throughout that year with confidence, I learned to accept that as a happy companion instead of a burden to overcome. I learned that the process is the product, and that it’s best to disconnect from the outcome.

Anatomy of a Composition – San Andreas – a different light ISO 50 | f/6.3 | 1/6 sec. – Sony a7s – Batis 18/2.8

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