Quiet Monday morning – pandemic in the USA.

Monday March 16, Santa Cruz, California. The morning after our governor, Gavin Newsom asked for bars to close, older residents to self quarantine. This wasn’t a directive, but it seems to have been a broad request to help slow down this highly contagious virus. I had a physical therapy appointment this morning and forgot to enable notifications on my phone. The therapist office had called me on my way there, saying that appointments are cancelled. I brought my camera with me just in case there was a story to tell somewhere. That story started right across the street.

Some things stopped

All shows postponed

Some things need to go on

Still need to walk the dogs

Storytelling

I genuinely believe this is an important time for story tellers everywhere. I headed downtown for just a little bit — with great care. I saw a mix of things and behaviors. It was a bit quieter than usual. There were fewer people out. Coffee shops were nearly empty. Places like Verve Coffee are usually hopping with activity. There were a few customers but not empty, and not full. People kept their distance. I met a nice man named Mike, a financial consultant visiting from San Jose to meet a client. That client has asked if they could postpone the meeting for an hour, so he was here for a cup. He was friendly and well dressed. We struck up a conversation easily. We tapped elbows and chuckled about it. I didn’t get his picture — I really should have. We exchanged contact information and I hope to hear from him again.

Inside Verve. This little sign didn’t surprise me. The folks there kept on doing their job and made a great latte.

Notices

Chocolate the Restaurant, To-Go ONLY

I was expecting to see some businesses closed, or at least not open yet. After all, it was Monday morning. What did surprise me was how specific the notices were. Consider ordering something amazing from Chocolate via their website. You’re in for a treat.

O’Neill Surf Shop: closed

A little down Pacific Ave and O’Neill Surf Shop was closed. A sign in the door explained why. It’s a smart move, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of it. An iconic surf shop. In Santa Cruz. Closed.

Pacific Avenue. Not empty, but not busy.

People

I walked further past Palomar and Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company. Both were open, and with some customers. I stepped out into the street with a wide angle lens. It’s not an empty street, but I’m accustomed to a little more activity. There were still folks making deliveries and some business as usual. Ish. I saw two men happy to see each other greeting with a big hug and handshake. This seemed like exactly the wrong move today.

Wandering around I always come across familiar characters. I think some recognize me too. We have a number of homeless on this street, although in much denser concentrations elsewhere in the county. I worry about these people today.

Troubled in a blanket. Everybody kept some distance from each other.
Homeless man with a mask
Street performers
Man in jacket with skateboard
Familiar characters
City employee keeping things going

Some elements of life looked normal but with subtle dissonance. A family out with their baby stroller. A UPS truck out for deliveries. A couple of cars on the road. 114 parking spaces available. That’s most of them.

114 parking spaces available.

SEE Challenge Day 1 Also

Day 1 Also?

Yeah, I know. Look, I was going to title it SEE Challenge Day 1 until I discovered that my friend Elizabeth Hahn beat me to it by 4 hours. That and it’s funny.

I’m lucky to have a friend who’s a wonderful photographer, mentor and inspirer of all things. Yes I just totally ripped off a line from Elizabeth’s blog on exactly the same topic. Lauri challenged us to shoot a roll of film daily for a while. I haven’t personally developed a roll of film since college and I’m pretty sure all the chemicals are in a box somewhere in my garage. But stick with me here; limit the photos taken as if each image was precious enough to burn a frame out of a small set of possible frames. So naturally I plunked a 128gb SD card in my Canon 7d Mk II. That part was more of a coincidence since it was the first SD card I grabbed before leaving today, but again it’s funny.

Precious

I thought about this idea: precious.

My typical day is pretty mundane. Up early. Stretch, yawn, scratch, shower, dress, coffee, scratch some more, cereal, shave, out the door. Drive from heavily forested area to tiny mountain back commuter road. Tiny road to major highway. Major highway to major freeway. Crawl through Silicon Valley traffic for the next hour. Arrive in parking garage, exit to building of concrete and steel (albeit a pretty one), work at my desk (yes I have a “day job” but I think you knew that) around stuff I’m not allowed to take pictures of. Repeat the process in reverse like squeezing toothpaste back into the tube.

So what was precious about any of this?

I haven’t done this in a while because I was too hurt to drive. So yeah, this was precious.

Today all of it was. Every last bit. I won’t bug you with details but over the past 6 weeks I’ve had two significant health things. One where I was’t sure if I was going to live to see the next morning. The other where I got to understand what a “10” is on the pain scale for a week straight. So simple things like driving my car. Getting gasoline. Watching an airplane land were pretty damn precious. Pardon my stroll into existentialism for a bit please.

We have a popcorn popper at work. One like you’d see at the movie theater. I was captivated by the texture, color, and the sense of fun. This was precious to me at the moment.

Popcorn. Precious, precious popcorn.

My commute home tonight brought me close to the airport. Was this moment precious to me? Yes. Do you remember a day when you looked up in the sky and there were absolutely no aircraft flying? I mean at all? I do. It was September 11, 2001. Not one airplane. I don’t take this for granted. Also think about the people on the plane. Somebody’s coming home. Somebody’s excited to see somebody else. Somebody’s terrified of the landing part. Precious to somebody else.

A Southwest Airlines jet landing at San Jose Mineta Airport

The rest of the virtual “roll” was mostly looking for a pleasing composition of the aircraft in motion. Another way of saying that is “crap” but tonight I’m OK with it.

Challenges

There’s a lot of things on my mind tonight. My friends know that I’ve had a lot of challenges to deal with over the past several months. Some of those challenges involved taking a leap of faith, firmly believing that a new adventure would improve the lives of individual people. Then I had to face the reality of that idealism collapsing. Do I regret that? No. Can I go into details? (Reads over the NDA again) No. (spoiler alert: that nightmare is nearly over).

I’ve had to answer the questions: what have you been doing for the past few months? I rested. I got angry. I climbed some stuff. I lifted more, ran more, challenged myself more. This has been a rough time but I promised that I’d stay true to myself.

Duh.

Actually that’s kind of stupid because that’s how I’m wired. “…stay true to myself”… snrrrk, anybody who knows me knows that anything else is unthinkable.

So what have I been doing in the meantime? I read. I did a ton of soul searching and learned some things. I took a class. I got even more exercise than when I worked for the Well Known Fitness Brand. I toughened up some. I loved more deeply. I hiked a lot. I got better at portrait photography. I did some more freelance photography. I got paid to go to a music festival. I finally did that yard work I had been unable to get to. And I completely ignored the complete disaster that is my desk and studio.

No, really. “Clean desk” has been on my To-Do list for the past 4 years. I even have a book about removing clutter… under a pile of clutter on my desk. That’s how much I hated the idea of cleaning up my desk. I have a couple of weeks, I may still get there. I’ll share a picture if it really gets done. Update 5/31/2019: I cleaned my desk. I can see the desktop surface. It’s terrifying.

I caught the sunset at Taft Point with my daughter B last night. I couldn’t possibly have asked for more. #yosemite #taftpoint #sunset #2018 #canon5dmkiii #neverstopexploring #thisiswhyfitness

I spent some more time in Yosemite. I shared a special spot there with my beloved daughter. I climbed up a snowy non-trail with a buddy. I did a ton of day hikes with friends around the Big Sur and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I also trusted. I trusted my wife Lisa to hang in there with me. She did in her grand and spectacular way. I trusted my savings to hold out. I trusted my closest allies to advocate for me when times were tough. All that came through and I will never, ever let them down. And they know it.

I also forgave.

That’s part of being The Grownup In The Room. Not everybody was that steadfast friend. What now? Forgive and move on. Trust? No, that needs to be earned back. Retaliate? That’s a stupid question; of course not. Move forward a little wiser? Yes.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for coming back.

Transition

For the past several months I’ve been feeling a certain restlessness about my creative process. I photograph a lot of surf and landscapes but rarely people. I started to seriously ask myself why that is. Then I thought back to my last trip into Yosemite Valley. Yes always stunning. But there I was standing in El Capitan Meadow fully aware that the scene in front of me has been done. Hell, I’ve done this subject before: climbers on El Capitan. So I’m purposely thinking, what do I do different here? Inspiration arrived but it left me really thinking about what I’m doing and why. 

Headlamps from climbers on El Capitan

Aside from the surf photography that I enjoy so much I usually try to capture these pristine natural scenes. Often I’ll either crop out evidence of human activity either in camera or in post. I know why most of the time; for me it’s overhead power lines and aircraft contrails. Yuck. But does that mean remove all human things? I had to really think about that. 

 An acquaintance recently sent me a box of CD-ROMs from the LensWork series. I happened to be listening to an interview with Larry Wiese. He was describing how he was preparing to show his portfolio at a very nice gallery. He was all ready to show his traditional landscape work when he had an epiphany (and probably an anxiety attack) about what he was doing and why. The interview CD was titled Transition. It was like he was speaking directly to me. I devoured that interview, then I listened to it again. 

Essentially he realized that he was producing fine art landscapes not because it was what he loved doing, but I think because others expected him to produce landscapes. He wasn’t excited about it anymore. He excused himself from his meeting, packed up his portfolio, and reconsidered pretty much everything. This made me think about that last Yosemite visit specifically. He mentioned that he had visited Yosemite twice. He researched all the photography topics for the area and pretty much planned on how to copy the work of the masters before him. And so what? What made it his own work? He decided that landscapes were a starting point for him and now it was time to expand his creative process.

I started photographing different subject matter and processing them in different styles. I don’t photograph wildlife much. So I spent a few hours doing exactly that. 

Wild life photography at Waddell Beach, Santa Cruz County, CA
Long-billed Curlews (I think…) at Waddell Beach.

I started incorporating more people into the photographs as the sun was setting. I’ve often thought that a photo of the sunset alone wasn’t enough. It needs an interesting foreground. What I usually avoid though was people in the scene. This time I really thought about that. Why? Adding people gives the viewer a reason to connect. A sense of scale. An emotion.

I recruited this group of friends to be the subject. I gave it to them as a gift. 

Today was a very rainy day in Santa Cruz. Honestly a pretty miserable day to even consider landscapes but I wanted to explore. I did some street photography which is very rare for me. I processed the photo differently from how I usually would by incorporating some color grading. 

Veterans Memorial, Santa Cruz street photography
Veterans Memorial. Santa Cruz, California

I had another idea incorporating a very wide angle and the patterns in the sidewalk along Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. I expanded on the idea by blending three exposures, 2 that were fairly long exposures and a third that was over 240 seconds. Processing the image was well outside my typical style and I’m glad I explored the ideas. Pattern, time, color, and definitely not how you would see the scene with your own eyes. 

Wide angles, patterns, and long exposures along Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA.
Long exposures and wide angles in downtown Santa Cruz on a rainy day.

I pushed the idea a little further. I don’t photograph architecture. There’s probably a simple reason for that: I live in a rural area and there’s just not a lot of that. Even in the more urban areas there’s nothing really resembling a skyscraper as such. I thought about that for a while. 

I spotted this window across from a reasonably high vantage point (that’s a fancy way of saying “parking garage”). A few things struck me as unique here. It’s a brick facade. Nobody would dream of building entirely with brick knowing that our state’s geology is the rough equivalent of Jell-O pudding. The water draining from the downspout caught my eye. The basketball shoe in the window pane and the warm glow from inside inspired me. I setup my tripod and fitted my Canon 5d Mk III with a 70-200mm telephoto to isolate this subject. 

Initially I imagined this as black and white but instead I went with a very different approach. With what I’ll just loosely call “a lot” of masking I brought down exposure of the brick wall while carefully adding contrast to the window. I desaturated the wall itself while adding some split toning to the window. This added some blue to the light tones and warmer colors to the mids and darks tones. Then selective sharpening and vignette. I was very happy with the result.  

What’s next?

I’m going to keep exploring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving up on traditional landscapes. The truth is that I love the adventures and the effort. People or man-made objects will almost certainly be more prominent elements. Portraiture has always been an interest but I have a lot of thoughts on that topic that I want to be very careful about. Self portraits will probably happen more often at the suggestion of somebody I admire