I'm often asked how I got into photography or how long I've been doing it. The answer isn't always that easy to pin down. Why photography? Why landscapes? Just today, some sort of answer finally hit me so I needed to write it out. When I was 9 years old, my family moved from Wisconsin to the small mountain town of Estes Park, Colorado. My father wanted to break away from his corporate job that was making him travel away from the family more than he wanted, so we moved to open up a small business in the tourist center of town. I didn't really know if I liked it at the time of the move, but it turned out I had horrible near sighted vision and may as well have been blind! I had never really seen the mountains, only the blurry shapes of them until I got a pair of glasses shortly after the move.
Still, as a child I don't remember being very interested in hiking and was out of shape. I have memories of my parents having to drag me up a mountain to go on a hike with them. Sledding in the winter? Sure that's fun! Playing down by the river with my brothers? Sounds good! But don't make me walk up some stupid mountain in the summer all day...
It's hard to believe what we can take for granted in life. Looking back, I'm so very glad I had the opportunity to live in the mountains and that my parents took me on those outdoor adventures anyway. Later on as a teen I have some fond memories of a hike to Loch Vale with my family. Something about that late afternoon trip planted a seed in my memory, and made me realize how lucky I was. When I needed to blow off some steam or think about things as a high school teen, I would go for a night drive through Rocky Mountain National Park and park the car somewhere under the stars and just think. Not many teens have that sort of life.
Well I've started to answer why I spend time out in the landscapes, but where did photography come into all this? Still not an easy answer. I remember playing around with a camera a bit in my high school tech class, but I never actually took a photo class or got to use a darkroom. My dad had a terrible brick of a point-and-shoot digital camera (1.3 megapixels!!) that I would borrow and go exploring with a friend. We would mostly take random photos outdoors and take them back to class, play around with photoshop filters (yeah I know) and pass it off as some sort of tech project.
Just after graduating high school and just before moving out of the mountains, I had an incredible outdoor experience. I was driving around the mountains with a friend, windows down to let in the warm summer breeze as a light afternoon rain started. It was one of those rains where the sun is still shining, but this was different as the rain was so light that it was still warm. We decided to pull over and wander back into the hills, walking along the river. The light drizzle felt so good, smelled amazing, and made a wonderful patter noise on the ground. The late afternoon sun cast a rainbow on anything and everything. As tiny droplets splashed off of every pine needle on every tree, the mist made it look like small rainbows were everywhere. It was fantastic.
Just a few months later, I moved to the massive city of Phoenix, Arizona. It wasn't until I left the mountains that I realized how much I loved them. Any chance I had I would drive up to the hills north of the city to have some solitude and clear my head. The city was obviously too noisy for me but I didn't know that as an 18 year old. I ended up permanently borrowing that previously mentioned camera and found myself wanting to record these locations I would go to for peace and quiet. I guess you could say I got into photography when I was 18, but I don't think anything worthwhile came out of my camera for years.
After leaving Arizona, I spent some time out east in Maryland. At this time it was apparent that photography was a reason for me to be outdoors and the outdoors were a reason for me to take photos. I would go to the mountains of Virginia whenever I had a chance, leaving home at 2am to get to a hilltop at sunrise. I would frequently spend an early morning at the base of a waterfall, all alone until the tourists show up hours later. At this point I had started using a 35mm film camera, but that's a whole different story of how I went from starting with basic digital to using 35mm film and eventually 4x5 film. Having a camera and desiring to get better photos made me go out there as much as possible, even if I didn't get good images out of it for a long time.
Coming back to Colorado at the age of 21 was one of the best choices I have made. I'm never too far from the mountains and there is so much more to see here too. It has given me the chance to both grow as a person and hone in my photography skills.
I guess this gives you some sort of idea of why I spend my time outdoors taking photos. Maybe I've been chasing after the feeling of that misty summer afternoon, trying to capture that emotion in a photograph. I don't know if I'll ever find it exactly, but I know that the mountains and wilderness have become a huge part of my life, thanks in a huge way to my wonderful childhood. It makes me wonder if I don't go out to the mountains, but instead I come home to them...
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