Each winter in the Pacific Northwest hits me hard.
I know. I'm not alone in this. It hits everyone hard.
I also know that Seattle is home and this landscape is so ingrained in my consciousness that my identity is tied to it. I've taken root here. I like my city.
December invites restlessness each year, repetitive grays and ceaseless rains casting an uncomfortable inertia. I turn introspective and antsy, sitting on my hands and waiting out slow season.
2018 brought a swell of changes. I gave up the little apartment I once poured so much of my soul into and found myself between places. When I started thinking about another winter here, my mind hit a wall. I just couldn't picture it.
So I saved up money. I got a storage unit. I bought a new car. I decided to embrace the feeling of transience and call it something like travel.
For years, I lived vicariously in daydreams of driving down Highway 101 and visiting my scattering of friends along the coast. I wanted to be in the Southwest, to work out of LA, to spend time in the desert, to hike among Saguaros. Where once these wishes were laced in the obscurity of the someday, my lack of attachments created a unique timing opportunity. I had to take it.
As creative professionals, our default state is to focus on client work and the day-to-day of managing a business. Somewhere in the process, personal work loses priority, getting overshadowed and swept to the side. We forget to capture our own narratives, allowing the childlike wonder of our craft to slide.
I craved that soul connection with my work. I wanted to collaborate with people who inspired me and made me bolder, to play with mythological concepts, to experiment with atmospheric photographs in places that were new to me.
I visited eleven cities and countless national parks over my two months away. I met a lot of fascinating artists. I made work for the sake of creating for myself again.
I set out the day after Christmas. My friend Carl joined me for ten days, helping with the drive and showing me parts of Northern California he had grown up with. We stayed in Oregon for a night, and then explored around Humboldt's massive redwoods and jagged beaches. We made it to San Francisco for New Year's Eve and then hauled all the way to Vegas, David Sedaris gently guiding us along desert roads. We hiked through Red Rock and stopped in Joshua Tree for a night, then parted ways.
I didn't photograph much during this portion of the journey. Those ten days were reserved for being a tourist. I wanted to bask in that.
From there, I checked into my home for a month in Orange County with fellow photographer Sheryl Bale. That month was both meditative and full of exploration, busy with location scouting missions, the endless search for the tacos, and attempts to acclimate to the freeways.
On January 20th, I met up with my friend Julie, a musician and visual artist who I had known through mutual friends in Seattle. We drove out to the Salton Sea, a man-made ecological wasteland home only to stragglers and artists. Rife with abandoned construction equipment, fish skeletons, and silt, the sea was once marketed as a happening vacation spot to Hollywood elite. Now, it stands as an isolated mini-dystopia, a reminder of an engineering fiasco of floodwater that went all degrees of wrong.
Of course, I couldn't resist a visit and the opportunity to photograph somewhere so eerie.
A little time passed, and I met with Kayley Johnson, a local designer and model. We stole away to Vasquez Rock, the historic Star Trek location site.
The look is loosely based on Melinoë, a goddess invoked in the Orphic Hymns and represented as a bringer of nightmares and madness.
I fell in love with San Diego. I liked the pacing of the city, the small-town draw of each neighborhood. I bathed in the craggy harshness of the cliff-sides and the high wind beaches.
On one of my visits, I met up with an old friend I had met in Olympia years ago, when I was just starting out as a photographer. Maranne introduced me to her husband, taking a drive with me to Sunset Cliffs. I didn't intend to shoot this day, but couldn't resist taking some portraits of her in her element.
In LA, I spent a lot of time thinking about the conflation of art and content, of spaces that felt like life imitating art imitating life. The social dynamics of the city fascinated me, so I shot with
actress Christina Lindner at a well-documented art space, expanding on those thoughts.
This day was a challenge. What I didn't know about LA is that the winter storms are not to be taken lightly, with little infrastructure to support heavy rain.
I had rented a pool house in hopes of shooting a specific concept, but found myself with an incredible team and a largely unusable, soaked venue. What amazed me was the level of professionalism from all of my collaborators despite the circumstances. Nobody wanted to cancel, so we didn't. We worked through the cold and the rain and created something entirely different than anticipated. Inspired by every one of these women, I reminded myself to occasionally embrace obstructions.
Designer: Kaytee Papusza,
MUA: Theresa Reish,
Meeting Kaytee Papusza in an environment like the soggy pool house and seeing her process, her kindness, and deep artistry made me instantly develop a creative crush. To my delight, she sent me off with a couple of gowns to my next stop in Arizona. On my second night in Phoenix, I saw Holly Pyle perform with her band House of Stairs at a hidden speakeasy in Scottsdale. I instantly knew that her energy and presence was right for one of Kaytee's pieces. Fortunately, Holly took a chance and allowed me to kidnap her for a day. The piece is from Kaytee's Valkyrie collection and the energy of it was fitting for a haunted, abandoned desert locale.
The Domes are a dated design project, once built to house tech facilities in the 70's. Now, they stand with half-collapsed roofs and ceiling holes and appear like something from a sci-fi set. The photographs don't connote the sound of the space, which is perhaps the most remarkable thing about them. The reverb carries in a way that makes anyone feel small, with every whisper echoing through the ruined fortresses. The day felt corporeal and transcendent. I produced this short film of Holly performing an aria when we first walked in. In some ways, I'm more proud for witnessing that moment than anything else.
Model: Holly Pyle
Designs by: Papusza Couture
Assist: Jim Martin
The same night I saw House of Stairs, I met musician and DJ Venessa Mendez and instantly wanted to photograph her in the second gown. We shot at Picacho State Park, in a vast tangle of succulents and early blooming wildflowers.
Model: Venessa Mendez
Designer: Papusza Couture
After Arizona, I went back through California to see my long-time muse Allie Pratt in Santa Cruz before making my crawl back up the coast. She hosted me for a couple of days, showing me the postcard of a city she now called home. I spent a luxurious couple of days cuddling with her furry babies and styling this look I created with pieces from local boutiques. On a final morning, we drove to an unmarked beach and took a gamble with the location, hiking down a steep cliff and through a creek. The waves roared and threatened, but that didn't stop us. Allie is a force of all things movement, and my camera had missed her so much.
That afternoon, I started my slow crawl back up the coast. The final trek back into Oregon was the only daunting leg of the trip, with heavy snows over the passes and a hail storm that pulled me off the road twice. Coming back to a familiar locale, I was reminded to take a moment to express gratitude - for the tank of a Subaru that carried me all this way, for the generosity of all of my hosts, for the opportunity to take time away to focus on art, for the fact that I could always afford a gas station coffee, for all of the support from my new collaborators. Many of the most joyous moments of the journey went unrecorded but will stay with me forever, like reuniting with my high school adviser after fourteen years, or sitting in a hot tub with friends in a little town of coyotes and dirt roads. I'm overcome with amazement to have somehow pulled this off.
The batteries are recharged. I'm home.