As a writing prompt in a group I’m a part of, I was asked what inspired me to be a photographer. And you know what? I guess I never really delved deep into that question. As I’ve become more accomplished and such, I’ve just thought that I always loved taking pictures. I never didn’t take pictures. So when I was prompted with this question, I laughed it off as kind of silly. But that was too easy- too simple minded for such a big question. Inspiration is a massive thing. It’s what keeps people going and what gives us a reason to live. It dictates so much in ones life. Inspiration is what we all crave.
So I thought about this more. What inspired me to be a photographer...
The truth is, it’s a few things. And they’re not all super positive. But they’re true. And it was an important realization for me; to know why I am so passionate about this thing. Photography. Why it speaks to me like nothing else. Why I’ve made many sacrifices to chase this dragon. The world of professional photography is far from glamorous. It’s frustrating and hard work and competitive and sometimes very boring. But I fucking love it. And I will do anything to continue doing it. And now I kind of know why.
My father was a photographer. He captured landscapes that were enormous and beautiful and extreme. He had been a photographer long before I was born. I don’t know what his reasons were, but I know photography gave him life. And the mountains he conquered to get these photographs calmed his soul. Our home was full of his art and we would sit down weekly to watch slide shows of his latest adventures. I remember a dark room in the basement where he spent time alone working and working. It was his space to do his thing. I loved his photos and his stories of epic journeys. I dreamt about these far and wild places he went to and imagined going with him. In so many ways, when I was young he was my hero. He did BIG things. SCARY things. He would come home and be so happy. I wanted that to be my life. Maybe my thoughts about it then were a little more abstract, but as an adult, I know exactly how I felt- I remember it clearly.
I was given my first real camera when I was about 5. It was a Minolta. I was taught some basic lessons on how to use it and how to develop film. I took my camera everywhere- having no idea how to take a good photo, but using up rolls and rolls and rolls of film because I loved taking pictures. And I wanted to be like my dad, I wanted to capture amazing things so that I could share them with people. So that everyone could see what it was that I deemed important. Because if I thought something was important or cool wouldn’t other people? If I saw the prettiest cat in town, wouldn’t other people be super interested in that too? Maybe it would make them want a cat! My first experiences with wildlife photography were feral cats, ducks and turtles. And I always felt excited to be capturing them on film. Knowing that someone else might be excited to see what I saw.
I never fit in well with people. Especially people my age. Especially as a teenager. This is something I’ve talked about pretty openly I think; being raised in a wilderness setting and traveling a lot isn’t super great for learning how to fit in with your peers who live in cities. I had a hard time making friends who stuck- friends who understood me or wanted to know me deeply. From a pretty early age, I had big emotions that I believe developed from only spending time with adults. I didn’t really think like a kid. Nor did I understand them. Photography was a way for me to communicate with all ages. It was a way for anyone to see what I saw, to see what I thought about and maybe to get to know who I was as a person. Or that was my train of thought to some degree anyway...
I joined the photography club in high school to try to connect with people. It didn’t work. I was a total goober when I was a younger (actually, I don’t know, I probably still am) but I took certain things very seriously. Photography was one of them. And when photography club turned out to be kids with cameras goofing around and just hanging out, it frustrated me and I quit after a couple weeks. It was the first time I encountered a teacher who knew my brother too. I didn’t mention it earlier, but my much older brother is also a photographer. And a really, really good one. And he always was, as far as I know. So I was upset in some way by this teacher. I didn’t want to be compared or connected with my brother in this. I wanted this to be my thing. So more than ever, I was feeling disconnected from people and feeling unheard.
I really just wanted for people to see through my eyes and experience a bit of my world.
In 2013 I was going through some massive changes. Some earth shattering, life changing, real shit. I was given my first professional photography set up. My father knew I needed something to lean on and that photography at that point was a lifelong passion. He must have seen something more there. He was probably witnessing some of the same things he went through, and things that my brother had gone through. At any rate, a month before a vacation I was going on, he gifted me with a set up I was over the moon about and hadn’t imagined ever having.
The vacation I went on was a week in Badlands National Park and the Black Hills. I hadn’t been to either in so long that I didn’t really remember anything from either spot. My mind was blown by the unique beauty of the Badlands. Until that point, I had never looked at a landscape and felt whole. The colorful bluffs, golden grass and abundant wildlife completely changed me as a human. Not an exaggeration. From the time I arrived, I called it my Soul Place. Where I felt I connected most deeply to the earth. It was a feeling I had never experienced. I took time exploring the wilderness and photographing everything I could. The vastness was overwhelming and I found myself crying often because of the beauty and feelings that were taking me over.
I went to a wild horse sanctuary on this trip, somewhere south of the Black Hills. And the inspiration I got from seeing these wild horses was so intense, I knew on that day that I needed to make photography be a bigger part of my life, with more meaning and with a clearer view.
South Dakota will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s a land that came into my life at a crucial time. It moved me in every way. It set in motion so many things. Everything I was passionate about was magnified and a line was drawn; this was no longer some kind of hobby. Going forward, it was what I needed to do. It was my future.
When I met Jon, we started to do more extreme things. In wild places. This gave me the opportunity to see landscapes I’d never experienced. And we were experiencing them fully. I had never appreciated the frigid northern winters like I do now, until we began exploring them together. Previous to that, I hadn’t known how beautiful they could be. And how beautiful any condition could be. We went on adventures endlessly, which inspired me constantly. Being able to immerse ourselves into the landscape in these harsh conditions made me happy. The happiness I had always been searching for. And my photography started to change. It started to get better and have more of a voice. Because the feelings I started experiencing were big and bold and unquestionable.
I loved wilderness and weather and pushing limits. I loved the struggles and tough times that came with all of it. With landscape photography, I found that I could finally express these deep emotions and thoughts. And I could communicate who I truly was with my art. Something I had been trying to do for so long. These big and intense places were where I felt safe and at home, and now I knew how to share that. It felt unreal.
When we moved to the mountains, all of this exploded into something beautiful. Because suddenly, everything I have ever dreamt about was right outside the door. Mountains and wildlife and extreme weather. It’s all here. And it inspires me constantly.
What inspires me is nature. It’s simple things that happen with or without people watching. It’s the wild and the creatures who call it home. It’s what will still be here when humans are not. The important things. The scary things. The things that make us feel insignificant and small. The things we need to protect with everything we have.
I’m inspired by these things because they make me whole. And I believe that’s true for humans across the board, if they let it be so. If they take the risk to walk in the woods or up a mountain. And it inspires me to know that my photography could potentially get someone into the wild, or interested in conservation. That is a big part of why I love photography; it changes lives. It teaches, it explores, it pushes boundaries and it in itself inspires.