“When Words Weren’t Enough”
This is a tough post for me to write and I apologize in advance if it’s a bit choppy or short. This image still shakes my soul when I look at it, 7 months after I made it. I’m not going to explain the actual image but I believe a bit of context is in order to understand why I made this and why this image is by far my favorite image of 2015, possibly of my entire life. Topaz is a historical site of an internment camp from WWII, in Delta, Utah. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the US quickly responded by imprisoning US CITIZENS of Japanese Ancestry to “Relocation Camps” throughout the US. Topaz was Utah’s 5th largest city at 8-10,000 people living in exactly 1 square mile.
Read this again.
The United States imprisoned US CITIZENS based on ethnicity.
“In any circumstance, anywhere and anytime, take up your brush and express what you face and what you think without wasting your time and energy complaining and crying out. I hold that statement as my aim, and as I have told my friends and students, the aim of artists.” – Chiura Obata (1946) Topaz Moon
The people of Topaz did something incredible while living under such incredible injustice, they created art. I visited the Topaz Museum in the afternoon of my visit and was the only person there. I was shown some smaller works on display by the staff before wandering the museum in silence. It didn’t take long for the visual impact of this place to move me to tears. Display after display of artwork in various styles lined the museum walls. Incredible beauty and soul radiated from each piece. I think you get the picture.
I would strongly encourage you to have a look here for much more information: Topaz Museum
After visiting the museum, I headed a few miles West to the abandoned site of Topaz. Concrete slabs remain but the barracks have been removed, leaving little evidence of the life that thrived in this desolate and barren wasteland. Dead trees dot the landscape that is largely filled with sagebrush and other drought tolerant plants. It is far from the most beautiful landscape you’ve ever laid eyes on. The bugs are thick after the recent heavy rains and only added to the feeling of disgust. I came out here to see something though. I was trying to get a glimpse into the mind and eye of the artists that lived in this place nearly 80 years prior, a glimpse into the beauty they saw, a glimpse into the soul that is still present here. I spent 2 hours, again all alone, wandering this square mile with my camera and swatting away bugs. I finally came upon a few trees that immediately caught my eye. Click.
Spending time to find beauty beyond the obvious is something I value and strive for as an artist. I was only here a brief moment and in no way can I come close to understanding what the people of Topaz felt while living here. But knowing they yearned for something else, beyond the physical, beyond reality and under such injustice inspires me to no end. Expression of thoughts and vision is only one part of the equation as an artist, the other part is sharing the expression.
This single photo I took is my representation of this.
Top 10 Images of 2015
I’m keeping this simple and I’ll let the images to the talking this time. I’ll share my personal favorite image from 2015 in an upcoming post.
Stay tuned, it may surprise you.
Cheers to 2016!!
Whoops, there’s 11:)
Park City, UT
I spend many days of the summer hiking the trails throughout Park City and most images aren’t planned. I generally have an idea where I want to go based on the conditions of the day, perhaps a view that could look good with the given weather or exploring a new trail. One particular day last summer I was hiking near the Silver King Mine in Park City when a thunderstorm popped up and the rain quickly forced me to seek shelter inside the abandoned mine. I’d explored this building a few times before without a camera but now I was there while waiting out the storm, camera in hand. I began looking around at the rusted machinery and the pieces of Park City’s history left behind, noticing how the rain saturated some of the exposed steel and fading paint. Heavy rain and hail beat down on the tin roof of the 5-story structure, water dripped through the leaking roof and the place came alive with colors and sound.
Over the next hour, I wandered the building and began photographing various pieces of this history. The light was a mix of warm daylight, cool shade, reflections and deep shadows. All these pieces began to form a thought in my mind of what I thought the images could look like once processed. I began focusing on forms and compositions, quickly finding subject after subject to capture. This process repeated a few other hikes to various locations around Park City over the summer.
I didn’t think much of my initial images, as they didn’t fit my normal subject matter of the natural world. I kept coming back to them though and found they told more of a story and contained more than I initially saw with my eyes. I began editing the photos without restricting myself to what the scene actually looked like. Colors were changed, saturation and tones changed, and some perspectives were altered. One thing I didn’t do with the images is remove or add anything that wasn’t physically already there. Color is an interesting aspect of photography in how it is often confused with light. Color is completely subjective since the human eye sees a small spectrum of wavelengths of light. Objects appear a certain color because of how we perceive the light with our eyes, not because the light is a certain color. With this in mind, color in photography becomes a complete choice of the photographer as to how it’s presented. Camera’s do an amazing job at recording information of light and detail, which the resulting digital file can then be interpreted by the photographer.
This series of images is an ongoing project with no specific time frame. Finding this subject and exploring the photos with no creative barriers has opened my eyes to more scenes around me in everyday life. I now find myself wondering how everyday scenes appear to others. How does someone else see leaves covering a grassy yard? A tree in the fog at sunrise? A river in the evening? A rainy day? The possibilities are endless but one thing remains constant: We all see differently. It is for this simple reason that the experience of finding, creating and trying to understand these images has been a top experience for me from 2015.
Go explore and look beyond the obvious:)
2015 was full of great experiences as a photographer and May brought one of my favorites from this year. I had the opportunity to work with the State of Utah for an assignment which took me to the Southwestern corner of Utah, near St. George and Zion National Park. I was to photograph various sights and experiences along State Backways and Byways, with simple instructions: Show us how you see it and make it your own. There were certain places I was to go explore and general areas, but little in the way of specifics. To me, this was the perfect opportunity to get to know new places and focus on showing others a glimpse of the experience. Zion National Park attracts over 3.5 million people every year and is just one of Utah’s 5 National Parks. Tourism is booming in Southern Utah for very good reasons and as more people visit, the economies of surrounding areas benefit as well. There is no doubt Zion National Park is incredible. In fact, it is easily one of my favorite places that I’ve been to. There really is no way to show how majestic it really is but photos can offer a glimpse and perhaps inspire you to experience it for yourself. Outside of the Zion Canyon, lies other sections of Zion National Park and the city of St. George is a short distance away, which serves as a great hub to explore this incredible area of Utah. I have much more to share than what I can show in this blog post, so be on the lookout for Part 2 soon with many more photos:) Let’s get started!
Speaking of Zion National Park, there are places in Zion to escape the crowds and see a different side of Zion. One such place is Kolob Canyon, literally a mile off Interstate 15. From the Interstate, there isn’t much of a view but within minutes of passing the Visitor Center, a new world opens up. Massive cliff walls, towers and spires pierce the blue sky and your eyes are immediately drawn upward. The road isn’t very long and ends at a popular trail head for backpackers. A short distance up the road is a parking lot and trail head for Taylor Creek and from the car you can tell the views will be good. Water flows in Taylor Creek throughout the summer and is crystal clear. The relatively easy trail follows this creek for about 2 miles and reaches a junction with the North Fork of Taylor Creek. By now, your neck is sore from looking straight up! I chose to follow the North Fork of the creek for a while longer until the evening light turned me around. I returned to the car just in time for a full moon rising from the parking lot. I stood in silence and watched it as no cars drove by, the parking lot was empty and Zion was just being Zion…
Between St. George and Zion National Park lies a hidden gem, Sand Hollow State Park. I only scraped the surface of this State Park and I’ll definitely go back again. There is such a variety of activities at this Park, from fishing, to boating, to playing on the beach, to sand dunes for motor sports and dunes to hike. The entire area is surrounded by vast sand dunes and the reservoir is large. The view across the reservoir to Zion National Park isn’t bad either! I spent the morning photographing sunrise, then moved to the docks to talk to some local fisherman. Bass fishing is HUGE at this reservoir and there was a line well before the 6AM opening at the gates of the Park. The water is exceptionally clear here and during calm weather, the sandy bottom is visible 50 feet deep. With beaches, campsites and a multitude of activities, this State Park is a great place to spend some time while in Southern Utah.
A short distance away is another reservoir, Quail Creek State Park. This place offers more beaches and water sports, with Zion National Park in the distance. The color of the water here is a turquoise blue and is striking with the surrounding red rocks. I was there during the middle of the day so I didn’t get to properly photograph this area, but the mid-day sun brought out the color of the water a little better. I crossed under Interstate 15 from here and made my way to Red Cliff Recreation Area to catch sunset. A small campground in a beautiful canyon of red sandstone offers a few short trails to explore the nearby cliffs, with stunning views to the West and South. There is so much more in this area to explore and unfortunately, I didn’t have to the time to fully explore here. Next time!
The next day brought me towards Zion National Park and the town of Springville. I began the day with a drive up the Kolob Terrace road, a less popular section of Zion. The trail head to the Subway is located along this road and is the main draw for tourists. But what else is there? Driving along this paved road in the dawn light is amazing. Watching Zion wake up with sunrise colors is something you don’t forget. There are many spots along this road to pull over and do just that.
Once the sunrise has passed, light and shadow begin their daily routine and bring the landscape to life. Massive cliffs and towers are now more defined with the low angle morning light. I found a spot along a cliff to watch while enjoying a 2nd coffee and breakfast burrito. All was quiet, Zion was waking up and the light was playing. To me, this is Paradise.
Further up the Kolob Terrace Road lies Kolob Terrace Reservoir and Lava Point Campground. The reservoir is at a 8100 ft in elevation and offers a cool mountain air, a contrast from the 90+ degree head of Zion Canyon. Lava Point Campground is near the edge of a mesa that has incredible views to the South and overlooks Zion from a unique angle. Storm watchers will love this place for the vista over Zion during the monsoon storms of late summer. It was clear on my visit so I’ll have to go back for this too!
The afternoon was spent in the town of Springville at the entrance to Zion National Park. I wandered the town’s streets, photographing anything that caught my eye. I found an incredible B & B, Zion Canyon B&B, complete with eclectic and unique desert style. Again, next time! This little town has much charm and was a pleasure to spend time in. Traffic rushed by and walking the small town slowed the pace of life back to normal. As evening approached, I headed to Grafton Ghost Town to catch sunset and explore this historic area of Utah. The graves were of particular interest to me, with several causes of death being from Indian attacks. This wasn’t all that long ago in the larger sense of time. Today, life is relatively easy for us while visiting this area. 100-200 years ago, not so much. These historic places put time in perspective when viewed with the nearby landscape that was shaped by time. 200 years is nothing, but to us, everything has changed.
There is so much more to this trip but I’ll share the last section I visited before wrapping this up. The far SW corner of Utah, at mile marker 2 along Highway 91, lies the Joshua Tree Scenic Backway. I had no idea Utah had Joshua Trees. This place was simply incredible. The evening light added a sense of drama to this unusual landscape and I only saw one other group who were rock climbing nearby. I parked and walked around the open desert in many places and photographed scenes I’d only seen in photos. The evening light in the desert is unparalleled in quality and the evening went by way to fast. In keeping with the theme of this entire post, I’ll visit here again too! I had a long drive ahead of me so I returned to mile marker 2, took a few final photos, and put my camera away. Four days of non-stop shooting and exploring later had worn me out physically but inside I was already wanting to do it all over again. There is so much more to see than the obvious places and these 4 days opened my eyes to what is possible. I met some incredible people, saw amazing sights and did so by allowing myself to be open to new experiences. On your first, or next visit to Utah, give it a try and you may just find that the best experiences lie beyond the well-known landmarks.
Thanks for reading this long post and happy exploring!
Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
Continuing on with my 10 favorite experiences in 2015 with a February backpacking trip to Dinosaur National Monument in North East Utah. February? Backpacking? Yup! Last winter was exceptionally mild in Utah and since it wasn’t snowing, a friend and I headed to a new area of Utah to explore on foot. I’d never been here and he’d only been on the water sections, so the experience was to be new for both of us. We packed up, hit the road early and were hiking with our backpacks before noon. The plan was to get to a view of the Green River we only saw on Google Earth. Of course, the real thing looked way better:)
This is somewhat of an interesting post because I’ve already shared some of the experience here before. I’m writing more because something else made this a memorable experience as a photographer, and not necessarily a good “something else.” Earlier this fall, I opened the folder of photos for this trip to find 22 JPG’s. NOTHING else. OK, maybe they’re in a different folder? Nope. Maybe they’re not in a folder? Nope. Keyword search. Nothing. Date search. Nothing. Somehow, in some way, I deleted all 500+ RAW files from this memorable trip. I’m left with a handful of JPG’s and a baffled mind. I have no idea how this happened as I am careful when deleting and flagging photos. At one point, I must have highlighted this folder by mistake and now it’s gone forever. I discovered this error while backing up the files and looking back, I should’ve backed up images sooner.
But all is not lost. Digital files are nothing to me compared to the memories and experience of this time. My friend and I had an incredible 3 days exploring a new area of Utah in unusual conditions. We had many laughs, enjoyed a few beers around fires, made pancakes on a sandy river beach and fished a truly wild river. I was also able to print several images earlier this year that I am happy to say are in a good home and bring continued joy. Dinosaur Monument isn’t going anywhere and the landscape photos can be reproduced. I can easily go back to the same spots, or new ones, and create new images. At the end of the day, they’re just digital files and nothing was truly lost. It would be nice to have more images of a memorable time but mistakes happen in life. This was a huge learning experience and one I hope to not repeat anytime soon. Luckily, I have a few images to share from this time and had several images printed. I’ll definitely be more careful moving forward and I’m just glad the images were mine and not for an assignment or shoot for someone else! Lesson learned.
Thanks for reading,