2020 Year in Review

2020 Year in Review

What worked

It is hard to image it’s possible to say anything went right in 2020 what with a GLOBAL PANDEMIC! Trips were canceled, events postponed…and then canceled. It would be easy to say not much worked this year, but as a young padawan who still has much to learn, I found the vast amount of free time a great opportunity to build my knowledge base. As we all entered the virtual word, I was happy to see the amount of educational opportunities out there. If you have never been on Creative Live, I highly recommend it. I took courses by Corey Rich and Michael Clark, two adventure photography heroes of mine. I also dug into some photographers who were willing to share (for free!) their thoughts and experiences on some of the more philosophical aspects of photography. I highly recommend giving a watch, listen, and read to David DucheminSean Tucker, and Dan Milnor.

At the beginning of the year I set out several goals, one of those was to push myself to shoot more and produce 100 “print worthy” photos. Images that I felt I would be happy seeing on a wall or in a magazine. Not only did I hit the mark in terms of producing the images, but others actually agreed that they were print worthy. One of my images was voted best wildlife image at an annual photo competition held at Studio Boise. Another appeared in print in the third issue of Outdoor Idaho Magazine – a first for me. While small victories to some and certainly not my main objective, it is nice to have my work recognized by others.

What didn’t work

This past year I tried to put some solid thought time into what type of images really excited me and that I want to be making more of. I came to the realization that the images that I really admire and that I get excited about are those that combined with word to create stories. While this realization might not sound like a bad thing, the problem is that I probably came to it about 20-30 years too late. As I talked about in my last post, this past year brought the demise of two of my favorite magazines in BIKE and Powder. A disappointment for sure, but not necessarily a surprise as print magazines have struggled to find the magic formula for sustainable existence in the digital age. Sure, there is still opportunities out there for storytelling in digital format, but I don’t think there is quite the appreciation for long-form stories, nor for printed imagery. Steve Casimiro creator of Adventure Journal provided a great summary of the current state of print on my favorite podcast Mountain & Prairie that is worth a listen. 

New Year – New Ideas

Even though print appears to be a dying art form, it is one that I am really drawn to. Over the past year I’ve learned a lot about visual storytelling and it is something I intend to spend more of my time and effort in. I think stories will help to focus my work and provide the motivation to keep pushing myself as a photographer. To that end I have come up with several personal projects that I will work on over the next year. One is a large-scale project that will take me at least a year if not several. Others will be shorter in duration and will likely appear here on Trailside. A story a month is my goal.

Another idea that I hope to pursue more in 2020 is what I’m terming adventure portraiture. It is an idea I’ve had for a while, but one I hadn’t put into practice until my local mountain bike organization held a fundraiser. The idea behind adventure portraiture is that many of us love outdoor sports and want to capture that passion in images, so why not have something nicer than your friend’s crappy super saturated i-phone picture? Why not have something you might want to hang on your wall or on your desk? That’s the idea of adventure portraiture, to capture folks’ passion for their sport in the environments they love. I’m throwing it out there, so we’ll see if anyone else thinks it’s a good idea too.

The last project idea I have for next year is actually a merger of two that I have struggled to put into motion. Two years ago, Dana gave me a halve dozen rolls of 36 exposure 35mm film, which I was really excited about as I had wanted to get back to the simplicity and methodical nature that film provides. I even went so far as to buy a 35mm manual focus lens for my old camera to really take it back to basics. Yet, I haven’t really shot much because I want those frames to be intentional and not 36 frames of randomness. Like writer’s block, I have struggled to decide what to shoot. The second idea that has never come to fruition is a 365 project, which is to take at least one photograph a day for a whole year. I have always liked the idea of a 365 project, but again have struggled to come up with themes or focus areas that aren’t me taking the same photograph over and over. So for 2021 I’ve decided the best thing to do is cast aside the self-imposed pressure embrace the uncertainty and see what happens. I give you the 2021 – 365 Film Project! The parameters will be simple – good light, creative composition, at least a frame a day. As most of my other goals and ideas for this year are to help focus my work, I’m hoping this project will spur creativity and new ways of seeing things. It will be like a photographic scribble book and I’m excited to see what the end result looks like.

So there you have it 2020 year in review. Like most of you I am not sad to see the year come to a close. While I don’t think we are out of the woods yet in terms of the pandemic, I am hopeful for what lies ahead in 2021. 

Happy New Year everybody

The Fine Print

This is not the original post I intended to share this week, but something happened that has been on my mind perhaps more than it should. Now let me prefice the following ramble by saying there has been a lot of crazy, heavy, and disheartening events going on the past six months that are WAY more important than what I am about to blather about. None the less to me it is a loss that has caused me to pause, remenice, and contemplate the future and therefore is worth sharing if only with myself.

This past weekend I was off the grid both literatally (mostly) and figuratively. When I returned Sunday night, I kept seeing Instagram posts about two of my all time favorite magazines -BIKE and Powder. After some googling, I found the source of the activity. A360, a media company that owns several major magazine publications had decided to fold BIKE, Powder, Surfer, and Snowboarder. Now I know most people wouldn’t even recognize these titles let alone morn their loss, but for those such as myself who have literally worn out issues over the years it is a major blow to the culture of their respective sports communities. 

Through my teens and twenties before you could mainline the digital herion of social media, magazines were a major source for content about outdoor adventure sports such as mountain biking and skiing. Particularly for mountainbiking, which grew tremendously through the 90s and 2000s publications such as Dirtrag and BIKE provided not only the latest trends, but stories that captured (and contributed to) the evolution of the sport and it’s culture. As a non-techno-gear junky I was immediately drawn to the soulful writing and epic photographs contained within each issue of BIKE. Those stories inspired my own riding, adventures, and articulated why I and many others loved riding bikes.

As a photographer the images I saw printed in BIKE and Powder were absolute inspirations as they went beyond simplistic eye candy action shots (though there were plenty of those) and resenated with my creative side. I discovered some of my most inspirational photographers through those magazines such as Sterling LorenceScott Markowitz, and Jordan Manley. My absolute favorite issue of the year were the photo annuals which showcased the best of the best in full page print and made me want to be an outdoor photographer too. Those issues were flipped through and through and often disected for wall art.

Sadly “progress” marches on and in the age of scrolling, tic-tocs, and tweets the majority of us give little time or appreciation for written stories or visual print. Video may have killed the radio star, but social media has certainly killed the magazine star. Though it is likely that the collapse of the magazine industry started before the dawn of Facebook. Remember the days when you got a whole year’s subscription for like $12?!? Most of that probably hinged on subsidizing through advertising, but it also seems like it was a race to the bottom where you tried to capture as many subscriptions as possible through pricing well below production costs. Not likely a sustainable model in the long run. And as is often the capitalistic way, the print media world consolidated. Smaller publishers were purchased by larger firms that wanted to add segments to their portfolios and those companies were bought by larger companies and well, you know where that goes.

All is not lost however and as with film photography there is still a small number of folks out there that appreciate longer (in modern terms) form stories and the feel of print. A number of great independent publication still exist focused on creating high quality content such as the DrakeSki JournalFreehub, and Adventure Journal. Their content maybe art and soulful expression, but at the end of the day magazines are a business and nothing is truly free. In a recent interview, Steve Casimiro producer of Adventure Journal and former editor of Powder magazine framed the formula for a successful publication. Steve said “It is the publisher’s job to create a high quality product and the consumer’s job to pay for it.” This is increasingly hard in an age where the majority of consumers willingness to pay is zero and alternatives of vary quality abound. I won’t be hipocritical and say I never consume free mindless content of the interweb, but I have increasingly found myself returning to print. Perhaps it is my heightened appreciation as a photographer, a sense of nastalgia or the simple fact that you can’t beat a morning on the porch with a cup of coffee and a good story.

BIKE and Powder are gone and that is a damn shame. If you are like me and want to see great storytelling publications continue, pick up an issue of one mentioned above or explore your own. When you are done with it, subscribe and pass it on to someone else who may appreciate it too. Perhaps with enough interest and appreciation we can keep independent print storytelling going.

Where There is Smoke

No matter where you live, there is a time of year you hope is short lived. You go through the five stages of seasonal grief - lamenting its approach, raise anger over its arrival, accept (or resign) to it, pine for its end, and finally celebrate its passing. Here in the Intermountain west, and most of the west for that matter it is the haze and heat filled days of late summer fire season. Usually the latter parts of August and beginning of September, smoke from fires in surrounding states gathers and settles in the valley. The heavy haze turns the sun red, trapping the heat and stagnating the particle-heavy air making outdoor ventures pretty undesirable. 

Having reached maxed capacity on spending time inside, we headed to the high country in hopes of some reprieve. As we drove northeast towards the higher elevation mountains, the distant (at least what we could see of it) ranges did not instill confidence. Before leaving I knew there was a fire burning near where we were headed, but I held out hope that there might be a break. Turning off the main road onto the dirt forest service road, the hazy skies proved by hypothesis wrong.

It had been several years since I last spent time in this particular drainage, and as we made our way farther along, each dirt road mile revealed evidence that the surrounding hillsides had experienced a significant fire in my absence. The forest alternated between live stands and spindly remains. In several spots chutes of rock and debris culminated at the base of denuded slopes where rains scoured vegetation-less ruts. The combination of smoky skies and chard forest stands made for an eerie feeling and briefly I questioned the wisdom of camping back in a dead-end canyon. As we passed by several campsites I hoped our neighbors would adhere to the numerous signs stating the prohibition of campfires.

We found a quiet spot to camp in a stand of trees that for the most part survived the fire, most likely aided by the nearby creek. After settling in, we decided to take a short hike to a nearby lake. Given the scene as we drove in, I thought about how different everything appeared and wondered how the trails had faired through the fire. As we made our way up several switchbacks we walked through a graveyard of scorched trees, many stripped of their bark, others looking like the standing remains of a previous night’s campfire. I thought what a shame it was that a place that I remembered as being so beautiful now looked so scarred. 

Climbing higher (and breathing heavier) my brain’s pace began to slow and my vision seemed to pick up more of the details. While the obvious was the dead trees surrounding us, the more subtle was all of the undergrowth that had grown with the opening of the canopy. We often think of fire as a negative, when it is in fact an important element to many western ecosystems. Fires often clear unhealthy and dead trees. Quickly behind them comes new life and vegetation that benefits from the aftereffects. It might look unsightly at first, but deadfall provides cover for animals, enriches the soils, and creates structure in the rivers for trout. Seeing these more subtle details reveals just how resilient the landscape can be. Even trails for which I came to this drainage survive. Yes, signs may burn and some downfall may need to be removed, the underlying paths and destinations remain.

We fear fire, and rightfully so. Having once been evacuated from my home due to an impending blaze, I feel for folks in California right now. Fires today are also different than they were even 100-200 years ago. Poor land management, even poorer land-use planning, and global weirding have all combined to create “mega-fires” that are too much even for the natural ecosystem. But just as I accept the inevitability of fire season, we residents of the west must accept that fire is part of our environment. We need to look past the obvious destructive effects of fire and consider the importance it plays in the long-term health of our regions.

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