Black and white – Monochrome. To me black and white captures all that I love about photography. It is the medium that strips away all of the flashy excess of our techno-colored-AI-pro-filtered world and isolates a photograph to its basic element. All other aspects that make a great photograph are revealed within black and white; leading lines, contrast, texture, and composition are elevated to the viewer’s eyes. One of the most powerful element of storytelling with photography is tension and what easier way to express it than with black against white.

Photography is of course rooted in black and white, as the first photographic technology and films were only capable of capturing these two primary elements. It wasn’t until Kodak produced its Kodachrome film in 1935 that color photography was given to the masses. Since then black and white has continued, albeit in more niche venues. For those of us old enough to even remember film (*sigh*) black and white was THE starting point for any classroom photography student. Beyond a more simplified development process, black and white forced us to focus on and drill down into subject, composition, and lighting. However, as the days of film photography have faded, black and white becomes an even rarer form.

Despite the ability of digital photography to give us ultimate control, I often find photographers pushing color so far that it becomes a detraction rather than a major element. This may have something to do with my luddite tendencies, but when I search for inspiration in my own work I tend towards great monochromatic artist such as Ansel Adams (too obvious?), John Sexton, and Sebastiao Salgado. Even within the outdoor/adventure photography realm I find some of my favorite photographers utilize black and white to express moments within stories. Sterling Lawrence, one of the first action sports photographers I looked up to, used black and white to capture the texture and mood of mountainbiking on Vancouver’s North Shore. One of my all-time favorite photographs is a mountain scene captured by ski photographer Grant Gunderson.

As with all good things, if you wait long enough it will come back around and photography is no exception. Film cameras and photography seems to be making a bespoked comeback, particularly amongst those with felt hats, Danner boots, and Syncros vans. Sarcasm aside, there are some fantastic contemporary artists reviving historical methods of photography to make some stunning photographs. If you’ve never seen work by Ian RuhterRob Kendrick, or Lindsey Ross, I highly recommend checking them out. I’ve even found myself on a throwback kick having recently purchased a 35mm prime for my film camera, I’ve been enjoying the simplicity of slowing down and being more intentional with every frame.

So next time you find yourself mindlessly thumbing through the Gram, stop for a moment and seek out some black and white photography (#monochromephotography). Better yet go analog, pick up a book or stop by a gallery and take it in the old fashion way.

Home season

Shoulder season in many mountains towns refers to those weeks and months between long summer days on the trails and the crisp powder days of winter. It is often the time of year when fanatics pine for the next season - skiers waxing their skis for the eighth time or cyclists cranking out another interval session on the hamster wheel trainer.  For Dana and me, we’ve decided shoulder season is home season. A time of year to unload the gear from the truck and focus a little more locally. Perhaps it is an instinctually ingrained desire to prepare the den for hibernation or perhaps we’ve finally grown tired of uneven steps and sticking doors. In either case I’ve found myself wanting to engage in a few more projects around the house and afternoon rides on our local trails. 

As someone who has bounced around the country for the last fifteen years (including five road-trips across the country), my roots are pretty much nonexistent. Mostly I blame my ancestors the Scurlocks who were like Where’s Waldo in American history. More recently though I’ve found myself a bit envious of folks that I meet whose roots are like an oak tree, completely immersed in their community and their home. There is a lot to be said for having a home place to hang your hat and a community to connect with.

Like the seasons of the year, I think it is all about balance.  Sure there are folks out there that have found ways to do the wanderlust traveler gig full time, but go beyond the dreamy coastal-morning-coffee product posts on the Gram and you’ll see the same road wear and mundane task-time that all of us go through. Even Foster Huntington one of if not the person responsible for starting the vanlife movement has parked his….well, van and invested in a homeplace. On the flip side, I continue to be a firm believer that getting out and experiencing different places provides a well-rounded life. Both are great, but I think the sweet spot lies somewhere in the middle of road and home. 

The trip list is still a mile long and we’re still shopping for a pop-up camper. However, for now I am looking forward to a few months restocking at the fly tying table, foothills runs with friends, and trips to Home Depot. Shoulder season is here.

The Speed of Experience

Every September as the summer winds down our running group the Boise Area Runners (BAR) host a campout in the Sawtooth Mountains. After months of training and race schedules, it’s a great casual gathering of friends in an amazing landscape on the cusp of the fall season. The hardiest (and healthiest) runners tackle the whole 19 mile enchilada of the Alice-Toxaway loop while others run out and backs. Due to an early season injury and a long slow recovery, tackling this non-official challenge was not in the cards for me this year. So instead Dana and I decided to head up early on Friday and backpack in to serve as “trail fairies” to our friends running the trails.

We had just made our way over the 9,500 foot pass from Toxaway Lake down to Twin Lakes when we saw our first runner. Having already covered the 13 miles we had the previous day and that morning, Serena was light on her feet and looked to be in great shape. No doubt she would finish the loop in another hour or so. Dana and I on the other hand probably had another 4-5 hours of trail ahead of us. 

Seeing Serena speed off around the switchbacks made me reflect on the way we move through the mountains and the difference in experiences that brings. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little jealous of the runners. One of my favorite aspects of trail running is the lightness of travel and distances you can cover in a relatively short amount of time. I usually attribute “runner’s high” to a lack of oxygen, but the satisfaction of covering ground in a minimalist fashion is one of running’s great appeals for me.

By the time Dana and I made it back to the group campground we were more than happy to lose the heavy packs, kick off the boots, and have a beer. As we talked around the campfire reflecting on the days experiences we got on the conversation of the unofficial speed record for the Alice-Toxaway loop. One of the folks in the group (who himself is a speedster) said that he had heard of a runner who had done the 19 miles in under 3 hours! However, the runner said it was the worst way to complete the loop because you are so focused on the speed and trail directly in front of your feet that you can’t see any of the beauty around you.

As I sat there by the fire I reflected on that statement and our time covering the same 19 miles over two days of backpacking and camping. Obviously as a photographer I stopped….a lot to take pictures, but in embracing the slow pace you see all the details around you from the grand alpine lakes, to the chirping pikas dancing among the rocks. As Alice-Toxaway is also one of the most popular trips in the Sawtooth Mountains you end up (or at least Dana and I do) stopping to talk to a lot of fellow travelers who on this trip ranged from Houston, Texas to Portland, Oregon. So while our footsteps may have been slow, it gave us time to take in the trail experience in much more detail.

I fully intend to run the whole 19 mile loop in the future and look forward to the experience and sense of accomplishment that will come with it. I think this experience will be greatly enhanced having taken in the surroundings at the much slower pace that backpacking provides. One is not better than the other, just different and in that difference lies the beauty of moving through the mountains.  

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