I'm not going to sugar-coat it. 2017 was a grind for me, and I'm glad to be past it.
For most of the year, I was completely absorbed into remodeling our new-to-us house. We bought a lovely old home just around the corner from our existing home and I jumped head first into turning it into our dream home. There was all of the things you'd expect from a massive remodel project: meetings with contractors, hundreds of sketches and lists of things we wanted to accomplish, and a carefully-constructed budget and timeline for the whole thing. Day after dusty day I tromped over to the new house and demolished walls, pulled up floors, and moved thousands (and I mean several thousands) of pounds of plaster, carpet, tile, lathe, insulation, concrete, nails and dust from our house into a massive dumpster that in and of itself was big enough for a family to live in. I filled the dumpster twice and still had plenty left over. I still have stuff left over!
Just typing this story has me feeling tired and tense, so I will skip to the end of the year. We are moved in to the new house and I still have two offices, a guest room and a bathroom to finish. Each room of the house has something left to be done. Only Claire can claim to have a fully-finished room. Depite the incompleteness of the spaces, I absolutely love our new house. It is in many ways exactly what I hoped it would be, but in many ways it is also what I feared it would be... a never-ending, pride-battering, shoulder-destroying slog. Every day I tackle something else that is not done and I can only hope that eventually it will be completed.
All that said, 2017 was a year where I was always thinking about my long lists of to-do items. Even when I could escape the remodel and go somewhere nice with my family or friends, part of my mind was always occupied with worry about the things I should have been doing. And that, my friends, is no way to live. As you can imagine, such pre-occupation and self-doubt is highly corrosive to creativity. The fleeting moments when I had a camera in my hand were few and very far between. I found very little inspiration in my world and my Lightroom catalog shows it.
There are three exceptions, however, and two occurred on Lopez Island in Washington State's lovely San Juan Islands. Before I tell the tales, let me explain something I have found to be true for me and my photography. I suspect it is the same for you as well, but for me the realization of this fact had escaped my understanding for many, many years. I have learned that my best work is made in the times when I am fully present in the moment. When I can shut down my nagging inner voice and just be somewhere with no agenda other than to react to the scene and enjoy the moment, I make some images I am proud of.
Me, my wife Julie, and our two kids Cooper and Claire, spent a week on Lopez Island in June. It has become a summer tradition and I absolutely love it and live for it. We rent a little house and play on the beach and hike and ride bikes and watch raccoons on the front deck. It's heaven. When we went this past year, I was really fried from working on the house. I had hoped that we could be moved in my June, but we were far, far from being ready for that and the fact that I was so delinquent in getting things done was weighing heavily on me. I decided to not bring a lot of camera gear on the trip. To be honest, I wasn't feeling it. I was feeling angry at myself and the though of running off to shoot seemed incredibly selfish and frankly I didn't feel like I deserved the luxury. So I brought a small bag with my DJI Mavic Pro drone and my little Fuji X100F camera. A few nights into the trip I was feeling better about things and my creativity was bubbling up from way down deep where I buried it months before. Julie sensed it and suggested that I should take the evening for myself and go hike out and watch the sunset. I grabbed my little sling bag and headed out. When I got to the location where I wanted to watch the sunset, I flew the drone and kind of went through my typical motions. Then the sunset started warming up and I bagged the drone and grabbed the Fuji. Mind you, this is not a serious "landscape" camera. The X100F is my "street" camera with a fixed 28mm lens. I had no tripod and no filters, and the sunset was going off. It went from "wow, that's a cool sunset." to "Holy Shit, this is and incredible sunset!" to "Oh My God!" The sky shredded into sheets of magenta and cobalt blue that faded to burnt orange and deep violet. It was possibly the most incredible sunset I have ever seen. I did my best to leverage the Fuji and capture the scene as a panorama. I swept the camera left to right handheld making overlapping frames. I bracketed like mad in hopes that the little sensor of the Fuji could capture the incredible range of colors and textures. I mashed the shutter and pivoted in place like some sort of creepy museum animatronic statue. Turn left, pause, shoot, rotate right, pause, shoot, rotate right, pause, shoot, and so on. I was completely and blissfully caught up in the moment and Bigfoot could have crashed through the brush behind me and I wouldn't have noticed. Here is my finished panorama:
The second moment of undistracted creativity came on my photo workshop on Lopez Island in October. My group and I hiked out to Iceberg Point to catch the sunset and while the sky clouded over and stole the glory, we did enjoy a few hours of pleasant light and delightful water. This time I had my full kit of serious camera gear and I found a spot which allowed me to work a composition I liked. Time just slipped by as I shot and made tiny little tweaks to my setup to refine the image. It was delightful to just stand there on the edge of the island above the waves and work the scene like a real artist. Here is my finished shot from that spot:
My third moment of Zen came during the total solar eclipse that swept over Oregon last summer. We took a huge gamble and drove over to Central Oregon to see the eclipse in totality. Our gamble paid off and we enjoyed a great event together as a family in a lovely park in Madras. You can read about it here.
As we wrapped up 2017 and I watched as other photographers gathered their best images of the year, I was tempted to toss together my ten best as well. Instead I trimmed out some windows in our new kitchen. Now that we are a few days into the new year, my to-do list is foremost in my mind but I am not going to spend another year neck-deep in worry and anxiety. I have a new camera, (the stunning Sony A7R Mark III), which I will be using a lot this year - look for a review eventually. I also have a new website, (you are on it, look around and let me know what you think), and I have several trips scheduled where I plan to seek more moments of creative presence. So as we embark on another loop around the Sun, I am encouraging myself to enjoy the finer things more this year and I want you to do the same.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a bathroom to finish.