Digital Restart: 2003 – 2008
“Perhaps it’s finally time for me to make this one effort: to take a good look at my life. I see myself in the midst of a vast desert. I tell what I literarily was yesterday, and I try to explain to myself how I got here.”
– F. Pessoa ‘The Book of Disquiet’
It’s a long march from my early days with film to my current work with digital. Not that there’s much of a trail, since all of those early pictures are gone, lost to moving, the drama, and the constant changes of youth. I wanted to continue the work I started in school, I wanted a darkroom but as it was I could barely afford a room to sleep in let alone an extra to develop pictures in. I tried the labs but lost interest when I lost control. Then rock climbing came around. At first, I brought my camera along but it quickly became just another piece of gear to haul up the routes. The final straw came in 1986, in Yosemite. I dropped my camera high on the wall and found it later shattered in pieces and well, that was that – I didn’t pick up another camera with any serious intent for almost 15 years.
I drifted into local film and video production in Sacramento just before digital made its splash in the late 90s. When I saw the on-set monitor with a live image, that did it for me. It was more satisfying, putting still photography, in my mind, at the back of the line. I didn’t even want to operate the camera – I just wanted to stand in front of that monitor and pull it all together. But being in grip and lighting, it’d be a while before that could happen but it helped me to see and I learned a lot. Mainly that I didn’t want to do commercial work. I knew what I wanted and that was short films; experimental, narrative… film festivals. I wanted the freedom of the one-man show that was still photography combined with the creative immediacy of continuous lighting, comfortable edit suites, and pictures on monitors.
So I quit. Fired actually but that’s a whole other story. Didn’t matter, I wanted to do my own thing anyway. But back then you needed money to do your own thing. Even digital still cameras, which we’re just coming onto the scene, cost a small fortune. But I wasn’t paying much attention to that, I just wanted my short film work. Ultimately, I decided to join the family construction business in Morro Bay. I had a dream of making a lot of money and then dumping it into my films. What a nightmare that became, a multi-year shit show of my own making. All because of my naivete, my shortcomings and my complete lack of ability as a businessman. By the time I realized how far off course I’d come, I was locked in and miserable and just ran downhill to bury the fact. It was a messy time, only to get worse. On all levels.
Creatively, things changed in 2001 on a climbing trip to Yosemite. My climbing partner wanted a picture and unclipped this metal, soap-tin looking little box from his harness and tossed it down and I toggled it on and when the LCD lit up it blew my mind. I first thought: Someone took the on-set monitor from my production days and stuck it on the back of the camera from my high school photography days. I mean, it really hit me; immediately I realized that from now on all you’d need is a camera, a computer, and a printer. No more darkrooms, enlargers, extra spaces or chemicals, and especially no waiting – None of that. It really got my attention and that was when this worldwide shift from analog to digital became personal for me. When I got home, I bought my first digital camera, a little 3mp HP PhotoSmart.
At first, it was a company camera; website pictures, print ads, marketing materials and so on. But I was enjoying myself. I’d spent several empty years on the business and I welcomed this newfound focus on camerawork. It wasn’t personal and I wasn’t making my short films but I felt this little camera was moving me forward in some way and that was enough. I mean, I was unhappy, stressed and going broke and it was a simple, cheap and healthy diversion, which was good because most of my diversions were complex, expensive and far from healthy. Except rock climbing of course, there’s always rock climbing…
But as I traveled up and down the coast for work, I began pulling off the highway and taking pictures of the ocean and the beaches. My home in Morro Bay was steps from the sand and I took my camera along on my walks with the dogs and I liked what I was seeing. By this time I’d broken off from the family business and was on my own which only worsened things. I mean, that just sped up the downtime and put the gutter right in view – I had a business I didn’t want, a girlfriend I didn’t love, and a house I couldn’t afford. More and more my dream of making short films drifted behind me and my diversions, unhealthy as they were, came up front and center to fill the void.
In June of 2005, on Highway 1 out of San Luis Obispo, I took a picture that changed everything for me. What’s funny is it’s nothing special, not even very good but when I checked the LCD it hit me: This was it – There was going to be no business, no short films, no nothing and I’d be lucky to hang on to my camera and laptop the way things were headed. A strange combo of an epiphany I guess, at once both depressing and exhilarating. Nonetheless, the way forward seemed clear and that gave me hope. Much needed in those days.
I’m not exactly sure how the motion blur work came about. I call it motion blur because I like that it says what it does but I’ve also seen it called photo impressionism, digital pictorialism or even painting with light. Whatever it’s called, I was fascinated by it and it all started inside the home couldn’t afford and didn’t want to leave. I’d sit on the couch with the dogs and get f’d up and focus the camera on some pinpointed light source and fire away. I think that’s what was so compelling to me because of my background in film and remembering how disconnected I was from the process once I left the darkroom. You could check your progress and choices in real time, check the image on the back of the camera and make the necessary changes to get it right. That immediacy, the storage, I mean, long gone were the days of 12, 24 or 36 exposures. Now I could drop hundreds of shots in a single session, make the necessary adjustments on the spot and not think twice about it. Back in the day, that would cost quite a chunk in time, film and money but that was over now and that was just plain amazing to me.
Anyway, as I said; it all started on the inside. From 2005 to the beginning of 2008, it was all about interiors and blur. I was still shooting straight though, mainly around the beaches when I would get out but I needed a distraction at the house and for whatever reason, I started opening the shutter and moving the camera around. I didn’t know what I was doing or what I was looking for but everything inside got the treatment – plants, furniture, the TV – you name it I shot it. Inside and all around me, everything I pointed my camera at got the spin.
And it all makes sense now because on every level I was spinning and mostly spinning down. At that point, everything seemed to be heading for the toilet – My business, health, relationships, finances… All touched by uncertainty and concern. The only blue sky being the camera and the sudden freedom to create unique, personal work.
Inevitably, I made a grand entrance to the very bottom: I lost my business and when the house went, I moved to a remote ranch in Santa Margarita to hole up and consider my next move. By this time my distractions had become deeply rooted and way more destructive and that’s when things really got blurry. So much so I couldn’t stand to be inside anymore, couldn’t trust anything close to me so I wandered the property – out of mind, out of sight – and settled my camera on a small palm tree in a planter and dropped a thousand shots before I packed my shit up and headed for West Virginia.