Photo: A favorite photo from Iceland. Seaweed in a tidal flat near Kirkjufell Mountain on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
For almost the last two years, I have had the great fortune to travel and photograph extensively with no purpose other than my enjoyment. This opportunity did not spring forth from pure luck but instead from some deliberate decisions I made to change how I was living my life. Luck and timing, of course, played a role but so did hard work, taking advantage of the right opportunities, and consciously deciding to leave a lot of the constraining parts of an old life behind to take a chance at a happier future.
After two years of intense (and sometimes exhausting) travel, my pace has slowed down and I am starting to work through all of the photos I took during this time. Because I need some structure to make my way through two years of unprocessed photographs, I have decided to choose a small selection of my favorite images from each place I have visited and then share them in a blog post. Having an enormous backlog of photos is both a blessing and a curse, and if I am to make any headway in reducing my backlog I need to have a structure and process, rather than the ad-hoc processing I have been doing to date. This post is the introduction to how I ended up here, with an epic backlog of photos and almost two years of wonderful experiences to show for it.
When I took up photography about five years ago, I was in graduate school full-time and working full-time. I didn’t have a spare moment to just slow down and enjoy life, all because of the choices I was making. Picking up a camera for the first time was a completely random decision, as I had no real interest in photography when I bought an SLR. As I spent more time in natural and wild places focusing on photography, my mind slowed down and I could actually be present in the moment. This was such a rare feeling at the time that it seemed quite notable. I started seeking this more often and landscape photography quickly became something of an obsession (in a positive way).
A few years later, after continuing to toil away in dedicating way too much energy to single-mindedly building my career with only a little time for photography on the side, I was passed over for my DREAM JOB. With this heart-breaking experience, I finally realized how exhausted and unhappy I was. While I really enjoyed my work (nonprofit consulting), I really hated the constraints of a traditional job. With direct proof that career ambition was not bringing a great deal of return, I wished I had traveled and enjoyed my twenties a lot more than I did. And, I wanted a lot more time to spend on photography. All this came together with me feeling an almost intolerable sense of wanderlust and feeling trapped in my life.
So, instead of continuing to be miserable and exhausted, I started making changes. I quit my job and started a consulting practice (diligently saving up so this kind of risky move wouldn’t actually be very risky). I deliberately built more time into my schedule for travel and photography. I got a divorce. I simplified my life and reduced my living expenses (lower living expenses mean greater flexibility, and I do not miss that $150 a month cable bill or watching TV at all!). I started creating the life I wanted, and, while there were numerous bumps at many points along this path, I look back and wonder why I waited so long.
Along the way I met a great travel companion and partner, Ron Coscorrosa, a fellow photographer who is about two years into a sabbatical from work and with whom I have shared most of my travels. In meeting Ron came the opportunity to take some time off from working full-time to extensively travel and photograph, something that I had wanted to do for years. During this time, we have visited 38 states and photographed in 19 of them (including Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia) as well as Alberta, British Columbia, and Iceland. We have seen more places than many people see in an entire lifetime and the process of being able to immerse myself in photography has been more fulfilling than I would have ever anticipated.
Now, two years later, photography is an essential part of who I am – probably more than almost anything else in my life. I also finally feel like I am participating in my life rather than missing out. When I started all of this travel, I felt a strong drive to see and photograph as many places as I could. After seeing so many places and settling into a stronger level of comfort and happiness with my photography, I am ready to slow down, focus a bit more, and actually share some photographs on a more consistent basis.
Bold decisions in life always come with risks, but for me, watching my life pass me by seemed like a bigger risk than trying to create something better for myself. For all the people who tell me they wish they could do what I have done, you can. It will come with some risks, require some difficult decisions, take some time, and a lot of hard work, but it is possible for pretty much anyone who is already fortunate enough to have taken up photography in the first place. All this will look different for you, but you still can do it in some form. You just have to make the choices to make it happen for you.
Regarding the title of this post… I am not a Led Zeppelin fan, but Ron suggested this line from one of their songs as a title and it fit perfectly. So thanks to both for the help since I couldn’t come up with anything better on my own.