Photography was not on my radar. My family didn't have a lot of money for portraits, save for one occasion where we had our family portrait taken. I felt like it was so special to have a photograph taken. I remember getting my dirt-cheap yearly school portrait taken. Mom would dress me to the nines. The photographer would ask what color background I wanted. Wow, it was just like going to the dentist. I'll take the banana fluoride please. I gave the photographer the biggest smile I could. Years later, I don't like having my photo taken and I find formal clothes uncomfortable. Funny how getting older changes things. My childhood was a long period of introversion and creative exploration. My siblings and I used to make funny home videos, play Dungeons and Dragons, Risk and going off on bicycle adventures to a nearby State Park. We played a lot of video games--the interactivity of it appealed to me. My brother Jonathan and me would make video games on software called ClickNPlay, RPGMaker and Macromedia Slideshow. It was a time to let my imagination apply itself. I preferred the visual to programming aspects. I went on a camping trip to Medora back in High School. I brought back photos from the experience. My sister gave them a look and said I had a knack for photography. It wasn't until my last year of college that Photography became more than a hobby.
During college, I worked with experimental video and created some interactive pieces. Digital art fascinated me. There was so much to learn, a surface barely scratched where anything was game. My program was dissolved three semesters before I could graduate. It may have been a sign. Still images was the direction I wanted to pursue. My visions of projected videos and immense, interactive talking installations were replaced with a printed image. I needed the limited structure of photography. It offered clarity to my personal vision.
When I started photography, my knowledge of other photographers was limited. I owned very few photography magazines. There wasn't a photographer I tried to emulate. The only photographer I heard of was Ansel Adams. My photographs were taken with a Minolta SRT-101 film camera. My father gave it to me after my mother passed away in 2003. I knew nothing about shutter speed and aperture. I moved every knob so that a circle in the viewfinder matched up with a wavy needle, a.k.a. light meter. Photography filled an empty void in my life.
In later years my old teacher Rick Tonder taught me how to use a soft box and feather light. I still didn't know what shutter and aperture meant or did. I was told to 1/60 worked with strobes. During my last semester of college, I met Chuck Kimmerle. He worked as UND's photographer. He greatly broadened my technical skills. Before meeting him, I learned how to tone my black and whites, use the settings on my camera and blindly experiment--my process was intuitive. I was surprised to see that my work had similar parallels; it was fate. He's a mentor and now a friend. Oh, I did learn what shutter speed meant and Chuck taught me about aperture, focal planes and the philosophy of photography. It helped that he was a cranky old man. I was the Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Colby Lysne was a UND alumni and came to my university to talk about photography. Sadly, I didn't pay a lot of attention. I blame it on my early twenties. Colby and I kept in touch and he suggested I invest in a photographic workshop to learn about lighting. At the same time, Chuck Kimmerle pointed me to the same workshops for employment. That job was the equivalent of a Masters Degree. I built a second family there and learned much more about the world of photography. I got to work with or see all types of photographers. Some of their work, I would recognize perusing through the bookstores or news stands. They showed me different ways to pursue what they loved.
I don't live in an area where GQ, W, NYTimes, Newsweek, Time, Vogue or [insert publication] need me for an assignment. I must be either flexible with the local market or create my own. Photography holds a different meaning everywhere. If I were in LA or NYC, I might be asked what ad campaigns, book projects and specific magazine covers/spreads have I done. I have no idea what sounds more attractive. Actually, none of them do. Maybe I haven't found a public space that fits the work I want to share?
Who knows where I'll be in the future. I'm only where I'm at because I chose to be here. It doesn't represent a failure. This is my path and it provides creative fulfillment. Capturing the essence of a singular moment thrills me. It is a challenge to tell the story of the subject! I have had wonderful opportunities to listen to and work with extremely experienced people. They are people with a level of career and vision I aspire to reach. All of the things I hate and love are what contribute to my growth.
When the love dies, I won't be afraid to leave it behind--it will be a sad day. There are some cool gadgets out there. I'll keep things open.