My interest in photography began during my senior year of college when I was part of an intense marine biology fellowship. Two of my roommates were photo nuts. They were obsessed with their Minolta Maxxums, Nikon Fe2’s and Yashica T4’s. One day I grew tired of listening to them squabble and challenged them to an “ Iron Chef “ type photography battle. The rules would be simple, one roll of film, one location, one camera and 5 of our peers would judge the results. They scoffed at me and came up with a myriad of reasons why it would not work.
Two weeks later, we had to spend a weekend finishing a group research project in Morro Bay, CA and I showed up with a Canon Ae-1 I stole from my dad’s closet. I handed them each a roll of gold 400 ( to which they also scoffed at) and told them to get shooting cause I was gonna kick their proverbial asses. I went out the afternoon for the first time with a camera and a great old time sneaking up on birds, taking pictures of old boats and trying to compose dramatic seascapes. Regardless of the results of the competition ( which I did actually win with a ⅗ vote!), I knew I had found something.
I used to wanna be a landscape photographer. I would walk into a gift shop, see a postcard or a framed print and say to myself “I can do that!” And it was true, I could do that. I could copy the picture of the Delicate Arch outside of Moab, the sunrise of the south rim of the Grand Canyon or vernal falls in the springtime. Sometimes my versions of these pictures were better than the poster and postcards I wished to emulate, sometimes they were far worse. Over time I picked up little tricks like Velvia 50, graduated neutral density filters, cable releases and heavy tripods. I made some great photographs, I sold them and I even made some money.
I remember one time, a buddy and I were on a road trip from Los Angeles to Vail and we stopped at every National Park on the way. We shot hundreds of pictures and printed them up really big and lined our walls with them. It was a great way to meet girls…Would you like to see my work?
Then came the digital camera and I felt like my world was torn apart. Now, any Joe Schmoe with a little bit of dough could come by, take a crappy picture, then make it look as good (or better!) than mine in post-production. Heathens were taking over my craft and making it accessible to all, god forbid. It was the great democratization of photography and it forced me underground for a while.
I eventually sold all my film gear, and I too found love in digital photography. I shifted focus from landscapes to street photography. I carried the smallest camera, with the largest sensor I could possibly find, which usually meant Fuji or Panasonic. I captured images in the moment, imagining myself to be a modern day, digital version of Henri Cartier Bresson. I traipsed through Europe, Asia and South America armed with these cameras and captured some truly great images. They looked beautiful on a screen, and some of them even looked ok printed, but the work had changed. I would shoot thousands of images and rarely ever enjoy them or share them. They just lived and still continue to live in some sort of digital purgatory.
Camera phones and the photo-sharing apps that accompanied them soon appeared, and I again felt a little bit of resentment but… The next phase of photography had occurred and shifted the power into the hands of the people. Anyone anywhere could take any photo. The little niche that I falsely believed I had been exploring in private, was, in fact, being explored by millions of other people. All of the sudden I realized, lot’s of people viewed the world (literally!) in a manner very similar to the way I did. As a natural introvert, I immediately began to wonder what these folks were like in real life? Would we be friends? Do they think the same way too? I also had a little bit of envy. For example, I had collected thousands of pictures of vans over the years and some dude comes by starts #vanlife and makes money on it! Eventually, I believe it made me feel a little more connected to the “collective consciousness” of our world. Of course, #vanlife is successful because a lot of people think Vans are pretty fucking awesome, including me.
Anyway life rolled on. I had a smartphone to take snapshots and pretty nice Digicam for more “serious work”. A few summers ago I dropped my Pansonic in a creek and it was dead to the world. I stopped taking pictures for about 6 months until I could save up enough money to buy a new camera. The next spring, I received wonderful news from the Surfers Journal that they would be publishing some of my photos. I planned to use the money from the photos to buy a new camera and began to research in earnest. But alas, the camera I sought to purchase did not quite exist, at least not at a price I was willing to pay. Along the way, however, I did find some film cameras that met my needs almost exactly and they were a fraction of the price. I bought 50 of them on eBay (seriously 50 different cameras, I still have about 20 one year later), tested them all, tested different films and most importantly reconnected with the actual process of making a photograph. I was able to remember all the technical bits during my previous stint with film photography and combine it with a new way of looking at the world gleaned from all my time behind a digital camera. I slowed down a lot and began to work with real purpose. My 4th wave in photography had begun.
Currently, my work is a bit of a compromise between landscape and street photography. I am more of an anthropologist than a photographer, despite the fact that you rarely see a person in any of my pictures. Traces of humanity are omnipresent. The fingerprints society leaves behind, provide evidence of its impact. I am especially interested in the roughly defined line between nature and civilization, as well as man’s attempts to harness its beauty. I am also a bit of an archivist. Southern California had seen more development in the last 100 years than anywhere else in America. The world of my childhood is rapidly eroding and my vision of San Diego is altered on a daily basis. As people bring different values, ideas and visions to the region, they physically change the landscape. I enjoy documenting the change and taking little snippets with me. I almost always shoot at eye level with a 35-50mm lens to closely mimic the human experience.
The open space once occupied by the Spanish rancheros and their cattle has been filled with 3,000 square foot dream homes, stacked on top of each other like sardines. Since that land is almost used up, the cottages and bungalows that once lined the streets are being razed in favor of 3 story condominiums at 3 million a pop. The old shops and restaurants are being torn down to make room for more franchises, big-box retailers and luxury boutiques selling stuff people don’t need. It’s easy to lament these changes and to be angry at all development. I am angry. The changes are destroying my vision of the town I grew up in. No amount of complaining is gonna stop the development. Southern California is as close to the garden of Eden as you will find in America. People with money will continue to flock here like the salmon of Capistrano, foolishly misguided or not. They will continue to impose their values on the land and it will be forever changed.
My way to keep sane is to take little snippets with me. A shot here, a shot there. The vision of a man, walking through the world. Capturing what he can, before it’s all gone.