Friday, January 11, 2013

About twenty years ago I painted this, it was after a trip to Glacier National Park where I learned many obvious and several not so obvious points of traveling. I was very much into photography at the time, in fact it was a growing passion at the time and was just beginning to lose my eye for it, which I will explain in the midst of describing this trip and the lessons I learned about creativity, traveling and altitude sickness.

I had never dealt with altitude sickness before and I didn't diagnose the problem until many years later only that the subtle symptoms I experienced in Montana became more acute in Colorado and New Mexico when I started to learn to ski. The overwhelming feeling of acute altitude sickness is the mental confusion and lack of the ability to have the brain communicate to the extremities. For Montana, having not known about the altitude problem I did not prepare myself with Diamox is something I learned about as a precaution on the second time skiing. So all of my plans for Montana was to photograph every scene big and small with a large format camera, three 35mm cameras with multiple lenses, I was prepared for everything. If I remember correctly I had bought thirty plus rolls of film and had all the expectations to take my next masterpiece photograph-move over Ansel Adams-I was young, give me a break.

On the problem of losing my eye, or my focus-this came from a wonderfully horrible experience of selling a photograph for a large amount of money-one slide and I felt I had arrived. It was for a major wireless company and I used my vacation week at my than seasonal job to take pictures of a nondescript city over a lake or some body of water that would be nondescript to capture the effect and sell the product without distracting from the overall message. After getting great scenic and impressing them with my skills as a photographer, the final meeting and I took some great stuff for a scenic but unfortunately not for their ad. I was crushed-the last day, we are talking about going to Buffalo New York or somewhere else where a nondescript city sits on water-I failed, simple as that. I went home and thought about the process, I had an epiphany, I would go to a yet undisclosed place, photograph the sunrise on the hood of my car-the fill-in water-It worked, I sold the photograph. So what was the problem-after that everything I saw was where I could sell the image. I started seeing things as objects of sale instead of some intangible that I just thought made a good image. I lost my eye, once I used to photograph a fence on the side of the road, an open area of a field for no other reason but I was inspired-it's the difference between an artist seeing things and a business person questioning the creative image before it even appears.

I went to Montana with an eye for the sale and left one thing home; the creative simplicity of the artist that saw things from a creative eye and not a businessman looking to be paid. I carried all my film, cameras, tripod and lenses on the plane and through the field, I must have looked very foolish because in retrospect it must have been a clumsy fumbling appearance which brings me back to altitude sickness. I was in the middle of this incredible landscape and I dropped lenses, dropped tripods, had film falling into streams, lens caps down hills and polarizing lenses rolling off bridges into a creek. It was an embarrassing ordeal but I lived through it. The clumsiness and lack of clarity in my head is what I attributed to altitude sickness as in a more extreme case the confusion and clumsiness is almost debilitating-in this case I just looked like an idiot and lost equipment.

What also occurred to me during this trip is, if you want to have a photography trip-go alone or with people that understand photography and the changes in light during the day. If you see a beautiful image of a lake and the lighting is just right-the image will be gone by the time you get back, so the idea of "we'll get it when we come back down the mountain" just doesn't help the situation. I watched more amazing shots fly by the window than I was able to frame in the lens.

Glacier is an amazing place where the photo ops just leap out of every corner but that doesn't make a great photograph. Good landscape photographs are common, great landscape photos are pretty regular-God has already done the work for us. It's the amazing photographs-the ones that speak without a word, a shot that shows you something you don't and can't see without a photographer framing it and lighting it so the viewer will notice it in a different way. I realized it is almost easier to shoot great work from a place that wasn't beautiful, it made you work harder, you had to look for the image, you had to find something that no one else noticed. In Montana my eye was just not where it needed to be and mixed with the aggravation of altitude sickness, I came up with good and even descent photographs but none that no one else couldn't have captured with a descent camera. I was disappointed with the outcome but the lessons I learned I feel have really helped me get a better eye for art and photography as well as learning there are different kinds of trips and they shouldn't be forced and combined-nothing good comes from that process.

Another thing I learned being in Montana and watching the waterfalls and pristine areas-I love water, waterfalls and the clarity and crystal clear feeling of water is something I have sought after ever since. Sometimes failure is the best way to learn-so get out there and explore, fall down, drop stuff but have fun and learn things-until the next time. I will talk about how I really came to love water and waterfalls and the side project that became from my obsession with waterfalls.

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