Followers of my newsletter have probably heard it now almost as many times as I have. I vent about it more than I should. I know it's an honest question, but one I get asked at every show. Over and over and over again.
"So what do you do... just drive around taking pictures all day?"
I'm not sure why this has such a tendency to get under my skin. Lots of reasons I suppose. The biggest being that 90% of the time it comes from a sneering middle aged man three seconds after stepping into my booth, with the implication that I must have a pretty cushy life.
And then there's the assumption that little more goes into my work than pulling over at some roadside attraction, rolling down the window, clicking the shutter and moving on.
If I'm being totally honest though, I think this question is starting to trigger a little guilt as well.
It's not completely off base. Although when posed this way the person asking can inadvertently seem dismissive of all of the hard work, skill and sacrifice that goes into this craft, at the heart of it is the sincere impression that as a nature photographer, my days are filled with photography. In nature.
Sadly though that's not true. And it's been a very long time since it's been the case. In fact, looking through my files I only got out in the field a handful of times last year. Same with the year before, and the year before that. So far in 2022 I've only used my camera five days. (And we're already over six months in!) It's hard to confess because photography feels like a such an important part of my identity; and something that I've been passionate about all my life. But after all this time in dormancy some days I wonder if I'll ever break out of this funk. Some days I feel like kind of a fraud.
Of course there's more to it than that. Life gets complicated. Life gets busy. Life gets hard. And even as I've tried to sustain a career as a professional nature photographer, prioritizing the actual act of photography is something that's just gotten away from me the past couple of years. I'm ashamed to admit it, but there have literally been times when I've gone months without taking my camera out of its case. I've continued to do shows, scraped up the occasional social media post... but I'm rarely out creating new content anymore. And that's something that has to change.
A friend advised me awhile back (and I'm going to butcher this quote, but it was something along these lines) that I needed to try and take ten photos every day, unless I'm too busy... in which case I should take thirty. (It was his adaptation of an old Zen quote with the same anecdote for sitting in nature.) I wish that were realistic for me right now, and it's definitely something I will aspire for. But with a crazy work schedule and this coming summer full of art festivals and other obligations, I've decided to set a goal that's a bit more attainable.
For now I want to make it a point to get out with my camera at least once a week. Some weeks that might mean hiking deep into the backcountry, and some weeks the best I might do is 20 minutes photographing dandelions in my back yard- but the point is to get back behind the lens on a regular basis again. And editing. I have a terrible habit of sitting on images, sometimes for years, before taking the time to process and share them. So that's the other stipulation here- I'll get myself out with my camera at least once per calendar week, and then allow myself until the end of the following week to do some edits and share the highlights in a blog post.
Straight forward enough, right? (Please feel free to hold me accountable!)
So I'd like to kick off this series with some images from one of my favorite places in Iowa- Wildcat Den State Park. I was home and frantically matting prints last week in preparation for a big show in Iowa City- stressed, exhausted and aware that time was moving way too fast. Life had me feeling overwhelmed, as it so often does anymore, and felt particularly heavy as I thought about how many days pass fixated on this instead of being met with due reverence and gratitude. I needed something to change my perspective, and I know no better way of doing that than with a morning spent in the woods.
Wildcat Den is the kind of place that will make those unfamiliar ask, "Wait... this is Iowa?" when they see it in photos. Though probably best known for its old grist mill, the park offers a beautiful network of wooded trails, meandering past caves and high limestone bluffs. Located just outside of Muscatine the site is only about a half hour's drive from my family farm so I've spent a fair amount of time there, and walking into the timber 30 minutes after dropping everything that morning felt like being welcomed by an old friend. Trailside ferns rustled gently in a light breeze as sunlight glimmered through breaks in the canopy overhead. Gray squirrels darted from tree to tree, and flashes of red danced amidst the lush foliage as cardinals filled the forest with song.
I wouldn't say that I got any earth shattering photos that morning- but that's not really the point of these posts. It's more about just getting out there again, immersing myself in the setting, and sharing what I find. Images aside though, this was a pretty special morning. It provided some much needed time for reflection and peace, and the chance to just be present in a meaningful way. I'm grateful for this gift, and look forward to embracing such moments again as a consistent part of my life in the weeks ahead.