Do. The. Work.

Good sleep is a questionable endeavor these days. It is understandable, given the pandemic, with the lockdowns and quarantines, and its associated fears and anxieties. Drinking is up, exercise is down, and anger and frustration are often at the forefront of my brain. Add to that the raw polarization of our society today, and it is altogether far too wearying, but not in a way that helps sleep. 

It is, quite honestly, hard to fight it all. There is a reason that Monday seems like Tuesday, which seems like last Thursday, or Sunday. I can’t — and don’t care to — remember what happened then.

One recent night, during a bout of insomnia, I was hit with a stark thought. Actually, it was really more of a command:

“Get your mind working again.”

I thought about this for an hour or so, mulling the contours of the phrase. I know what “get your mind working” literally means, but the path wasn’t evident to me. I have things to do, projects that I’m working on, and I’m struggling to get them done. It’s all the other crap that’s getting in the way, making those things more difficult to accomplish.

A day later, in a little bit of serendipity, I read an interview with Jerry Seinfeld in the New York Times. It was an interesting read, but I was struck immediately by what he said when asked about how he’s working through isolation:

Read more

West Series 1

West Series photo set number 1
West #03 – Joshua Tree (left); West #01 – Owens Valley (center); West #02 – Palouse (right)
(click to see them full-screen)

These three images are part of a recent project, West. It is something that has been in the back of my mind for the last few years, and it started coming together thematically over the past year.

As an East Coast boy growing up in the tight spaces of suburbia, the idea of ‘the West’ fascinated me almost from the time I was old enough to read. It was not really the cowboys and Native Americans in books and Western movies that captured my imagination: it was the deserts and the mesas, and the mountains and great rivers (and dams), and the open spaces. Looking at maps of the United States, it was clear that there was something big there, and I wanted to see it.

It was only after I moved to California in the early 1990s that I realized that the West was an amorphous, unwieldy thing, messy and quite unlike the images buried in my head. It seemed too big to me—and a bit unreal—and was clearly based on a romantic notion that didn’t exist. In those early years out West, I explored a small bit of the Southwestern deserts and some of the Rockies, Cascades and Sierras, but my work, along with raising a family, kept big explorations far from my world.

After Lee passed in 2013, I had a series of vivid dreams about the desert, which rekindled a yearning to explore those places that had so long been in my head. Starting in 2016, my new wife Susan and I wandered and camped through California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Oregon and Washington (among other places). We explored deserts and the mountains throughout the West, and I discovered a rather amazing feeling: that of becoming grounded in the world, of being of a place at a moment in time.

Read more

Joshua Tree I (for Richard)

I have just returned from a tour of the deserts of the Southwest: Death Valley, Palm Desert, Joshua Tree, and the Valley of Fire. It was good for Susan and me to be down that way: the desert nourishes us, especially in the late winter and early spring. I also received a lovely gift during our trip: the welcome return of the photographic spirit, which had been largely absent for me last year.

Today, as I was editing some photos from the trip, I learned that an old friend, Richard Wanderman, passed away earlier this month while I was largely incommunicado. I had known that he was seriously ill, and that his illness was most likely terminal, but I had hoped that he might make a bit of a recovery. He was often on my mind during my travels, but I wasn’t online enough to check about his condition.

I’ve known Richard in one way or another since the 1980s: he was a subscriber to my newsletter MacInTouch (which I published with my friend Ric), although our interactions were largely at trade shows. After a number of years in the ‘90s where we had minimal contact, Richard reconnected with me on Flickr. Since that time, we have had a wonderful ongoing photographic discussion, with the occasional detour into personal topics. Richard was one of the people who commented regularly on my essays and photographs, and he had deeply felt words of encouragement and care for me during Lee’s illness and after her death. I valued our connection, even if it was electronic and occasional.

Read more

Five

It was as beautiful a summer morning as Portland can bring: sunny and warm, with a slight breeze and that low humidity that makes the days (and nights) so comfortable. With the sunshine filling our room, the birds singing, and the sounds of the waking city drifting in through the window, we lingered over this last familiar, comfortable, and loving moment between the two of us.

Lee and I had slept in the same bed together for the first time in months. The year before, when her illness had made it difficult for either of us to get a good night’s sleep, we set up a small, comfortable bed for Lee in Liz’s old room on the first floor. It was an arrangement constructed out of pain, and it reluctantly worked for both of us, but the previous night it just made sense to be together. Thankfully, we had slept deeply and woke up refreshed, which, as I think about it today, was not wholly unexpected.

So much of the previous year had been each of us trying not to dwell on an event—mundane or great—as being the “last” of something, but on this day, this sad and beautiful Friday, we had finally reached the end of that game. Lee had her last cup of decaf espresso, a last piece of toast with homemade jam, and her last morning cocktail of morphine and assorted medications. Most of Lee’s friends had already said goodbye, either explicitly or implicitly, so it was just the kids and us for most of that day.

Read more

death valley milky way

During Hudson’s Death Valley workshop, we were out every morning before dawn and back out until the blue hour. (It was simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating.) On this morning, we woke up at 3 a.m. to go out and catch the rising Milky Way, which was visible for only 30 minutes that day. Hudson did a great job of preparing everyone the evening before, working to get cameras and expectations set for the morning shoot.

After heading out in the van, and hiking out to the Mesquite Dunes, we all lined up and waited for the Milky Way. Hudson had brought along a portable light to illuminate the dunes during our shots, and, although I got a couple of the latter that I liked, this unlit one is my favorite shot of the morning. It violates the cardinal rule that says “thou shalt not put thy subject in the center of the frame,” but to my eye it looks better than some of the off-center shots I made that morning.

I’m still a bit of a newbie on the whole Milky Way thing, but I’ll get there.

an afternoon in the alabama hills

I just finished up helping out on a workshop in Death Valley, run by my good friend Hudson Henry. It was a rich and rewarding event, and it recharged my photographic batteries, which have been low for a few months.

I’m less than midway through the culling process of shots from the trip, but today I started in on a bunch of panoramas that I worked on in the Alabama Hills, which Hudson and I visited the day before the workshop began. The image shown here is one of my favorites, and belies the weather conditions at the time, which was cold and stormy to the west and the south of us. (Click on the photo to see it larger in this browser window; right-click this link and choose “Open Image in New Window” to see it at 6,000 pixels wide.) It’s a bit darker here than I’d like, but it speaks to the mood of the day for me.

I know I’ve been more than scarce with the photos posted here over the past year or more; besides the trailer travels, I’ve been working on book publishing projects[1. Red Notebook Press, my first publishing imprint, released Nan Narboe’s Aging: An Apprenticeship last spring; it did well, but not great, for a variety of reasons. I will say that I learned a lot in the process, and am anxious to apply those lessons to future book projects. (If you’re interested, you can read more about that process in the post, “What I did on my summer vacation“)] and a redo of an older website, Complete Digital Photography (known as CDP around the house). These gigs have kept me quite busy, and I’m pretty much heads down on CDP right now.[2. I also left Portland, and moved to La Grande, a small college town in eastern Oregon, but that’s a story for another day.]

All that said, the image above is a direct result of one recent project: late last year, through CDP Press, I published Hudson’s Panoramas Made Simple. As part of that book’s editing process, I worked to move from the sloppy, “Rick LePage pano method” to the more accurate—and, frankly, more satisfying—methods that Hudson talks about in the book. When we were out in the Alabama Hills and in Death Valley, I spent a lot of my photographic energy working on panoramic compositions. I have a few more that I’ll get up in the next few weeks, but I thought I’d share this one now, while it was still fresh.

eclipsed

I went down to a friend’s farm to shoot the eclipse the other day, along with Hudson Henry and his eclipse workshop students. We had a blast hanging around all morning, waiting for totality, which was so worth getting up at 4:30 in the morning for.

(I posted this on Instagram and Facebook, but those sites really compress photos, so I decided to repost it here. Click on the photo to see it larger.)