Thanksgiving Bouldering in Moe’s Valley

The missus and I headed down for some bouldering in Moe’s Valley this Thanksgiving weekend. The mornings were cold and the middays and afternoons just right, bordering on too warm. For much of the day, the naked sun created a sharp contrast in the scrubby desert landscape that lent itself nicely to black-and-white imagery. Here, a little gallery following Kristin (and our dog Pebble) through a day at the boulders. Did you get out this Thanksgiving weekend?

Click a pic below to enlarge the images…

A few info sources on Moe’s Valley bouldering:

Angie Payne’s New Project: Photography

This week’s guest post is from pro climber Angie Payne. Aside from being one of the strongest boulders in the country, she’s also a gifted, self-taught photographer. 

Angie Payne self portrait
Self portrait by Angie Payne

I started climbing in a gym in Cincinnati, Ohio, when I was 11 years old. When I moved to Colorado at the age of 19, spending time outside wasn’t high on the list of reasons why I climbed. I was too intimidated by the raw, inhospitable nature of nearby high-altitude bouldering areas like Rocky Mountain National Park to appreciate their splendor.

My first serious project in The Park was a V12 called European Human Being. The climb required three seasons of hard, often frustrating work, but it was during that period that the rocky armor of the alpine environment began to fracture, revealing a delicate beauty. As I progressed through various climbing projects, I started taking pictures with my iPhone in an effort to capture the beauty all around me. Soon, capturing the essence of the place where I now spent so much of my time became another kind of project that filled the spaces between attempts on the boulders. Climbing brought me to these gorgeous places, but photography added a new depth to my enjoyment of them.

Starting in 2012, I shot thousands of images using only my iPhone 4s. Eventually I added magnetic lenses and some basic editing apps to my quiver and posted my favorites to Instagram. The images below are a small sampling from the resulting collection. They are among my favorites, because I think they convey the essence of certain places and moments that I have experienced mostly thanks to climbing.

—Angie Payne

 

Sunlit clouds in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo: Angie Payne

I first tried Freaks of the Industry in 2010 and spent nearly 60 days working on it [Angie sent in July 2014 —JR]. During one moment of intense frustration in 2012, the setting sun ignited the sky for a moment, leaving me no choice but to abandon my anger and enjoy the fleeting display of color.

 

Ice crystals in Rocky Mountain National park. Photo: Angie Payne.

But the distractions didn’t always come to me in the form of spectacular sunsets. When potential success was maddeningly close and I needed to force myself to rest, I would often walk away from the boulder and search for new details I had overlooked, like small ice pillars in a frozen pond. The more subtleties I found, the more at ease I felt up there. It soon became my second home.

 

Greenland landscape photo triptych. Photos: Angie Payne

I stepped far outside my comfort zone to go to Greenland. The raw beauty was overwhelming, and the volatility of the landscape was intimidating. Trying to capture the huge, magnificent vistas with a tiny iPhone felt futile, but it did help me get more comfortable with the remote cirque. 

 

For photos from Greenalnd. Photos: Angie Payne

Greenland had a seemingly endless collection of icebergs, each with its own perfect shapes and lines. Seeing these behemoths opened my eyes to the fantastic artwork that nature can create, like a perfectly fragmented piece of sandstone or an improbable snow sculpture.

 

Photos finding beauty in the mundane—triptych. Photos: Angie Payne

Not many places can hold a candle to the splendor of Greenland. Still, armed with my iPhone and a new “project,” I began to recognize beauty in more mundane things: an old chain, the classic airplane view, a puddle outside my front door—when the light, wind, and weather hit them just right, they are all quite pretty. 

 

Detail shots of bubbles and a snowflake. Photos: Angie Payne

And then there are the details. One layer below those beautifully mundane things is… well… more beauty. Sticking a small macro lens on my iPhone illuminated a world of intricacies. I quickly learned that capturing these details with clarity is much like perfecting the subtleties of a boulder problem. Frustration comes quickly, but with a lot of patience and a little luck, the results can be rewarding. 

 

Carlo Traversi catching his breath after climbing in the Psicocomp competition in Park City, Utah. Photo: Angie Payne

I’ve heard it said that the best camera is the one you have with you. My phone is almost always with me, so it just seemed logical to keep using it as my camera. Doing so allowed me to capture moments that would have otherwise been left to my imperfect memory. One such moment came at the 2013 Psicocomp in Park City, Utah, after Carlo Traversi finished an intense race to the top of the wall, careened into the water, and barely dragged himself out again. As he struggled to catch his breath, I snapped a photo that came to epitomize the experience for me.   

 

Train tracks derailed by the great Boulder flood of 2013. Photo: Angie Payne.

Another moment of this sort came during the thousand-year flood in the Front Range of Colorado, also in 2013. While cleaning out a friend-of-a-friend’s mud-filled basement, I took a break to wander through the neighborhood. The train tracks had been tossed about, turned into a roller-coaster of sorts. It almost felt wrong to snap that photo, but I did. That there was some kind of beauty in the midst of such devastation seemed deserving of documentation.   

 

Four nature photos from Rocky Mountain National Park. Photos: Angie Payne

Eventually, when the rivers of the Front Range retreated and the routines of life in Boulder resumed, I found myself back where it all began. Beautiful new scenes continue to reveal themselves in Rocky Mountain National Park, even after hundreds of trips up there. Freaks of the Industry, The long-term project that was to thank for many a photo has finally been put to rest. The new interest that it helped birth, however, lives on. In fact, I just invested in a new DSLR. While capturing immense or intricate beauty with my humble little iPhone is still an appealing challenge, it seems I have found a new project in learning to master a more complicated device. And so, the cycle of projecting continues…

 

 

Headshot of Angie PayneAngie Payne is based out of Boulder, Colorado. She’s sponsored by Mountain Hardwear, eGrips, Five Ten, Organic Climbing Company, LifeSport, and Mac’s Smack. In addition to climbing and obsessing over iPhone photos, she enjoys watching TV murder mysteries and washing dishes (seriously). Check out her website and follow her on Instagram.

A Trip to the Zoo

JKR_9201_sm

I went to the zoo this weekend, and as always I departed feeling a little ambivalent. When you see creatures like leopards, lemurs, elephants, and apes in those drab enclosures, mere simulacra of their natural habitats, it’s hard not to feel sorry for them. I doubt any faux rock cliff or pool of hose water will ever fully engage their wild intelligences. As I wandered the paved footpaths between continent-themed enclosures, I remembered how my sensitive, vegetarian friend Ben used to call zoos “animal jail.”

On the other hand, these creatures are safe — from predators, from food pressure, from droughts, from us. And isn’t safety what we humans have been striving for since the very start? Our drive to find shelter and protection, to isolate ourselves from the constant threats of the world (coupled with an overdeveloped prefrontal cortex), is the very thing that’s made us so successful on this planet. Maybe it’s because we’ve grown comfortable in our world of boxes that we feel animals will take some sanguine comfort in a zoo’s protection.

But why then do most of us assign a certain sadness to animals in zoos? Is it because we grok that it’s a fine line between being protected and being trapped? Personally, when I feel that boundary growing threadbare, a trip into the mountains becomes particularly important to my sanity. I can only imagine how the silverback gorilla feels as he peers through the glass day after day, at the gallery of baby strollers and hairless apes with cameras, while waiting for his food to be delivered.

A mother tending lovingly to her young, a playful polar bear, a sad-looking gibbon — you can hear the children exclaiming in surprise how the animals are just like people. Through the fences and over moats, the creatures in the zoo always seem to remind us of ourselves, but rarely do we invert that logic and draw the conclusion that we are like them. Or not so much like them as are them.

Granted, it can be a problematic perspective to take. After all, when the boundary between “us” and “them” grows blurry, so do many things we hold to be self-evident. Better to do as I did and gaze with wonder at that enormous, flat face in the glass, with its black leather skin and dense fur and searching eyes, and then get back in your little box of glass and steel and drive away.

Looking and Seeing

look_and_see

In the late 1970s, two of America’s best rock climbers were on a tear in Yosemite Valley, putting up new boulder problems left and right. Visionaries, both, neither Ron Kauk nor John Bachar saw the line on the Columbia Boulder, right in the middle of Camp 4, an area packed with climbers all season long. Instead, a climber Bachar described as “a drug addict, schizophrenic, and a wild guy” spotted the line first. John “Yabo” Yablonski, addled as he may have been, he was the one who saw possibility where no one else did.

As a photographer (aspiring and amateur, admittedly), I have been snapping pictures of the world around me ever since my parents bought me my first SLR in the early 1990s. Since then, my time with a camera in hand has taught me a lot about seeing — the first step in the art of photography. Strangely, this is easier said than done. Anyone can look (“A beautiful bridge! How exciting! I’ll take a picture of it!”) But to make that picture even hint at the power of the bridge you experience in your marrow, at least with any consistency at all, you have to condition yourself to see what is there. What is really there.

I know this must sound basic, or hopelessly oblique — of course you have to see! But looking is not seeing. You have to look to see, but it is quite easy to look and not see — In fact, I think it is our default mode. The photographer, the climber, the scientist, the writer — basically anyone trying to make or do anything worth a damn — must strive to see what is really before her. Only then can she decide how to proceed.

There is the bridge: sprawling span of steel and stone, rooted in earth and water. The sun hits it from this angle, throwing shadows in such a direction, stretching shapes from light and dark, illuminating some textures and obscuring others. Now frame it in your camera’s viewfinder. What does the camera see? Will that red and white tugboat be in the picture? Perhaps you should wait until it moves forward a little. Maybe wait a minute more, until it crosses that ray of light. To find the image you seek you must become, as Minor White writes in his essay “The Camera Mind and Eye,” like a sheet of film: “seemingly inert, yet so sensitive that a fraction of a second’s exposure conceives a life in it.”

To look, you need only your eyes — to see, your mind comes into play. When you see, you’re not just observing what is outside of you, but also what is inside. Both the external and internal fall under the heading What is There. “He can look day after day — and one day, the picture is visible!” writes White. “Nothing has changed except himself.”

When Yabo looked at that wave-shaped hunk of granite in Camp 4, he saw a way for a human form to navigate its spartan surface. In a similar way Charles Darwin, on observing an orchid with an eleven-inch nectary, saw that there must be a moth with a proboscis long enough to reach the nectar in its bottom. Only four decades later would the actual moth be discovered. Any scientist could look at the oddly shaped nectary, but not anyone could see its implications.

Luckily, like any skill, one can practice seeing (although, as far as I know, there’s no rulebook for it). A simple exercise: next time you’re looking at something, whether the face of a rock, a subject to be photographed, or some problem in your work or professional life, take the time to look for what is truly there. Don’t let other’s opinions or your own expectations overly influence you. Ask yourself again and again, “What is there? What is there?” When you do that and do it well, answers start to present themselves.

What to do with those answers? That’s another story…

A Moon for Halloween

Moon and Tree - photo: © Justin Roth

 

The night before last, I was standing in an empty field just as the full moon rose through the branches of a tree. I took this picture. A grand, pale orange form as it mounted the horizon, the moon appeared to shrink smaller and smaller as it rose, until it hung like a bare bulb in the sky above us. The sight conjured a Zen story from Zen Flesh Zen Bones, by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. The lesson, as always, is one of perspective:

The Moon Cannot Be Stolen

Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. “You may have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you shoud not return emptyhanded. Please take my clothes as a gift.”

The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow, ” he mused, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”

Happy Halloween…

- The Blockhead Lord

Photo Friday: Nikon D800 Time-Lapse and Some Birds

Just playing with the D800 some more. So far, I continue to be impressed. Two things on my wish list (and, it sounds like, everyone else’s wish list, too): 1) faster frame rate and 2) smaller RAW image size option. Anyway, minor nits. Of course, now that the D600 looks like a real option on the horizon, I’m starting to wonder if I’ll regret having dropped $3000 on an FX camera when I could have gotten a $1500 FX camera with many of the same features. Ah well, the best cure for inklings of camera-buyer’s remorse is to use the tool to create some cool work.

The following images were captured during last weekend’s Living Traditions cultural festival in downtown Salt Lake City. Strangely, I took most of my favorite images that day at small pop-up tent with a few guys and a bunch of birds, located near the festival entrance. I’m not sure what the booth was all about, but the birds were fascinating to observe.

But FIRST… here is a (somewhat underexposed) time-lapse video straight out of the D800. The camera’s automatic time-lapse function captured the images and stitched them together, in camera, into a .mov file. Pretty slick! For you pros out there, it probably makes more sense to capture hi-res .jpg files with the interval shooting mode and then create your own animation in Quicktime Pro, but for fun projects, this is a very neat little feature.

A parrot outside the Living Traditions Festival in Salt Lake City.
A parrot outside the Living Traditions Festival in Salt Lake City.
A fuzzy young owl.
A fuzzy young owl.
Dancers at the Living Traditions festival.
Dancers at the Living Traditions festival.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
Baby birds waiting to be fed.
Baby birds waiting to be fed.

Photo Friday: Welcoming the D800

Succulent on the coffee table. Shot with a Nikon 105mm f2.8 Micro at 1/60 sec, f3.2.
Succulent on the coffee table. Left is the full, right is a 100% crop. Notice how unobtrusive the grain is in the crop, despite the fact that it was shot at ISO1250. Shot with a Nikon 105mm f2.8 Micro at 1/60 sec, f3.2 (click to see a larger version).

I just picked up a Nikon D800 from Pictureline, one of the best camera shops I’ve been to and certainly the finest shop in Utah. I have been shooting test frames around the house, and so far I’m impressed. The dynamic range, noise at high (1250) ISO, autofocus, overall usability, and overall image quality are superb.

I had to download a RAW update for Photoshop, and still can’t seem to get things working with Lightroom (I think I have to buy an upgrade), but I was able to open and pixel pick through a couple dozen images. They are definitely superior to the shots from my old D700, and far better than those of the D7000 I shoot with now. I’m anxious to get this thing out and capture the Salt Lake Valley and surrounding Utah landscapes, which deserve every iota of the D800’s 36mp full-frame sensor power.

So far, the only thing that I am not pleased with is the Live View feature. When you zoom in to focus on an image, the view is very noisy. I have read about this as a possible problem to be solved with a firmware update. Hope it doesn’t prove to be a problem down the line… Until then, here’s a quick example of the detail you can get out of the D800.

Photo Friday: Living Creatures

As an aspiring photographer, science and nature lover, and generally curious fellow, I find few things more fascinating and aesthetic than the forms of living creatures. They are at once alien and familiar. A strange mirror, they show us something of ourselves we are quick to forget.

Look at the frog, with its smooth, glistening folds of skin — can you not see some obtuse hint at our own origins? Look at the long muscles of its leg, not so unlike our own quadriceps. Look at the bulge of the belly, the short, chubby forelimbs; do they not remind of that rotund man at the gas station with his tight watchband and straining shirt? Regard the wide-set eyes and broad mouth; are they really so different from ours? View a frog from head on, add a jaunty hat and a pair of spectacles and what do you have? The gent you passed on the street the other day, grinning with a distant look in his eye.

The deer, the grasshopper, the squirrel, the snail, the giraffe… they are our not our charges; they are our brethren. They eat, mate, seek shelter from the elements and from predators. Had they only the words, can you imagine they would express sentiments so different from our own? But as they cannot speak, the best we can do is observe them closely and learn the lessens their ancestors have been teaching our ancestors for time immemorial.

A frog at a birthday party in New York.
A frog at a birthday party in New York.
Male deer in suburban Boulder, Colorado.
Male deer in suburban Boulder, Colorado.
A grasshopper in my yard in Salt Lake City, Utah.
A grasshopper in my yard in Salt Lake City, Utah.
A mother squirrel looking for her baby, who fell from a tree in suburban Boulder, Colorado.
A mother squirrel looking for her baby, who fell from a tree in suburban Boulder, Colorado.
A snail on my dinner plate, or Ce n'est pas dîner.
A snail on my dinner plate, or Ce n’est pas dîner.
A giraffe in the Denver Zoo.
A giraffe in the Denver Zoo.

A Little Busy Right Now. Here’s A Picture.

Work has bled over into the evening hours lately, so I haven’t had time for personal writing and editing. Therefore, here is a photo for you to enjoy.

This image was captured during a video shoot on Antelope Island, about 30 miles northwest of Salt Lake City. I used a Nikon D7000, a 50mm f1.4 lens, and a reverse grad ND filter I recently purchased. The filter used to belong to Garrett Smith, who was the first person to show me how to use filters for landscape photography. (Thanks, G.)

For more on Antelope Island, which is rad, see this post. I have plenty of bloggy irons in the fire,  too, so don’t be a stranger.

– The Blockhead Lord

Sunset from Antelope Island
Sunset from Antelope Island

Photo Friday: Some Shots from the Camera Phone

No time to chat. But here’s a quick Photo Friday gallery for you. All images taken with my Android Inspire’s 8mp camera phone.

Photo Friday: City Life

I lived in New York City for four years, Brooklyn another four. Though I was in school for much of that time, the city itself was an education. I snapped a lot of photos of the urban experience, but most of them are on film and exist only in that frustratingly difficult to share analog format. (If you’re ever in the neighborhood, stop by and we can leaf through the pages of my many albums.) Following are just a scanty few of the interesting scenes I managed to capture with a digital camera.

Attack of the Drones: Shooting Climbing from Any Angle

Drone helicopter in action
A drone helicopter in action. This image is from a nikonrumors.com guest post by the Swiss climber/photographer Fred Moix.

I recently watched (via DVD) Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson attempt to free climb a particularly blank line up Dawn Wall in Yosemite. Even though I’m a jaded former climbing magazine editor, I was amazed as the camera revealed a barren, vertiginous world of golden granite that few humans will ever visit. I watched, slackjawed, as the duo battled to crimp down on ripples and slivers, took massive whippers thousands of feet above the valley floor, slept on a portaledge, pooped… . It was clear to me how the climbers got to their lonely, suspended perch, but, hey, how did those get cameras up there? Perhaps you’ve wondered the same thing when watching vids like these.

Well, I know a few of the crazy dudes who do this high-angle camera work, and the truth is, they’re climbers, too. The camera operators must be comfortable with the heights and inherent dangers of climbing, fit enough to get where they need to go while hauling a big fracking bag of camera gear up with them, and have a solid understanding of safety gear and techniques. Oh, they also have to know how to point a camera in the right direction and a push the little red button, too.

While the grueling process just described isn’t bound to change anytime soon, there is a new weapon in the climbing documentarian’s arsenal: the remote-control helicopter. I came across this guest post from Swiss photographer Fred Moix on Nikon Rumors today and felt the urge to share. In it, Fred explains his use of aerial drones for getting far-out shots from pretty much any angle. Fred isn’t the first to use this technique, and the rig he shows in the post, while effective, seems to be pretty DIY. A more polished version can be seen at dedicam.tv. Mammut enlisted the aid of the folks at Dedicam in the making of the video below, which really captures the feel of exposure, height, and freedom that climbing offers.

While no climbing video has really pushed the limits of this technology yet, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see aerial shots incorporated to into more videos from big-name production companies, just as we’ve come to expect artsy DSLR depth-of-field focus pulls and mechanized time lapse slider shots.

Media makers are constantly pushing to document the act and beauty of climbing in greater detail and from wilder perspectives. And while no series of images, words, and sounds will ever match the soul-expanding intensity of a great day out on the rock, quality documentation does offer new ways of looking at, understanding, and sharing our passions. It brings new climbers to the sport and inspires old ones to don their dusty shoes again. In this regard, I see the untethered, dragonfly views that aerial drones enable as a welcome addition to the photographer’s or videographer’s quiver. And I’m excited to see what’s next.

Anyone out there have some other rad examples of climbing footage (or footage from any sport, really) shot with aerial drones? I’d love to see ‘em. Post your links in the comments.

 — Update –

A commenter pointed out, as did the videographer Corey Rich himself, via Twitter, that the D4 premier video Why incorporated RC heli shots. These appear in both the kayaking (or extreme canoeing, as I like to call it) and climbing segments of the movie. I watched Why several times and, frankly, I’m very disappointed in myself for missing that [snaps self with one of several rubber bands worn around wrist]. Embedded below are both the making-of, where you get to see the RC heli crashing and being repaired, and the original short movie, which is masterfully put together.

Photo Friday: A Farewell to Mozzie

Mozzie and K

About a week ago, a Facebook message caught our eye. It was from the Friends of Animals adoption center, Furburbia, a classy operation up in Park City run by diehard dog lovers. The message said that a litter of Aussie shepherd puppies had come in unexpectedly, and they all needed to be moved out of the center and away from other dogs while their vaccinations took effect.

K– and I have a dog already. His name is Bodhi. He’s an intelligent blue heeler with resource guarding and other issues. Still, we’ve long wondered what would happen if we got a second dog, so we decided to foster one of the pups from Furburbia as an experiment.

We picked up the puppy on a sunny afternoon and brought her home. From the start she was sweet and mellow. A little nervous, but happy to snuggle in anyone’s lap. She was painfully cute. The prototypical puppy, with soft fur, floppy ears, and a happy little yap that came out during playtime. We named her Mozzie and spent the week getting acquainted, knowing all the while we weren’t going to keep her. It was hard though. She won over everyone she met with her excess of cute. Every once in a while, we crossed into the “what if” territory, but always pulled back. Our hands are full as it is, and our little rented bungalow is pretty well at capacity, too.

As for the Bodhi experiment, things went better than expected. The two would play for hours on end, Bodhi, at two years old, acting every bit as goofy and puppy-like as the ten week old Mozzie. A good sign for a future when we might be more ready to bring a second dog into the house.

Today we will say goodbye to Mozzie. A friend of a friend has already vowed to meet us at Furburbia when we drop her off in the afternoon, so they can be sure to get her before anyone else. It’s not easy to give her up, as she’s already managed to tangle herself up in our heartstrings, but it’s the way it must be. With that, I dedicate this Photo Friday to Mozzie the dog. May she have a long and happy life.

No Time To Waste: Memories of Garrett Smith

Garrett Smith on the airport shuttle
Garrett (left) on the airport shuttle with his friend Dustin during the first leg of a long trip to Mexico.

We meet a lot of people in a lifetime. Most of them we forget within hours or even minutes of a first encounter. Those who stick with us are woven into our neurons by repetition, over the course of years, through shared experience — a parent, a significant other, a best friend from childhood, for example. But there is another sort of person, those with whom we share much shorter, simpler relationships, who leave unexpected impressions on us, too. Their presence sticks in our subconscious like a fine cactus needle unwittingly picked up on a desert walk. Only a brief encounter, but then, later — sometimes much later — we touch the spot where the needle has nestled and feel its sting. To me, Garrett Smith was one of these people.

Garrett died a year ago today in an avalanche. He we swept away in the backcountry, ironically and unbearably while testing snowpack stability. He was with his wife and several of his friends, experienced and cautious backcountry skiers.  His loss was particularly painful, because Garrett was only twenty-six years old. He was young and driven. He followed his passions — photography, skiing, and climbing, among many others — with an intensity few would or could match. It is cliché to say someone was taken in their prime, but here it is hard to avoid the expression. Married less than a year, just coming into his own creatively and professionally, Garrett seemed poised on the cusp of great things. But in the end he found himself on the wrong side of the line when that slope fractured and gave way. When his friends dug him out fifteen minutes later, he was already unconscious, unbreathing, without a pulse. They performed CPR enough to bring his heart back online, but his brain never followed. When his body arrived at the hospital, it had just enough life left in it to offer a final gift to the world of the living; his organs were given to others in need.

Garrett at the Hammers Inc. Art Festival
Garrett at the Hammers Inc. Art Festival, which he founded. The festival was another one of those things that a lot of people talk about doing, but that Garrett actually did.

Looking back, I didn’t know Garrett that well. Mostly, he was my co-worker. Less than a year after I was hired he passed. Our encounters were limited. We both went for pho lunches on Mondays with a small crew of co-workers, we both went to Mexico for an international climbing festival hosted by our employer, and I once participated in a photography workshop that he led in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Other than that, we spoke briefly around the office and nodded to each other on the train when commuting to work. Our conversations were never exceptionally personal, mostly snippets of camera and climbing chat. But still, his memory sticks with me. I feel its sudden twinge from time to time. I felt it just the other day.

*   *   *

Garrett was six foot seven, bass-voiced, with a ruddy nose that seemed always to be running, and a rotating selection of facial-hair configurations. He wore unorthodox outfits — Hawaiian shirts and sandals with socks, colorful scarves from the Middle East. After pre-dawn ski runs, he’d come into the office and work in his thermal underwear, one long-boned leg pronged unabashedly up on the desk, much to the chagrin of his co-wokers in neighboring cubicles. He was expansive in both physical form and in his passions.

Garrett bouldering in the distance
Garrett in the distance, climbing as my model during his photo workshop up Big Cottonwood Canyon.

One of the first times I encountered Garrett was on a northbound train, heading from Salt Lake City to Clearfield, where our office is located. On the bench seat, his knees came up towards his chest, like an adult sitting in a child’s chair. His bike rested next to mine at the end of the train car. He was quiet, and we didn’t speak. When we got off the train and mounted up, I started to pedal hard, interested to see how this lanky introvert would keep up. Within seconds, he had opened a large gap between us. I eased off a few blocks later, realizing I’d have to go all out just to catch him. Clearly, I was outgunned. Later, I learned he biked miles to and from the train every day, through rain and heat and the slushy Salt Lake City winter, all in an effort to save up for a car. But that was his way: he had plans and refused to compromise. At the time, I didn’t think much of encounters like these, but, it turns out, they were leaving impressions in my subconscious.

Now, Garrett’s memory needles me, inspires me not to just kick back in front of the TV with a beer at the end of the day, but to create something. He is one of the reasons I started writing this blog, taking photography more seriously, and believing that there is no time to waste when it comes to going after what you want in this world. The fact that he died while in the thick of this pursuit only makes me want to work harder, write faster, think bigger thoughts.

*   *   *

I went up into the foothills surrounding Salt Lake City the other day. It had snowed at elevation, but the valley was dry. I chugged up the steep, rocky path with my camera bag, my blue heeler Bodhi out in front. After a while, I arrived at the snow line. The cover was thin and muddy at first, but soon grew thick, until I was breaking trail shin deep. On the high ridges, the snow was up past my knees and every step was a battle. Even Bodhi, hyper-active by breed, looked exhausted by the slow, damp progress.

Salt Lake Valley panorama
The panorama I shot while hiking up in the foothills above Salt Lake City. Whenever I carry my camera gear into some remote or scenic location, I remember Garrett. (Click to magnify the image.)

Heart hammering and quadriceps burning, something triggered my memories of Garrett: flying away from me on his bike; in Mexico, loaded like a burro with bags of camera gear; in Big Cottonwood during his photo clinic, bounding over teetering granite blocks in search of the perfect composition. He was perpetually kinetic, happiest when he was moving forward, constantly working towards something. My bag felt lighter at the memory. I pressed higher, to a peak with a view of the entire valley. The whole of downtown was just a little pile of rectangles, with the Great Salt Lake laid out like an old, tarnished mirror beyond and the snow-capped Oquirrh mountains beside it.

I remembered some of the landscape photos Garrett had taken, which I hadn’t really appreciated until after his death, probably blinded by a stubborn sense of competitiveness. I stood in the snow with my camera and starting snapping, changing lenses and snapping some more, letting the snow melt and soak my pants and shoes. My fingers went numb but I kept shooting. Cold, wet, it was no problem; I’d be warm again as soon as I started moving. It wouldn’t have stopped Garrett. The light wasn’t perfect, and I knew the difference between me and Garrett is that he would have been up here hours earlier, just as the morning was igniting the valley in its first, golden light. He would have gone the extra step to get the shot.

I told myself next time I’d do it that way, too.

Click here for Garrett Smith’s portfolio on the Hammers Inc. Photography website

Click here for a nice post from the Adventure Journal on Garrett

Photo Friday: Get Thee To Antelope Island

A view of Antelope Island from the entrance before the causeway
A colorful view of Antelope Island from the entrance area before the causeway, which bridges a pungent expanse of the Great Salt Lake.

It is a strange phenomenon when people who live very near to something extraordinary pay it no mind. I call it local’s apathy. I myself have suffered from local’s apathy. I lived in New York City for eight years and never once visited the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. I went to the Natural History Museum and Times Square twice each.

Now that I live in Salt Lake City, I make it a point to check out as many of the cool parks and preserves as possible, from the Shoreline Bonneville Trail to Arches National Park. In part because I’m new here and apathy hasn’t yet settled in. But also because I keep encountering people who have been here their entire lives without visiting the amazing natural places Utah has to offer. Antelope Island is one of those places.

My fiancée holds a romanticized vision of the American West close to her heart, so Antelope Island is a fantasy land for her. There are rolling vistas textured with decomposing stone outcrops dating back to the dinosaur age, an unlikely herd of America Bison nearly 800 strong, an old settlers’ farmhouse kept up for educational purposes, and a wild view of the Great Salt Lake, one of the world’s largest inland bodies of water. (And yes, there are also Antelope on the island.)

And all of this is just thirty miles from downtown Salt Lake City. Thirty miles! You can actually see Salt Lake City from the Antelope Island. Other than the funky Salt Lake smell and buggy summers, I can think of no reason not to go. Salt Lakers who haven’t been here yet are suffering from the worst kind of locals’ apathy.

Below are a few photos from Antelope Island to help you motivate to make the trip. More info on this unique State Park here and here.

American Bison on Antelope Island
An American Bison in repose amongst the dry grasses of Antelope Island.
The view from atop Frary Peak, Antelope Island's high point.
Atop Frary Peak, Antelope Island's high point, looking out across the Great Salt Lake towards the southern end of the island. The hike to this spot is about three and a half miles each way, with two thousand feet of vertical gain.
A view of rolling hills from the start of Frary Peak Trail.
A view of rolling hills from the start of Frary Peak Trail, hikers in the distance.
My special lady atop Dooly Knob, a lesser peak on Antelope Island.
Kristin M. atop Dooly Knob, a lesser peak on Antelope Island. A beautiful storm was rolling in as I set up some strobes and snapped this shot. We made it back to the car just before the rain started.

Photo Friday: Art & Architecture in LA

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and took a walk by the Disney Opera House, part of the LA Philharmonic complex and designed by the inimitable Frank Gehry. The following photos are from those two spots. Happy Friday!

For more photos from our trip to LA, click here.

For a write up of some of the great food we found in LA, click here.

Photolog – LA | Santa Monica | Venice

Travel report to come… For now, enjoy some photos.

Open House: Art On Iowa

The Art on Iowa House
The Art on Iowa House

Salt Lake City’s Iowa Street is a diminutive thoroughfare, existing only between 300 South and 200 South. It’s less a street than a block-long one-way alley, tightly arrayed with middle-class houses. Wood planks, brick, peeling paint, yard plots maybe big enough to lie down in, a few gravel parking spots, the odd tree. Halfway along Iowa on the east side of the street is the brick edifice of Tim and Camille Erickson’s house, site of Art On Iowa, a gallery concept devised to make viewing art more of a personal, communal act, than a sterile and pretentious one.

I first encountered Tim and Camille in New York, where Tim and I both were in a Masters writing program. We all ended up in Salt Lake City by coincidence — them mostly because it’s their hometown and me for work. When Tim braved Facebook (for the first time) to announce Art on Iowa, I was immediately interested. Salt Lake City is a cultural dead zone compared to Manhattan, or even to my last town of residence, Boulder, Colorado. Every creative spark here offers promise of a new age of enlightenment. Also, I have a friend who ran house concerts in Denver and Boulder under the name Back Forty Presents. Those crowded, super-personal little performances were unique experiences worthy of duplication.

The artist showing her work at Art on Iowa
The artist showing her work at Art on Iowa

On the night of the event, from my stance beneath the house’s green-columned portico, I could see through the glass outer door into the clean, well-lighted interior. Looking past a little handwritten note Scotch Taped to the door (“Doorbell broken. Please knock.”) around 9 p.m., a well-dressed, hipper-than-usual crowd was visible. Thirty or so people mingled and maneuvered, clumping together in conversation or else wandering the peripheries of the rooms to examine the dozen or so framed photographs by the artist Michelle Buhler.

Tim and Camille patrolled the party conversing with the guests, some of whom they’d known since childhood, others who were complete strangers. Four or five young children (presumably belonging to the guests) played raucously around the adults’ knees. Far from being upset, Tim expressed joy at their presence. It was all part of his vision for the show. It reminded me of the open-house days at the Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg, where whole families would come and drink, order pizza, and look at local artists’ works in an old-school block party atmosphere.

A Michelle Buhler photograph, on show at Art on Iowa
A Michelle Buhler photograph, on show at Art on Iowa

Tim’s attire was a kind of professorial chic — a broad, patterned tie beneath a dark cardigan, thick-framed retro specs, and blond, pointed goatee. I asked him about the motivation behind Art on Iowa. “You know, we came from NYC, from that shark tank, where everyone preens and postures at these kinds of openings, everyone sizes each other up,” he said. “Part of our inspiration for this was to provide a place where serious art could be shown, but that avoids that sort of fake-o stuffiness.”

Boxes of wine and a bucket of beer on ice sat next to a collections jar in the kitchen. In the den, the artist discussed photographs (“They’re inspired by the movie Apocalypse Now”), which featured colored blooms of smoke rising up out of assorted natural landscapes. The images were brightly lit, the scenes conspicuously lacking a human element. Their starkness implied a trauma somewhere out of the picture. “I specifically am drawn to smoke signals in the context of war,” Buhler’s artist statement begins. “I am interested in the phenomenon that the occurrence of something beautiful is contingent on an opposite or less-attractive happening at or around the same time.”

A guest and a photograph at Art on Iowa
A guest and a photograph at Art on Iowa

“Where’s a red marker?” cried Tim after one guest expressed his desire to make a purchase. “We need to put a red dot next to the piece to show that it’s been sold!” Camille, who studied painting in college, stood nearby in a simple black dress and a brightly patterned scarf to hold back her fine blond hair, a cup of wine in hand. The proliferation of beer bottles and plastic wine cups, while not worthy of note at art openings elsewhere in America, was a bit outside the norm for Salt Lake City — a fact that seemed to make the guests appreciate their drinks all the more.

In New York, Tim co-directed a poetry series called Speakeasy. Would he be interested in bringing readings to the Art On Iowa setting? I asked. “Readings are so fraught with stuffiness, and so often sheer boredom, that they are very difficult to pull off.” He replied, adding, “if we can come up with some formula to get poets heard (in a world where we poor poets… are completely ignored unless we’re playing guitar), that would absolutely be a part of Art on Iowa’s mission.” Music, too, is on the docket, as long as the noise doesn’t reach an un-neighborly level.

The shoes of the very first Art on Iowa
The shoes of the very first Art on Iowa

The goal with Art On Iowa is eventually to have a show on the third Friday of every month, though at the moment every other month will have to suffice. Originally, the couple hoped to get several houses on the tiny street to open their walls to art, to create an Art On Iowa gallery stroll, of sorts, but Friday’s opening was the first, and Tim seemed unsure whether his neighbors would follow through. “If we don’t get anyone else,” he said, “we’re still excited to keep it going at our place.”

For those interested in showing their work at Art On Iowa, email the Ericksons at artoniowa@inkwill.com, along with JPEGs of three representative pieces of work. And for those who want to attend future shows, send an email saying as much to the same address, and you’ll be added to the mailing list.

Photo Friday: Three From China

I’ve been taking pictures since I was a wee lad. My parents got me a basic film SLR when I was in high school, and I shot as much as I could afford to develop (ah, the good ol’ film days!). Starting in college, I began to work my way up the digital ranks. An early Sony point and shoot, then a D70, D80, D700, and I just put in a pre-order on the D800.

These days, I live in scenic Salt Lake City. Well, the surrounding mountains are scenic, at least… when they’re not shrouded in lung-searing smog. I also travel a lot for work and for pleasure. Both things offer plenty of great photo opportunities. Recently, I went to China for the Petzl RocTrip. I managed to grab a few nice shots, three of which comprise my first “Photo Friday” post. If you like them, keep your eye out for my travel report from RocTrip China, coming soon. In the meantime, Andrew Bisharat, on his blog eveningsends.com, has posted on the same topic, here and here.

A Farmer Plowing in the Getu River Valley, China
A farmer plowing his rice field in the Getu River Valley, China
Climbing on the Rim of the Great Arch
Climbers on the outer rim of the Great Arch, a limestone formation so large that Chinese fighter jets once flew through its mouth, or so I've read.
Two Climbing Couples Being Wed in the Village of Getu He
Two climbing couples getting married in the village of Getu He, just before a big dance party started. A moment later, climbing legend Lynn Hill came out and helped perform the ceremony. It was a surreal moment, at least for the Westerners in the audience.