You Call That Work?

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Mojave National Preserve, Kelso, California, USA

Mojave National Preserve, Kelso, California, USA

OK, photography won’t solve climate change or reduce our dependence on petroleum. It won’t provide new jobs or feed hungry families. This one job doesn’t do that much to feed my family either.

So why spend days planning and hours shooting photographs? Is it really work if you enjoy it? What is the value? Are you contributing anything?

If you will excuse a somewhat personal and serious posting, I wanted to talk about these issues from my perspective. I used to work as a soil scientist. Now I am a photographer.

My previous goals included obtaining a graduate degree in a rigorous field science and applying that to providing useful and reliable information to people who manage natural resources. I spent over three decades conducting field work (hand excavation of soil pits to determine soil properties) and eventually developing and implementing new methods. Computer technology, remote sensing (satellite image analysis), statistical models, and geographic information systems were added to the field data to help create useful maps of soils.

Most people don’t really know what a soil scientist does. But a person has to be motivated to contribute something of value in order to deal with the hard physical labor in remote locations, the heat, the snakes, the wind, the cold, the rain, and the challenge of figuring out complex landscape patterns. I was motivated by the value of what we soil scientists produce. Since life on earth depends on what grows in, passes through, or decays in the soil, it is obvious that we need to know about the soils around us. We all benefit when somebody goes out there and figures them out and makes us a map.

I am still involved in soil science and remote sensing applications, but I have turned my attention to photography. In particular, I am interested in travel photography. My value system is based on hard work, integrity, responsibility, and doing my part. Old fashioned perhaps, but still important values. So after many years of professional service I still need to contribute. I don’t want to be satisfied with what I have done and now go on extended vacation. These are common motivations-nothing too noble.

So what am I trying to contribute and is it really work?

I am trying to contribute a vantage point to a different place and time. Somewhere vivid and interesting where you can see, feel, and maybe hear and smell new things. If I can put you there, yes, maybe you hear and smell with your imagination. These photographs can provide an escape to a place you have not experienced or a reminder of a place that you enjoyed in the past. I hope that you can savor what it is like to be there. The value of this is that whatever you deal with each day, the brief moments that you can escape to another place can be relaxing, rejuvenating, stimulating, or fun. Maybe this can help you get more out of your day or trigger ideas. Maybe they will just help you feel better for a few minutes.

Is it work? Well, I guess it doesn’t need to be work. But I approach it as a professional endeavor. I will tell you, for a person who has spent many years dealing with hard science and facts, it is interesting to try to create art. When I am traveling for photography I plan and spend each day with photographic themes and goals. I am willing, and sometimes forced, to ad lib. The days are long. I put a lot of thought and energy into pursuing the theme for each day. I learn a lot, especially from my mistakes. The photography and site challenges are combined with cultural and language challenges. My wife helps me a great deal. And we are planning excursions to Spain, Morocco, and other places in the near future.

So I am still motivated to contribute something of value. But now I am contributing creativity rather than facts. I hope that you enjoy this work. Thank you for your patience with this personal explanation, if you read this far! When I started this posting I didn’t know where it was going, but maybe I needed to get that off my chest.

The self portrait above was the result of a long, weekend afternoon in the Mojave Desert. I was trying for a very long depth of field so you could see the late afternoon shadows of the gravel and sand in the foreground (OK, I’m a soil scientist, sorry) and the shrubs, but still see 20 miles across the basin to the mountains beyond.

It was a hot, quiet afternoon. Can you hear the wind rustling in the brush? Can you smell the baking vegetation? Can you imagine the shadows moving across the scene as the clouds float by? Can you feel the setting sun on your back?  Photo:  1/40 s at f/22

You can visit my online galleries to view more of my portfolio. Click the Photography link above.

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