Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mount Whitney, F-Bombs and The Hail (Mary)

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home and that wilderness is a necessity...”

- John Muir

It was quite a moment the other day.
Actually, it was more like an eternity.

My friend and I had been planning a backpacking trip to the summit of Mount Whitney.
Not the popular one day schlep wearing a fanny pack, but rather the two day haul wearing a 50 pound one.
It sounded more enjoyable.
I had done this before and he asked me to join him as he wanted to check this off of his "bucket list."

Fyi, Mount Whitney is located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Range and is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. At 14,505 feet, it's not quite the expedition which involves a slew of Sherpas - but there is a good chance that you will find yourself gasping for air and wishing you had one or two of them.

Day one was a hump and we made it to the base camp in great time.

And then came day two.

It was about two hours prior to sunrise when we headed up the infamous switchbacks. The sun was buried beneath a bank of clouds in the White Mountains and all was well.

Arriving at the trail crest we found ourselves looking at an ominous western sky, moving northwest and at a pretty good click too. We decided to continue on our northern ascent while keeping a cautious eye on the western horizon.

By the time we reached the backside of Whitney, we were all in. It was about 25 degrees and light hail was starting to fall. In another ten minutes we'd be at the summit where we would smile for a picture and then scram down, lickity-split.
That was our game plan.

We were a bit anxious when we reached it and we were immediately greeted by a threesome equally so. They had just summited via the East Face. The weather had turned ugly and their worried faces justified my own as they must have been racing up the final pitch as the dark cloud from the eastern sky came in on their heals.

Our eyes intersected as we watched each others worries collide above our heads, mine from the west and their's from the east.

I was the first to hear it - and it only lasted a second.

Say the word "Volt."

Now say it again and leave out the "olt."

That's what I heard.

The three mountaineers screamed "We've got about thirty seconds!"
That seemed a bit generous.

I'm not sure what happened next - the static electricity developing in my arms and in the back of my neck or the buzzing sound from the 102 year old hut perched on top of the summit. If you've ever heard an angry rattlesnake, add volume and bass and you'll get a taste of what it sounded like.
That was about the time when I told everyone to get the hell out of Dodge because we were about to get struck by lightning.

There were seven of us at the summit. Two of them ran into the hut, ignoring me as I screamed for them to stay out of there.
A metal roof? With nine lightning rods? What were they thinking?
I was pissed off. Mad at them for going inside and mad at myself for not turning around earlier.

As for the three mountaineers?
They simply vanished. Honest to God.
It was as though they were three angels who lit on the summit to tell us what was about to transpire.
The backside of Whitney is massive, exposed and the only thing that I can come up with is that they performed a record setting wind sprint in full regalia or they were vaporized by a lightning bolt.

Or maybe they were angels.

So what next?

What do you do in a blur of confusion riddled with hail, lightning and f-bombs?

Well, in the heat of the moment here is what you would do if you were me and you'd do it in a heartbeat too.

You would ditch your most accessible metallic items, sit on your pack and put the soles of your boots on the ground while hunkered into a ball. You would tell yourself that this is no fucking joke and then you would start in with "Hail Mary full of grace..."
And when you get to the part that says "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."
Well... you would say that line over and over again.

My friend basically followed my lead but added his own twist when he tossed his Snickers Bar as though it were a pin pulled grenade - thinking it was his Leatherman.
Like I said, it was a blur of confusion.

As we struggled to get off the backside, this course of action repeated itself two more times before we decided to hunker down and wait for the sky to clear a bit. It did and we were off to the races. We still had a little less than two miles to cover along the exposed western crest. It was like running through a minefield while holding your breath.

Although we hadn't felt or heard any static since descending the backside, the sky remained ominous, there was plenty of lightning and we were weary. We came upon a guy who seemed pretty rattled himself and rightfully so. He was alone and was headed to the summit. He told us that a few minutes earlier, his hair had been standing straight in the air. I suggested he do an about-face and follow us over the crest. But with him being in his early twenties and most likely feeling a bit invincible, he pressed on.

Long story short, we made it back and as far as I know everyone else did too.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Blaming it on Genetics

"The acorn is endowed with the spirit of the oak."
- Benjamin F. Schmidt

My father had a thing for trees, primarily old ones.

The more riddled they were with gnarled branches twisting and turning, the more likely the attraction.
And whenever he passed one with his Pentax Spotmatic in hand, I can call to mind as if watching it unfold before me this minute... with him hunkering into an uncomfortable position, holding the camera vertically with the ever familiar arching of his right hand while his index finger hovered a breath away from the shutter release. Always vertical, and with his camera pointed at the heavens too. And when his familiar subject took root in the bottom right corner of the frame, as it always did, he would press the shutter release button which I always felt was closer to a trigger being pulled than not.
He had taken the same picture time and time again. Of course there were different locations along the way and he was open to the variety of specimens that dotted the California landscape. I seem to recall Jeffrey Pines being a favorite. A few years ago I took him to see an ancient grove of Bristlecone Pines located high in the White Mountains. A spiritual place for sure and I remember him being moved to tears as we walked among them.
So when I recently found myself in a similar rant on Mesa Verde... I could only shake my head at the familiarity of it all. This time around, the subject matter was beetle ravaged trees against a mid-afternoon sky.

And if it all seems redundant... I’d ask you to cut this guy some slack, as I blame it on genetics.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Connection

Here are a few selects from a recent health care related shoot in which I needed to capture unrehearsed moments between an elderly woman and a caretaker (in this case, her granddaughter).
There definitely needed to be an honest, emotional connection within the imagery - which there was. I just let it all unfold... one frame at a time.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Conversation

"If you associate enough with older people who enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos, you will gain a sense of continuity and the possibility for a full life."

- Margaret Mead

Our grandparent's generation is slowly fading away.

They are an aspect of our lives that is usually taken for granted and that's a shame because most people never really appreciate something until it's gone.

If you happen to have a family member who is a part of what Brokaw named our "greatest generation," consider yourself lucky.
In my family, there is only one.

I've always found it easy to connect with this generation. Their lives are full of experiences that most of us will never encounter. And I suspect a sizable number of us would not have been able to overcome the same adversities.

I've also found that if you just sit tight, show a genuine interest in their story and listen... more times than not a contagious dose of old school sensibility will be yours for the taking.

When I was considering subject matter in which to focus my latest short video on, I thought of a woman who happened to be turning 90 and how I'd like to recollect a few moments from her life.

Roll it...

So go ahead and have a lengthy conversation with someone that fits the bill. I'd stay clear of topics such as the weather and aches and pains as they are ever changing - but that's just me.
Ask them about various aspects of their life... their trials and tribulations, the good times and the not so. You'll get more out of this conversation than you realize.

And one day, you'll cherish the memory.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Shoot Dogs Too

Here are a couple of my favorites from a campaign that I shot for a national brand of dog food.
Had a great time planning out how the elements would be captured & was able to watch it piece together oh, so smooth. I'm generally not hired to create images in this manner - which is unfortunate, because it's a process that I am totally comfortable with.
In truth, I find it extremely satisfying - love the "smoke & mirrors" aspect that is applied to imagery as such.
It's the third time that I've worked with this agency & fingers crossed that we're able to do more cool work down the road.
A huge thank you to Carter Weitz & Ron Sack for throwing me the bone on this campaign (sorry for that one).
Check 'em out - a stellar group to work with...