Photomaker: Origins

January 21, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Though there are some who will argue the point, I was not born the epic specimen of bearded magnificence that so many of you have come to love or hate. No. I can admit it. Like everyone else, I started somewhere. It's not an easy road that I have trudged nor should it have been. The truth is I'm still travelling down that lonely stretch of highway...usually under the influence of strong drink and never careful. 

So as the muse strikes, I find myself wanting to suddenly speak in the third person and impart a little lesser-known knowledge about the Moose(that's me...don't act like you haven't heard). Rest easy and quiet your fragile hearts because this is not a story of my life thus far or how I have managed to survive it with most of my parts intact. This is a story telling of the small flash of history that set me on the unlikely path to becoming a photographer...photomaker...light jockey...picture man...whatever you choose to call what I do. 

I have always felt more at home in the middle of some wilderness than I ever have or ever will while dwelling amongst other humans. Well, I should say most humans because I have gradually learned that some of you are very fine and agreeable people. Still, as time and experience age me I look back and understand that my love for the wild places and the outdoors was imparted to me by my father through many walks through woods and along rivers. And it is here, on one of these journeys with my father into those great mountains called The Appalachians that I first caught the disease that would consume much of my attention as I became a man.

It was a hellishly hot summer of a year I don't rightly recall. I remember that I must have been around the early teenaged years or just before. Even then I was completely in love with my mountains. I loved how the rain made them seem even more welcoming and the smokey haze is something that I still stop and watch quietly when I visit today. My mother was back at the hotel relaxing and I had commissioned my dad to take me fly fishing into the upper reaches of the Little River at Elkmont. On our drive to east TN, we had stopped at a Wal-Mart in Pigeon Forge I think, to get a few things and I talked my parents into buying a Kodak Black and White disposable camera. I don't remember why I wanted black and white instead of color but it was a choice that would shape my thoughts on photography even to this day. 

As we fished our way upstream I compiled selective snapshots of the various things you find along the banks of a river: trees, water, rocks, my dad tying my line for me. Somewhere around the two mile mark on the Little River Trail there is a small wooden bridge that spans over what I would later discover is called Husky Gap Creek. This small patch of mountain water rushes under the trail and into the river below. As it flows down the mountain it creates little pockets of waterfalls most not more than a few feet high. This is the "jumping off" point that marks the boundary of the Elkmont backcountry and it would become a place I have passed by many times over the years. Its the location of...ah hell, I'm rambling again.

Anyway, it was here among those tiny waterfalls on Husky Gap Creek where I made the photo that I still consider the beginning of my photographic career. Here is a photograph of that photograph.

By all admissions, this photograph is a pile of technical shit. ...washed out textures and harsh lighting. But for a little boy with a cheap disposable camera it had might as well  been some kind of elvish magic. You have to understand that I had never seen water like this. Ever. The way it was frozen by the flash and whatever shutter speed that was dialed in by whatever Chinaman(not the preferred nomenclature) who happened to pull the shift at the Kodak factory and assembled that camera.  I saw the image as chaos captured and rendered somehow serene. I was completely astounded by how something so common could be made to look so different by simply pressing a button. I honestly believe it was then, as a boy in the middle of all those little waterfalls that I found one of my life's passions.

Here is an image I made a couple of years ago during one of my returns to Elkmont.

Granted even it is not the best exposure but I do believe somewhere in the photo is the original spot where all of this madness began. It is still a very special place for me and always will be.  It is a memory that remains super glued into some distant corner of the emotionally corroded block of old iron that the doctors insist is my heart.


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