Some old things

My Macbook that I bought right after graduating high school, now two and a half years ago (!!), is sitting next to me, trying desperately to assess its own wounds. It’s been randomly restarting, cutting in and out, and that’s quite frustrating. It feels too late to go into the studio to do the work I was going to do on it tonight, and looking at financing plans for a new laptop or a new computer is really just stressing me out about the prospect of paying for it for the foreseeable future. My laptop is like my car, is like my ability to walk- so vital and forgettable until it’s thrown into peril, and then things get difficult and, well, expensive to deal with.

I was going to plug away writing about work that I’m doing right now, but that’s a bit frustrating to do when I can’t actually see the photos (they’re on my Mac formatted external hard drive), so I’m on this old, old machine that I built when I was just going into high school, now six and a half years ago (!!!!). On it is all the photography I did before coming to college. Let’s have a stroll together and think of simpler times as I avoid idly sitting here and becoming more stressed as I stare at nothing and worry.


So, this was the first photo that came up when I opened Lightroom. This was one of the photos I took between senior and freshman years, wherein I was absolutely enamored with Ansel Adams and would not admit it, but yeah I was absolutely fan-boying out when pretty much every photo I took was in black and white. “Oh yeah, I really find it’s more fertile ground for expressing formal relationships and translating…” blah blah blah, I borrowed all the words I learned from books written half centuries ago on photography to try to explain how I had like, you know, really figured something out.

What ugly images these were! Ahhh it’s too funny now- taking color images on my cheap DSLR and converting them to black and white, yeah, I was really doing it! Doing high formalist photography! Too funny.


It’s fun going back into Lightroom and seeing the “contact sheets” of my early photography. We were talking about this in critique today, actually, that contact sheets are interesting because you get a fuller idea of thought, sometimes, without editing: the entire thread of thought can begin to be sussed out, rather than the narrative the photographer pushes. When I was done with high school, I made an edit of everything I’d ever made- the best stuff, as I saw it from that vantage point. I’ve flipped through this on several occasions, but some of this stuff, I haven’t seen since I took it.

The above photo is almost certainly one I might take on some occasion nowadays. Granted, the composition is somewhat sloppy and the relationship I’m certain I was trying to highlight is being lost, but regardless, it’s funny to look back. Formally, this is very in line with work I might make these days.

That said, there are also funny formal tics that I feel like I’ve lost interest in. This says nothing to me. However, I dug a hole last week in the middle of the forest and found that to be quite fruitful, the imagery to be quite strong. There are other things I’ve stopped taking photos of- downed trees, skeletal and slanting against the vertical standing trees. Those have dropped off of my radar of interests. I saw one the other day, it caught my eye, but I had no desire to photograph it.


Some work, I still stand behind to this day- this image is on my website currently, and I still think is probably one of the finest portraits I’ve ever made with a 4×5. Now, these are really crapshots, I liked to front like I knew what I was doing, but ultimately, there was definitely an element of luck from my stuff in high school. Oh well! Still plenty of luck in my work when I actually do hit something. Oftentimes, it’s just that I’m making more work, being in college for it and all.


A photograph I certainly thought was an absolute failure at the time, now I kinda find charming. It was a long exposure (2-3 minutes if I recall) that I made in a graveyard and thought was really profound. Not that I think the photograph itself (or rather, the suggestion of an image and the overwhelming presence of the process) is profound now, but mostly it’s just charming to look back on.


Ha! Oh man this is too funny to find. Ahhhhh this kills me. I have been taking photos of street signs for far longer than I realized. Like I think I really recently was like “oh yeah I’m just gonna take a lot of photos of signs, they’re so cool, it’s like the text of the landscape… etc.” Blathering on. I’ve so already done this. Might have better words for it now, maybe have a touch more perspective to know when something isn’t all that interesting, but the ideas are so still there.

What I’m kinda realizing is that for as much as it feels like I’ve grown and matured and made incredible strides and leaps and bounds, a lot of that may actually just be posturing. I have no doubt that I’ve grown up a fair bit in the past two and a half years, but really, I probably haven’t changed that much. No more than anyone else, ultimately. Things can look a little different, interests can shift, but the same things still drive desires at a certain point, it seems.


However, to quote the same joke that one of my high school teachers makes every time I see him now when I go back home, “Nick! There’s less of you then when I last saw you!”. It’s nice to have changed in that regard, I suppose.


Also this is TOO GOOD to not share, my senior table at our end of the year art show. I’ve really got no insight to share on this other than how funny it is to see my only honest foray into painting be celebrated so prominently as the centerpieces of summary exhibition of work. I was all “ooh hard edged painting, this I can do”. Again, too funny to not share.


so, this is hilariously identical to a portrait I would take now. Anyway, moving on.


OKAY this is the last photo of me I promise but these have to see the light of day because they’re TOO FUNNY.



Anyway, I bring this up more so because it’s from the first day that I owned my first DSLR, and that’s kind of a funny story.

So, the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I went to a Mennonite youth convention and met Paul Hairston ( who ended up becoming one of my best friends and a huge influence on my photogrpahy (and by extension, eventually met Gaelen Smith,, a friend of Paul’s who has also become a very dear friend, and huge influence in photography). Paul had a T2i, and I played with it for a bit there and had sooOOooo much fun. It was awesome having a camera that I had such control over, that’s what I specifically remember. I went out to shoot with him a few times, later borrowed his camera to go out and photograph, I was really quite hooked.

I thought more and more about it and decided I really wanted my own DSLR. I did a bit of research, picked out the D5100, and told my parents about my plans. I very, very, very distinctly remember telling my dad that it cost about (psh, I knew exactly how much it cost, no “about”) $850. His response was… hesitant, to say the least. I wasn’t letting that stop me.

I worked pretty much full time over the summers, and saved up a bit of money, and right at the end of summer of 2011, after depositing my last paycheck from the farm I worked at, I went and bought a Nikon D5100 at retail price from Crutchfield, in Harrisonburg. I spent basically all the money I had at the time on it, and I didn’t tell my parents. Which, looking back, is hilarious to me. I don’t think I would even spend that much money now without consulting my parents and besides… I lived there. What were they going to do, not find out?

They did, within a few days. Despite my best efforts. Dad clarified his position a bit, and commended me on making a decision, saving up, and buying something. I was just glad that my parents weren’t mad at me.

But it all worked out well in the long run, I suppose. Funny to look back on that story with a bit of drama, the purchasing of my first camera.

13 13-2

So, some of you who may read this from VCU may recognize the guy in the second photo. I’ve known Emmett through one or two people removed for basically four years now- he’s an old friend of Paul’s, was a year ahead of us in high school, went to VCU, and I now hear his name pop up in so many different peoples’ conversations. Like, he’s on the fringe of so many social connections here, it’s wild to think about the fact that I knew him way back in high school.

Anyway, this is a production still from a movie that eventually turned into the film that Paul got accepted into Tisch school of the arts at NYU with (seriously, Paul is super talented). Looking back on these modest beginnings may be far crazier for Paul than it is for me, as he now works on commercial gigs with budgets that probably include single pieces of equipment more expensive than everything we used to shoot this combined. However, looking back on this, I absolutely relish this time as it gave me a really solid ground for understanding basic filmmaking.

That and I had a blast doing it with my friends. Paul and Gaelen had been making films together since they were 11, and I only was in on the fun for a year or so, but what fun it was! This short became Emmett Has a Bad Date and the footage is lost to the digital nothingness of deleted data, unfortunately, but it’s become somewhat of an inside joke because of the absurdity of the writing, acting, Paul’s shooting, and really everything. It was just shenanigans at its finest, and quite a fond memory, looking back at that playful creativity.

Additionally, this is a great example of one of my favorite aspects of when I was learning photography: Playing. Trying to emulate things that we saw, things that were more expensive to do right, but we tried to do it on our own. I remember trying to jerry rig enlargers to fit 4×5 fim, I remember teaching myself to process film in trays. I remember trying to turn an auditorium stage and 500w halogen lamps into a studio. I still love doing stuff like this, but my playing has to become a bit more abstract sometimes: I haven’t mastered photography by any stretch of the imagination, but I have enough of a grasp on the basics that now things like processing film is more of a chore than a grand undertaking. That’s all well and good, but again, it’s fun to look back on where it all started.


One more story, then I’m done. And I would be remiss if I didn’t share this after coming across it in my old photos.

This was the Spirit. A ’93 Dodge that belonged to my great grandfather, who passed it onto my family when we were out of a car and his driving days were drawing to a close. It was my first car, and a car I could drive on my first day of being legally able to, nonetheless. It was… a flawed car. Some belts were loose such that it squealed and squawked when you turned it on. It had only a radio. The paint was going, it was rusting through. But it was my car, and it was fricking awesome.

The freedom to go to and fro was one of my favorite things about having a car. Even before I really did photography, I just loved taking it out for drives around the back country to see what could be seen. When I did start doing photography, it was wonderful to go exploring, drive around after school, on a weekend, see what interesting things there were out there and try to make a photo of them.

And, one day, I thought it would be interesting to pursue a road that seemed to wind up into the mountains. Surely there could be some interesting stuff up there!

After about six miles of smooth packed, switchbacking road, the ground got a bit more treacherous. I don’t know what I was expecting to find, and I thank God that what happened happened when it did. At some point, the low riding Spirit passed over a rock, or not really over so much as through, as it tore through the oil pan and fried the transmission. With some trepidation about my car’s state as the rocks slammed into the weak suspension, I managed to get it turned around. I could tell something was up, it seemed to be slipping a bit, but (again, thank God), I was able to do a 3-point turn at the top of a hill. I started back down.

At the bottom of the hill and at the foot of a rise, nothing happened when I pressed the gas. No gear worked, forward or reverse, the engine revved but did nothing to move the wheels. I was probably about eight miles off the road, with two hours of light left, meager, meager cell reception and just a few %s of power left.

After cursing and kicking and probably a bit of scared crying, I left a note on the dash, gathered what I could from the car, and started walking back towards the road.

I texted my parents on the way down, and had a very brief call. I had the wherewithal to know where I was and texted my dad the information, and planned on hiking back to the road and knocking on a door of a nearby house asking to use the phone if the cell didn’t work.

And I walked and walked. It got dark after a bit, and I think this was one of the loneliest points in my life, walking this deserted road and being able to see the lights of Harrisonburg, so so so far away, feeling at this point quite cold and unsafe.

My dad was there within the hour, though, and hugged me more than he scolded me. That was a welcome reassurance.

The whole ordeal definitely inspired some fear of nature though, which was good. In all my travellings about the semi-wild, I have been all the more cautious ever since. It’s certainly given me that heightened sense of “I am alone right now, this would be a very inopportune time to break my ankle. Or run my car off the road. Or do any number of other things.”

I lost the car but I also got a pretty decent story and things worth reflecting on. However, all the photographs I took while driving up that road really sucked. Oh well!

That’s all for tonight. What fun that was!

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