“Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
I never grew up wanting to travel. Maybe I would one day go to Cancun, or London, or somewhere in the Caribbean. But that was about the extent of it because I didn’t really care. I didn’t want to care. I had everything I could ever need right here and the ole’ U S of A — as well as my own little empire to build. No time for horsing around globe trotting. I had to get busy! But that all changed for me in what seemed like an accident, back in 2005. Perhaps kicking and screaming, but I did it. I left our nation’s borders for the first time and went to Bangladesh. Yep, Bangladesh. And Bangladesh was crazy! The most densely populated country in the world and completely off the chain. Loud. Obnoxious. Crowded. And otherwise quite scary for a traveling noob like myself. I went there to help. Bangladesh has a lot of needs. But I got rocked! Really rocked.
Traveling, if done right, has the potential to give you eyes of perspective for other people. It is probably much more difficult to catch this perspective while staying in plush hotels and resorts and having people wait on you. No. Real travel happens with the real people in their everyday life and routines. It happens behind the glam of the tourist districts where real life is happening. That’s traveling! You’ll see this while sleeping in guest homes and hostels. While eating with your hand and watching yellow curry drip down to your elbow. Or while playing with little kids who have no parents, but love being loved on (and to play ridiculous games with a huge parachute). You see it by investing and exploring with the very people who are those countries. Coming home from Bangladesh was hard. It was hard to see versions of my old self driving in rush hour traffic rich and unhappy. Through some serious soul searching, I ended up changing everything. Traveling then became a huge part of everything.
I have to tell that part of the story first, so that my interest and love for photography has a place to rest. Since 2005 I have spent time in 20 countries on four continents. And during those years abroad, I had the privilege of meeting some amazing artists who have inspired me in ways they may never know. Photography, for me, started in Belfast Northern Ireland while staying in a guest house on the Shankill. (The Shankill is where Bloody Sunday went down decades earlier.) I was there with my friend Matt, who had just acquired the newly released Canon 5D along with several top notch lenses. Matt was an amazing photographer and captured much of the beauty of that place. But what I noticed, when he would show me his shots, was his incredible talent to capture stunning portraits of people. Wrinkly old men, with their faces scrunched up, gazing intently into his lens. Probably ex-IRA, I imagined. What stories they must have… Mothers, with their tender love, determination and beauty emanating through their faces. Sweat on their foreheads. Dirt on their brows. I could see their stories. And Matt had this intense ability to capture this emotion and beauty through his lens that no one else really saw without his help. I fell in love with Matt’s art and desperately longed to see this beauty the way he seemingly did so easily. For three months — and on from Ireland to Scotland and the south of England — I watched Matt document our travels from a perspective that inspired me daily. I, along with my Canon point-and-shoot, followed along and tried to capture every shot he took through my inferior piece of equipment. (Yes, I was that dork!) I too wasn’t so interested in taking pictures of buildings or landscapes. I wanted to see people like Matt did and I wanted to capture them in a way that could be shown to others — a way to share the real world with people back home. I wanted people to be awakened to see the beauty of the world that I had missed out on for so long. And so I kept shooting.
A year later I bought my first digital SLR camera. A Canon 30D as well as a pretty dynamic Canon 17-85mm lens. I was on the top of the world! And for the subsequent years, I took that camera with me everywhere.
My story developed further a year later, as I really began pursue my interest in portraiture. I was staying in a small Thai village on the border of Burma up in the rugged, gray mountains of the northwest. The village was a refugee camp of Burmese people pushed out of their country by internal strife and persecution, which has gone on for decades. So much emotion in those people’s unsettled eyes. Lives that were forever altered. People without a home who had lost literally everything. Yet still happy, somehow. I remember one night struggling in my heart and mind to understand the needs of these people and to have a true, heartfelt compassion for them. It was tough to see as real people because of the vast cultural differences and the realities of struggle and hardship their lives had faced. It was like it wasn’t real, or that I was watching a movie, and I hated feeling disconnected to their evident needs like that. That night, I lay on my thin camping matt, zipped up tight in my sleeping bag and asked God to give me eyes that would see these people the way that he saw them. To see people through my camera lens that would exemplify the beauty and awe that transcended my view of these people. That was my prayer.
Over the subsequent years, this was my continued prayer. And wherever I went, I took my camera and became bold in asking to take photos of the most incredible people I have ever seen or met. This little love for photography became an outlet for a growing love and passion for these people of far off lands. My love for photography began with my love for these people from far off lands. During my home months, back in America, I saw other avenues for photography and this new found love and perspective of people. I accepted opportunities to shoot portraits of friends and family and eventually shot my first wedding in Scotland in 2008. My love for travel continued, even on through new seasons where I haven’t traveled as much or nearly as often. But my love for the art and my search for that perspective still pushes me further. It pushes me on in new ways to recognize and capture the unique and authentic beauty found in the most simple moments in life, which can be gathered into a frame and shared with the World.
Thanks for reading!