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This wasn’t a staged photoshoot. This was at a coffee shop where I was meeting another photographer to sell a lens that I didn't want to sell. One that had special meaning to me.

I pick up quickly that this guy is talented and smart. We sat and had a long conversation about photography, life and trying to carve out a living as a creative. As the more experienced photographer he gave me some great tips and took this shot while demonstrating some light settings and composition on the fly.


I’ve had a 30 year career as an art director and graphic designer but have taken up photography more seriously since my dad passed away and left me a treasure of amazing cameras and equipment. I’ve directed many photoshoots as an art director but getting behind the camera has been a great way for me to stay connected to my dad even though I can't show any of my work to him now. He raised me as a single father and was a truly amazing, accomplished man.

He was a smokejumper and when he retired from the Forest Service he became an amazing athlete attacking things like cycling, climbing, running like someone 40 years younger. He also took up photography. He became a master at it like everything he did in life. I loved to talk to him about the art of a photo. 

He passed away suddenly from pancreatic cancer five years ago. At the same time I was going through a divorce. I had just moved back to the US after living in Italy, a place I'd come to love and did not want to leave. So this all hit me incredibly hard. I took my 28 years of sobriety and flushed it down the toilet in one night and kept going for six months. It caused a lot of damage and wreckage. A friend of mine said, “Your meltdown can be seen from space”


After that awful run I got my sobriety back, tried to pick up the pieces and build my life back. I was still dealing with major depression, but I was beginning to heal. I was building up nice little collection of clients for design, photography and video, and learning lots of new and exciting ways to create. I was enjoying it. Then while working on a remote video shoot I was assaulted (random act of violence by someone mad about parking) and suffered a major head injury, getting kicked in the head, beaten and knocked out. 

We've all casually watched violence much worse than that, but when it happens to you in real life, when you're vulnerable and already damaged, it's devastating. It added anxiety, PTSD and the effects of a traumatic brain injury to my other long laundry list of dysfunction and flaws.

I never thought something like that could have such an effect on me. Since then I’ve spiraled. It was several months before I could really effectively work again. I started DoorDashing just to get through because it’s simple. I've held on to my sobriety but I've struggled to find good mental health care even with insurance. It's been two years and just now do I feel like I have finally found effective treatment that's helping me. 


All of these mental health issues come with stigma and they don’t have once-size-fits-all solutions. It led me to a major breakdown earlier this year that cost me the job I was working on and I’ve been homeless since then.


But get up every day, clean myself up so I look like anyone else, and try to get design, photography and video work, working from libraries and coffee shops and doing DoorDash. At my best this would have been difficult but I'm still diminished and the anxiety of my situation makes it harder. It just sucks right now.

But I’m still optimistic. I’m not giving up. My creative brain is flourishing in ways that it never has. A brilliant teacher told me once that when you're in pain, create art, It's working.


I really feel like even at 57 years old I’ve got a lot of good years left once I dig out of this. I’m getting some good networking done and I now with this I've met a really great photographer while I was selling this lens. One of the lenses that I inherited from my dad.

I tell you all this because I feel like this photo captures all of that somehow. I see my dad in the photo. I see the rough road traveled but I also see that tiny spark of optimism. Maybe it’s just me that sees that because I already know the story. But, it’s why I love photography. It can be so much more than a nice image. It can really tell a long story by capturing an instant in time, at just the right time and place. I almost reflexively hate photos of myself but this one is a very rare exception.

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