Let me preface this blog by saying the beauty of art is in its subjectivity. These are my views and they do not dictate what others should do with their art. Ultimately there is no right and wrong, there is only what I like and dislike, and it’s important to keep in mind that everyone has a different process that works best for themselves. However, I do hope it provides you with some insight and possibly even inspiration for your own work.
There are four main driving forces behind my art:
They are all interconnected and will come up at various points in this haphazardly organized blog entry.
I’ve been into photography for about a decade now, and only in the last few years did it all really start to click to the point where I could create something that I proudly call my own. There is a part of me inside every photograph in my portfolio, which is not something I could say during my earlier days as a photographer. For some people this is a swift process, but for me it was not. So don’t fret if you’ve been shooting for five months or five years and still find yourself unsatisfied with your work. In fact, I think dissatisfaction and failure is fundamental to all art. If you aren’t failing, you aren’t learning, and if you’re not learning, you’re not an artist. To grow, you must fail.
I believe that every artist has a calling: something in particular that compels them to create, and is the most efficient outlet for their emotions and feelings. It could be a certain style, certain types of locations and experiences or just about anything else. Finding this calling is a huge part of that aforementioned process. I started making photographs with a cell phone due to boredom, depression and social anxiety. The idea of leaving my house and doing mundane things like going to the grocery store or riding the bus used to fill me with dread and fear. Although there were other things that helped me take my anxiety and bury it into the recesses of my mind, photography dragged me outside when nothing else could. Even in the present day I can feel it occasionally bubbling up. Connecting with nature, finding my solitude and creating art to keep it at bay.
The critical point in my journey was somewhat of a fluke. About ten years ago some friends and I had stayed up all night playing video games and we decided to head out for a sunrise walk on the local trail. It’s a beautiful location, and the 5am sunrise was beautiful too, so I snapped a few photos with my phone. I fell in love with the resulting images and realized I wanted to keep doing it. Throughout the years, it was a rinse and repeat process with me acquiring better equipment along the way. In a time where I was struggling so much, it was an amazing healing process, and continues to be so.
After shooting many different kinds of landscapes and experimenting with various styles, I fell in love with mountains, and in particular, forests. I feel most at home while wandering in the rain and fog through Vancouver’s lush, verdant rainforests. Despite being an introvert, I struggle with loneliness and sadness, but when I'm out there I do not feel these things, regardless if I’m with friends or not.
Forest near Brothers Creek, West Vancouver on a foggy day
I find myself searching for elements like fog, layers, lines, textures, dappled light, subtle reflections - anything that creates atmosphere and draws me into the composition. With introspective, atmospheric and often dark scenes, I'm able to faithfully express my experiences and feelings. Even before I had tried photography, I was always drawn to darker imagery and art. Anyone that has known me for a long time knows that I have a huge love for music such as death metal. Listening to such emotionally raw music is energizing and relieving because it acts as an outlet or drain for negative feelings and thoughts. These are emotions that people often ignore or suppress, which only leads to unhealthy and self-destructive outlets. The style of images I create are naturally an extension of what I seek out in the field, with my post-processing serving these goals directly by focusing on the enhancement of depth and atmosphere. Although I do enjoy watching a colorful sunset, and sometimes even enjoy looking at images that other people have taken of colorful skies, I don't typically enjoy creating them myself.
I went on a hike the other day and my favorite part was stopping, watching, and listening. Soaked to the bone, listening to the rain pouring down on me; watching the roaring creek batter the banks and mist weave its way through the trees. It is moments like that where I feel most connected with nature, as if you’ve allowed it to accept you and engage in silent conversation. I found myself smiling, as if seeing an old friend for the first time in too long. The solitude and act of being immersed in nature soothes the soul, relaxes the mind and fuels creativity.
It can also be exhilarating. Adverse elements like the cold, wind and rain make me feel alive. I’ve been out in the pouring rain, crossing rivers and bushwhacking through old growth forests for hours and hours, yet all I feel is happiness and a heightened connection to my surroundings. There is comfort to be found during a certain amount of physical discomfort. On the trail, stress and worry about everyday life fade away. Typically any problems that arise are immediate and can be quickly solved. It’s such a boon for mental health, and it’s easy to see why hiking has exploded in popularity over the last few years. However, my creativity suffocates in situations that do not allow for solitude, which can be harder to come by due to the aforementioned increase in popularity of the outdoors.
Forest on a rainy day north of Wickenden Creek, North Vancouver
I occasionally visit locations where tourists are coming in by the busload, but these days, my camera stays in the bag. This fall I visited a couple such locations. Being at these places did not strike me with the need to create, despite having enjoyed the beautiful views. I strive for uniqueness with my art and that is hard to come by at such busy and heavily photographed locations, particularly when solitude and a connection to nature cannot be found. Every photograph is inherently unique, but to use Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies as an example, very few images of it are unique in a compelling and non-superficial way. To me, most images of the lake look the same, regardless of varying clouds or light. A good photograph stands apart from the crowd, although it does not have to yell or immediately wow to do so. More often than not, it's the quiet images that are far more compelling, even if they receive less likes and are awarded less frequently.
This all plays a huge role in why it has been incredibly important for me to seek out the places less travelled, whether that be in my own backyard or in some remote mountain range. It’s also why I prefer trips that allow for me to become completely absorbed into not only my surroundings but my own thoughts. Though it’s not unusual for a landscape photographer, I am a huge, huge introvert. If I’m on a trip where I never really have time to myself, I feel drained and unmotivated. Being able to have the time and opportunity for introspection is important, helping me to learn more about myself and my place in this world.
Strictly limiting myself to the well known locations when we’re fortunate to have essentially limitless places to see in Canada doesn’t interest me. I want other people to know just how beautiful this province and country are, and I want them to know that it’s not just the tourist spots that are beautiful. To give an example, this was a big factor in my pursuit of finding and photographing huge, old growth trees that are hidden away from the public’s eye. Even with direct protection from humanity, they are not invincible and may still succumb to us indirectly or due to bad luck. If my work raises awareness of what’s at stake with climate change and resource extraction, and inspires a few more people to care more about nature, I personally consider that a huge win.
I also just love exploring and experiencing the feeling of wonder, which was almost certainly instilled in me by all the fantasy novels I devoured as a teenager. It provides fuel for my creativity, helping me to push my comfort zones and grow as a human. Even just following a creek upstream or downstream can lead you to something beautiful and surprising. Every day I’m grateful that photography has helped me overcome my fears and anxiety, allowing me to visit places and do things I couldn’t have imagined a decade ago.
One particular trip this past summer was the best trip I’ve ever done in BC, and was a huge turning point for me. Ever since my trip in summer 2020 to a mountain range that I found with satellite imagery, I had been itching to repeat it, but on a bigger scale. So I set out to do just that and spent hours and hours pouring over maps of British Columbia. Doing this is not an easy task! Due to BC’s huge size it’s very easy to miss things and it can be difficult to tell what has nice views, even with the help of Google Earth. There are other factors to consider as well, such as hikeability and access. If driving, there are often unknowns when it comes to remote forest service roads. If flying in with a helicopter, you need terrain that can at minimum allow for a toe-in landing, and you need a plan B in case you arrive and it’s socked in. For me, the challenge of finding a place and planning my way around any logistical problems is a fun, crucial part of the journey and makes the experience that much more rewarding.
In the end I found several trip candidates and got in touch with the friends who came on last year’s adventure, as well as a helicopter company. But one of those friends messaged me, saying he had chatted with the pilot some more and simply asked him for recommendations. In my determination to find new places, I never even considered that asking a pilot with decades of flying experience in that area would be a good idea. Oops! The pilot responded with a beautiful place that I had somehow overlooked while pouring over maps of that area, and my mind was blown. I don’t know how I missed it, but it looked like the ideal mountain getaway and months later, we managed to make it happen.
Boundless solitude, nearly unphotographed, ideal for exploration and seen by few. It was indeed the perfect place. Hummingbirds roamed the meadows and mountain goats braved the mountain tops. There were towering mountains, blue lakes, jagged glaciers, colorful wildflowers and some of the grandest vistas I’ve ever seen in my entire life. There was one particular view that was so huge and beautiful that it felt like I was dreaming. The scale was such that my brain couldn’t properly make sense of the view. It filled me with wonder and the strong need to create a photograph. Despite that, it still wasn’t easy figuring out a composition.
As the beauty of a landscape increases, I find so does the challenge of doing it justice, because not only am I trying to capture the look of the landscape, but also how it made me feel. I find myself drawn to certain types of light because of this, preferring atmosphere over color. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, weather conditions allowing for both to occur simultaneously can be hard to come by. Cloudy golden hour and partly cloudy afternoons with dappled light are my favorite in the mountains, while rainy days and sunny days are my favorite in the forests.
However, there is no such thing as bad light, although sometimes it can be much more difficult to work with. This is why I try to shoot what the light dictates, as opposed to shoehorning pre-existing expectations. You will rarely see me plan out specific shots, instead I prefer to go where the light might do something interesting. I make it my goal to get to know a place by visiting it over and over again, in as many conditions as possible. Different weather, different times of day, different times of the year. This is a much more powerful approach than simply ticking places off a list. By getting to know a place, it truly does become something like an old friend.
If you’re still here after all of that rambling, a big thank you for reading. On one hand I feel like it’s not enough, but on the other hand I can’t keep writing forever or I’ll never hit that publish button! I’m going to conclude this the same way I started it: your art is your own. Make it for you. Every person is drawn to something different, and has different ways of expressing their feelings, but all art is deeply personal. I found my place as an artist through a lot of trial and error, and hope you enjoyed this little insight into that ever evolving process. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!
Image taken by my friend Blake Randall, August 2020