Monday, December 31, 2012

The Official 2012 Post-Christmas Letter/Photo Essay

Dear people,

Many of you know that even though I am not a reliable blogger, I am a reliable journal-keeper. I was recently re-reading a stretch from late 2008 where I lost my job, my ward, and one of my grandfathers. I determined that with a handful of exceptions (my sister's marriage, for example), 2008 kind of sucked.

When I started thinking about 2012, my knee-jerk reaction was to say it wasn't a great year. I set a ton of goals in 2011, and achieving them gave the year a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. By comparison, I entered 2012 with good intentions, but little in terms of a concrete plan, and the results reflect that. However, the more I thought about it, the more I remembered some of the great things that happened in 2012. It may not have been a perfect year (I gained back 10 of the 20+ pounds I lost in 2011), but it was absolutely a good one.

The Salvation of Januarys:

I always felt bad for my dad because his birthday fell in January, amid the fallout of the holiday season and the bleakness of the true beginning of winter. Then my niece came along, and ever since January has taken on a different tone. Here's a shot from her first birthday party:

The Salvation of the Business Trip:

Prior to 2012, my only business trip experience was an overnighter to South San Francisco (not the south end of San Francisco...the city of SOUTH San Francisco) to see a client that wasn't expecting us and had me back in my hotel room for the night by 8PM. But last February, after managing the Facebook page for the Mormon Battalion Historic Site for two months, the Missionary Department sent me down to San Diego to take some pictures of the sister missionaries and the visitors in-person. While I was there some of my friends from Illinois took me surfing for the first time. Now THAT's a business trip.

The Salvation of Valentine's Day:

For better or for worse, my favorite Valentine's Day memories are associated with concerts. My most vivid memory was during my first year in grad school when I celebrated the holiday by playing drums for a Neil Diamond cover band at USU's Valentine's Dance. This year I joined a few friends for dinner at Chili's (insert your own joke here), then drove down to In the Venue to catch a great band named Mutemath. As I've gotten into photographing concerts over the last few years, it's become important to take the time to attend them without my gear and enjoy the music as a fan. The Mutemath show filled that need nicely, as did The Killers at the UCCU Center, The Hives at The Vic in Chicago, and The Aquabats at The Depot (which had to be one of the most unique concerts I've ever attended, if only due to the onstage battle royal between Darth Vader, Bigfoot, and a Kung-Fu Master Steve from Farmington).

As for the bands I photographed, here are a few highlights:

Metric at The End Zone:

Foster the People at Saltair:

The Soulistics at The Utah Arts Festival:

The Tony Scheer Trio at The Living Room in Manhattan:

The Shirley Johnson Blues Band at the Blue Chicago (yes, in Chicago):

...and one of the bands that started this whole concert-shooting thing, the Vibrant Sound, playing at Club Sound:

The Celebration of Youth, Part 1:

One of the highlights of 2011 was shooting my first Holi Festival of Colors down in Spanish Fork, Utah. Thousands of (mostly) college kids celebrating the arrival of spring by throwing chalk at each other and dancing to Hare Krishna bands playing classic rock songs with re-worded lyrics. Good times, indeed. This last spring I made my triumphant return, more seasoned and prepared to get better results:

A month later I took a different angle when I shot the partner event up in Salt Lake:

The Celebration of Youth, Part II:

Photographing bands and attending concerts is great, but neither experience is as fun as putting on a show myself. 2011 was a busy year that saw me put on shows with three different bands. In 2012, I only performed with one. But 2012's Thunderlips shows were some of my all-time favorite. In June we played our third yearly concert at the Legacy Prep Academy in North Salt Lake as part of the kids' year-end assembly. A few months later, we did a pair of shows around Halloween, first at the Pinson family Halloween party, then a week later for the students of the Hartvigsen School in Salt Lake City. It has been a challenge to articulate the experience of playing for kids, but this video edited together by our lead guitarist Jeff does a pretty good job:

The Thunderlips - Forever Young (Alphaville cover) from ToolBox on Vimeo.

Going Solo:

My single biggest news story for 2012 happened in June, when I broke from years of tradition and moved into a place on my own for the first time. It wasn't the first time I'd signed a lease, and it certainly wasn't the first time I'd managed utilities, but it was the first time I decided to leave the roommates behind. My decision has awakened me to the sheer number of "things" I'd never previously had to buy (like a microwave and measuring spoons), but it has been an awesome experience so far.

After making my move, I decided to make another move, transferring my membership records from the Bountiful 7th Ward (where I had attended for three and a half years) to the Bountiful 30th Ward. Running into old friends like Justin Farr and Aaron Johnson offered a quick confirmation that I was in good hands. True to form, I was quickly called to be an Elder's Quorum instructor in my new ward. I haven't had a non-teaching calling since early 2004.

Summer Shooting:

Not long after my move, my old high school employer, Dick's Market, decided to follow my example. One night I decided to document the remains:

The highlight of this year's Bountiful Days of '47 Parade was the re-creation of the Stripling Warriors March. By sweet-talking one of the PA announcers, I was able to get into position for this shot:

New York State of Mind:

I already mentioned my trip to San Diego, which had at least as much "pleasure" as it had "business." But later in the year I enjoyed some other trips as well. In June the Cheetahman and I used the aforementioned Hives concert in Chicago to justify a spontaneous trip to The Loop for a few days. Then in August I made my yearly pilgrimage to Island Park to spend some time at our family place outside Yellowstone. In September, Cheetahman and I used a small vendor conference to justify a less-spontaneous trip to Manhattan (the first for either of us),  which I really should have blogged about, because there was just too much to cover.

Here are a few of my favorite NYC shots:

Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center:

Subway performer:

A girl who clearly doesn't understand the purpose of the 9/11 memorial:

...and a photo that more or less defines my Times Square experience (I think Elmo did it):

Bringing Home the Bacon:

For the first half of the year, when I wasn't doing freelance work for the Missionary Department I was teaching English 1010 for SLCC and working consistent hours at Allen Communication on a variety of instructional design projects. But as the year went on, I shifted from English 1010 to English 2010, spent less time Allen, and did more and more freelance photography, finally launching my portrait site in the process. I also started doing more film reviews for the Deseret News, which is what I remind myself of whenever I feel bad for a lack of blog posting.

Here are a couple favorites from my Joshua Terry Photography sessions:

Of course, my favorite model is still my niece:

Photo Publicity:

2011 was the first year I entered any of my photography into a contest, and I was rewarded with a Judge's Choice Award at the Utah State Fair. My efforts in 2012 didn't yield anything quite so "decorated,"but coverage of my friend Travis Kawabata's rather public marriage proposal landed my work on KSL's "Studio 5" one morning back in October.

Two months later I was on hand to photograph Travis and Aubrie's reception at the Utah Opera building in Salt Lake. It was the second time this year I was able to get hired to do a "candids-only" shoot at a wedding reception. All the good parts of event photography, none of the lame, "everyone smile at the camera" bits.

Pushing the Envelope:

Of course, my yearly obligation is to go down to Temple Square and figure out a new way to photograph the Christmas lights. This year, I brought along my friend Dennis Livingston of Harry Cleigh Photography, who brought his favorite Christmas present: a remote flash unit. Through a little experimentation, and thanks to a timely post-Christmas snowfall, we landed a few shots like these:

With all that considered, it's hard to think of 2012 as anything less than a great year. It had its bumps and bruises, but when I look at the good times I was able to enjoy, plus the good times I was able to witness, gratitude is pretty much the only logical outcome. Gratitude for family, gratitude for friends, and gratitude to God. Here's hoping 2012 offered some of the same for you, and that 2013 will keep the ball rolling.


Friday, August 31, 2012

10 Years and Counting...

I almost forgot my anniversary.

As of this semester, it has been ten years since I taught my first English composition class. Not ten years of consecutive classes, or semesters, or school years, even--I took two years off to work full-time in television--but ten years since the whole thing started. Ten years since I first walked down into room 006 on the basement level of the Utah State University Communication Disorders Building, stood in front of twenty-five aspiring college freshmen and announced, "I'm Josh, and I'll be your instructor this semester."

It's been about ten and a half years since Professor Melodie Graulich convinced me I could even consider doing something so bold. The previous spring I walked into her office in the Ray B. West building to discuss the prospects of my entering USU's graduate program in American Studies. But as we sat there amid her stacks of papers and books, the spring sunshine streaming through big picture windows and illuminating her collection of Native American art on the office walls, the conversation took an unexpected turn.

"You'll want to apply for a graduate instructorship, right?" she asked.

I paused, not entirely sure what she meant.

"You'll teach English 1010 for the department," she said, "and you'll get a stipend to help with your tuition and housing."

I wasn't sure what a "stipend" was.

"Um," I started, "I'm not sure I'm qualified to teach English."

"Oh, I'm sure you're fine," she smiled. "We've got a program to train all our instructors. You'll come up about a week before the semester starts. You'll be fine."

Six months later, two weeks into my first semester and a week after I'd decided to ditch the shirt-and-tie routine, I sat on a table in front of two dozen empty desks, only minutes after my afternoon class had been dismissed. I had already stumbled through a half-dozen class sessions and collected the first assignment, and so far none of my students had caught on and exposed me for the clueless rookie I was. It was at that quiet moment that it dawned on me: I was a college English teacher.

That thought still makes me smile today.

Ground Zero may have taken place in the basement of the Comm Disorders building, but that was hardly the strangest place I've had to teach. In the last decade, I've taught in portables, a library reading room, a strip mall, computer labs, biology labs, an athletic center, and even a couple of fire stations. I've also taught in actual traditional classrooms in the actual English department buildings, but those have been the exception rather than the rule. Composition teachers are a nomadic lot; you teach where they tell you to.

I'm not sure how many students I've had in that time, or how many classes I've taught. I know I've graded hundreds of papers, if not thousands, and I've written a handful of recommendation letters, too. On a couple of occasions I've even written to judges to ask that my students be allowed to finish my course before returning to jail. Actually, thanks to advances in broadcast education, some of my students have been current inmates, and those guys were some of the best students I've ever taught.

I don't know if I'll still be doing this ten years from now. No idea if I'll continue the academic journey or wander off into some other uncharted career territory. When I was working in television, I knew that eventually I'd teach again, and I'd be surprised if it didn't remain some part of my career in the coming years. But even if it doesn't, it will always stand as evidence that sometimes with a little faith, you can do something you don't think you're qualified for.

I've had a lot of fun learning that lesson.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Some Recent Work...

Let's be honest: my blog posting in the last few months has been spotty, at best. But while I haven't been too busy on the blog, I have been writing elsewhere. To try to even things out a bit, I thought I'd share a few links to some recent film review work I've done:

Click here to read a review of "Moonrise Kingdom," the latest from Wes Anderson.

This link will take you to my review of "Premium Rush," which made me feel like a cranky old man while I was writing it.

Both of the previous reviews were published in the Deseret News. I also reviewed the new "Total Recall" through my Deseret News contacts, but it was published on a new website called that has been developed as a sort of interactive viewing guide for parents and such. You can access that review through the "Total Recall" movie page, or through my own critic profile.

Just in case anyone thought I haven't been pulling my weight lately...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Where Have You Gone, Mr. Winegar?

I'm convinced that 95% of kids who grew up in south Davis County in the 1990's either wound up working at the Lagoon amusement park or Dick's Market, a small-town grocery in Centerville. Halfway through my junior year at Viewmont High School I joined the latter group, and for the next 21 months I strapped on a red apron for twenty hours a week, starting at the bargain-basement rate of $3.65 an hour.

It was a love-hate relationship.

On the one hand, bagging groceries was everything you would expect from a job at the age of sixteen: weekend-killing hours, sub-minimum wage pay, and the general sense that you were cut out for better things even though you didn't have an ounce of legitimate work experience.

At the same time, several of my longest and most cherished friendships were born in the crucible that was Dick's Market. Even if we weren't suffering as much as we liked to think, those long hours of bagging groceries and coming up with creative ways to avoid bagging groceries led to a camaraderie that has lasted for years after we stopped strapping on those dumb aprons.

Love it or hate it, Dick's Market was a culture unto itself, complete with class divisions, rivalries, romances, and its own distinct vernacular. We had our own basketball league (DMBA), led by our sport-goggled manager Craig Meads, that met to do battle on holiday mornings when the store was closed, where I channeled my pro-basketball dreams with guys like Mark Farmer and the Mikkelsen and Peterson brothers. We had the annual bagging contest, won by people who worked a lot harder at their job than I did. We had the case lot sale, Lagoon Day, and over everything, we had the myth of the big man himself, Dick Winegar, who I never actually saw in the flesh.

Dick's was an institution, and just over a week ago that institution pulled up its stakes and moved north.

By the time my parents moved to Bountiful when I was four, Dick's Market had already anchored the east end of Pages Lane for thirteen years, only a block from my house. The proximity offered easy access for my dad, who is legally blind and can't drive, and for the residents of the nearby Meadows, a retirement complex that sent a procession of little old ladies scampering back and forth along 400 east as they made the trek to Dick's for their groceries. It was a far cry from those urban neighborhoods where you could live your whole life within 100 yards of your front door, but Dick's was still the classic neighborhood grocery store. Working there almost felt like a rite of passage.

On July 18th, Dick's relocated a couple of miles up the road to Parrish Lane, taking over for the Fresh Market that was owned by the same parent company (Dick's was purchased by the Associated Foods chain back in 2002). While I don't know the exact circumstances, I've heard that ownership was unable to make the necessary expansions to the Pages Lane building to keep it competitive. Of course, now it gets to compete with the Target and Wal-Mart across the street.

Either way, Dick's is gone. Vacated for slightly more spacious pastures. Cleared out of the building that served as the backdrop for my high school years. Cleared out of the aisles where Justin Knighton and Heather Hayward met as baggers and left as man and wife. Cleared out of the front end of the store where Ben Stoneman and I would lasso each other with imaginary disco ropes, not far from the check stands where I used to kill time talking with Mike Bohman and Emily Scharffs and Steve Nelson. Cleared out of the bakery where I'd wander over with Brian Smith to see the bakery chick with the eyes that made "Time of the Season" start playing in our heads. Cleared out of the dry ice bin where Bret Ostler introduced himself by offering to buy all my old Star Wars toys. I hated that job, but it was one of the best jobs I ever had.

It felt a little bit like a betrayal, but I stopped by the new store last weekend. Wal-Mart was out of Otter Pops, and well, when I want my Otter Pops, I want my Otter Pops. There were all kinds of welcome signs, and a few familiar faces (I don't know how they handled the staff overlap between Dick's and the old Fresh I want to know?). It looked OK, but it felt like the next step in a corporate progression that started long ago. The self-checkout stands were nice.

My best hope is that the remnants of the old Winegar's clan will decide to reopen the place as a non-Associated Foods entity. My biggest worry is that someone will try to turn it into another fitness center. Or just leave it empty, like so many of the properties along Pages Lane.

To capture the moment, I swung by the old building Monday night to take its picture with a camera that probably cost more than I made the entire time I worked there. The credit union is still open, and so is the Ace Hardware, so the kids from Bangerter's farm will still have a place to go blow their weekly wages on candy. Maybe there's still hope that someone will step in and fire up the burners at that once-famous bakery.

Just as long as they hire girls with pretty eyes.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Orange Shag

Last weekend I helped my dad and brother-in-law pull 100 square feet of orange shag carpet out of a tiny room in my parents' basement as an old poster of Pierce Brosnan looked on. It felt like ending a chapter in my life. Several chapters, actually.

Growing up, there were five rooms in my parents' house that featured genuine 1970's shag carpeting. Downstairs in the TV room we had a bright red shag that strangely matched the dark brown wood paneling on the walls. I sat on the red shag next to my new friend Steve the day my family moved in when I was four. We watched a re-run of "Gilligan's Island." Now Steve is married with five daughters and a little boy.

Upstairs in the living room we had a bizarre multi-colored shag carpet, a combination of brown and orange and yellow that was remarkably adept at hiding the scars and stains of its high mileage. I think my parents actually kind of miss that one.

Two bedrooms were also equipped with shag: a yellowish shag in my sister's room, and a lavender shag in my parents'. The yellow shag was the first to go--many years ago my parents pulled it up to reveal a nice hardwood floor. The master bedroom was re-carpeted at the same time the living room shag was replaced.

The last holdout was that tiny room in the basement. For years it was referred to as the "toy room," because that was where my sister and I kept all our toys. That was where I lingered late into the evening one Friday night when I was eight, reading and drawing and waiting for the inevitable moment when my parents would realize I was up way past my bedtime and cast me upstairs to my doom. That moment never came, and I discovered that weekends were my opportunity to live out my true nature as a night owl.

Not long after that big event my parents moved their stereo into the toy room, and it became known as the "music room." With that large wooden cabinet in place against the east wall, flanked by those ancient speakers, I was ready to have one of the transcendent moments of my youth, when I squatted down on that shag carpet as a wide-eyed fourth grader and created my first mix tape out of my mom's Beatles albums.

I must have had a hundred sleepovers on that orange shag, and built a thousand forts on its weave. Most of the posters--like Pierce in his open-shirted Remington Steele glory--are still on the walls, and the south wall is still covered in that strange reflective wallpaper textured with those thin yellow and white stripes. But the orange shag is gone, shipped off to that magical home furnishings heaven where all non-ironic icons of the 1970's go to sing praises to Sherwood Schwartz and the Six-Million Dollar Man.

For the last year I've been on the housing market, searching through all sorts of 1950's-era ramblers and quaint cottages for some wood paneling I can call my own. Every time I step inside a new listing, I marvel at the oddities the previous owner has left behind--wallpaper with fairies and race cars, a collection of Mormon pop cassettes still in their shrink wrap, a bound collection of old 45's with a detailed log of artists and titles pasted into its front cover. By the time anyone walks through my parents' house, there probably won't be much left from my era, now that the flooring has all changed over and the walls have been repainted. But maybe we can make sure Pierce is still there to say hi for us.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Forever Young

If someone asked you for their autograph, what would you do? Would you laugh it off, assuming you had been mistaken for someone else? Would you just write your name, or include some kind of thoughtful message? If you included a message, what would it be?

This is the predicament I found myself in last June after playing a brief show for the students of the Legacy Prep charter school in North Salt Lake. On the strength of two previous performances, my band Thunderlips had been recruited to headline the kids' year-end assembly. We played two 20-minute sets, one for the K-3 kids, and another for the 4th through 6th graders.

Immediately after our first set I was approached by a young girl who had ripped her name tag from her desk.

"Can I get your autograph?" she asked, holding out a black marker.

This request would prove to be the first of many. Following our second set, kids from all over the school approached us with their yearbooks, pens and markers in hand, looking for some tangible evidence of what they had just experienced. As I wrote my name on yearbook after yearbook, feeling their awed stares as I scribbled, it was clear they had little understanding of who we really were.

"So do you guys perform, like, all over the world?" asked one kid.

"Um...not quite," I answered.

Whenever I meet a young child, I usually think about Ray Bradbury's experience as a twelve-year-old growing up in northern Illinois. After a mid-summer trip to the circus, the future author of "The Martian Chronicles" and "Dandelion Wine" approached a magician called Mr. Electrico in search of a mentor, and was rewarded with the inspired command to "live forever." Decades of fantasy and science fiction novels followed, all with the irrepressible fervor of youth pressed firmly between their pages.

Perhaps with that idea working deep on our subconscious, the band had decided to end our performance with a ramped-up version of one of the most iconic school dance songs from our youth: Alphaville's "Forever Young." In our previous performances, we'd played Neil Diamond's "America," and not wanting to repeat ourselves, we still wanted to offer up a tune that had a special meaning to us.

For the first part of the set, we rocked our way through a few favorites, like The Hives' "Hate to Say I Told You So" and the Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash." Then Cheetahman took his place at the keyboard and coaxed out the chords that used to trigger slow dance anxiety in our pre-teen hearts all those years ago.

Then, just as the first chorus hit its final note, I hit my crash cymbal and yanked the band into an accelerated beat. Our quickened pace got everyone to stop swaying back and forth and got them jumping up and down instead. Moments later, with the verses and a few choruses behind us, Thunderlips entered extended jam mode, with about half the student body leaping and screaming at our feet. But out a little farther into the gymnasium, the other half of the student body reacted differently, grabbing each other's shoulders and forming a daisy chain that danced and wound around the gym in a huge circle around the video camera I'd set up on a tripod at mid court. It was corny, but as I sat there behind my drum kit jamming away through a song so intrinsically connected to my youth, watching as the kids celebrated their last day of school in the prime of theirs, I felt like I was passing them a torch as the whole cosmos was coming together into harmony.

Of course, maybe that was just Cheetahman's voice modulator.

Later on, when all those kids came up to me looking for my autograph, it didn't seem right to just sign my name on all of their yearbooks. I had to write something else. Something meaningful. Something Ray Bradbury would have told them.

This is what I added:

"Stay young."

The cosmos came into harmony again four days later when the first man who truly inspired me to write passed away at the age of 91. Eight decades after their encounter, through hundreds of stories and thousands of touched hearts, Ray Bradbury had followed Mr. Electrico's instructions to the very end. And maybe thanks to a little performance in a North Salt Lake charter school, I helped to keep his charge alive.

The Thunderlips - Forever Young (Alphaville cover) from ToolBox on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Juggling Chainsaws: The Official 2011 Post-Christmas Letter

Dear friends, family, and random people who think I might still post to this blog from time to time,

In 2010, I posted to this blog 62 times. In 2011, I posted 17 times. Plus I haven't posted to my photo blog since April. Let's just say things have been a bit busy, and sometimes I feel like a circus performer who's trying to juggle one too many chainsaws.

In order to at least partially address this lack of activity, I have chosen to present my Post-Christmas Letter as a photo essay. Here's to the hope that I do a better job of honoring my obligation to report my every move to the all-powerful internets in 2012.

Without further ado, here is the Official 2011 Post-Christmas Letter Photo Essay:

In January I dragged my camera down to Utah County to shoot the Velour Music Gallery's 5th Anniversary Concert. Over the course of the evening I shot several acts, including Jennifer Blosil, The Neighbors, The Vibrant Sound, and The Imagine Dragons (pictured). It was one of the most exhaustive concert shoots I've been involved with, though because of the jam-packed crowd, I pretty much spent the entire evening camped out in one spot on the left side of the stage.

At the end of that month I became an uncle for the first time. My parents and I arrived at the hospital about fifteen minutes after my sister gave birth to my niece, and I caught this shot of her yawning as my mom and dad adjusted her small hospital-issued beanie. It was the first of many photos I would take of my niece through the coming year.

I took more than 1,000 shots during my first visit to the Holi Festival of Colors, held at the Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah last March. While there are other pictures I took that were better composed, sharper, or captured the iconic "face covered in colored chalk" images the festival is known for, I kind of prefer this image, taken at the first chalk throw of the morning. The expression on the face of the guy in the middle, skin still unsullied but not for long, just kind of says it all for me.

The flip side of the Holi Festival would have to be this image, taken just before the Sunday morning session of April's LDS General Conference in Downtown Salt Lake City. I usually like to go down and shoot at least one session a year, because the vast crowds of attendees and the homegrown street preachers usually make for some interesting juxtaposition. But this image, augmented by a brief snowstorm that only lasted for about five minutes, put everything else I shot that morning to shame. I wound up submitting it to the State Fair later in the summer, and wound up taking First Place in my division and a Judge's Choice Award. The photo is currently on a statewide tour with the Utah Arts Council.

Shooting in low-light has yielded some of my most frustrating and my most creative work. In April I tagged along with a couple of friends who were providing DJ services for a local youth dance, and spent the evening trying to find a way to get enough light into a scene to capture the mood of the event, while still catching enough sharpness to make the event recognizable. This image above is what I came up with. For the full effect, imagine this song playing in the background.

During that same month I photographed a benefit concert by ENZ and Heather's Headache for The Children's Home Society up at the Fort Douglas Post Theater on the University of Utah Campus. Initially I liked this photo because of the contrast of the sharpness of the bass player's right hand versus the motion blur of his left. But then I realized that by cutting his head out of the frame, I had unintentionally made a comment about the anonymity of bass players in general, and I liked it even more.

Thanks to an effort throughout the year to lose some weight and get into better shape, I came very close to participating in this event instead of shooting it. In fact, shooting the Race For the Cure was one of many events that made me wonder if I was missing out on all the fun by shooting events instead of participating in them directly. This in part led to me running my first 5K later that year, at the Undead Run in October at the Utah State Fairgrounds. As for this particular photo, I like it mainly for the juxtaposition of the super-intense runner at left, the moderately intense runners in the middle, and the nonchalant walkers on the far right. To me, that spectrum embodies the spirit of all benefit athletic contests.

Throughout the year I did a number of portrait shoots, but few were as fun as the shoot I did with longtime friend and collaborator Randall "Cheetahman" Pinson, out near the Great Saltair on the shores of The Great Salt Lake. The graffiti-covered train car and abandoned power station on the muddy shores of the lake have been used for so many portrait shoots that they've almost become a local cliche, but on this afternoon Cheetahman and I got a lot more by just using dramatic lighting.

Early in July, I tagged along with Cheetahman for his annual trip to Seattle for his vendors convention, and spent a few days taking in the sights of the Pacific Northwest (one shot I missed was the parade of naked bicycle riders who rode past my window at the Hard Rock Cafe one afternoon--you're welcome). This is one of my favorite shots from the trip, of one the locals taking a break on a Sunday afternoon at Seattle's Gasworks Park. As you might notice, it is not raining. In two trips to Seattle (covering about eight days of total visitation), I have experienced about fifteen minutes of rainfall.

For a city celebrated for bringing the world the music of Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, one of the shameful shortcomings of our first trip to Seattle in the summer of 2010 was that Cheetahman and I failed to take in any live music. This year we remedied that issue by dropping by The Crocodile, a celebrated local club in the downtown area, to see Eternal Fair and Allen Stone (pictured). If this man ever becomes famous for setting his guitar on fire, marrying the crazed lead singer of an all-girl grunge band, or meets an untimely death at age 27 (I certainly hope not), I will be able to claim that I saw him perform "way back when."

In between out-of-state trips, I dragged the telephoto over to Main Street in Bountiful one Friday night to shoot the annual Days of '47 Parade, commemorating the arrival of the Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. The Bountiful City parade is a step down from the "official" parade in downtown Salt Lake, but still offers plenty of camera fodder. This shot of a lonely hobo clown making his way down the road just represents a special kind of comic isolation, I think. Of course, I've never been a volunteer hobo clown at a middle-america Pioneer Day parade, so what do I know?

July was a busy month. With my Seattle trip and Pioneer Day responsibilities behind me, I took off for my second home in Chicago to spend a week taking immersion courses in sketch comedy and improvisation at Second City. While there I decided to confront another fear by waltzing out onto one of the new glass-enclosed "sky ledges" that jut out from the Skydeck of the former Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) 100+ stories in the air. As apprehensive as I was to revisit my shortcomings in improvisational comedy, stepping out onto this ledge without holding onto anything but my camera was even more nerve-wracking.

The second night of my stay in Chicago, I dropped by Buddy Guy's Legends, one of the city's premier blues clubs, and enjoyed a cameo performance by the club's namesake. I got several shots of Buddy singing front and center with the band, but this shot of him smiling as he walked offstage under the blue lights of the club is the one I like best.

I don't know that this or any of the other shots I got during a pair of lightning storms in August will ever grace anyone's list of "great bad weather pictures," but it was fun to get out and get my first official lightning images. I'll also never forget standing out on the side of the road in West Kaysville, holding an umbrella over my camera in a rainstorm, wondering if I was about to get electrocuted for my troubles.

In all the years I've visited Yellowstone National Park, I've never made it into the park early enough to see the sunrise until this past August. Thanks to the persuasions of my roommate Paul, we got an early jump one morning and managed to see a side of the park I'd never experienced: the steam and mists of a supervolcano floating up and over the rivers and streams of the park in a haunting and beautiful way. At one point we pulled off to the side of the road and spent some time shooting as the sun came up over a mountain horizon and blended its light with the steam coming off the river. Fun, fun stuff. Even if I had to lose a little sleep to catch it.

There may not be any new photos of this event next year, because after photographing my friends participating in the annual Dirty Dash 5/10K run in Midway, Utah, I think I'd rather get in on the action myself. The object of this event is to get as muddy as humanly possible, as evidenced by the vast thirty-yard long, two-foot deep pool of mud and grime that participants have to wade, swim, or dive through in order to reach the finish line. I got this shot a little earlier along the route, as my friend Ben Baker chose to enjoy a little headfirst slide time and give me a facial expression that sums up the experience as well as anything I could write here.

Another shot that I love in spite of its technical shortcomings. After a cold night touring the Halloween-themed "Garden at Night" event at Salt Lake's Red Butte Gardens, I joined my sister, brother-in-law, and inverted niece for an impromptu family photo session. Just know that I could have made this post an entire album of shots of my niece, but didn't. You couldn't have blamed me if I did.

If there's a shot that embodies the spirit of the "Menace to Society" theme of this blog, it is this one. For the last few years, my birthday has become a convenient excuse to lure my longtime married friends from the comfort and responsibilities of their domesticated lives and make them spend time with their last, lonely single buddy (at least that's the excuse they give their wives). This year, after a hearty steak dinner at Texas Roadhouse, I drove across the street to Bountiful Bowl with a few friends to roll a couple of games and take a few pictures.

Early 2011 saw an excess of snow and rain, causing a lot of speculation from people who remembered the infamous "Floods of '83" that saw State Street turn into a river through downtown Salt Lake City. That summer was memorable for the volunteer effort to repairing flood damages and sandbag to prevent further problems. But while those floods never returned in 2011, this past year will be more remembered for the volunteer efforts that followed a hurricane-force windstorm that blew through Davis County on the first of December, leaving thousands of uprooted trees, overturned semi trucks and scattered debris in its wake. The following Sunday, church was canceled throughout the county as locals mobilized to get rid of the debris in fear of a follow-up windstorm that fortunately never came. To me and everyone else who was there, the word "Army" on this woman's sweatshirt says it all.

Once the debris was cleared, it was time to get back to more traditional December activities, like the annual Christmas lights display at Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. One evening I drove over straight from work, bundled up in the hopes of averting the icy cold of the previous year that left my fingers so numb I could barely click the shutter on my camera. Thankfully, this year's expedition was a lot warmer than in previous years, so I was able to take my time trying to find a creative interpretation of the iconic lights display that surrounds the Salt Lake Temple. It was a great way to cap off a great year.

Of course, there was plenty that happened this past year that I didn't manage to catch on camera. One particularly vivid memory took place happened late one Saturday evening in December, at a cold pizza joint off 700 East and 400 South in Salt Lake.

For the previous hour I had been sitting with a dozen friends at a remote table in the restaurant, working on a pizza named after a heart condition that was so big its box obscured our entire table. By about 10:30 pm the pizza was finished, and most of the people had left, presumably to seek medication and repent of their sins. Only myself and two friends remained. One was Chidsey, a longtime friend who also directs video operations for the NBA's Utah Jazz. The other was Darrin, who mans one of Chidsey's video cameras on the court, and has developed a modest following as "that camera guy who does the techno-dance to warm up the crowd before player introductions."

As the clock made its way towards 11 pm, Darrin was neck-deep in an impassioned rant, describing to us in incisive, unforgettable detail why we should never, ever ever watch the cinematic atrocity that is "Alien: Ressurection" (which of course made us want to see the film that much more). Chidsey was hanging on his every word, determined to turn Darrin's talent-laden rage into a series of hilarious YouTube film critiques that would net us millions. I just sat back under the cold neon glow of the ceiling lights, the blackness of the city night outside the window, wondering why the manager had chosen to pump house music through the PA, and marveling how as a single Mormon guy in my thirties, camped out in a crappy pizza dive on a Saturday night, I could be as happy as I was.

Happy (belated) New Year, everyone. Hope 2012 is a great one.