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.