Monday, December 30, 2019

People, Places, and More People: Images of 2019

In a macro sense, 2019 wasn't all that different from the last few years. I taught a few classes for Weber State University, I wrote a bunch of film reviews for the Deseret News, and I filled the gaps with as much photography as I could. I spent lots of time with my family and lots of time at the gym, which helped to justify all the time I spent in front of the TV eating Peruvian takeout. But 2019 also featured a lot of firsts: I caught my first fish, I ran my first 10K, and I traveled out of the country for the first time, thanks to a hot tip on a discounted plane ticket from a guitar-playing, motorcycle riding buddy of mine. I even got my first season pass to Lagoon, which would be embarrassing at my age if it wasn't to help my sister entertain my nieces over the summer break.

But as I think back on 2019, one theme jumps the most: people. Over the course of the year, I took numerous pictures of family and friends, and even when I was photographing landscapes or urban subjects, I tried to be a little more outgoing with the people I met along the way. I spent the entire year on a special portrait project that, in addition to all the travel photography, made for an exhausting twelve months. But it was the kind of exhausting that left you grateful for the experience, and helped offset everything that didn't go right in 2019.

As always, I've compiled a high-quality gallery of my best images for the year on my official website. But if you prefer the rambling narrative and the loosely organized chaos, read on:


Going into 2019, I really only had one concrete resolution: to take a picture of every friend I had lunch with throughout the year. After stockpiling images for two months, I started making weekly social media posts that included a brief profile for each friend. Things steamrolled from there, and by the end of the year I'd photographed well over 50 friends and family members. Aside from the satisfaction of following through on an interesting idea, the project felt like a rare effort to use social media to look out instead of in. 2019 was a really great year in a lot of ways, and this experience will likely define it.

Chidsey wore his RBG shirt special for my first official Power Lunch Portrait in January.
My friend Tanner brought a special guest for this unreleased Power "Lunch" pic (it was really breakfast).
This is the face of a man stranded in Cheyenne, wondering if he will have to stay the night.
Around the same time I started my lunch project, I got some of the hardest news of the year when a friend of mine from high school passed away after a swim practice at the Bountiful Rec Center. Though I followed his career on Facebook, I hadn't spoken with Jason in several years, and his passing was an important reminder that as convenient as social media might be, it's important to engage with our friends and loved ones directly whenever we can. It was also a reminder to act fast when we have a good idea, because I missed the chance to photograph the tribute Jason's students put up on a wall at Bountiful Jr. High, where he taught English for several years before his death.

(This is where the picture of Jason's tribute wall would have gone.)

Missed opportunities aside, it wasn't long before one of 2019's biggest highlights pierced the winter blahs. I can only name a handful of moments in my life that qualify as life-changing, but the birth of my first niece in 2011 is an easy entry. In 2019, that memory got even sweeter as I attended her baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was honored to give a brief talk as part of the program, and prior to the big day, we spent some time up at the state capitol building getting a few pictures in her baptismal dress.

In February, almost seven years after Dick's Market vacated its longtime location on Pages Lane to move north into Centerville, my wistful dreams of having a Trader Joe's a block from my house were officially demolished to make way for a new sub-division of single family homes. Over the years, my junior high and high school have been reshaped by substantial remodels, and very few of the buildings that hosted my courses at the University of Utah remain intact. Watching the old Dick's location get wiped off the map has been a surreal reminder that time moves on, and that change is a constant in life.

For a professional film critic, I have a decidedly low interest in the Oscars. But I have a high interest in my friend T.C.'s annual Oscar party, which featured the usual hijinks and quality appetizers. I think I scored an all-time low on my award ballot this year. Thank goodness for the commercial break trivia contest.

I've been attending the VASA Fitness in Bountiful regularly for many years now (and for many years before that gym was a VASA, to tell the truth). Over those years, I've enjoyed getting to know several of my fellow masochists, but none stands out quite like John Kinnear, my 89-year-old friend from South Africa. Conversations with John are one big reason my gym visits have changed from a pained obligation to something I actually look forward to. In March, I talked John into meeting me at a studio in Cottonwood Heights for a portrait session, where I immortalized one of my all-time favorite winning smiles.



Every March for the last few years, a spring break road trip has given winter a lively kick in the pants. I had to fight through some rough weather on the way down and back, but this year's loop through Southern Utah added first-time visits to Natural Bridges National Monument and Lower Antelope Canyon (technically in Arizona) alongside triumphant returns to Capitol Reef National Park and Monument Valley.

Weber's spring break always comes a little early in the season, but it wasn't long before Northern Utah caught up to the nicer weather I enjoyed down south. Five years ago I had a nice time at the state capitol taking pictures with all the spring blossoms in bloom, and as I returned this year for a repeat experience, I had to fight for space with a lot of like-minded fellow locals. But with a little trial and error, I was still able to get one of my favorite images of the year.

I haven't seen near as many concerts over the last few years as I did a decade ago, but I took in a trio of shows in 2019, including an evening with Muse at Vivint Smart Home Arena and a double-bill at Usana Amphitheater with Jimmy Eat World and Third Eye Blind that felt like a college reunion. The most poignant concert, though, was attending the Hives show in Salt Lake in May with three of my four Thunderlips bandmates. We've covered their anthem, "Hate to Say I Told You So" for most all of our performances, and seeing the Hives show us how it was done in person was a special moment for all of us.

I don't know if it was a special moment for this security guy, but oh well.

For the second year in a row, I taught a first block summer course for Weber State, which gives me about a week after spring semester to rewire my brain before I jump back into the academic void. This year, though, I was able to squeeze in a trip out to Indiana, where my buddy Randy was selling his Rockagator waterproof backpacks at the annual NRA convention in Indianapolis. Through a little logistic magic, I was able to work in a couple of nights in Chicago in addition to photographing Trump 2020 campaigners and anti-circumcision protestors in Indianapolis, then Randy and I took the long I-70 drive home, stopping along the way to visit several church history sites.

While shooting the Chicago sunrise, I met a fellow photographer named Loic, in town for a marketing internship. 


Most of the time I travel on my own, but in the summer I was able to jump in on a handful of quick day trips and overnighters with friends, which offered the chance to have fun and take pictures out of town without having to spend a lot of money. On the first of June I spent a Saturday with my friend Tyler golfing in Cedar City, a couple of weeks later I spent a couple of days off-roading in Capitol Reef National Park with my neighbors Georgia and Milo Paskett, and in July I spent a day with my old friend Shaun (who also teaches at Weber) driving his Corvette up to Bear Lake. I also continued a summer tradition by joining the Smith and Pinson families on their annual Willow Flats campout on the Cub River in Idaho (where I caught the fish).

Tyler's a pretty good golfer; he's just giving me lots of sand for the sake of the shot.

Thanks to my neighbors' four-wheel drive, I was finally able to photograph the best spot in Capitol Reef.

Shaun sold the Vette later this year, so I'm especially honored to have enjoyed a test drive.

My buddy Brian gave me some headlamp assistance with my Willow Flats Milky Way composition.
At the end of last year I capped off a 12-month obsession with ceviche by finally learning to make the item myself. This year, thanks to a thoughtful Christmas gift, I drove down to Utah County for a complimentary sushi class, where I learned to make yet another favorite fish dish. A couple of months later, as part of my Power Lunch project, I met up with my friend Ben Baker at a Centerville spot named Fuji Sushi, and one of the pictures I took won their Instagram contest. I kept up my obsession with ceviche, and I did order a lot of Peruvian takeout over the year, but between my class and my repeated visits to Fuji Sushi (as well as various other spots like Tsunami, Happy Sumo, and--no kidding--Tony's Grill and Sushi Bar), sushi has to take the award for Josh's Food Obsession of 2019.

Though this technically isn't sushi (it's Beef Tataki), it is the shot that won Fuji Sushi's Instagram contest.

For the last year and a half, I've been teaching the primary kids on Sundays, and for most of that stretch I've been working with my friend Chris. Halfway through 2019 I enjoyed an unexpected first, when Chris invited me to attend his sealing to his wife and kids at the Bountiful Temple. I'd never attended a sealing that included kids before, and the experience was awesome.

I can't remember if it was for my sister's birthday or Christmas--seriously, everything that happened in 2019 before fall feels like it happened about five years ago--but at some point I gifted her the entry fee for the 5K of her choice, along with a promise to run the race with her. Somewhere along the way she talked me into doing a 10K instead. While I've generally kept in shape over the years, I was a little apprehensive about finishing the entire race (I'd never run more than a 5K previously). My worries proved unfounded, however, and Katie and I had a great time at a midnight run out at the Davis County Fairgrounds. She even took first place in her division (I was fourth...of four).

I look a lot more presentable in this pre-race picture.

Once I wrapped up my summer class for Weber, I had a nearly two-month window of time to fill before fall classes started. Part of that time was taken up writing reviews for a pretty mediocre slate of summer movies, but I also tried to get out of town where possible. In July, I checked a new national park off my list when I drove up to Glacier for a couple of nights. I fell in love with the place right away, spending lots of time driving up and down Going to the Sun Road (where they filmed the opening shots for 1980's "The Shining"), and enjoying a beautiful afternoon at a spot called Many Glacier.

At the end of 2018, I dropped by the Bountiful Post Office and applied for my first international passport. In August of 2019, I used that passport to take my first trip to Europe. After scoring an excellent deal on a round-trip ticket to Paris, I flew to France to split a week's time between the City of Lights and London. I could write pages about the experience--and in a previous era I probably would have--but this was my simple takeaway: Visiting Paris felt like making a new friend; visiting London felt like putting on a glove.

- FALL -

The Friday of Labor Day Weekend, only a day before I was scheduled to drive up to Jackson, Wyoming, I woke up at 3am, walked out into my front yard, and looked east to see an entire mountain on fire. The so-called Bountiful Gun Range Fire was one of the biggest local stories of 2019; luckily no one was harmed, though the fire did claim two homes in a nearby ward. By the time I woke up and saw what was going on, evacuations had already taken place and emergency crews were on the scene, so I set up my tripod in my front yard and let my journalist instinct take over.

I did make it to Jackson the next day, and spent a fun weekend getting to know a bunch of new people while whitewater rafting, hiking, and exploring Grand Teton National Park. The night I got there I set up on the shore of Jackson Lake to capture a half-hour's worth of star trails, and the morning before I left I rose early to capture the Teton Range at daybreak. Coming so soon after a pair of substantial trips, and only knowing a single person going into the event, I debated whether to set out one more time, but I'm very glad I did.


Once I got back from Jackson, the madness of 2019 finally cooled off as I spent September getting fall semester up to speed. I continued to meet up with friends for my Power Lunch project, but overall getting back to the teaching and writing routine brought me back to earth. It wasn't long, though, before some new photographic opportunities presented themselves. Throughout fall and into November, I picked up a generous number of family portrait shoots, and even got to drive down to Provo to do a special project with my old college roommate Aaron. It was very flattering to have so many people seek me out to do their pictures; in Davis County, and Utah in general, you have plenty of options to choose from. Big thanks to everyone who looked my way in 2019.

This image of my buddy Brian's kids was a nod to...

...this shot, taken at Wheeler Farm seven years ago.'s not mantle-worthy, but this is one of my favorite pictures of the whole year.
I campaigned hard to convince my family to use this for our 2019 Christmas card.

By the time Fall Break rolled around in mid-October, I was ready to get out on the road again. This year, I decided to do a reverse version of the route I took last fall, which culminated with my cousin's wedding in Cedar City. There was no wedding to attend this year, so instead I drove south to Las Vegas via Valley of Fire State Park, then cut west for a return visit to Death Valley National Park before driving north to pick up America's Loneliest Highway on the way to Ely. The trip was excellent from front to back, but I think my favorite part was avoiding the holiday traffic by heading home on I-80 instead of having to come north on I-15.

This is Gene. I asked him to go pose for me on top of the Fire Wave.

Cool factoid: I visited "both" Eiffel Towers in 2019.

I didn't know these guys, but they were nice enough to pose for me at Badwater Basin.

On the way back to my car after this shoot I got to know a photographer named Daniel. I'm so social!


Believe it or not, there was one trip that didn't happen in 2019. Since my sister would be celebrating Thanksgiving with her in-laws this year, my original plan was to take my mom down to Southern Utah so she could visit Arches and Monument Valley for the first time. Thanks to a timely winter storm, that plan was scrapped, and I think the ensuing cold stretch inspired me to head to San Diego once I finished the grading for fall semester. I felt a little indulgent by returning to San Diego barely a year after my 2018 visit, but the quality time I spent with some mission friends on the back half of the visit could have justified the trip on its own.

Seagull + crashing waves outside the Hotel Coronado.

This time I photographed a different spot in La Jolla for sunset.

I didn't know the San Diego Temple did Christmas lights, but I was happy to jump on the opportunity.

My San Diego excursion was just one element of what has become a traditional whirlwind of December activity, marked by the end of fall semester and the surge of year-end holiday movie releases. This year, the routine stuff was relatively painless, thanks to a pair of good classes at Weber and the chance to see the last (?) of the "Skywalker Saga" Star Wars films. So rather than get swamped by to-do lists, I spent time with family and friends, and mixed in photo shoots at Temple Square and Antelope Island as the year drew to a close.

The Salt Lake Temple is going to be closed until 2024, so a last Christmas shoot seemed appropriate.

My sister and I had to get creative to get that gingerbread house to stand up.

I guess it looks like Santa got frozen under the Great Salt Lake. That wasn't the idea.

*      *      *

Back in November, as I started thinking about how to frame this year's photo essay, it dawned on me that we weren't just coming up on the end of a year, but the end of a decade*. I started thinking about where I was at when 2010 started, and how it compared to the way I'm wrapping things up ten years later. The results? Pretty mixed, to be honest. I've seen all kinds of progress and setbacks, blessings and trials, and the whole decade seemed to hinge on my dad's passing in the fall of 2014. I'm happy to report that a lot of the important things are still holding strong, and there's still hope for the future on the things that haven't come through (like a cure for male-pattern baldness). At one point I drafted a "best of the decade" post with a different image for every year, but it just couldn't scratch the surface of a truly amazing and unexpected stretch. So instead, I think I'll bury it in my vast "draft" bin and cap off the year, and the decade, with a picture that has always been a personal favorite. One that captures a little bit of that hope we have for the future. Happy New Year, everyone...and have a great new decade!


*Yes, I know there is an argument to be made that December 31st, 2020 will actually be the last day of the decade. Josh hears you; Josh doesn't care.