Saturday, December 31, 2022

Crossing the Bridge: 2022 in Words and Pictures...and Videos!

Dear friends, family, social media bots, and time travelers from 2008 who still read blogs,

In 2022, I graded a bunch of papers, took a lot of pictures in lousy weather, and watched many movies. I started serving in the temple, and sadly, a lot of people I knew passed away.

That's the 21st Century, three-second-attention-span Twitter version of 2022, anyway. And for those of you who just want the pictures, you can always click over here to get straight to the good stuff. But for anyone who appreciates a little "flavor," as Edward Bloom might have put it, the sprawling, painstakingly-crafted tome that follows is just for you: a 4,000-word, 75-image summary of all the year's highs, lows, and beautiful midtones that I feel comfortable sharing with the general public. I even stuck a highlight video at the end of it all.

Enjoy. And if you don't make it all the way to the end in time...Happy New Year!

- W I N T E R -

The new year opened at the height of the Omicron wave, which somehow had nothing to do with a Transformers movie, and like many people, I found myself asking, "is this STILL going on?" as the COVID-19 pandemic approached its second anniversary. While a number of my day-to-day activities had returned to some version of normal, sights like this comically long line outside the COVID testing center in Bountiful put a sobering tone on early 2022.

2021 finished with a feeling of cautious optimism, but as usual, January and February opened 2023 like a brand new album from your favorite classic rock band. My mom's recovery from back issues was interrupted with a cancer scare that was mercifully just a scare, and the surprise passing of two family friends landed me at a pair of funerals to kick off 2022. It was especially bittersweet to say goodbye to Pat Reese, one of my favorite youth leaders growing up in the Bountiful 19th Ward. For the funeral, his family used the portrait I'd taken the previous November when they gathered for pictures on Thanksgiving weekend. It was sad to see him pass, but I was happy that my friends were able to get some photographs while the whole family was still together.

Luckily the new year brought some blessings that were more than silver linings. The new semester at Weber State had me teaching a full load of classes, and I continued to review new movies for the Utah FilmPod. I took my oldest niece ice skating to celebrate her birthday--a rare season-appropriate winter activity for me--and thanks to my friend Tyler, I saw the Utah Symphony play live to the sixth "Harry Potter" movie at Abravanel Hall in February.

The good times kept rolling when a family portrait session with some ward friends got me behind the camera for the first time in 2022, and the year picked up steam as I set out on a pair of shoots with Brian Smith and Steve Jones, two longtime friends who have joined me in the vast photography rabbit hole in recent years. Over the course of the year, I enjoyed multiple shoots with both friends, and have yet to determine whether their wives are secretly planning my assassination, or are grateful to me for getting them out of the house periodically.

Brian and I enjoyed the snowy mountain backdrop for this Saratoga Springs Temple shoot.

Steve and I found another pair of friends on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

There was plenty going on in my own little world, but even with the pandemic fading, 2022's international news demanded attention. By the end of February, a story that had played out in the background of the winter months finally crashed into full public consciousness when the Russian military invaded the country of Ukraine. This wasn't the first time I'd heard of Russia carving territory out of its southwestern neighbor, but my childhood memories of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union made the invasion especially heartbreaking. It helped to see the quick rally of support that came from other governments and citizens, and the determined resilience of the Ukrainian people was inspiring and almost stunning as they battled throughout the year. The Monday after the invasion began, the Utah State Capitol building lit up in blue and yellow in a show of support, and I turned up the next evening to photograph the Ukrainian flag that flew over the State Capitol until sundown.

- S P R I N G -

My spring break photo trips usually have me dealing with some kind of storm on the way down or back. Last year I even had to cut my trip short thanks to a rare Southern Utah blizzard, but my 2022 journey might be my most memorable weather battle so far...and it proved the harbinger of things to come. After a run of frigid shoots at The Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, and Agathla Peak earlier in the week, I woke up on a Thursday morning to a complete whiteout and about six inches of snow in Monument Valley. As the snow piled up through the day, it started to feel like I would be lucky to just get home without incident, let alone get any pictures. But the storm broke mid-afternoon, leaving the park's famous red rock mesas adorned in white, and with a flash of last-second light at sunset, I was blessed with my most unique Monument Valley shoot in six years of visiting the iconic tribal park.

The road trip officially got me out of hibernation for 2022, and over the next few weeks I took advantage of more opportunities to bring out the camera. Later in March I made my first visit to Tepanyaki in three years, and a few days after that, my sister and I capped off a run of pre-birthday "Day of Kate" activities with a combination sunset shoot/watercolor session at Ensign Peak. The effects of the pandemic still lingered, but as it passed its two-year mark in mid-March, it felt like the world was finally putting COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror.

April brought the first General Conference in two years that allowed in-person attendance (I still watched it on TV), and that same weekend I ended over seven months of Instagram silence by launching a new account for my Funko Pop portraits, which I continued to shoot throughout 2022. To my surprise, actor/comedian Ken Jeong shared my first post to his own account--an image of his "Community" character Ben Chang outside my old south city SLCC stomping grounds. It was an encouraging if misleading return to the platform, since Instagram was also in the process of redirecting their algorithm to emphasize video content over still photography. Thanks, Instagram.

Thanks to the spring blossoms at the state capitol, I also got some non-Funko content to share with the world, and when Katie and I packed up all my nieces for a spring outing to the Park Cafe, I added the youngest member of the Power Lunch Club, which still enjoyed some memorable if limited growth throughout 2022.

The Mickey Mouse pancake at the Park Cafe is always a winner for my nieces.

While visiting family in Ohio I had lunch with my cousin Jim.

My friend and Weber State colleague Sylvia had me photograph her yoga class in the summer.

Catching up with my cousin Jessica made up for some blah weather in Bandon, Oregon.

My Aunt Barbara joined the portrait club on our way to a sunset shoot at Mt. Hood.

In November I met up with my old mission buddy Cameron Braithwaite in Ogden.

Late in April, as I was wrapping up spring semester, a concerning 2022 trend continued when my Uncle Jeff passed away unexpectedly out in Ohio. With Mom still fighting back issues, I arranged to represent the Utah branch of the family at the memorial in Cleveland. I was already planning to get out of town for the break, so I extended my trip to include some time in Chicago. The result was a rainy and bittersweet week in the Midwest, reconnecting with family and taking pictures over seven days as April turned to May. It was my first return to Ohio since 2018, and my first time on an airplane since the week before the pandemic officially started in March 2020. 

I need to find a closer viewpoint for the Cleveland skyline...or bring my telephoto next time.

I found this cool old power station on the south shore of Lake Erie.

Before flying back east, I began serving as an Ordinance Worker at the Bountiful Temple for a few hours a week. Over the years I have attended and photographed numerous temples, but it was illuminating to go behind the scenes of temple worship and provide assistance for others. And as May sped toward Memorial Day, my new responsibilities formed the centerpiece of an unforgettable day. 

If March brought the Day of Kate, May delivered the Day of Pooped. It opened around 4:30am as my sister and I left to run a 12K race in association with the annual Ogden Marathon. I was in even worse shape in May than for 2021's Thanksgiving 10K, but the steady decline of the route down Ogden Canyon was much more forgiving and scenic than the up and down nonsense of the golf cart track at Thanksgiving Point. Having survived that, I enjoyed a celebratory breakfast with the family in Kaysville, then finished an afternoon shift at the temple just in time to speak at the Bountiful North Stake Conference...on the blessings of temple service. By the time I picked up takeout Thai food for a late dinner, I felt a strange combination of exhaustion and elation, and resolved to never run a race longer than 5K ever again.

With the Day of Pooped behind me, I was hoping to get in one last photo shoot Memorial Day weekend to cap off spring. But that idea derailed the following Thursday when after two years, two vaccinations, a booster, and a whole lot of muffled conversations behind a mask, the Coronapocalypse finally caught up to me as I tested positive for COVID-19. Luckily I made it to the "Top Gun: Maverick" press screening earlier in the week, and was able to enjoy my favorite movie of the year at the Jordan Commons IMAX.

On the bright side, my mild symptoms suggested I only had the watered-down 2022 version of the virus, so I tried to stay productive in isolation, getting in a little reading, doing some spring cleaning, and photographing my positive test for the sake of the historical record. Honestly, getting through COVID in the spring of 2022 felt like calling myself a cancer survivor because my dermatologist has to zap me with liquid nitrogen at my annual checkup. Gratefully it was more of an inconvenience than an illness, and as May signed off and my quarantine ended, 2022 already felt like a year of significance.

- S U M M E R - 

Thanks to COVID, my transition into summer was more of a sluggish stagger than a joyous leap to freedom, and if it weren't for a series of product shoots for the Cheetahman, I barely would have touched my camera for about six weeks from May into June. Luckily a few birthday dinners for friends and family helped keep me engaged, and I waded into my online English course while continuing to volunteer at the temple and review 2022's lineup of summer shlockbusters. By the end of June, summer finally started to feel like summer when I joined some friends to see Vertical Horizon play a free show at South Ogden Days. 

One of my more creative shots of 2022...and the main reason I rarely attend concerts anymore.

As 2022 rolled toward its halfway mark, I got two pieces of good news: first, my friend Sylvia needed some pictures to advertise her campus Yoga class, and second, my sister had spotted my culinary white whale: mini-taco shells were back on the grocery shelves! Tack on a Friday night expedition to the Provo City Center Temple with Brian--which included a customary bacon jalapeno burger at JCW's--and June finished in a blaze of food and photographic glory.

Heading into the holiday weekend, I assumed the second half of 2022 would kick off with a fireworks-fueled bang, but reality delivered a burn instead. In the early hours of July 4th, I looked out my front window to discover that just like three years ago, the mountainside was on fire. A few minutes later I was aiming my camera at the Deuel Creek Fire as it loomed over Centerville. My results were nothing special, but I was glad I caught them when my attempt to photograph the West Bountiful fireworks display with Steve that night went down in metaphoric flames thanks to my miscalculated shooting position. We had better luck later in the month when we set up on my friend Melanie's roof to shoot the Mueller Park Junior High display a week before Pioneer Day.

Every year, temple photography is a consistent subplot to my creative efforts, and where possible, I've tried to add new subjects to my portfolio. With temples nearing completion in Layton, Taylorsville, and Saratoga Springs, it's been fun to anticipate the new options I'll have in the next few years, but ever since late 2021 the brand-new temple up in Pocatello had sat at the top of my to-shoot list.

A week after Independence Day, Brian and I checked my Pocatello Temple box at the tail end of a day trip that also included my first summer produce run to Pettingill's, a bison burger at Maddox, a choice visit with a missionary couple I knew in Chicago, and a nostalgic trip through our mutual academic past at the Utah State University campus in Logan. While it was fun to walk the Quad and step inside Ray B. West, the building where I spent so much time laboring on my master's degree and grading student papers, the real highlight was returning to room 006 in the Communication Disorders Building, where I taught my first section of English composition back in 2002.

The answer is yes: I did have hair back in 2002.

Once it was up to speed, summer offered a consistent stream of fun and often unexpected opportunities. Soon after the Pocatello trip, I rejoined Brian and his family in American Fork to see his son Noah through the Mount Timpanogos Temple. When my sister (ironically?) spotted a katydid on my car, I got a rare opportunity to use my macro lens, and thanks to a couple of generous ward families, I did some more portrait work as July transitioned into August. The most memorable shoot during this stretch happened late one evening as I found myself sitting in my carport in the middle of an electrical storm, trying to score some lightning shots. The results were just so-so, but I did manage to immortalize the leftover McDonald's fries that scattered across the end of the driveway when the storm knocked over our garbage cans.

Summer was moving at full click as the calendar turned over into August, but even with the specter of a new school year looming at the end of the month, I enjoyed one of my best days of 2022 when I took one of my nieces out for a birthday lunch, then picked up her big sister to see the special 40th Anniversary screening of "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" in IMAX. These days it takes a little more convincing to leave our home theaters for the local multiplex, and most of 2022's fare wasn't all that persuasive. But seeing "ET" at the Legacy Crossing Megaplex was a powerful reminder of why I fell in love with movies as a kid, and sharing that experience with two of my nieces was one of the year's genuine highlights.

A few days later, after concluding my summer class with an intense final grading session, I packed up my car and set out to resolve some unfinished business on the Oregon coast. I defied inflated gas prices and late paper submissions, but I could not defy the foggy coastal weather, which left my business in Bandon unfinished. Luckily conditions improved as I drove north, and shoots at Cannon Beach, Mt. Hood, and the Portland and Twin Falls temples were much more successful. Seven days, 2,000 miles, and five states after leaving, I returned with more than 1,700 images and some fond memories, including some valuable time spent with my extended family along the way.

I shall return, Bandon...I shall return.

A few days after getting back from Oregon, before I even had a chance to put off editing my results, Brian and I officially wrapped up the summer with an evening shoot in Ogden. On our way to photograph the Ogden Temple, we noticed some beautiful light in the clouds hovering over the Farr Ice Cream shop across the street. It was a perfectly appropriate way to cap off Summer 2022; from bedding shoots to wildfires to wildlife, the season delivered a generous variety of unexpected subjects and choice friends and family to enjoy them with.

- F A L L - 

As August transitioned to September, I was back in Ogden to start my slate of Fall Semester classes at Weber State, and this time I had a graduate student named Mariah shadowing me as I taught my first face-to-face section of English 2010 since my spring course was forced online in 2020. The new movie releases honored their long-held September tradition of mediocrity, but I enjoyed another anniversary showing when Megaplex screened "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" out in West Valley. In the end, September's biggest news was the passing of my friend Kris Montgomery, who finally succumbed to cancer after battling a brain tumor for almost two years.

A grocery bagger reunion in 2021: (from left) Ben (Kris's brother), Kris, Brian, Me.

Three nights after his death, and about a week before I attended my fourth funeral of 2022, I staked out a position off Bountiful Boulevard with Steve to photograph another electrical storm. The dramatic image I caught above the Bountiful Temple felt like a tender mercy from an always-supportive friend who became a great example and inspiration to me in the last years of his life. In spite of my strong testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation, it was still jarring to see Kris in repose before the funeral; his service was the first I had attended for a friend my own age, though I have lost several of my peers in recent years. Once again, 2022 gave me the opportunity to think about the legacy my friends and family--and someday I--will leave behind.

I doubt I will ever surpass 2020 for fall-related shoots and activities, what with all the hiking and leaf-peeping I did that year. But fall of 2022 still brought some welcome opportunities behind the camera, including season-appropriate expeditions up Millcreek Canyon and the Alpine Loop, and it brought some changes, as Dani Hatch decided to step away from the FilmPod to focus on other responsibilities. Through it all, whether I was photographing a youth soccer game, losing an argument with a two-year-old during a portrait shoot, or keeping the podcast going with my old editor/roommate/friend Mark LaRocco, my efforts always seemed to involve friends, family, or--on one memorable occasion--Storm Troopers.

I insisted that my friend Adam bring his cosplay gear along for his family photo shoot.

The friends and family theme continued when I called an audible a few days before leaving town in mid-October for Fall Break. The original plan was to follow a traditional route south through Las Vegas and Death Valley, with stops in Hollywood and Joshua Tree National Park. But since two of my best friends were going to be spending the same week in the Seattle area, it seemed logical to follow them north instead. The weather bug bit again when an ill-timed forest fire and some Pacific Northwest rain left my photography efforts with a heavy overcast haze. But it was fun to spend time with Randy and Brian, and at the midpoint of the trip, I marked a year of collecting Funko Pops with a visit to the company headquarters in Everett, Washington...where I picked up a custom pop of myself.

The weather finally broke by the time I reached Balanced Rock Park on the way home.

On my way up to Seattle, I received some sad news from back home: after nearly 40 years in business, Top Hat Video was closing. I had enjoyed renting from Top Hat for years, and was always impressed by their enthusiastic customer service. I'd even had their manager Shanna come on my podcast earlier in the year. So it was heartbreaking, if not shocking, to get word that they had decided to close up shop. A few days after returning from Seattle, I photographed one of Top Hat's final Movie Club gatherings, and a few weeks later I returned to cover a special employees-only event. Once again, 2022 was marked with a sense of loss, and of inevitable change. But I remained grateful for the friendships and memories I was able to make in the process.

Two days before Thanksgiving, I marked another occasion by celebrating 25 years since my return from missionary service in Chicago. I tried to write a commemorative Homecoming 2.0 address to capture the reflection of the moment, but my effort eventually became another half-finished, unpublished post in the archive of this blog. Instead, I celebrated my anniversary by driving to Orem with Steve to buy colored smoke grenades to use in future photo shoots. Very little of my life resembles what I expected it to become when I arrived home at Salt Lake International Airport on November 22nd, 1997. Were I to go back and meet my 21-year-old self at the terminal, I think I'd have a lot of explaining to do. But I think I'd be happy about the smoke grenades.

- H O L I D A Y S - 

Unlike years past, there was no Turkey Bowl, pickup soccer game, or even a merciless 10K to usher in the holiday season, but Thanksgiving morning I did complete one of my primary goals for 2022: read 22 books. For an English teacher, I have pretty lousy reading habits, so I resolved early in the year to step up my efforts. Thanksgiving morning I finished P. J. O'Rourke's "Parliament of Whores" to hit 21, and just for fun, I followed that up with a hilarious children's book called, "No One Likes a Fart" to reach #22. With more than a month left in the year, I eventually finished with a total of 24 titles, including memorable reads like my first Tom Wolfe novel ("The Right Stuff"), and a run through one of my all-time favorites: Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities."

Credit to my buddy Matt Hansen for the "picture of the books I've read" concept.

Later that day, Thanksgiving arrived in style as my family gathered for a traditional meal up in Kaysville. I added a few leaf portraits to a growing collection, and spent some time with my oldest niece on Black Friday to get a jump on my Christmas shopping. Altogether, it was a strong start for the holiday season.

Things got busy in December, as they always do. While finishing off the semester's final grading and pushing through a lineup of award-hopefuls on my way to a UFCA vote, I joined friends and family for various holiday meals and Christmas parties, and part way through the month I was surprised with an adjunct teaching award courtesy of a great group of fall semester students. (I was also surprised when my desktop computer tried to commit suicide 10 days before Christmas; remember not to let your hard drives get too full, kids!) Once the major "to-do" items were finished, I got a jump on preparing my spring courses while doing more holiday stuff, like photographing the Christmas lights in Centerville and taking an impromptu drive up to Park City with my buddy Paul to buy socks and hot sauce (because nothing says "Merry Christmas" like hot sauce). By the time Christmas Day arrived, I was finally able to give my family the custom Funko Pops I had purchased in Seattle the previous October, but the most satisfying moment of the month may have been passing a yard with the Ukrainian flag on display, and knowing that after months of fighting, the brave country on the opposite side of the world was still intact.

With Christmas 2022 in the rear-view mirror, I set about putting the finishing touches on the year, and in the week running up to New Year's Eve I spent some more time with family and got in a couple more shoots, photographing the Christmas Lights in American Fork with Brian and Antelope Island with Steve before immortalizing my custom Funko Pop outside the original Legacy Preparatory Academy in North Salt Lake, where I played my all-time favorite gig with Thunderlips for the kids back in 2012. I recorded one last episode of the Utah FilmPod and wrapped up the annual blog ramble post you are reading right now. Best of all, I completed one of my favorite projects of 2022: a highlight video of footage shot during the year's many photo sessions.

I started getting creative at the end of the American Fork shoot...

*     *     *

Every year has its share of change, and 2022 was no different. For many of my friends and family, change came in the form of the passing of a loved one; I attended more funerals this year than ever before, and I didn't even make it to all the services I could have. For others, change took different forms, like the closing of a beloved neighborhood business after nearly four decades of service. But change wasn't just about endings. I'll always remember 2022 as the year I started serving in the temple, and that wasn't my only new venture: in September I learned that starting in Spring Semester 2023 I will begin teaching in Weber State's film program--my first official foray outside of the English department in twenty years of teaching. 

In pandemic terms, 2022 feels like the end of a trilogy, but for all its genuine challenges, I don't feel like I can label it the same way I did 2020 and 2021. 2022 is more than just, "Our Crappy Year 3.0." I'm feeling a sense of emergence and anticipation, and even the difficult changes are pointed at an open-ended future. It may take some time before I can fully put this past year into perspective, but right now I can feel grateful for all of the good things that happened in 2022 as I work to accept all of the bad things...or maybe just be patient with the things 2022 hasn't resolved. In that sense, maybe the last twelve months are more of a bridge than anything else, and 2023 will reveal what is waiting on the other side. One way or the other, I know for sure I'll have my camera ready.

Happy New Year, everyone...and best wishes for 2023!