The Realm of Reflexive Expression

I arrived in what seemed like a dream. Returning to a place I had severed from my desired destinations for a second chance. This journey outside of my comfort-zone and into the concrete jungle would teach me a few things; learning who we are and what environment we thrive in is an ever-changing process, and in order to find it we must go where we cannot.

This visit wasn't for my own benefit. It wasn't set to teach me anything or change my bias. It was simply meant to be an observational experience of a place I hadn't truly digested. The dream that is New York City refers to the notion that anywhere you go, there are thousands of events and interactions occurring simultaneously. In our own dreams, many things seem out of place or nonsensical, which is a very visible reality in certain parts of the city. You'll pass by people who have lost everything seconds after walking by a millionaire. There are condemned buildings sitting at the base of monoliths scraping the sky. This constant dichotomy is at times abrasive to the senses, and can seem foreign to anyone not familiar with the structure.

That being said, there is so much to experience in this place that I don't feel confident putting it into a neatly packaged box to describe and distribute. If you truly wish to witness controlled chaos or infinite opportunity, I can only encourage you to go and see it for yourself. Just weeks after being there, it's still taking time to process events that occurred in just a couple day's time.

While there, I choose to channel how the city was affecting me into my photography. Trying my hand at a more candid or "street" style,  I attempted to capture my surroundings as is. Praying that the shots were properly exposed and in focus, I shot three rolls of 35mm and filled them with faces I passed by. The raw expression and state of these people was an honor to capture, if even for a second. Pulling them out of their comfort-zone and into the realm of uncertainty where I was can be seen in some of their expressions. Others were unaware that they were even being captured. 

Regardless, the emotional vulnerability it took to empathize with each subject I captured taught me the aforementioned lesson about thriving in an environment lacking comfort. I know now that to capture emotions, you have to first be emotional. To capture a vulnerable moment, you must be fully vulnerable. To capture discomfort, you must be uncomfortable. In this realm of reflexive expression is where I thrive. 

 

Create/Destroy

The title of this article alone encapsulates its conflicting and often paradoxical nature. As a creator, for the past few years my journey has been visualized as a straight path, heading in one direction and directly upwards. Over the recent few months, that path has begun to expose dead-ends, detours and alternate routes. Not necessarily to more opportunities, just different ones. I began to lose sense of my artistic voice, and the line between inspiration and mimicry was blurred. After seeing several artistic friends open up about this issue as well, I began to step away for a wider view of this phenomenon. 

The next portion of this post can be seen as either a positive or negative, depending on your bias and current status in the art community. However, it is all subjective, and rather than call any single party out, it is only meant to offer a vulnerable subjectivity of what I've learned through my experiences. Some of you may be able to relate, and others will refute the points. Either way I encourage you to read on and engage in conversation. 

For awhile now, collecting accounts of photographers from all spectrums of social media has been a passion of mine. Hearing their stories of how they achieved their current status has been enlightening and stirred me to the point of writing this article. The general theme I've gathered is this; Most successful artists on social media have gathered a massive following, and some have been able to make a living off of just that factor alone. However, few artists are satisfied with the cycle of which they've become a part of, and nearly none have been able to disconnect from it, including myself. 

I believe it's fair to have the outlook, that as artists we all care to some degree what people think of our work. We create for ourselves, but cater to the public's opinion. The craft has become the release and the crowd has become the pull. Whichever trend becomes popular, we see a financial profit in it, but lose a little of ourselves on the way to it. This is the point a lot of photographers have reached with or without their knowledge. Through the sale of their personal presets, workshops and overall style, we've started making a profit off of who we are as creators. Relating back to earlier on in this article, there is nothing wrong with making a living off of your talent. I personally have come to the conclusion that whereas that process should be celebrated, it is equally important to avoid dividing up and distributing who you are. This affects both parties involved. You begin to create stylistic clones at a rapid pace, and in turn they skip the essential lessons. With this exchange of skills for profit, the playing field is leveled. I can speak to this point, as I have taken part of this process. Before I was able to grasp any of the points I've made in this passage, I was trying out other artist's presets, and mimicking their style because I had seen their success and wanted to gain the same influence almost overnight. Since then, I've resorted back to an original style that I am satisfied with, and one that caters towards my own work, regardless of the following it gathers.  

Competition can be healthy, and often necessary in the artistic community. Without a chain of inspiration, I would never have been pushed towards the direction I am heading now. Without a source of inspiration, many artists would never have had the ability to pick their voice and capitalize on that specific style. To digress and offer a conflicting point, I believe collaboration is equally if not more important. 

I'm not sure that I have a definitive solution, or that one will ever exist. The conclusion I've reached is that it is essential to take an occasional step back and view the overall scope of the community of artists living on social media. To collaborate often and pass down knowledge, but refrain from selling your style while allowing others to find their own. To contribute to the variety of the environment we live in and never lose sight of where we began our journey. To create a new generation of artists, who are capable of destroying the current set of limitations. 

Never stop creating, and never stop changing. If you make a mistake, make it loud and well. If you seek insight, become vulnerable. 

 

Only When Shared

The importance of sharing time with others has recently become more prominent in my life. The quote, "Happiness is only real when shared" is now a staple in my lifestyle. I used to take pride in the amount of time that was spent on my own, driving across the country or going out into the wilderness. However, I've come to see how the most memorable events in my life were spent in the shared company of others. Whether it was a camping trip with good friends, or a 20-hour drive across part of the country with strangers, collectively getting lost in the experience was the best part. When you're pushed out of your comfort zone, and occupy the same space with other people you learn more and grow faster. Access to different ideas is right there for the taking, and all it takes is a willingness to listen. We share opinions and occasionally disagree on issues, but it's all much healthier than keeping to ourselves. 

So this isn't a self-empowering "you are fine on your own" post. In fact it's just the opposite. I implore you to seek out others, likeminded or otherwise. Share your story and witness theirs. Take time to be uncomfortable, and you'll find those who will stand on the edge of the cliff, climb the tallest mountain or swim in unknown waters with you. 

 

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Control

My drive to Montana yesterday was a humbling one. Possibly the most mentally-trying and draining experience I've had in a long time. Through it all, one theme became extremely prevalent; nature is in control. Driving through a blizzard or over snow-covered roads with no idea of your bearings, and no one in sight to assist can put the issues in your life into perspective very quickly. Resorting to basic survival comes first, and worst-case scenarios cross your mind. At that moment, the storm lifts, the sky clears and the roads are dry again. Visualizing yourself coming out of the storm or through that last mountain pass in one piece can be a healthy mental remedy, if only temporary, but reminding oneself to show unwavering respect to nature afterwards is the ultimate outcome. This experience could all possibly be a metaphor for life in general, realizing that it is in control, and rather than trying to control it, learn to roll with any storms it may send your way. For those lost in mind or spirit, attempting to find who they are as a person or what goal they hope to achieve in life, recognize the resources that have been placed around you, visualize yourself using them and reach your destination. 

Below are a few images I was able to capture while driving through the mountains of eastern Idaho.

 

Adjusted Focus

I began shooting on film with an old Canon TL camera on my most recent trip to Washington. Since that trip, I've made an effort to use it as often as possible. This newfound passion to shoot has come from many factors, one being the art of film itself. To get the correct framing, exposure and moment in time demands intense patience, but yields a unique reward. There had been something missing from my work that I didn't know existed in the first place, and that was focus. Focusing on my surroundings, my subject and the settings of my camera.

Digital technology has also proven its worth (I could go on about praising the new iPhone 7+ camera) but the simplicity it has brought to consumers, has veiled the very reason we take photos in the first place; to capture valuable moments in time. Of course value is relevant, but the weight of a moment increases dramatically when it costs money for a small roll of memories.

If there's one takeaway from the usage of film, it's not that the quality is incredible or the reward of shooting with it is exemplified by its tangibility. Instead, it reminds you with every click of the shutter why you picked up a camera in the first place. That in itself is unique to every photographer, but the one constant that connects us all lies at the root of film; to share a moment of our lives with others, so that they may see what we saw in the raw beauty of that memory. 

Below are some images that were captured on my first roll of film. (Kodak 400)

 

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Conclusion/Prelude

This past week has been spent roaming across the Pacific Northwest with friends, old and new. I've seen everything from the foggy beaches of Oregon, to the rainy metropolis that is Seattle. I've heard accounts of how these strangers arrived at where they are now, and with each new story, I've been encouraged to embrace the unknown. They took a leap of faith, and landed in a space they have become acquainted with. This trip has been less about the sights, and more about the stories. Of course it is soothing to receive validation of my goals and encouragement, while having a clear view of Mount Rainier or the Puget Sound. However, engaging fully with the like-minded pioneers before me, and applying their situations to my own has been the true miracle. What I'm trying to say, is that the people here radiate empathy, at least the many I've come across so far. No matter their rank in society or season of life, they've accepted my story and fully engaged in helping me achieve my goals. Shedding all pride and power, they return to their roots with every conversation. That is the largest factor that makes me desire this region. Finding beauty within nature is always my mission, but discovering humans with beautiful souls is an even rarer occurrence, and it's what I believe I've found here.  

 

Below are some photos from my journey across Oregon and Washington, of the places I've seen and people I've met. 

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Redefining Beauty

Viewing the same sights from a different perspective. It seems trivial, but it can revitalize your will to explore, and your yearn for adventure. Traveling to the Pacific Northwest region has indeed become a popular trend within the last few years, but routine can be broken, and settled areas can become new once again. Going into this trip, I realized that there would be many "Instagram-able" moments and sights, but that didn't deter us from pushing our itinerary further than those who had traveled here prior to my arrival.  We spent our days roaming in all directions, and stumbling across not only wondrous sights, but some unexpected emotions as well. Hiking 2,300 feet in the rain, mud and treacherous wind, with no warning and no guarantee of safety, our bodies were made fragile, and our values were put into perspective. Taking a nap in the trunk of a car on the beach, while the storm moved in from the ocean, a new definition of peace was presented before my eyes. This region, as with any area you may travel to, is only as beautiful as you choose to make it. The world is not ours; the mountains we climb can never be conquered and the oceans we swim in can never be understood. But if we go into these places with respect allowing nature to envelope us, we may grow closer to appreciating it. 

Due East

This past weekend, we changed things up and headed east. Finding ourselves in Atlanta, my friend Austin (Summerhouse Films) and I decided to head out of town, and search for some nature. Unlikely and undiscovered areas were trekked, and we found beauty in a place that I had long regarded as stagnant scenery. More often than not, losing oneself in their surroundings is a trying task, however in this area, an unexpected peace stirred within us, as we inhaled the wonder and digested the beauty that enveloped us. The following photos, and most recent episode of the "Get Lost" series, show our adventures from the weekend. 

Touring with Silent Planet

For the past few months, I have been traveling on and off with the band Silent Planet from Los Angeles, CA. After meeting them a year ago, I was immediately struck by their provoking lyrics and compassion. They have been an inspiration for thousands of people across the world, and are revolutionizing the way we value each other as human beings. I am beyond thankful for what they have done for me as an artist, and I will soon be releasing a film dedicated to sharing their message and showing their travels. The following photos are a small preview of what has transpired over the past few months while touring with them. 

-Andrew


The Valley of Gothic

Traveling is great. Traveling with friends is the greatest. Personally, I am constantly seeking out new places that lay undiscovered and untouched. This past summer, I embarked on a week-long journey out to the valley of Gothic, CO. There, we spent our days hiking the side of Gothic mountain, riding horseback in the town of Crested Butte, and playing card games in a cabin. These photos are a small window to the beauty of Gothic. 

-Andrew