As we say good-bye to this past year, I offer up the top five photos from my The Ones I Like List of 2016.
The Ones I Like List of 2016 [#5]
After the Storm. I’m normally afraid of severe storms. Strike that, paralyzed by them. A tornado watch, not altogether uncommon in Houston, can render me useless for several hours. So when I happened upon a storm system while driving out of White Bird, Idaho and toward Pullman, Washington, I scurried as best as I could to get around it. And I did. For a spell.
When I got to Lewiston, Idaho, however, I was once again greeted by a formidable storm formation off to my west and moving east. It appeared to be far enough in the distance that I felt comfortable heading to an overlook and snapping a few photos of the approaching storm. It was a doozy. I noticed the system was getting closer, so I traveled onward. I was less than an hour away from Pullman.
The road between Lewiston and Pullman is a photographer’s dream, with everything from barns to horses to abandoned grain elevators. It was when I was shooting one of those barns that the storm passed over me, raining soft hail-like pellets on my car. This storm was definitely aggressive, but it was also swift, and before I knew it, it had moved on and left a couple of rainbows in its wake. It also left a dramatic sky for me to drool over, and that spectacular experience was my introduction to the Palouse.
The Ones I Like List of 2016 [#4]
Between Sunset and Sunrise. In my last blog post, I spoke of my deliberate efforts in 2016 to start expanding my Houston-area portfolio. Of course, one can’t expand a Houston-area portfolio without taking photos of Houston itself. The problem was that I had shot many of the locations before for magazines, and I wasn’t sure I could do something materially different for my personal work. The challenge for me (by me, to me) was to stretch myself creatively.
I’m very comfortable sitting in a certain space with regards to photography, and that space usually comes with a Canon 70-200mm/2.8 lens, a tighter perspective, and a shallow depth of field. For those who aren’t photographers, this simply means I like to stand a bit away from my subject matter, I like to focus in a bit (maybe on a tree or a deer, for example) and I like a dreamy, out-of-focus background (or foreground if my subject is farther away). For the majority of the photos I took of Houston this year, I really switched that up. I used wide-angle lenses, a tripod, a broader perspective and deep focus. I didn’t know if I’d enjoy it, quite honestly, but I did, a lot. There was something that felt powerful about changing it up, and I got excited about the newness of it all. So much so that I am now lusting over a certain Canon wide-angle lens, something I never thought would happen.
This particular photo was taken at the Houston Police Officers Memorial, which sits between Buffalo Bayou and Memorial Drive near downtown. It’s a beautiful memorial by Jesus Bautista Moroles, and I’ve always wanted to photograph early in the morning with the skyline in the background. On this morning, the sky was amazing. And I stood there, appreciative. No qualifiers. Simply appreciative.
The Ones I Like List of 2016 [#3]
Sundown on Main. When I first started out shooting, I used to walk up and down Main Street in Houston and take photos of this and that, whatever struck my fancy, really. I took that whole “walking up and down Main Street” thing again this year, and my how things have changed. First off, we have a growing skyline, so depending on where you shoot from, your background can be entirely different. Then earlier this year, Art Blocks was established on Main Street, putting public art on grand display for all visitors, both locals and out-of-towners. The great thing about Art Blocks is that some of the public art pieces are permanent and others are temporary, so the feel remains familiar, yet exciting. One of the features of Art Blocks is the Main Street Marquee. A new work of art goes up on the marquee every three months or so. For the last three months, we’ve enjoyed City Bird of Houston, Armando Castelan. This photo captures the city, the METRO and that beautiful marquee. I have a lot of Main Street photos that I love, but this is definitely one of my favorite photos of the year, my favorite from that set.
The Ones I Like List of 2016 [#2]
Foxy window. Imagine this. I’m driving through Idaho. 50 MPH. There’s an abandoned house, side of the road. When passing it, I believe I see a sign or a doll or something of that ilk in the window. I circle back to photograph the weathered house. (It kind of appeared out of nowhere.) And when I got pulled up in front, that sign? That doll? That whatever I thought it was? Yeah, it was a fox. For the love of all things “yes,” it was a freaking red fox! There may have been a squeal. For that matter, there might still be squealing. It’s what we live for as photographers, random moments of sheer delight. That’s about the whole story here. But what more is really need, right? I mean, a fox…in a window.
The One’s I Like List of 2016 [#1]
There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down
[But you] move uptown
And learn to live with the unimaginable
–It’s Quiet Uptown by Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton)
Let There Be Light. As we close out 2016, I recognize that the last 365 days have been enormously difficult ones for many friends, family members and people I’ve never met. I recognize this because I listen and I see, and because it’s been out there, like a strong wind beating, relentlessly, against the rickety shutters. Some people I know are dealing with unimaginable grief, others with formidable health challenges and still others with financial and personal instability. And when the dominoes start to fall, it can sometimes feel like there is a great power working against us. So we reach for understanding, for blame, for relief, something to keep us from swimming down, all while sounding the foghorn and praying, with unsteady confidence, that the ship not run aground. Those are the real obstacles in life, and we do need to find meaning in them, so we can be continue to function with intent…and joy. My wish for everyone who has felt weighted down by tragedy and circumstance in 2016, and I know many of you personally, is for you to have a 2017 that is light in spirit and that is decidedly better than your best expectations for it. I wish you and your loved ones good health, abundant joy and a smoother ride around the sun.
With all of that said, I still want to dedicate this blog post to 2016. Thank you, 2016, for giving us time. It’s the greatest gift, along with love. In terms of the cultural icons, you gave us 10 days with Bowie, 112 days with Prince, 360 days with George Michael and 362 days with Carrie Fisher. Days no one is ever guaranteed, but you gave those to us. And even more than that, 2016, you gave us precious hours with those closest to us. Whether our parents or our children, our significant others or our best friends, our cats or our dogs – you gave us time to love and be loved, and for that, thank you. People got married in 2016, gave birth, took a family vacation for the first time. They got new jobs, moved into new homes, developed new passions. All of it. Thanks for the joys you provided to temper the discouragement and sadness. Thank you for bringing some light to the storm.
So that brings me to Let There Be Light, a photo that I took my last full day in the Palouse this past summer. It was a bone-chilling summer day, with temperatures in the 30’s and a cutting wind that sliced right through my short sleeved shirt. And like the evening of my arrival to the Palouse, the skies were threatening to unleash a little fury. It was on this cold day with those angry skies that I saw the most luminous landscape I think I’ve ever seen. The hills of the Palouse are velvety goodness in summer, so there’s already a magical quality to the area, but this particular landscape was a vision. Through a fairly solid coat of darkness, mood provided by the clouds, a bit sun came through and painted the land with light. The fox in the window a few days earlier was amazing, no doubt, but I felt this scene was more uplifting for me, profoundly so. It had been a very hard year up to that point, and when I saw those hills, all glorious and promising, it lightened my spirit. And I do think in some way, it changed the course of my year. Thank you for that illumination, 2016.