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Keeping The Fire Alive

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

I've been at this photography thing - at least on a paying level - since January 2011. And staying motivated during those fledgling, heady first few years? Not a problem. Living south of Atlanta at the time, I had a rather broad spectrum of imagery in which to dabble: portraits, weddings, concerts, landscapes, night imagery (usually at my favorite spot near home at the time, Starr's Mill), city-scapes (Atlanta is incredible at night), even real estate - there was always something new to keep me going, even if my skills and results were still somewhat...amateurish. I really couldn't call myself a "professional" then, even if I did get paid for my work.

Once I moved to the North Carolina mountains in 2014, I shifted my focus almost entirely to the landscapes I loved, as I found over time that weddings and family portraits really weren't my thing - so I pursued what excited and motivated me. At first, I failed far more often than I succeeded, but I was learning. And getting better. That fire within kept me going. I knew my work would pay off at some point, literally and otherwise.

It took some time, but the rewards eventually came, opportunities opened up, and I was able to grow a significant following as well as a very nice client base.

As the years passed though, I found it more and more challenging to keep things fresh. And change for me is the prime mover, the impetus for carrying on. I really don't like repeating myself. I'll get bored and burnt out otherwise.

I even took a step back in 2017, returning to portraits - with a twist. These were creative portraits, taken in my usual landscape settings with an alternative model friend - totally the opposite of me in just about every way - just to change things up and reignite the spark:

And that friction between two opposing creative forces in fact did reignite things, influencing my work until the ugliness of COVID hit in 2020.

Of course there were sparks of inspiration and moments of "being in my element" since the pandemic began; but as I approach 52 years of age, I don't find myself in that place quite as often.

Which made 2022 the most challenging year yet in my photography journey. It was a question of keeping the fire alive.

When I last left off, I had explored Linville Gorge in May - and it was gorgeous, resulting in some of my all time favorite images - one you'll see at the end of this blog.

But I still had springtime interludes to come on the Blue Ridge Parkway - either side of Asheville.

First, on the south side near home, as I waited out a rain shower that decided to develop directly overhead. But the sunlight in the distance reflected off that rain, adding a very nice golden glow to the proceedings...

The north side of Asheville was next, though I have to admit I haven't had the greatest of fortunes at Craggy Gardens. I made exactly one hike up Craggy Pinnacle this year, and I saw right away the blooms there were going to be as underwhelming as the previous few years. But just north of the gardens, I hit paydirt:

Then came Roan.

I only spent two days there - June 13 and 14 - but it was my best shooting session there since my blessed "Roan Mountain Glow" image from 2017, when an image I shot at Jane Bald became a cover photo twice.

Day one saw me hiking all the way from Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge - the longest hike I'd taken in quite some time - but the light was spectacular:

I made it back to the popular spot at Jane Bald in time for sunset. And while the sunset was a tad...meh:

What we all saw to the left of this spot seemed more interesting. A HUGE thunderstorm rumbled to our east, and according to a friend who was underneath it some thirty miles away, it was a doozie:

I had no intentions for a day two - at least not so soon. The long hike from day one left me a wee bit sore once I got back to the trailhead, and once I got back home, I slept as well as I had in ages. I was completely tuckered out.

And perhaps that extra sleep was helpful.

For that same friend who had to endure that thunderstorm the night before had invited me back out to Roan the very next day.

Surprisingly, I felt energized enough to go back, and I'm glad I did, for we were treated to dramatic skies and shifting light:

And because I wanted a different view of the sunset, again to keep things fresh, I hiked back down to Carver's Gap, where I was rewarded nicely:

And as soon as I snapped this shot and headed back to my motel room in nearby Linville, it was as though a light switch had shut off. My work done for the season, the old D4 went back into the bag.

And that big camera stayed mostly in my bag for the better part of the summer. There were a few (very few!) moments where I'd pull out the old beast; but traveling seemed more interesting to me at that point. I went everywhere from Virginia, at Fancy Gap:

To a dramatic partial rainbow on the Blue Ridge Parkway after a storm passed in July:

To a sunset scene at summer's end (and Oktoberfest's beginning) in Helen, GA:

And yet this summer was notable for the fact that exactly one image was added to my online portfolio (the rainbow image). I shot so few images, and so very few stood out. Again, traveling and enjoying the views without the need to capture them was the name of the game for me. Something had shifted.

The promise of autumn (and it was one heck of an autumn) briefly reawakened the ol' spark. And with scenery like this, it wasn't hard to stay motivated:

But that last image, taken at the 200-year-old Poinsett Bridge in the upstate of South Carolina, would literally be my last substantive image of the year.

Because, just like the end of spring, that switch shut off again.

And why would that be?

This time, it was because my trusty old 2012 Honda Civic was struggling. Mightily. After 548,000 original miles, whatever steam the ol' girl had left in her was evaporating, and quickly.

In September, I replaced the thermostat after the Civic began overheating.

In October, I was warned by my Honda dealership that the Civic was leaking oil, and would need repairs, stat.

By November, those oil leaks would become oil gushes; especially at the oil pump.

From the time I left my home to the Honda dealership in Morristown (for a diagnosis), on to another Honda dealership in Bristol, TN, all on November 14, that old Civic went through an entire five quart jug of oil. Yikes.

And all that time I was perusing the AutoTrader website, knowing that the likelihood I'd keep the Civic after that day was slim to none, and Slim was already heading for the exit. I found a 2013 Honda CR-V all-wheel-drive on AutoTrader, with high-ish miles (still, 350,000 fewer than the Civic). But it's a Honda, so 200k miles is considered by many to be "gently broken in." You take care of a Honda, it takes care of you...

And that vehicle was in Bristol, seventy miles up the road, at the Honda dealership. According to the website, the CR-V was by far the best deal within 150 miles from home. And it was within my (extremely) tight budget. So it was worth a look...

Once the word came back from my dealership in Morristown that the Civic would need at least a $500 repair (after shelling out $200 last month, and the month before), plus a few days car rental as the part wasn't readily available, my mind was made up. I'd put enough money into keeping the car going. It was time to let the ol' girl go, and get the CR-V...

But we got to have one more ride together, as she happily chugged along from Morristown to Bristol along Interstate 81, with a stop along the way to ensure she still had oil. Still, by the time I got to the Honda dealership, the Civic was bone dry.

It only took a couple hours to haggle and secure financing; and after a test drive and my incessant, annoying questioning of the salesman and finance manager (I drive a hard bargain, as well as a high-mileage vehicle) I drove away with the 2013 Honda CR-V.

And I left my trusty old partner of over a decade behind.

My salesman told me that, of all the sales he's made over 20 years, he always took a photo of the buyer with the new vehicle, but never a photo of a buyer with the vehicle the buyer was trading in.

Until that day. Apparently, the ol' Civic had reached cult level status. At least among the Honda folk. Cars with 548k original miles don't wander in too often nowadays...

Me with the ol' Civic (and a bottle of my beloved Dr. Enuf Diet Herbal Cherry on the roof, and the CR-V directly behind it):

And me, in my just purchased CR-V:

Yeah, I had a moment with my old friend before I drove off with the CR-V. It's only a car, I know, but...

All those journeys, all those photos, all those good times - and through it all she happily took me wherever I wished; and she did so faithfully 'til the end. Hands down, the ol' Civic was the best vehicle I've ever owned. She was so good to me. There may never be another like her.

With the CR-V, there's a great big uncertain "I don't know" attached to her. She's done alright so far, and in many ways it's an upgrade over the old Civic (especially with the all-wheel-drive and higher profile and lumbar support, which helps my ailing back), but at the same time, the CR-V feels transitional. Not as a long term solution. But something a bit more reliable to use in the short term, just as my auto loan is short term, something to tote all my stuff around as I begin doing art shows in 2023.

Maybe something that can take me to new places that the ol' Civic couldn't during the winter months, perhaps beyond. And you know I always like new.

Maybe she'll help to keep that fire alive for another year. We will see, God willing...


P.S. Oh! My favorite image of 2022? Of course, at Linville Gorge. One of the extremely rare occasions where I envisioned a specific shot long before it happened, and it turned out exactly as I'd hoped. God did all the heavy lifting; all I needed to do was be there, be in focus, and snap the shutter:

Happy New Year, y'all!

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