My Bio - Seeking to Understand this Journey Called Life
Perhaps unusual for a photography website, my bio is more of a love story than it is a photographic journey. This is of necessity, because without the love and unwavering support of my amazing wife, there would be no photography, much less a website.
My life has changed radically since May 19, 2014 when my precious wife Lenée suddenly and unexpectedly went home to heaven. I too died on that terrible day, but my body didn't get the memo. I'm told that the passage of time will ease the pain, and indeed the Lord has been helping me. Above all, I have a renewed intimacy with Him which simply cannot be put into words. To be able to fellowship with the Creator of the universe is without a doubt the most satisfying experience that life can offer. God desires this with every single one of us. It is ours for the taking.
If I were to describe myself, I think I could sum it up in two parts. First of all, I’m just a guy who loves God. He is my life; indeed He is everything to me. I am nothing without Him, but in Him I can do anything I set my mind to. I have no confidence whatsoever in my own talents or abilities. I trust only in the Lord, and this trust is absolute.
Secondly, I’m a loner who hates to be alone. What do I mean by that? When I figure it out I’ll let you know. I totally do not understand this. I'm an enigma even to myself. All that I can say is that I love seeking out remote locations and the solitude which they provide. Now that Lenée is gone, I feel a loneliness the likes of which I have never known. I was never meant to be single. Like I said – I’m a loner who hates to be alone.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not antisocial. I dearly love people and can hold my own at a gathering. I'm just more comfortable in the safety of solitude, or better yet, in the company of that special someone.
As for my interests, in addition to photography I love writing, backpacking, traveling, animals, motorcycle riding, and almost all types of music except for rap and jazz. I find that the right kind of music really stimulates the creative juices within me. When the mood hits me it's time to start writing. Sometimes I'll write for hours on end, not wanting to stop when the words are flowing so easily. I have often surprised myself by looking at the clock and realizing that it's already 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, a full 8 hours after I began to record my thoughts. However, when that flow stops, it stops. No matter how hard I try, I simply can't turn it on whenever I choose.
I also find that motorcycle riding is quite therapeutic with respect to mitigating the dreaded "writer's block". There's nothing more enjoyable than hopping on a Harley and cruising up the coast for a few hours. Lenée shared my passion for motorcycles. Indeed, during the first few years of our marriage we rode to almost every state west of the Mississippi.
We've owned a number of bikes, but our Harleys were far and away our favorites. At the left is the two of us enjoying one of countless rides together. The bike is a 2000 Harley Heritage Softail, and the thunderous exhaust tone from that bike was some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard. Riding a Harley through the many canyons of Southern California was one of our favorite pastimes. Lenée always hated this picture though because of the unavoidable "helmet hair".
I have strong but mixed emotions about this picture. I shot this image in September 1999, just one week before Lenée was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It's as though this image represents the division of two chapters in our lives together; life without MS, and life with MS. As devastating as the doctor's report was, Lenée refused to let it slow her down in any way. She was a fighter with an indomitable spirit.
My evolution into photography began as a teenager when I spent my summers working at a small lake resort high up in California's beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. No doubt my love for both photography and the outdoors was spawned during these critical formative years. After my daily duties were done at the resort I would hike all through the mountains. I had an insatiable desire to explore, and my youthful teenage legs had no difficulty taking me to the top of any peak I set my eyes upon.
Many years later, in June of 2001, I was on a two week motorcycle trip in the southwest. I decided to stop in and visit Tom Till's beautiful photo gallery in Moab Utah. I was amazed at the quality of the enormous 30 x 40 images adorning the walls of his gallery. I had never before seen images so large and yet so sharp. They were so realistic that I felt as though I was literally falling into them. Tom's secret, other than an inordinate amount of talent, was the use of a large format 4x5 camera. I knew then and there that I would never again be satisfied shooting 35mm as I had done for the previous 25 years. For me it was an epiphany, and I had to tell Lenée. Finally I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I could now envision myself marrying my love for writing with my rapidly increasing love for photography.
I rode home a few days later and told Lenée what I wanted to do. At the time we didn't have the money to buy a 4x5 system, so the only way I could swing it was to sell our beloved Harley. She loved that Harley just as much as I did. Without giving it a second thought, she said "go for it". She was thrilled that I had a dream to aim towards, and she told me that she would support me in any way that she could. She never once backed down from that promise, even to the day of her death 13 years later. I sold the Harley (cried as the buyer rode it away), and went out and bought a 4x5 system. Since 2001 I've been on countless photo trips, the results of which can be seen in the galleries on this website. I owe it all to Lenée. Every bit of it.
When I would come home from my trips we would rejoice at our reunion. These were long trips, typically two weeks in duration. If nothing else these frequent times of separation would increase our awareness of how much we missed each other, of how much we loved each other. She trusted me implicitly, never once allowing thoughts of suspicion to gain a foothold in her. Many wives, perhaps most wives would not allow their husbands to be gone so frequently for so long. Lenée knew otherwise, because both of us were so deeply in love with not only each other, but just as importantly, with God. What truly lifted my heart was when Lenée would look at the images I had taken and tell me how proud she was of me. This was very important to me. My wife was proud of me, and she meant it.
Challenges Along the Way
I’ve seen a lot of amazing things during my 30 years of wilderness exploration. It's only natural to expect that these adventures have been fraught with challenges, and indeed they have. Chief among these is that I seem to have an uncanny (and undesired) propensity for running across bears and rattlesnakes.
The bear in the image to the right is the largest I've ever seen in the wild. This particular encounter occurred in March 2009 in Yosemite. All of my previous bear encounters had involved the bears turning and running away from me after I yelled at them. Not this guy. He stood his ground, menacingly staring me down as though trying to intimidate me. He succeeded, and I ever so carefully made a slow retreat after shooting this image with the longest lens I could find. I was genuinely scared that he was getting ready to charge me, and I had planned to dump my gear and run for my life if the need arose. But I just had to get the shot.
I've encountered lots of rattlesnakes as well, easily numbering in the dozens. One of the more memorable occasions is shown here. I was actually just training in the local mountains behind my home, preparing for an upcoming trip to the Colorado Plateau. I came around a corner on the trail and oh baby.
Just to the side of the trail was a highly venomous southern pacific rattlesnake. The snake was big, mean, and apparently just mad at the world. He was rattling wildly (it actually sounds more like a very loud hiss), and had assumed the classic strike posture. He was just in a really bad mood. I knew that he couldn't strike more than the length of his body, so I stayed just out of range and shot this image.
Of all the snakes I've come across, only two have ever coiled up on me like this one. It literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I don't like rattlesnakes, but they come with the territory.
I've been blessed to have had very few mechanical issues with my vehicles during my travels. An exception occurred in January of 2002. I was shooting in Bryce Canyon in temperatures 15 degrees below zero. The antifreeze in my car actually froze, ruining my engine. I did not know that antifreeze could freeze. Why then do they call it anti freeze? It was a very expensive lesson.
However, there is one experience that stands out among all of the others, and for all of the wrong reasons. On September 19, 2012, in a remote canyon of Zion National Park known as The Subway, I found a dead hiker hanging upside down underneath a waterfall. It was one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I've ever had, and I wrote about the experience here. The memory of that poor man hanging motionless in his icewater grave is something I will never forget. The images in my galleries have not come cheaply or easily.
On the flipside, I’ve been able to witness some of the most amazing vistas to be found on planet earth. One such moment occurred in October 1984 during my first ascent of Half Dome in Yosemite. The view from the top took my breath away, or at least what little breath I had left after making the climb. The image to the right shows me at the top, 5,000 feet above the valley floor.
The image to the left was shot two years later in 1986 during my second ascent of Half Dome. I had befriended a British climber at the base of the mountain, so we decided to summit together. I took a picture of his ascent, and he shot mine in the image you see here. The peak in the background is 10,000' Clouds Rest which I had summited the day before.
During one unforgettable trip in August of 2012 I was alone at Toroweap on the north rim of the Grand Canyon for three glorious days. The National Park Service has called Toroweap "the most remote location in the lower 48 states". Later that same trip I went to Alstrom Point on the remote north shore of Lake Powell. Again, I was alone for three days. These are two of the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever seen, and to have them all to myself for 6 days was simply astounding. Bad weather had kept all “sane” people away during that memorable week. I wrote of the experience in a story found here. If nothing else I’ve learned that pushing the envelope where risk is concerned can have great rewards.
The image to the right was my campsite at Toroweap. There was no one within 60 miles of me. The rim of the Grand Canyon was only a few minutes away beckoning me. Talk about solitude.
I had a similar experience at the south rim of the Grand Canyon 2 years earlier. In January of 2010 I left my home in Southern California and headed east to the south rim. Three massive winter storms hit the canyon in rapid succession, cutting off all access into and out of the park. I had made it in literally hours before the closure took effect, thus ensuring that the Grand Canyon would essentially become my own private studio for the week. A more detailed account of the experience can be found here in my Grand Canyon Gallery.
A Dream Abandoned
Lenée had been battling Multiple Sclerosis since September of 1999, but for the first 12 years her condition seemed relatively stable. Make no mistake about it, she was experiencing pain and decreased mobility, but as I said, she was battling . She underwent every treatment known to medical science, many of which were most unpleasant. She forced herself to do physical things that were becoming increasingly difficult. She refused to let me do things for her if there was any way possible that she could do them herself. She was a fighter. All the while she maintained a positive outlook, firmly anchored in her infinite love for God.
Even more amazing still, she continued to insist that I pursue my photography. She understood and embraced the importance of my dream. It was my goal to make a living through photography and writing on a full-time basis. I had spent 30 years in the traditional workforce, and I was done with it. I felt a yearning to tap into talents which had been lying dormant within me for so many years; talents which were completely wasted in the day to day grind of my corporate job. I had served my time in the penitintiary of big business, and it was time for me to be released. Lenée knew this.
In November 2011 her physical condition took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse, triggered by a horrible case of the shingles. The MS had all but destroyed Lenée's immune system, allowing the shingles virus to run rampant throughout her defenseless body. Indeed, her doctor said that it was the worst case of shingles he had ever seen. Those were his exact words. The virus left after Lenée spent a week in the hospital, but the excruciating pain from the shingles never did. Her back was horribly scarred, and I was helpless as I watched my partner suffer.
At this point I said enough is enough. The woman that I so dearly loved was in trouble. I immediately stopped going on my trips so that I could stay home and take care of Lenée full time. I sold my Xterra which had so faithfully served me on all of my treks into the backcountry. That's it in the image to the left in a remote section of Canyonlands. I was now jobless and done with photography, and fighting for my wife's life.
I even brought down my website which I had worked so long and hard to build. Photography meant nothing to me anymore. Lenée hated that I had abandoned my dream, feeling responsible somehow for the situation we were in. She always thought about others, never herself.
The image to the right was taken in October of 2013 during one of Lenée's many trips to the hospital. The ever-present smile on her face belied the intense pain she was experiencing. She was particularly happy by her surprise visitor Nash.
Nash was a therapy dog whose job it was to lift the spirits of patients in hospitals. Apparently Nash had not been told that he was getting a wee bit too big to be jumping up on beds. Lenée and I are big animal lovers, so she welcomed (actually coaxed) Nash up onto the bed with her.
"Stairway to Heaven"
I shot the image to the left in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. This was the last photography trip I went on. At the time I didn't realize how significant the shot would eventually become to me, but I knew that I had gotten something very special. I literally had goosebumps on my arms when I emerged from the kiva.
I've entitled the image "Stairway to Heaven". My precious Lenée ascended this ladder on May 19, 2014 at 4:30 in the morning. I was at her side when she embarked upon her journey into eternity. How I wish I could have followed her. I long for the day when I too will take my turn on the ladder, that I may be reunited with her once again, forever. I was not meant to be without Lenée. We were made to be together, to be one.
Lenée my love,
I miss you terribly. I love you more than words can say, and long for the day when we will meet again in heaven, never again to be separated. You are the best wife I could have ever hoped or asked for. You are God's priceless gift to me, literally an answer to my prayers. I can't wait to hold you in my arms, to feel the warmth of your embrace. You are the most beautiful woman who ever lived, and the day will come when I will once again gaze into the depths of your stunning hazel eyes. I will love you throughout all of eternity.