MCDOUGAL MCDOUGAL

BLOG

January 13th, 2022

Wanderlust & The Great Depression

-

I would consider a substantial factor in my depression is the need to create, on my terms, and the inability to manifest this for myself despite years of working toward the same goal. Photography has always been my “go to” for creation, expression, therapy and more. I have worked in other mediums; painting, sculpting, video, illustration… but photography, being able to capture something because it meant something to me in a fleeting moment and share it with an audience and hope that maybe, just one person will see it exactly the way that I did and feel the same way. THAT’s my fucking passion.

I had, what I would call, a rapidly growing career as a music photographer back when I was living in Southern California. I often wonder how many of those opportunities came because of my position as a music buyer for a large retail chain at the time and how many of them were based on my actual talent (much like I can’t accept the fact that someone just genuinely likes what I do and wants to support me because of my talent, not because they feel bad for me or feel obligated to support me).

I was working with dozens of different record labels and clothing lines, I had full access to more or less every show/concert/event that I could dream of and worked with artists I considered my idols not years before. I had work published in magazines almost every month, had features on Buzzfeed, which was very different back then, and even had one of my photos on a giant screen in Times Square. How can I say that I was kind of a big deal in that time and place in my life without sounding like an asshole?

Toward the end of my time in California I started working with models, mostly nude or risqué in the vein of now defunct FRONT Magazine from the UK. I was adding as much diversity to my portfolio as I could and had absolutely no trouble finding models willing to roll with my weird ideas, so I continued to grow and add to my body of work.

In moving back to Tennessee, I had huge aspirations of bringing my portfolio and style of work to a new area and continuing to build myself until I could just take photos for a living. What I got instead was a severe lack of models to work with coupled with zero interest from musical artists who would rather have their brother’s sister’s girlfriend take some photos instead of paying for quality work and no responses from all record label, artist management, etc. inquiries. I had essentially left the most beautiful state in the country, fucked myself on any available and willing work and just quit. I fucking quit and walked away from taking photos and started drinking more and just got more depressed. This was back in 2013 and apart from just a handful of photos, mostly taken on film that got severely damaged, I barely photographed anything again until 2016.

With 2016 came two large changes. I got to marry Brittney, my best friend, and after years of going without, I got my license back (another long drawn-out story for another time). With both of my “pro” cameras being either broken or obsolete at this point, I purchased what I could afford, a Canon Powershot, which with over time, I was able to manipulate the settings on to replicate manual settings on a DSLR, letting me take full advantage of what I had. While I still wasn’t in possession of a car, relying on rentals and borrowing family vehicles gave an opportunity to be mobile, at least occasionally and I began the framework of my current style.

Between late 2016 and early 2018 we racked up more credit card debt than I’d like to admit by travelling all around the area. We had been immobilized for so long that we had an entire new world to go explore so we would go out of town for a night or two what seemed like every month. While these trips weren’t necessarily centered around me taking photos, I always got my fair share. Every trip and every photo helped to continue developing my “look”.

In February of 2018 we were able to purchase a car, and this changed everything. A rare treat of being able to go out shooting became weekly drives along backroads looking for anything that caught my eye enough to pull over. I became a pro at weaving in and out of traffic, both in a vehicle and on foot, to get a shot. I became drawn to old signs, architecture, unique landscapes, and a lot of things that most people would normally pass over, if they stop to look at all.

I began to show my art in public for the first time since CA and I partnered with the Murfreesboro Art Crawl’s bimonthly events. I loved showing my art in public because the simplicity, colors or oftentimes nostalgic value attracts viewers and conversation, but my style of work is also an acquired taste and not something that many of these viewers didn’t want to take home and display on their walls, leaving me with hundreds of dollars spent on prints and framing that are now sitting in a storage unit not being seen by anyone. Nevertheless, I continued to show my art and attract viewers. I started doing more events at different venues and making a name for myself within the community. My unique style even found a permanent home at a local St. Thomas Hospital center where I was severely underpaid for 3 of my images to be displayed, but paid, nonetheless.

With some print sales and money saved and hustled, I was finally able to upgrade back to an DSLR which removed any limitations I was previously facing. When I was shooting music, my dream camera was monetarily out of reach, but 15 years later, extremely affordable on eBay. Coupled with a 2ndhand lens that’s just as old, I was able to take full control over the photos I was creating. I’ve always said that the camera doesn’t make the photographer, and with technological advances in smartphones and other devices with image capture it stands truer than ever, but I always had that jealousy in the pit of my stomach for these new photographers on the scene whose parents just bought them the latest model body and lenses on the market, yet they have no fucking clue what they are doing. Looking back now I should have been proud of the feats I accomplished with my out-of-date equipment at the time. Now I am just happy to have a working camera and the ability to photograph what’s around me. That being said, I have the constant stress of something happening to my camera or lens because I have no backup and would not be able to replace them for some time if something were to happen. Even worse is the bottom of the line, cheapest we could get MacBook is beginning to struggle with processing my work load on top of other, outside processes it normally handles.

I took this time and opportunity to continue developing my style and finding new ways to see things. I wasted more money on prints and framing but pushed myself and was doing events every couple of weeks. My work was starting to get recognized and I finally thought I was heading where I wanted to be and then things started getting weird and my events began getting cancelled and then we all know the story of 2020. I did a lot of things in 2020 that I wish I never would have, but I also did a lot of things in 2020 that I’m extremely proud of. 2020 brought a lot of stress, heightened anxiety, and worsened depression alongside a burst of creativity that I haven’t been able to escape since, at least mentally.

Ever since my photography turned from music and nudes to roadside attractions, signs, and architecture, I began planning extensive photo trips, down to the places I’d sleep, total costs, mileage, etc. For a brief moment in my head, it makes sense and sounds achievable. Like something I can sell prints and crowdsource. I plan. I fail.

I make up these insane, dream like scenarios and become gutted when they never come to fruition. If I close my eyes hard enough sometimes, I can really pretend that I’m there. That things are different.

I’ve planned trips for Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, the California coastline, National Parks and everywhere in between with the ultimate dream of driving Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica. All these meticulous plans I’ve invested time in have just been thrown away because the reality always sets in that it’s just not going to happen. I will lie in bed in the mornings and bawl my eyes out over this and I feel pathetic because I never should have gotten excited about it in the first place. It’s a stupid dream that I need to quit chasing. Not like I’m going to stop taking photos or anything, I just need to come to terms with the fact that I’m probably never going to see and photograph the places I want to see before I die. Most recently, I just wanted to go spend two days photographing Cave City, KY. Mainly Mammoth Cave National Park and all the amazing, kitschy, tourist trap attractions surrounding it and I can’t even pull that off. Another trashed plan, always out of reach.

A lot of these trips have a common theme of the desert, something I should have spent a lot more time in while living in CA. I ventured out to Menifee and Temecula, but never as far as I wanted. I’ve driven through New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas. I’ve travelled all around the country but at a time in my life where I didn’t appreciate the things I stop to photograph now. I get angry with myself for being so wrapped up in being a music photographer that I failed to see everything else around me. I know that I would capture it completely different then, and in a way that I would absolutely despise now. The desert though, I don’t know why I’m drawn to it so much. It’s a magical fucking place and it lures me like a siren. So many trips planned. So many plans thrown away.

I didn’t shoot much last year. 2021 was a year of growth for Bats Breath, the small business my wife runs. We work great as a team, but we pushed ourselves to the absolute limit last year so as we grew the business, I didn’t have much time for taking photos and neither of us took any time for us. I didn’t realize it at the time but taking that time away from shooting affected me more than I initially thought and going into 2022, we’re not only making it a point to slow down but ensuring that I have time to go find new places and things to photograph locally. I’ve already taken more photos this year than I took all last year, so I feel that I’m off to a good start, but the need to go and photograph all of these places that I dream about and inability to do so absolutely crushes me inside. I want to share my art with the world. I want everyone to see it like I see it but it’s something I’ll only ever see through someone else’s eyes.

January 3rd, 2022

Introduction

Image of a long concrete pier stretching out into Lake Erie. In the middle of the pier are lights to illuminate the concrete flooring at night. People are scattered throughout the length of the pier taking in the view of the lake.

-

I’ve sat down and tried to write this countless times and countless times I’ve been left with nothing more than a jumbled mess of random words littered on the page. I feel that if I’m able to keep up with it then it could have some value to me; something to help me better understand. I keep telling myself that this time will be different, but the very answers I strive for are the ones I purposely and subconsciously find anything else to occupy my time with. I would consider this to be the collective 6th worst year for me and at this point, all I feel I know anymore is defeat.

Each time that I’ve sat down and attempted to get these words out, I ended up walking away because telling these stories in chronological order was the only way that made sense and I couldn’t make my brain stop jumping to different time periods in my life. As each attempt before this one, I’m sure this will end up a jumbled mess. I’m sorry if you have a hard time following along if you choose to.

Instead of working chronologically, I’ve decided to write whatever I feel like. This story is one that will tell itself over time.

Seeing as though my art has always been an escape for me and even more so, an incredible therapeutic outlet, I find it appropriate to combine these words alongside my photographs. Photography has been a passion of mine for most of my life and even though I’ve walked away from it a few times, have always found my way back. When I get inspired, I start seeing the world in intersecting lines and different hues and I know that doesn’t make sense to you, but I can at least show you what I’m seeing, the way I’m seeing it.

So..I guess we’ll start here. I’m Mike. I’m 37 years old. I suffer from severe depression and anxiety amongst other problems that I am working toward identifying. At this point, I’m searching for a diagnosis more than a cure. In 2015 I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease (you can learn more HERE) which causes a ton of inner ear problems for me, including unbearable bouts of vertigo. The kind of dizziness that I feel most don’t comprehend, and due to this disease, most medication with a side effect of dizziness will fuck me up. Unfortunately, a lot of medications prescribed for mental illnesses come with this side effect and will send me on a vertigo ride that I would rather die than experience again.

For now, I utilize the outlets that I currently have available which are staying both as busy, and as high as I possibly can. Weed’s been the one medication that has helped me and of course, living in a red state makes it incredibly difficult to come by at times. My states leadership is too busy working to take rights away from women while conspiring with their KKK friends and family to ever make a positive change here that benefits anyone other than wealthy white men, even though legalizing even medicinal marijuana here would have countless monetary benefits for the state.

The current political environment has a lot to do with my current mental state, but I don’t think we’re there quite yet. For me, this is more of in intro to see what route is going to work best for me and what direction will be most fluid in getting my thoughts outside of my head. Again, as much as I would love to make this chronological and easy to follow, it more than likely won’t be. What it is though is something I’ve been needing to do for a long time. Me, as open and unabridged as I can allow myself to be. These are the things that shaped me into who I am today and how I see the world.