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.