My Photography Journey

My Photography Journey

I fell into photography by accident.

When I was a teenager, I struggled with anxiety attacks.

I was so anxious I could barely leave my room, unable to walk down the street without crippling fear. I nearly dropped out of high school, missing days and weeks at a time. To recover, I sought to push myself into the most stressful situations I could think of to temper my response. I started volunteering in EMS after school as a student. Over time, the anxiety went down. It never went away but it was manageable. I was very behind in high school so I took summer courses and independent studies in order to race to catch up. Somehow, managed to graduate. As I walked to the stage, I remember the quizzical look of the teacher that handed me my diploma, as if it had been a mistake.

Nonetheless, I went away to college to study medicine because I was inspired by volunteering for the ambulance. I dropped out after just 6 months. My family wasn’t doing well and wanted me back up north to help out at home. I was struggling with the courses and the anxiety attacks had begun again. Negativity set in. I felt like I would never be good enough, perpetually a bad student.

I moved back to the North and started working wherever I could, in minimum wage jobs, barely pulling enough to get by. One evening, I was taking out the trash when an old friend from high school walked up to me. At first, I was happy, I hadn’t seen them in a year! They came over and before I could say anything they began to talk:

“Hey, heard what happened with your family. Man, I’m so sorry your life turned out this way. You’re working here. I’m in a big university, getting a great education. When I get out I’ll make a lot of money... and you, you’re stuck working at [...] hey I gotta go, I'll see you around some time, eh?”

And then walked off just as soon as they came over.

I stood there for a long time, holding that trash bag, and rolling those words over in my head. They drove away. I stood there, watching my breath fog up in front of me. Winter was coming and the sky was a midnight blue. After a while, I remember the street lights went out and I was alone in the dark. I looked up, seeing the midnight sky above. Stars twinkling, burning a million miles away. The aurora borealis had begun to arc out of the corner of my eye; licking at the corners of constellations. The big dipper. Cassiopeia. Orion.

Orion: The Hunter.

I wanted to hunt for a better life. I started photography to do just that carve my own story. A friend of mine had started it at the same time and we would spend long nights photographing wherever we roamed. I loved to photograph the river and the night sky. I couldn’t sleep at night so I stayed out and trudged through the deep snow, photographing the stars and the northern lights.

I entered a contest for the first Astronomy Photographer of the Year awards. They were happening in London, UK. It was the year 2009 and I had been photographing just short of a year. I named the image, “Bow of Orion” after my experience in the parking lot. A few months later I found out it had been shortlisted as a runner up and I was being published across Europe with the rest of the exhibition winners. I was the first Canadian to be exhibited in the competition. This included a publication by Harper & Collins UK in a book featuring the world’s best Astro-photographers.

Shortly thereafter, I got laid off from my full-time job due to lack of available work. I decided I would make a go of photography as a business and started column writing about it at the local newspaper. Everyone I introduced myself to, I told them what I was – a photographer, and I was available. I met many people from all different paths of life. Often, this ended up including long discussions and nights over a campfire drinking a brew or tea. I went back to school and studied business administration, part time, while continuing to practice photography and learn how to sell, learn how to schedule and coordinate. Experimented with different printing techniques and matting, framing. I taught myself most of everything I could by reading and practicing.

A couple more years of awards and publications followed me before I started to transition away from photography and get deeper into wanting to evolve it into something bigger. At the time, I was helping a friend set up his on-line travel magazine. I wrote content for photography, sourced interviews and contributors. Wrote the odd tutorial and submitted the odd photo of the day. In 2012, I had saved up enough and went to University to study Management, Marketing & Human Resources. I learned about team optimization, how to strategize and how to create strong relationships, I learned accounting and working with excel. I worked with non-profit societies and flexed skills in web development, budgeting and sales.

Photoworld Magazine, 2010, Beijing
I always vowed to move back home, again, with everything I had learned. I would build up in the photography industry again with a fresh mission: I would cover the whole north. I could do anything ---

Until the summer of 2015.

A back and leg injury cost me 95% of my mobility.

It was the summer of my final year in University. I could barely walk at all. I was crippled on a cane. When I heard from the doctor I was told it would take me 3 years to recover.

I was given choice to drop out and go on disability or to get a student loan and continue with University.

I chose the cane and went to physio for nearly a year. I rejected all the opioid and narcotic painkillers because I needed to stay focused and clear. I had heard what was happening with the crisis and didn’t want to end up addicted with long term use.

During this time, I couldn’t do much. It would take me over a half an hour to sit up in bed. All I would do is read which resulted in sky-high grades for that term! Shortly after my injury I received an e-mail back from Student Health Magazine and signed on as a student intern. It was a freelance gig of writing columns for the magazine, recording video and proofreading editorial content using cloud networking software.

My love of writing had me published half a dozen times in the 2 years in various outlets. It wasn’t the same as photography, but in a different way. I was learning new things and a new way to think. I wrote about finance, disability, student-life, nutrition, relationships, tourism. I researched and interviewed. I was growing.

I continued with University and graduated in Oct 2016, walking across that stage without a cane in hand. I continued to study in open independent courses, in geopolitics, policy analysis, team-building and computer science.

Now, in mid 2017, 10 years later – I reflect on all of this. I look back at all the work I created. All the stories left untold. I want to get it out there.

I’m writing a book about many of my experiences growing up in Fort Smith. While I have a lot of stories to share from when I was a photographer, most of them are whimsical stories about growing up and experiencing the cold -40 mornings walking to school. Biking in the trails from sunrise to sunset. Watching the midnight sun bounce along the horizon with the rapids of the drowned in my ears. I have met many people along the way. Had many conversations with people over tea. I'm inviting people to join me again as I write, photograph and share my stories and perspectives.