While I can’t precisely pinpoint what started my fear of heights. I often recall several instances where I felt the pace of my heart, the oncoming sweat, and the jelly-like feeling in my legs quickly joining forces to end me. I took this picture in 1993 while working for Cantor Fitzgerald. I and many others had returned to work after some maniac planted and exploded a bomb in the parking garage. (Note that this was about eight years before the 9/11 attack.) During my lunch break, I attempted to take this picture to, perhaps, show the resilience and strength of the structure and the people who worked there. As I stood staring into the sky, my legs began to buckle. No matter how I repositioned myself, I couldn’t recapture my balance. It wasn’t until I went down on my knees that I could capture what you see below. In the years that followed, I could not cross bridges, enjoy observation decks or enjoy anything related to heights. Strange considering my first paid photo shoot required me to scale a waterfall located within the bear mountains. I’ve since faced my fears, but haven’t gotten past the rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or weakness in my knees that are sure to follow.
My First Photography Related Nightmare.
I had a dream the other night where I lost all knowledge and ability to take pictures while on a vital magazine shoot with my friend and photography mentor Kevin. It was a beautiful day, and shooting in natural light, instead of the pressure of shooting in the studio, added a lighthearted, stress-free element to the job. I began to run poses with my model and formed a bond to allow us to work in a more carefree environment. I completely shut down. Suddenly, the camera and the knowledge I had built over the years were gone. I confided in Kevin what was happening. His assurance that everything was going to be okay. That I just needed to relax fell upon deaf ears and disappearance of any prior knowledge of photography. Even with and despite his calming nature. My struggles continued until I woke up. If I was to guess, I would relate the dream to my recent health issues, and future doubts of my ability to photograph the things I love and those the fascinate me. In the end, that scares me more than anything.
When we went out early Friday night, we couldn’t help but notice the lack of quality and somewhat toxic smell in the air. Even with our corona-masks, our breathing became so compromised that we decided to head back indoors and cut our night short. When tuning into the weather broadcast on the news, I heard a never before description of the forecast. The next few days called for “smoke” and an unhealthy air quality that came with a warning to “stay home.”
The following day was terrible, but waking up Sunday morning was downright scary, being engulfed with this thick smoke. Luckily, there was no smell of fire. But I couldn’t help but think of the John Carpenter film ‘The Fog.’ Having never seen anything like it. I raced for my camera to document the site. And what a frightening site it was.
Learn as you Go.
On an almost daily basis. I take a few minutes to spend a little time visiting a past shoot to either tweak an overlooked image while sending any less than worthy ones to the trash. It’s a practice that has allowed me to purge thousands of images while giving me time to savor and care for the ones that really count. As I look back to my earliest home studio work. I see my leanings towards broad/flat lighting. A style that may have worked for me at the time. Clearly displays my fears of fucking things up and making mistakes. Perhaps revealing my rookie status. And while the image below might look good to some. I clearly remember feeling like that first day on the school bus. Luckily, that day helped me capture a number of images that would lead to future work and ultimately, more confidence.
On this latter image I had not only gained confidence, but I learned some essential lessons about successfully communicating ideas and concepts while gaining the confidence and trust of the model. On this particular shoot, I took a more creative approach with both the lighting and concept. I knew exactly what I was looking to accomplish as well as the message I was looking to convey. As I revisited this image for the first time in over a year. I decided to add a little shadow and highlights while adjusting the contrast to give it the dramatic and moody feel the shoot called for. As I grow and hopefully evolve as a photographer. I look forward to taking chances with light, make some mistakes I can learn from and shoot with a more ballsy, confident approach.