Lessons in Patience
Living in a relatively remote part of Alaska has taught me, amongst other things, to appreciate living in the slow lane. Comforts don’t come quite as easily here, and they usually don’t come quickly either. Living in a dry cabin means that I must haul my water for cooking and cleaning. I boil said water in a tea kettle for washing dishes, and empty the graywater bucket when it fills up. When my propane runs out, I go refill it before my next hot meal or cup of coffee (but there’s always a backpacking stove in a pinch!). I have no trash service, no utilities really to speak of. For two summers, I lived without electricity. In order to continue my jewelry business, I borrowed a small generator that I kept outside and had to pull-start before whirring away with my dremel tool. In that cabin, I also had to light and tend to my manual oil-drip stove for heat. Now, I’m not implying that I’m out here really roughing it--that’s hardly the case. I’ve got a lovely, comfortable setup: there's a solid roof over my head, it's only about a 10-yard walk to the outhouse, and one trip with fifteen gallons of water usually gets me through a week. Plus, I only live here for five months of the year. I truthfully enjoy working for what I have in those months. I remember during my first year living in a dry, electricity-free cabin, when I ran out of water and propane in the same day. I got this great sense of fulfillment as I loaded up my empty propane tank and water jugs in the car after a long day at work--I was really doing the Alaska thing, and I was doing it right.
Such "adventures" in resupply have since become commonplace for me, but the payoff is still so great: I get to live 120 miles from the nearest city, in one of the most beautiful places in the world. So many things in life are more fulfilling when we work or wait for them. The view and solitude found on the top of a remote, trail-less mountain can’t be compared to a scenic overlook along a national park road. Baked goods made from scratch are in a totally different league than those which are store-bought. And water just tastes sweeter from a backcountry snowmelt creek than it does from the tap. I’ve been mulling over this concept quite a bit in the last year, especially in regards to photography. For the last couple of years, I have carried my iPhone, my Fujifilm mirrorless digital camera, and a 35mm film camera with me on most of my backcountry exploits. Despite preferring the look and feel of my film photographs, I often shoot the same scene repetitively: once on film and once again on digital. Every now and then a film shot doesn’t come out and I’m glad to have shot a digital version, but more often, I am distracted and weighed down by the redundancy. In 2016, it’s hard to resist the temptation of immediate gratification. An iPhone allows one to shoot, edit, and upload an image to social media in minutes, while shooting film in Alaska means I wait weeks or even months to see and share my images. This “convenience factor” has majorly affected my photography. My work is less curated and my eye less edited when I have the freedom to shoot thousands of images. And worse yet, it’s hard not to think about what an audience on Instagram might “like” when I shoot a digital image, because there’s the potential to post it as soon as I get home. But I don’t necessarily want to be a creator of digital content; I want to do more. I want to capture fleeting moments and feelings and the great expanses I explore on this Earth in a way that does them justice. I want to make art.
Film photography possesses a certain quality that digital photographs will never achieve. Sometimes it’s visible grain, sometimes it’s a light-leak, sometimes it’s dynamic range achieved through laborious metering rather than post-processing. And while folks edit their images with VSCO filters to strive for that elusive film look, the unpredictability is lost. And, in the case of my own work, much of the beauty is lost. The depth and richness will just never be there. The purity of the art form is muddled by the nagging voice of social media in the back of my head. I don’t mean to bash digital photography--there are many great artists who create work in the digital format. I just personally feel distracted and negatively affected by its presence in my work. And so, with much consideration, I’ve decided to leave my digital camera at home for a while. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen some incredible views and had some beautiful experiences. But I won’t get to share them until my images are returned to me from the lab. The waiting is part of the fun: when my images come back I get to relive lost moments. Film photography is the art form that my dad taught me when I was eight or nine years old. Even though it may take some extra time to split-level focus and read my light meter, and I may miss a shot now and then, and I will inevitably wait weeks at a minimum to see my images, I’ve decided that it’s worth the work, and it’s worth waiting for.