Well, I can’t say I’m sorry to see 2017 go–and I’ll be a little more straightforward than I might otherwise be (at the risk of bumming out the room), because I think it’s important. There are countless books that explore the connection between creativity and depression, with varying theories of how or why they often seem to coexist; I’m hardly the only creative type to be thus afflicted, but it seems to have been an especially bad year for me in that regard.
BUT. The good part: this is also the year where I finally got the upper hand on that monster. There are now far more good days than bad, and I’ve relocated the motivation and creative drive that always seems to flag during the worst cycles. I live with cyclical depression, and it’s just a part of life. And I think it’s the case for so many of us, and think that talking openly about it helps to normalize and educate.
So. Do not feel bad for me, because this is a beast with which I’m too familiar; but it so ruled my existence this year that I can’t not mention it when summarizing my year in photography. I deal with it–this year, I found a way to deal with it better than in the past. This is also the year I made a BIG change in my photography–I switched camera systems. I’m no longer a Canon shooter–those cameras served me well for a decade, but I made the move to Nikon (still favoring Sigma lenses over all), and could not be more pleased. I’ve also branched out and am now doing vineyard photography for a couple of other projects, and still checking in on the birds at Owens Lake (so my “best” this year are a rather eclectic group). In no particular order, these were my personal favorites this year! Click on any of the pics to view them larger.
As part of my ongoing Life of Wine project, I’ve spent a good deal of time at Tablas Creek Vineyard over the past year. As California emerged from a five-year drought, the rains this winter were plentiful–and an unseasonal warm snap in December led to an unexpected and unwanted explosion of growth in January in the vineyards during a time they’re supposed to be easing into dormancy. As unwanted as that growth was, it was also incredibly beautiful–pale green, almost translucent leaves on unpruned canes gave the appearance of bright confetti in the vineyard.
The birds at Owens Lake have come to feel like good friends over the last several years I’ve been working on my Owens Lake Project, and the American Avocet is probably my favorite bird at the lake. They are impossibly graceful with their long legs and long, curved bill, and seem to have a perpetual (and endearing) expression of wide-eyed shyness. I’ve been trying to capture a “portrait” of one that conveys that grace and beauty.
Bracken Fern in Monochrome
The dormant (or bracken) ferns in Yosemite are a favorite subject of mine, and I love converting them to black and white images to emphasize the almost ghostly appearance they take on in monochrome.
Detail, Bottling Line
Another image from my Life of Wine project–I had the opportunity to squeeze onto the big bottling truck one morning at Tablas Creek and had great fun capturing some of the details of that operation–big, loud and very cramped in the the back of a semi trailer!
False Hellebore, Yosemite High Country
False Hellebore (also commonly called corn lilies) are a favorite subject in the Sierra high country, but timing is everything. These emerge just as the last of the snow melts, but they grow FAST–if you’ve ever grown lettuce in a hot climate, you know all about “bolting,” and that’s what these plants do. Summer in the high country is brief and brings about a great convulsion of life for just a few months. This year, I happened upon these near Crane Flat just days after they sprouted. In a dark end of a meadow, they were illuminated by low afternoon light, and I love the way the leaves have a sort of glowy, serpentine quality.
Eclipse Light on Dana Saddle (Eastern Sierra)
I dragged my feet on making plans to photograph the total eclipse this summer–unlike the total annular eclipse I planned for extensively in 2012, this one just got away from me. I didn’t want to completely miss out on the experience, though, so I headed for the Sierra high country and its 81% totality. Not the full monty, but I knew the light would be dramatic. Unfortunately, a late morning thunderstorm developed over my planned location to shoot the eclipse at the Tuolumne River cascades, and we decamped to the eastern slopes to see how things would look there. The light dimmed weirdly and passing cloud shadows made it even more dramatic. Eclipses are strange and beautiful things–add it to your bucket list if you’ve never experienced one.
Mono Lake Sunrise
I’ve reached a point in my photography where I’m less interested in the fireworks-color of sunrise and sunset, and more interested in light play and intimate landscapes. But I had a feeling this morning at Mono Lake might be especially interesting–and I was not wrong. With the record snowmelt this year, the lake level was higher and the glacial silt from the melting snow gave the water an even more noticeable turquoise tint than usual (drier) winters. There was a low cloud ceiling apparent before dawn, and it remained in place for a full hour after sunrise, letting in just enough light to make for a colorful (and impossibly long) sunrise. Mono being the weird mars-scape that it is, the turquoise color of the water almost clashing with the blue sky above and the otherworldly tufa formations made for one of the most wonderfully bizarre sunrises I’ve ever witnessed. It was like standing inside a kaleidoscope.
Cinsault Portrait, Bechthold Vineyard
I’ve spent a lot of time this year exploring the Lodi wine region, which notably contains some of the oldest vineyards in the state. The vines in the Bechthold Vineyard there are 131 years old, and have grown so marvelously gnarled and twisted that they almost remind me of the Ancient Bristlecones I love so much in the White Mountains. My goal was to capture a kind of “portrait” from this old storied vineyard, and I’m pretty pleased with this one, showing those beautiful gnarled vines with blazing fall color.
Aspen Road, Uncompahgre Plateau (SW Colorado)
I finally–FINALLY–made my first trip to Colorado this year for fall color. Anybody who’s looked at my photography for more than five minutes knows I’m a little obsessed with aspen trees, and the San Juan Mountains in SW Colorado blew my mind a little. I loved exploring the rambling county roads, which always seem to reveal a new breathtaking scene at every turn. I “discovered” this huge plain with massive aspen groves climbing up every slope and it instantly became one of my favorite spots around the well-known Dallas Divide.
Light Spots on Aspen, Lizard Head Wilderness
This is my favorite photo of 2017. Maybe ever. Just beyond Lizard Head Pass in the San Juans, the hillsides are covered in these immense aspen groves, and when I happened by, I was fortunate to be there at the same time intermittent clouds were moving overhead, throwing dramatic spots of light across the groves, constantly moving. I spent as much time standing there with my jaw on the ground as I did actually photographing. It was one of those experiences I will never forget, and always marvel at the light I witnessed.
I wish all of you the best 2018 you can have. May you be healthy and happy, and walk yourself out into the wilderness whenever the opportunity arises.