A Vision Through Empathy
Growing up in the Midwest, being raised and surrounded by factory workers, meant becoming part of a community that prides itself on getting dirty on purpose. Through them, I learned what it means to put in a full day's work for a full day's pay – that hard work is simply the price of entry. From these competent and dependable "salt of the earth" people also came the inherited ideals of the gritty, enterprising pioneers who came before us and the belief that decency and integrity are paramount and that strength of character comes from a deeper connection to the land.
As a teenager, I worked on a farm, engaging fully in the physicality of the land. Young and imaginative and always outdoors, I was armed with a do-it-yourself spirit when it came to solving problems on the fly, I loved the feeling of improv and the satisfaction that came with making something out of seemingly nothing. Resourcefulness and thinking outside the box grew to be second nature to me. I learned to see problems as questions. And questions as opportunities for creativity.
At the heart of this creativity were my mother and my grandmother. I cannot remember a time when they weren't creating or crafting. They introduced me to all that is possible with oil paints, blank sheets of paper, and a glue gun, forever encouraging me to use my imagination further, be inspired by the nature around me and explore new ways to express myself. In middle school, I tried a photography class, and from working in the darkroom, I found my salvation — the medium a perfect co-existence of science and art.
Through photography I caught a glimpse of other ways of life. I saw people and ideas that revealed different perspectives on the ways of the world, ideas that challenged me – I was all in. Defying expectations, I went to college and majored in graphic design, all the while continuing to explore photography. After five years as a designer and art director I took the leap to pursue photography full-time, my opportunity to craft the kinds of stories that preserved what I saw, narratives I believed would contribute to a deeper understanding of the world.
This passion for creativity and the belief in getting dirty for a purpose continues to fuel me. It is important through my projects to call attention to what I envision could get lost in our world. Be it the renewal of nature, or the preservation of land, a loved one or even just a moment in time, each shoot another opportunity to make the time to create, to preserve.
All the while aspiring to do whatever it takes to find something extraordinary in each moment, each shot. Be it drifting down river in a dugout canoe or hiking 8-hours up a mountain with full shoot gear in The Amazon, for me the journey is just as important as the process.
Whether we are talking about nature or people, a person must leave their comfort zone and imagine through the eyes of another. Empathy is one of the greatest gifts that humans can give to each other — to slow down and step into another's shoes, to feel what they feel. It is not always comfortable, but it is precisely because of that discomfort and being shaken out of familiar narratives that we learn and grow.
I've always thought that the more life experience you gain, the more empathy you will have. Though nothing could have prepared me for my newborn son's first four month's stay in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care or his 20 surgeries and six years of 120-hour a week home nursing. Not only was I forced to deal with my feelings but also to be fully present for those I love. It was necessary to develop trust and rapport with the army of caregivers who were there to help us. The doctors, nurses, therapists, medical, and health insurance providers were our champions and cheerleaders. Their philosophy to treat the patient and family made a huge difference in helping us heal – everyone's compassion and empathy on full display every day. It was a growth experience that continues to help me in my professional and personal life.
Today it is my son who continues to teach me. As I watch him grow and interact with the world, he demonstrates children's unapologetic interest in all things. My son’s wholesome approach and his never-ending questioning about the marvels of the world serve as my catalyst to tell the kinds of stories that move us to be more imaginative, more empathetic, more compassionate, and more generous. One must strive to make choices to ensure the things you love continue to thrive.
Each choice is a reminder of our ripple effect, an invitation to take full responsibility for our impact on the world. Our lives, our work, the health of our environment, and how we value it, all interdependent. And like those gritty and enterprising pioneers who came before me, I believe that no-one is too small to make a difference in the world. My son is living proof of this.
These deeply held ideals are the driving force behind why my wife and I fulfilled a long-held ambition to purchase 20-acres of forest at the mouth of Jordan Creek. Ultimately, we raised money through print sales and worked with a non-profit to get a grant for the land to be transferred to a land trust for permanent protection.
We also challenged ourselves to explore new ways to green our studio. We weatherized, insulated, overhauled and installed. We paired geothermal with a rooftop solar system and are now 100 percent powered by clean energy. Nothing was exempt from examination to make our workspace one that’s not only good for the health of everyone who works or visits but also good for the planet. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
At the heart of it, I want the work I create to be a reflection of all that I hold most dear – my wife and son, the environment, the caregivers. For this, I will continue to dig and search and leave no stone unturned; to do whatever it takes to tell the kinds of stories that bring people deeper into something that will move them and inspire action. This my on-going ode to great design, my way to make something memorable and meaningful.