I was born and raised on an organic blueberry farm in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. I graduated with a high school class of 41 people. An unfortunate byproduct of this small town isolation is the cultural and racial homogeny, which translates to a lack of understanding, and oftentimes racism and bigotry. In order to combat this, my parents deemed it necessary for me to travel, both domestically and abroad. Family vacations on the east coast and Florida piqued my interest in travel, but, when I was fourteen, my grandmother, Jane Watkins, then living in England, took me along with her on an assignment in Uganda, in central Africa. Not only was I amazed by the beauty and diversity of this country, but it made me appreciate the beauty of my own home, something too often overlooked.
My further journeys took me to Costa Rica, Honduras, South Africa and the Bahamas. When I was a junior at Duke University, I elected to fulfill my Marine Biology major requirements in Bermuda, an unforgettable experience. My photographs of all of these places are embarrassingly bad, but they served as a foundation for understanding and creating what would later become my art.
As far as photography goes, my first camera was a $14 Le clic that my parents got for me at Disney World when I was 7 years old: the shutter bug did not bite me.
My Second camera was a low-end Minolta SLR that my mother bought for me to take on safari in South Africa. The only lens I had was an 80-210 telephoto. All of the animals were in middle of the picture, half a mile away, but I had been bitten.
I slowly collected lenses and photography books, improved in both composition and technique, but was still a sucker for noontime sun and print film.
For college graduation my parents gave me a Minolta Maxxum 9, Minolta’s flagship body made from alloys and rubber gaskets. I was now ready for serious photography with a spot meter and mid-roll rewind. At that time I had my old ally 80-210, a requisite 28-80, and my phallic 100-400 slide zoom that I really thought was something. What soon became one of my most prized lenses was a simple 50mm F/1.4 lens. Its sharpness was incredible and its ability to work in low-light situations made it a priceless lens for travel photography.
I moved out to California, working out my shutter finger in a handful of national parks, the Golden Gate, and the PCH, discovering the wonders of a circular polarizer on red rocks and blue sky. Then some action stuff in Lake Tahoe of my friend/roomate/model Brandon busting out switch 1080 rodeos over 120 foot kickers (almost). On my way home to Arkansas I spent some more time in our beloved park system, working the kinks out of my artistic vision.
At this point in my life I was kind of adrift, and had made the decision to do some traveling. I packed up my things and bought a one way ticket to Australia. Read more about this in the Travels and Travails section.
On my return home 25 countries and 17 months later, after sifting through my photos and playing with my nikon film scanner, I took a photo class from Glenn Wheeler, a local author, professional photographer and fellow Newton Countian, with whom I became a friend and an understudy. He taught me many things I would have liked to have known before my trip, but live and learn, I suppose. I had been entirely self taught, and knew a great deal of the information contained in books, but my overall knowledge was spotty and the experience I have had working with Glenn has made me a much more balanced photographer.
With Glenn and Jesse, another photo friend, we undertook a trip out west, stopping in Arizona, Utah and Colorado, and where I got my first real experience with my new Canon 20D. After being wiped clean of all camera ties in Rome, what better time to make the switch the digital, and that has made all the difference.
Digital photography exponentially shortens the learning process by eliminating that interim period between exposure and critique. Those once in a lifetime shots (that happen everyday, they just might not be good pictures); the combinations of light, weather and composition that never reoccur, can be reconsidered and reshot, on the spot. If you blow out the highlights on a macro shot, you can see it, and reshoot with a diffuser. If the wind blurred the trees in your landscape, you can see that and reshoot when the breeze dies down. Consequently, the fundamentals of good pictures, sharpness, exposure value and such, are perfect by the end, leaving time to the more creative processes like composition. Plus, since memory is reusable, take thousands of shots to find out what works best for you.
Glenn and I joined forces several times hence, once as staff photographers for Lost Valley Event Photography, a brain-child of Larry Roberts. We traveled across the country taking pictures of high school cheerleaders. Yeah, I know, it's not quite as intriguing as slogging through leach infested jungles, but it paid the bills and gave me some valuable experience with regards to portrait and event photography.
After that situation ended, Glenn and I started our own pseudo-business aptly titled PhotoRoadTrips.com. Our intention being to expose photographers without the time or means to photographic journeys around our own country. We pack our things into Glenn's rickety jeep, or even my little two-seater sports car and explore areas of the country of particular photographic interest. Although the going has been slow, since we are both involved in other things, we have managed to photograph in the Texas Hill Country and in the Missouri Ozarks. We hope to add to the list soon, whenever we can work out some time.
Travel is still a big part of what excites me, and I have done a bit of that since I returned from abroad. In addition to my travels with Glenn, my girlfriend Kelli and I have ventured to Belize and Guatemala, with further plans for South East Asia this coming summer.
Unfortunatly, my photography has slowed down lately, as I am thoroughly entrenched in my first year of Medical School. It still allows me time, on holidays at least, to get out a bit, but it has put a serious damper on my productivity. It is what I want to do however, and hopefully my free time will return to me in 8 years or so...