Mammatus clouds in the sky over St. Nicholas Church in East Chicago, Ind., following a thunderstorm, Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Mammatus clouds are formed by cool air sinking rapidly from the upper atmosphere.
For the past several years, whenever I’ve sat down to begin selecting my favorite images for this year-end blog, I’ve gotten an overwhelming feeling of worry. I’ve always second-guessed whether I’ve shot enough things throughout the year that stand out enough to be featured together in a best-of collection. Typically, my worries go unfounded, and I’m left struggling to narrow down 50 or more of my favorite images to a palatable selection.
This year, however, was different. As I culled my images (iPhone included) from 2015, I realized that I shot significantly less stills assignments than in previous years, and in the end, I was left with only a handful of images that I felt a personal connection to. This was, of course, discouraging. Nobody wants to realize that one of the things they’re most passionate about slipped away from them a bit, and on the surface, this it exactly how it would appear.
I later realized there was a good reason behind having a lesser amount of images to chose my favorites from. First, my stills work in 2015 shifted towards a different clientele. Three or four years ago, editorial work used to keep me busy with three or four assignments per weekend. I found myself this year shooting more for commercial and corporate clients a handful of times per month. While this may seem like a negative thing at first, the commercial and corporate work has proved to be far, far more lucrative for my business. In short, I’m working less and making more.
Secondly, the lighting design part of my business saw a dramatic increase in work over the past year. I was happy to be retained by R&B singer Anthony Hamilton as his full time designer, traveling across the United States more than 26 times this year to light his performances in a variety of venues. In addition to work with Anthony, I also traveled to Dallas this summer for a week with the lighting crew from Live International to program and tech at pastor T.D. Jakes’ bi-annual Megafest convention. All that lighting design work was in addition to designing shows for my regular clients back home!
With so much travel and time this year devoted to the craft of lighting for the live stage (which was always my first passion), the downturn in stills assignments started to make more sense. As much as I’d like to be some mutant creature with eight arms and four brains, I have to occasionally face the reality that I can only be in one place at one time.
Portraits and nature dominate the images I’m most proud of from 2015. From running home to document crazy cloud formations in my neighborhood sky, to staking out lightning in the middle of the night near a 33-foot-tall steel statue (probably not my wisest moment), Mother Nature offered up some great looks for my lenses this year. And, with so much more of my client-based work being commercial, it’s natural that portraits were something I was asked to create fairly regularly too.
My favorite portrait is the one above of Angelica Griffin driving her car through the streets of Chicago (shot on assignment for the ride-sharing service Lyft). I suction-cupped a Canon 6D with a 15mm ƒ2.8 lens to her hood, and rigged a small Canon Speedlite inside the car just below her steering wheel. With everything all set, I laid out-of-sight in her back seat and triggered the entire rig as she drove with a Pocket Wizard. We got more than a few puzzled glances from pedestrians at red lights as they processed the large camera stuck to her car with seemingly nobody operating it. I think those awkward glares were quite worth the results!
As with the past two years (and also represented here), I’ve continued with my pursuits of creating a body of hand-crafted work that exists outside of a computer. Wet plate collodion is a beast I continue to deeply enjoy perfecting, and black and white film photography left my hands reeking of developer and fixer more than once!
On the personal front, I realized a few things this year. Firstly, people are going to change, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I used to expect people to remain a steadfast version of the selves they were when I first met them, but I’m realizing that peoples’ personalities are just as fluid as a moving stream, sometimes fed by raindrops from a powerful storm. The more prepared one is to accept that personalities of those they know are constantly evolving, the more palatable this thing called life will ultimately be.
Also relating to life and relationships, this is one of the first holiday seasons where I have truly appreciated my interactions with family and friends, and held them closer to me than a want or desire for some material objects under a tree. A couple of weeks before Christmas, I woke up at 8am (a brutal time of day if you know me closely) to have breakfast with my dad and his four brothers. The last time I sat at a table with those five men together was likely at my grandmother’s funeral in 1995. It was fantastic catching up with all of them. Later that afternoon, I attended my Auntie JoDee’s annual Christmas party with my girlfriend, where I got to catch up with cousins, aunts, and uncles from my mom’s side of the family. The highlight of that gathering was a round of high-stakes BINGO with a $10 buy-in, resulting in a $150 pot (I didn’t win)!
The great times I had with family and friends that day left me feeling immensely fulfilled in a way that I’d never savored as a younger man. When I’m traveling across the country all those days I mentioned earlier for work–when it’s all said and done–I’m typically solitary or surrounded by strangers for large stretches of that time, be it while flying to and from the destinations, or while turning down my bed in an unfamiliar hotel room. I can take material items with me to keep me pacified, but family and close friends are usually the one thing I’m missing out there that I’m left without.
My professional growth this year made me realize that some personal growth and a new understanding is happening too, and for that, I’m truly grateful.
Light from a stained glass window shines on the wedding dress and bouquet of Maritsa Ortiz during her wedding ceremony at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Ill., Saturday, September 5, 2015.
Retired Major League Baseball pitcher Randy Johnson during an interview for MLB Network at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago, Ill., Thursday, June 11, 2015. Johnson has taken on a post-retirement career as a professional photographer.
A Ford Tri-Motor rests in the historic Ford Hangar following a day of demonstration flights sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association at Lansing Municipal Airport in Lansing, Ill., Friday, July 17, 2015. The aircraft, model 5-AT-B, made its first flight on December 1, 1928.
(Top to bottom) Sergeant First Class Corey Hood, Sergeant Chris Clark, and Sergeant First Class Teigh Statler with the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team free-fall over Lake Michigan during their performance in the 2015 Gary Air Show in Gary, Ind., Saturday, July 11, 2015. Sergeant Hood passed away just one month later after an accident occurred during his performance in the Chicago Air and Water Show.
Sunlight shining through openings in a wall catches theatrical haze in the air backstage at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., Saturday, August 8, 2015. The venue was hosting the Spirit Festival, featuring a lineup of popular R&B groups.
The abandoned Union Station in downtown Gary, Ind., as seen in an 8×10 wet plate collodion photo, Monday, September 21, 2015. Built in 1910, the station served travelers until it was closed in the 1950’s.
Lightning illuminates the sky over the Our Lady of the New Millennium statue at the Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, Ind., early Saturday, July 18, 2015. The 33-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture, commissioned by Carl Demma, was completed in 1999.