This October I spent two days criss-crossing Vancouver for Dirt Road Travels. @dirtroadtravels is self described Humans of New York meets Lonely Planet travel guide made for those looking for the best local haunts and hear the stories behind the makers and hidden gems of a city. My first stop was @beaucoupbakery - I’ll say I didn’t leave hungry. .
Last month Rachel Pick and I hosted an event we called The Vancouver Print Party.It was an under-the-radar kind of evening based on an idea to build community as Vancouver photographers. It was a way for us to take our work, and connections - so often in the digital sphere and make them tangible. We invited a select group of 20 photographers in Vancouver to come and display 1-20 images from a series of photos, a portfolio, or theme that they were working on, or proud of. It was curated invite list - limited to people that we both admired from different disciplines to make sure we had a varied show. The instructions on what to share were vague on purpose - we wanted it to be be informal a place to gather with talented people and talk about what we work on so hard behind the screen. I shared some work from the Yukon which I've now curated into an online gallery, Tomasz Wagner shared some incredible X-Pan images which he signed for a few of us to take home at the end, and Andrew Querner brought spreads from a beautiful book project he is working on.
We had a night talking about the thought and process behind projects we've been toying away at. Alexa Mazzarello shared a part of her Dreaming Plant Series which is officially opening at the Contact Photography Festival in Toronto this week, and Janis Nicolay - brought a beautiful series of photos from Turkey breaking from the interiors she usually shoots. It was perfect size to see everyone's work in the flesh, and to be able to spend a little more time hearing the stories behind the frames and the motivations that they stemmed from.
Lens and Shutter Photo came out with the support of Canon Canada to print large format photos on site for everyone to take home as a favour, Faculty Brewing beer was flowing, and Make Studios provided the backdrop.
Thank you to everyone who came out I know there is a few I missed mentioning above. I'm still on a high, and so thankful to have met, and shared the room with such great artists.
It was exactly what we hoped for; a night of community, and art. A success.
This weekend I finished Neil Gaiman's collection of essays - A View From The Cheap Seats. My favourite of which as a photographer is called "A Wilderness of Mirrors." It is about the National Portrait Gallery (which I visited while in England years and years ago) but I think beyond that it is about portraiture and its ability to tell us a truth.
"Who am I?
Is the first question.
The second is harder to answer. It was this: Who are we?
And to answer it I would open the family photo album. The photographs, black and white in the front, color in the later volumes, had been carefully stuck with photo mounts on corners and handwritten notes beneath each photograph. ... This is who we are, the albums said to us, and this is the story we are telling ourselves.
When we look at a portrait we begin to judge, because human beings are creatures of judgement. The joy and power of portraiture is that it freezes us in time. Before the portrait we were younger, after the portrait we will age and rot.
Ask the question, Who are we? and the portraits give us an answer of sorts.
We came from here, the old ones say. We look like this naked and clothed, they tell us. We are here, in this image, because a painter [or photographer] had something to say. Because we are all interesting. Because we cannot gaze into a mirror without being changed. Because we do not know who we are but sometimes there is a light caught in someones eyes that comes close to giving us the tiniest hint of an answer."
I often shy away from pictures, but the more deeply I think about photography the more I believe I should be in at least a few. They tell us a truth about ourselves and where we came from and the people that make us happy. This weekend is one I won't forget, curled up on the couch with dark chocolate that we bought by the pound, I read Gaiman's book, I cooked pizza, hiked, and laughed till my stomach hurt, and maybe I don't need a photograph to remember it, but there is a few, and I like what these ones are saying about who we are.
"Perhaps it isn't a collection of portraits as TS Eliot put it but a wilderness of mirrors." - Neil Gaiman
March 7th - Day 1 It's an early start, I fall asleep with my head pushing hard against the glass of the van window as Jo and Tom negotiate with our driver to get us to the trailhead. My bag is so full, and I think about lugging that grey beast of a backpack up mountain. I think about breakfast. I wonder what is in store for us, and I secretly hope the two travellers that have hitched a ride in addition to our foursome are faster hikers and break off ahead. They are too intense of personalities for me, and for Maddy as well, we gave each other a look last night and I know we are on the same page. I'm excited to hike with Jo and Tom though, Jo is from Germany, living in Austria, and Tom has been in South America for months, after a few years in the special forces in Israel. We met three nights ago in Pucon, Chile and now here we are here about to walk around a few Volcanos together.
We make it to the monkey puzzle forest just the four of us. Our travel buddies have jogged on ahead and I'm happy, but then I feel guilty for not wanting to be more inclusive. Jo leads our group up, while Maddy tells me about the Araucaria araucana trees we are walking through. They have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and have lava resistant bark; which makes sense as we are surrounded by volcanos. I wish I could identify plants nearly as well but I can contribute in my own way, and I tell her we are on land that the guy who started the North Face Outdoor Gear company bought, protected, and turned into a park. It was a contested issue in most of Patagonia at the time. An American coming in to buy up huge parts of land in the name of conservation. In theory it is great, and from my western perspective I understand need to protect magnificent old growth forests, and celebrate the biodiversity where we are walking through that probably exists no one where else. But I get it was controversial. The land cut Chile in half north to south from the coast to the border, and fundamentally changed the parks system here. Chile has both private and public parks and I've been reading about the benefits and draw backs of both.
Jo stumbles upon a red haired tarantula first a few meters ahead, Maddy naturally picks it up, and I take a few photos. Tom's eyes pop out of his head but he knows both of us are too stubborn to tell us not too. Maddy casually says "not enough venom to kill you" and that settles it. We break to put more sunscreen on. The hole in the Ozone layer sits nicely over southern Chile and us Canadians freshly off the plane are still as white as winter. Here in the southern hemisphere winter feels like a world away.
We don't make it to our campsite at 22kms like we had planned. We stopped at around 18 by the first and only stream we've seen since we started. Jo and I arrive ten or so minutes ahead of Tom and Maddy and we break out screaming and dancing. For the last hour we have been contemplating what we do if we don't find any, so the two of us finding water was a little bit like finding treasure and we are hysterically happy. The backcountry makes everything feel a little more immense. We fill up our water bottles and drink almost a litre each right there. The water is so cold I can feel it slide into my stomach after I swallow. We can see the glacier in the distance its melting from, and Jo says "Junger Gots" and I look at her like she is crazy but really she is just speaking german and translates for me. "Young Gods." its a saying. Tomorrow with this water we will be as strong as young gods, and the water tastes like gold or maybe the elixir of life which it is, and I get it.
March 8th Day 2 Morning-
The others are packing and I'm scribbling fast in this journal because the memories of last night won't be as fresh after today. I don't want forget the whiskey we shared in a plastic cups last night as the sky burned around us. I don't want to forget how tired my legs were as we climbed out of the crater we had pitched out tents in, to see the best sunset probably of my life over the Villarrica Volcano, Jo yelling in the distance "Is this heaven?", or Maddy saying quietly in our tent before we fell asleep; "Best Sleepover Ever."
I never want to forget how happy I was last evening with my best friend, and two no longer strangers.
I also don't want to forget the large amount of pleasure I've taken in my single combined spoon, fork, knife camping utensil. Its genius, don't know why I'd ever use any thing else ever again.
March 8th Day 2 Evening -
It is getting dark now, and Jo is cutting up cucumbers. Tom is making pasta, and Maddy is taking photos down by the little waterfall next to our campsite. We haven't seen anyone else all day and it feels like all of Chile is ours. Lake Azul, fields of igneous rock, the desert, the impact crator from an asteroid, new landscapes every few kilometres. This is what I came to Patagonia for and we aren't even officially in Patagonia yet.
I'm wearing Tom's shirt because I missed the sunscreen on half of my arms and my sunburn is really quite bad, a friend who will give you a shirt off their back that is something special.
We stopped in the desert for lunch, and I was at the lowest point of the past two days of straight walking. We tried to make a little shelter of our backpacks to block but the wind as we heated our water but it didn't really work. We ate shitty rice soup with dirt and more sand than I like for texture, but calories are calories and I felt better immediately. It is a feeling that I miss all too often in the city when I eat regularly and don't need the energy in the same way.
After lunch I led up the next ascent, the sand land we were leaving stretched out behind us. I used the last of my iphone battery to listen to a little Missy Elliot for moral support, attaching it to the top of bag so Jo who was behind me could hear the speaker over the wind. It died before I got to the top so for the minute that I crested the ridge it was silent. The others caught up not long after, and with all of use standing there in awe the light broke over the most incredible view I have ever witnessed. Exhausted and wind beaten I cried. I asked Jo take a picture of me.
Validation - this is real. This was the world before humans placed a hand on the landscape; untouched, and rugged, we all knew it.
We dropped out packs for a break and I took a few more photos that will never do the moment justice. I bandaged up Maddy's blisters and told her her I am her one and only wilderness first responder. A strange thing to say at the top of the world.
March 3rd - Day 3
Tom tells us about the Israeli army and a little bit about spending part of his early twenties in special forces. He shows us a scar on his leg where shrapnel hit, and even seeing something so tangible it is still hard for me to comprehend what it means to be in a war. We make fast friendships travelling, friendships that cross cultures and break all the regular social norm of getting to know a person. Jo is all about the German efficiency, and gets so frustrated that there is no signage in this park to tell us which way to go. I find it endearing, but I like that there are no signs. Like all Europeans it seems like she speaks at least three languages. I could almost kiss her when I realize she speaks the perfect amount of Spanish to get us a ride back to Pucon with a park worker. It's hard to imagine we didn't know Tom and Jo last week and that in a few more days we will all go our separate ways. This is the best hike I've ever done, and there is no one else I would have liked to share it with.
I haven't been to space but I did read Chris Hadfield 's book on my flight yesterday; as close to space as I'll probably ever get. It made me proud to be Canadian, and reminded me how lucky I was to photograph him in concert in February. Afterward the show I asked him about the recent proof of gravitational waves, and my nerding for the day was complete. His book is just as approachable as him, a glimpse into life above our planet, and completely inspiring. I fully recommend it.
Villarrica Volcano Trek, Pucón Chile. | Elevation: 2860 meters | Coordinates: 39°25′15″S71°56′21″W | Last Eruption: March 3rd 2015 We were up long before dawn, it was too early to see the plums of ash we'd witnessed the night before hovering above the edifice of Villarrica 2860 meters above. The sun slowly lit the sky and the remnants of a lava burnt chairlift emerged in the direction we were walking, and though I tried it was impossible to forget we were beneath Chile's most active volcano.
Villarrica's last eruption was almost a year ago to the day we packed our apples, and granola bars next to our ice picks, and crampons. I was disappointed we'd missed the eruption anniversary parties back in Pucón, the Escudo (my favourite Chilean beer) would have been flowing; but thinking about the first belated birthday of the rock I was stomping on was enough of a reminder to be happy we didn't get here geologically speaking much sooner.
It took eight full hours to get to the top and back down; a casual day trip. From above the clouds we could see how the flow of lava had carved the earth, and from the rim of the caldera we watched small spurts of magma pop for the few minutes we were there, happy we had sulphur masks on.
No word of exaggeration, it may have been the coolest thing I've ever seen.
The rain was starting to get to me, and though I'd been I'd been thinking about it on and off for a while, I made a spur of the moment decision on a lazy Sunday in December and booked a flight to Santiago Chile. The surreal feeling of that still hasn't worn off, and I am now about a week from take off. Slowly but surely getting things together for the two month jaunt south.
I've been sharing a little bit of trip prep over on Instagram, and I thought I'd put together a longer blog post of the camera gear I am bringing down for this little photography adventure to Chilean Patagonia.
Like with every trip I've ever done the total weight of my pack is a huge concern. In Chile I have plans to hike in Torres Del Paine as well as possibly Dientes de Navarino. These are both are multi-day hikes where I'll be carrying all the camera gear listed below, a tent/sleeping bag, clothing, and days worth of food. I'll be experimenting with video so I am bringing my audio recorder which is bulky, and a polaroid camera which is truly huge, but I've tried to make scarifies where I can leaving behind lenses and bodies to cut the weight.
Nine weeks is a long haul, and for this trip I specifically invested in a used Macbook Air (thanks craigslist, you never fail). I've tried to convince myself for a long time I could do this without a laptop, but I know I will need to be able to run my business remotely, do a little light editing, and make backups as I go along. If I could do this whole thing without a computer I would, but unfortunately an iPhone just can't do it all.
So for Patagonia this is the final revised camera travel kit;
Canon 5D3 - My go to.
Canon 24mm f1.4 - My favourite lens
Sigma 50mm f1.2 - A beast of a lens that is pretty much good for everything.
Canon 135 f2.0 - For all the Guancos I plan to see in the distance.
3 Canon 5D3 Batteries - I thought about bringing only two but video eats batteries for lunch.
Fuji Instax Wide 300
Manfrotto Lightweight Tripod - For night photography, time-lapses, and video. I've been using this as a makeshift monopod as well.
H4N Audio Recorder - I will loving call this piece of equipment "The Brick."
11" MacBook Air
Lens Pen // Lens Cloth // Various CF and SD Cards // Card Reader // Two 2TB Hard drives // iPhone 6 // Journal // Chargers