Photography has been a surprising pursuit for me in that I never really tried to get into it, studied it on its own or sought to become a photographer–if anything it became an add-on to the travel and climbing that I began doing in my 20s. I didn’t (and still don’t) shoot for the sake of creating images. I shoot to become more integrated into my experience in a way that will better survive the ravages of time. I shoot to tell stories and to recreate feelings for myself and others that allow the joy, fear and perspective to be shared. This is one of the vestigial benefits of adventure; it encourages us to integrate and develop other skills whose need we would otherwise overlook in more mundane environments. Everything is connected.

Diabetes has become part of my climbing. It has become a difficult hobby that is worth the risk, cost and suffering. Integrating photography with my climbing and diabetes “habit” has added so much in terms of day to day motivation to pursue beauty in the wild and often times uncomfortable places of the world. Inspiration is only a small part of the picture however; in this post I want to discuss a chapter of a photography book written by a hero of mine which I would recommend to anyone who appreciates or aspires to better photography: Mountain Light by Galen Rowell.

From Chapter 3, Integrated Vision:

“All objects are colorless–black, that is–until they reflect or transmit light. This simple realization, which I should have recalled from my physics classes, completely turned around my photographic approach. Instead of looking at the natural world for objects to photograph in color, I began to look for light.”

Surely the practical application of this quote to photography is thought provoking and exceedingly useful. However, when I looked at this idea, the first thing that popped into my head was how this aligns with diabetes. Diabetes is “colorless” until we shape it with the light we transmit. It is a variable. It does not have to have a fixed, negative value. The light we shine on this challenge changes everything. That has been the dividing line between suffering and success in my own experience and it’s the common thread that I’ve teased out from all of the incredible people I’ve interviewed on the AdventureRx Podcast. Perspective matters.

Events in which my own actions had little to no effect upon the outcome invariably clashed with my efforts to photograph them. Even when I made a fine image, I did so as an outsider. Events in which I was a participant were just the opposite for me.”

A lot of people feel insulted when they hear someone say that diabetes is a gift. I would guess that this is true for lots of chronic illnesses and challenges. No one likes sugarcoating–especially when it feels inauthentic. I guess I won’t say that diabetes is a gift but it definitely comes with separate gifts. One of the most valuable things that I got from my diabetes is an awareness of how much my actions mattered. Every time we eat, we effectively take our life in our own hands.

Not surprisingly, that’s one of the things about adventure and climbing specifically that feels so beautiful to me. You can’t really be an outsider–you are forced to participated fully. You are consumed by it. Sure, that carries with it more commitment and at times you feel the bumps in the road more forcefully. That is the price of adventure that one has to pay in order to experience the beauty.

Looking at these photos it brings up a lot of feelings. These images are not ‘just pictures’ to me. They are windows, frozen time, escape hatches if you will–they transport me into a moment that I was part of. I have missed interpreting the world through moments of captured light. I have struggled to find inspiration in the places that I have been. It’s not that I haven’t been able to take some great photos, just that I haven’t felt engaged as though I was truly part of the action. I am looking forward to changing that soon.

Diabetes is not about diabetes. Climbing is not about climbing. Not surprisingly, photography is not about photography. These sometimes disparate pursuits are all elements of creativity–yes even the challenges and obstacles that drive us to see the beauty in the world that seems out to get us at times. I still never have an answer to the question: “what do you do“. If I had to take a stab at it, I would say that I create. My goal is to live a creative life–not just in the “things” I make but to have an additive affect on the world around me. I may be misusing mathematical terminology and for that I apologize, but I trust the intended meaning is not lost on you. I didn’t choose this way of living; it chose me. That’s why I have to seek inspiration in the world around me and go where it leads me. That’s the fuel for the fire inside.


LivingVertical thrives because of YOU. I (Steve) personally appreciate the fact that you are part of our growing community of active and adventurous people with diabetes. I will be offering diabetes coaching services beginning October 1st–and I have space for 5 people who are looking to improve their lifestyle, diabetes control, goal setting and adapt their management to unique, active pursuits. Email me for more info steve@livingvertical.org!