Here's why I'm thankful for film this Thanksgiving

I returned home to wade through plenty of my own personal baggage that I encountered during my time at Standing Rock. It's been heavy and not at all comfortable witnessing this unfolding of events. I went there with questions, seeking answers--and came back with more questions. I have a few more posts that I am working on which will extrapolate the details of the time I spent there and show you the images I made--but right now, I want to share something seemingly unrelated that has helped me find my center in the midst of all this tension: gratitude for film photography.

My emotional baggage wasn't the only thing that was waiting for me when I arrived home. I had sent a years worth of film in to be developed before I left for North Dakota and just as I had done while shooting it--I let it slip from my mind. As I was in the process of unpacking my bags and cleaning up my camera gear I got an email with a link to the scanned negatives. Clicking through these "lost" moments from the preceding months was like a reprieve from the inexorable passage of time. It filled me with gratitude for everything I've been able to experience and share--and that feeling of gratitude lifted the burden of baggage. It's enough of a privilege to live my life enjoying technology and travel--adventure and photography--it's even more of a gift to have the opportunity to create little time capsules that distill the journey. It's also a complete privilege to have you reading this because as I've said before, no one is entitled to an audience.

As I clicked through, I  found pictures of my friends Rob and Chris--just being themselves. I found pictures of Lilo from when she was much smaller. I found pictures of Stefanie from little moments that had held no great significance other than the fact that they'd never come again. I found the last photographs of my friend Pittman before he took his life. Looking at each image I was taken back to a moment in the past that I felt something worth capturing--usually a sense of tension and finality as I pushed the shutter button. I didn't know what I'd make or how the photograph would turn out. Once you push that button it's too late to edit or second guess. It's done. I was afraid of trying to capture something intangible and just barely missing it--tasting the success just enough to make the failure that much more sour.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I know that people are afraid of a lot of things in these uncertain days. I am too, I guess. Regardless of your social or political views, things are pretty dark out there. That's something we can all agree on. I don't know that pointing a camera at things will make anything better objectively. I don't even know what is better objectively. I do know that I have a lot to be thankful for and that fear and ignorance are not good enough reasons to stop creating and exploring. Diabetes taught me over the years that life is what we make it and that creation is the opposite of destruction. That is, and will always be the truth that drives me to keep creating even if I miss the mark by miles. It's not the mark that matters in the end--goals, targets and objectives always change. It's the willingness to take aim and try that I'm thankful for.

Film photography isn't about perfection. It's simply not the best way to make the most technically precise photographs. There is too much left to chance and variables that are difficult, if not impossible to predict with regularity. Still, the process of letting go and eventually getting a return is incredibly satisfying. Maybe it's because there are no guarantees or do-overs. You get one chance to get it right and when you do, it feels that much better.


Standing Rock: Examining my bias

As a photographer it's my job not just to re-create what I see in the world around me but to take some responsibility for my interpretation of it. This fact made the task of remaining unbiased while photographing at Standing Rock--exceedingly difficult. The inherent tension between accuracy and interpretation is something that thrills and terrifies me. It's a tenuous balance of being entrusted with a sensitive story--wanting to do it justice while avoiding being swept away by my own raw emotion gathered through the experience.

If you have no idea what is going on at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation or why I went there, I urge you to do a little digging to find sources who have reported on this conflict and its background context. The story is almost invisible in the mainstream media and I am not a reporter as such. My hope is that my sliver of shared experience and photographs from the Oceti Sakowin camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation this past week will help create enough tension that you may look into the facts and form your own opinions. It's an historic moment in our history, with over 200 tribes from all over the United States represented--the largest such gathering in modern times, catalyzed in response to the Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL) which is slated to run through treaty land, just upstream from the reservation water supply. The pipeline also will run through sacred native burial sites. These are the facts--not my opinion about them.

img_8860

Speaking of opinions.

I hadn't really encountered a situation in my photography where I was pointing my camera at something so socially charged without the security of knowing how and why I felt about it. My previous work in diabetes advocacy is something I live daily so my work was my opinion in that context. I knew where I fit in.

How could I form a valid opinion on the Standing Rock situation? It's barely a hiccup in the mainstream media and furthermore it has deep racial implications. I'm on the outside. I'm white. I've never lived on a reservation. I don't know what it's like living in a community with 80% unemployment where the Dollar Store is literally the only grocery store for miles around. Growing up, colonization to me, simply meant the process through which we got here. To many indigenous people it means an ongoing process through which their culture was largely decimated and the lever by which they were displaced from their homeland.

There is an obvious chasm between my world, which is largely insulated from this struggle, and the perspectives I encountered at the Oceti Sakowin camp. I will be wrestling with this disparity for a long time to come--possibly without any clear resolution. Not looking away from difficult realities is where I can begin. I don't make apologies for who I was born or where my ancestors originated. During my time at Standing Rock I didn't feel as though I was expected to do that. I was accepted as a guest and often greeted kindly as a non-native relative. Receiving respect in the face of so many generations of sadness and injustice made me want to find a way to just make it all better. Staunch the bleeding. It also made me more determined to not let my feelings interfere with my photographs. Still, those feelings are what drove me to travel from Massachusetts to North Dakota over 3 days to make those photographs.

Clear as mud, yes?

I've had some people take offense at the fact that I've even been willing to look at this story in the first place--as if recognizing that the situation exists is tantamount to taking sides. There are certainly others who feel as if anything other than explicit activism for the NoDAPL cause is irresponsible or exploitative. I don't share either of those views--but still, they aren't wrong.

To whit:

The presentation of lethal force against peaceful, prayerful demonstrations that I experienced is not business as usual. I learned as a child that you never point a loaded weapon at something (or someone) unless you fully intended to pull the trigger. Yet, at one point, I stood at the police blockade with two other journalists and a Marine combat veteran--only four people armed with questions and cameras--who asked respectfully to speak with the commanding officer. We were met with mockery, a drone hovering overhead and more than 10 heavily armored men watching us through the scopes on their weapons. I still don't know if they were police or military. No one would identify the agency under whose authority they were operating. I made their photograph as I am certain they made mine. I would have greatly appreciated a chance to tell the other side of the story, but all I saw of the other side was armored vehicles and the business end of a lot of big guns. I wouldn't say I took sides in that moment--more like I was forcibly relegated to a side.

I was walking back into camp after this incident took place and I was confronted by a young woman with a camera of her own. She asked me who I was reporting for and I explained to her that I ran my own website and was out there on a self-directed project to document the situation. I shared that a lot of this was a learning experience for me because I felt strangely trapped between two worlds. It didn't take her a long time to explain that unless I had plans to report on every oil pipeline on native lands--not just the one that was trending on Twitter that I was just a looky loo. Part of the problem. Another tourist out on a camping trip taking snapshots. Perpetuating genocide, she said.  Maybe she was just being overly sensitive towards a competing photographer.

I still worry that somehow I was actually taking more from the native community than I could give back despite my best efforts and she unwittingly put her finger on the truth.

Hello, uncomfortable tension.

I went to Standing Rock without a fully formed opinion, knowing that I would begin to assemble one through my experience--which would ultimately not even scratch the surface. I went there and saw things. I felt things that impacted my views. I'm human, flawed and willing to empathize with people I don't agree with or understand. I don't know if it's possible to look at people suffering with dignity and feel nothing. My purpose in breaking up these posts on the blog is to compartmentalize some of these competing reactions that I had internally. I don't intend for the sum of my opinions to be the ultimate takeaway so it's important to give my feelings some outlet that is distinctly separate from the photographs themselves. Dealing with this tension through the creative process--that's the takeaway.

If all this duality makes you uncomfortable--I assure you it only gets worse from here. Or better.


I'm going to Standing Rock, ND--here's why.

I'm not political but I'll give it a whirl for a moment.

I don't rant incessantly about who is ruining the country or who should fix it. I'm pretty sure that's what voting is for--a place to contribute a meaningful impact (as opposed to berating people on social media who disagree with you for seeing the world differently). The truth is that your opinion doesn't matter--only your actions do. This wildly unpopular view is the only hope have we have as a society of self-rescue--because the worst leadership wouldn't be able to capsize a nation of people who were humble enough to link arms across various lines of race, ethnicity and politics.

Ok, now that's out of my system:

A few days ago I felt like I should go to Standing Rock in North Dakota to do a photo-project documenting the protest about the Dakota Access Pipeline there. I don't have an axe to grind. I'm not a protester. I'm a photographer who believes that pretty images aren't necessarily the most important. For those of you joining me in the Ugly Camera Challenge I wrote about recently--I absolutely will be continuing to participate in that (and I hope you will too!) It feels as though something deep and significant is under way in the Standing Rock conflict right now and for the last few weeks we've heard almost nothing about it in the media. Nothing from our political leaders who are selectively concerned about the dire implications of climate change but refuse to even acknowledge this debacle that is unfolding on our own soil.

You may agree or disagree with my decision to go to Standing Rock, North Dakota and point my camera at something that no one seems to want to deal with. I'm writing this to articulate my purpose in going. I'm not attempting to shame others who can't or won't join in this journey. I have the privilege of time and opportunity to travel. I have the freedom (risk) of no allegiance to a commercial sponsor or assignment other than my own self direction and those of you who are supporting me on Patreon (thank you!!!). I have a supportive family who is making it possible for me to step out and do this. I'm thankful for those gifts and I don't deserve them any more than anyone else does. I don't believe we are given gifts in life to squirrel the benefits away away while turmoil engulfs others who have drawn a different card.

I have no idea what I will find out at Standing Rock. I'm not going with any opinion other than this: my opinion doesn't matter. What matters is that there is not a public and transparent discussion of a militaristic-type of force being used on civilians who are peacefully protesting corporate development that directly impacts their land. I suspect that as with most conflicts in life there is a combination of people doing the right things for the wrong reasons--and people doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

One of the cop-outs of the photographer is that the camera doesn't have an opinion. It's not biased. It accepts us as we are--the good and the bad. The humanity. I'd like to think that I will return with some images that may make us think about this conflict from a more personal standpoint. Because that's all any of us are, after all. We're just people. If we can only use our technology to start arguments rather than conversations then we have already failed, utterly. On some level that's the hurdle that I now have to clear as I go out to photograph.

I feel a lot of creative tension around this.  I don't know the outcome and I am fairly certain that this choice will alienate more than a few people who I consider important in my life. I feel real risk. Some fear. I don't know that I can do this without making an ass of myself or getting in the way of a cause that isn't my own. I know that this might not work.

I know that it still feels right to go and try.

I'm not sure what will come from this effort in terms of deliverables. My primary goal is still images. Interviews, stories, video assets and the like will be a bonus that I hope to capture as well. I'll update via LivingVertical social media channels as I can. Cell and data service are reputed to be lacking within a 20 mile radius of the reservation so I may be quiet for (the first time in my life) a while. If you'd like to support this work I'm doing, you can contribute via my Patreon page. If you'd like to tell me to go _______ myself, sound off in the comments below--or better yet do it in person.


The Ugly Camera Challenge: minimalism in photography

It's nearly that time of year when all of our camera gear suddenly becomes too limited and obsolete--usually as a result of proximity to Black Friday sales. I've watched the #OptOutside initiative grow over the last year or so--with the goal of encouraging people to redefine the day after Thanksgiving in a less materialistic light by scheduling outdoor adventures in place of shopping. Being a bit of a skeptic, I think that this is likely just clever marketing meant to snag sales in early December but despite that, I appreciate the idea of doing more with less.  The Ugly Camera Challenge is geared towards applying that same minimalism to our adventure and photography!

Full disclosure: I struggle with G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome) as much as anyone else and my goal here is not to bare my soul to the world and repent of my love of cameras. I've accepted that it's part of who I am. Aesthetics of new gear entices and inspires new adventures. On the other hand, limitations are an absolute key to creativity. Thus, the Ugly Camera Challenge which can help us selectively limit ourselves while getting more mileage out of gear we might otherwise neglect.

The rules of the challenge are pretty simple:

  • Make 1 photo a day with YOUR "ugly" camera every day in November
  • Share your posts on social media using the #uglycamerachallenge tag
  • In early December we pick our favorite shots. You can email yours to me with any relevant notes, thoughts or lessons learned and I'll post our favorite images here on the blog!
  • Have fun!

A few notes about the challenge:

  • I've intentionally left room for some creative interpretation. The goal isn't to specify exactly what to shoot or how--but rather to try embracing limitation to see what creative growth comes from it.
  • I'm not calling your camera literally ugly--it's a figure of speech. The idea is to shoot with something that is a little "off the beaten path"
  • Since I am going to be shooting film as my interpretation of this challenge, I am going to leave enough time to get film developed before sharing the results on here.
  • I've included some ideas for "bonus points" below. I'd love to hear your ideas too--drop a comment below and let's make this fun!

Buy a used camera from a person (ebay, yardsale, craigslist, barter) that is deplorably cheap. Let's say $50 or less. They are out there! Film or digital--let your mind wander a bit!

Give your ugly camera away to someone who doesn't have one-this could be a young person who only knows cell phones and has never gotten to experience simply shooting photographs, someone who is interested in photography but can't afford a "better" camera--you get the idea.

Get a friend, a child or a spouse involved--these kinds of things are more fun with group participation! This could easily create a pathway to mentorship. I'd love to see us getting more mileage out of gear that we would normally not even bother to pick out of a trash bin--and then passing it on to someone else along with whatever lessons taken from participating in this challenge!

This could easily be integrated with the OptOutside initiative--and I think it shares a lot of the same ideals of minimalism and prioritizing experience. Having a camera imposes the need to go somewhere, do something and shoot it. Plan adventures outside--small, local or whatever to document through this month!

Photography is a gift and the simpler we make the experience, the richer it becomes--to borrow the words of Steve House. I want to point out that this initiative was inspired by Ted Forbes from The Art of Photography--his video may help inspire you further!


banff national park climbing

Why I'm done dwelling on diabetes

Our identity is the first to suffer the complications of diabetes. It changes how we see ourselves--normalcy and belonging grow distant. Limitations germinate quietly like mold beneath the occluded layers of personality we create every day in order to just survive. It's the hairline fracture in the foundation of who we are. The deeper it goes the worse it gets.

https://youtu.be/XHX2h8Pm9Ko

I started LivingVertical to share Project365--my goal was to change the story of diabetes and show that we don't have to accept the narrative of a predetermined outcome of victimhood. I still believe in that same message, but I don't think the best way to communicate it involves creating content about diabetes anymore. I'll always have diabetes and I'll always be happy to answer questions about my experience with it--if I can help, I will do so gladly. Where it's relevant, diabetes will still be visible but it's not going to be the focus of what LivingVertical is creating. It will always be in the picture but it won't be the focus. I believe it's more important to demonstrate that life with diabetes is about LIFE. This is the most powerful advocacy I can offer. It's also a choice I am making because I'm frankly tired of trying to pack my world into the topic of diabetes. I'd much prefer to make diabetes fit into the world I'm choosing to explore. 

dsc01819

I'll explain.

I've always  had a hard time gaining a foothold in the diabetes online community. I suspect that's because my approach has been to encourage people to detach their identity from their diagnosis--because that's what worked for me. It's a tough sell though. A diabetes-free mentality is why I never stopped to think that I couldn't climb mountains as a teenager. It's why I thought it was perfectly acceptable to spend a month hiking the Appalachian Trail and take on solo adventures without trepidation in college. It's why I've driven across North America more than a dozen times (half of them solo) and I don't fret about changing my lancets daily. I didn't have olympic athletes and professional spokespersons with diabetes to assure me that I could do anything. I didn't see myself as a diabetic who climbed or who hiked. I didn't see myself as a person with diabetes. My identity had ZERO inclusion of diabetes--so why wouldn't I be able to do anything I put my mind to?

I wasn't in denial about my diabetes--no more than I've been in denial about brushing my teeth daily. I just never placed that task inside of my identity. Diabetes was a task--one that I realized was incredibly significant. I detached from it emotionally and executed it to the best of my ability so that I could have the freedom to pursue what I loved. Others might call this unhealthy, compartmentalization or repression. I call it freedom through discipline. I have staked my life on this philosophy repeatedly in the mountains and elsewhere. It's not a perfect science but it's been able to give me a winning average. I believe that it's the greatest value I have been able to share here.

Why is this all written in the past tense?

Sometime in 2012 I found that I had to include diabetes in my identity in order to reach others living with diabetes. I had to create space for it where it none existed before. I became the "diabetic guy who climbs things". I'd introduce myself to people that way. It changed the way I saw myself. It changed the subtext of the story I told myself about who I was. It wasn't healthy--literally. I know that many people have found value and connection through an inclusion of diabetes as part of their identity--and I don't begrudge them.

For all the value, impact and success that came with my diabetes advocacy, my own independence from diabetes atrophied. Spending 7-12 hours a day for the last 5 years writing, filming, posting, blogging, emailing, pitching, podcasting, publishing--all through the lens of diabetes--multiplied the weight of diabetes in my life. I wasn't just living with it--I was living IN it.

 So what's the point?

  • First, protect your identity. Be someone outside of your diagnosis. Maybe the "person with diabetes vs diabetic" debate is asking the wrong question altogether. The terminology isn't the biggest concern--it's the inclusion of a malevolent entity in our self image that should raise red flags. Execute the physical tasks necessary for your body to gain independence on behalf of your mind.
  • Second, I'm thankful I've had an opportunity to dig deeper into my diagnosis through my advocacy here. I'm not regretful about what it cost me. I've gained a different perspective on just about everything and that has enabled me to make some wonderful friends. That's what I consider you.
  • Third, when you reach the last page in the chapter--start a new one. Don't keep rewriting the last paragraph for years until you wither in frustration. Find what excites and motivates you and go unapologetically towards it even when it seems impossible.

Photography and adventure will be the focus of LivingVertical content moving forward. I believe this is the greatest value I have to give--unpacking the tools that have given me my life back. I think this is less a change of priorities and more of a return to them. There's a reason LivingVertical doesn't have "diabetes" in the name. It never occurred to me to put diabetes in the name of my endeavor when I arrived on the scene 5 years ago because it wasn't meant to focus on the problem but rather the solution. Walk the walk--even if it interferes with talking the talk.

I'm grateful for your readership up till this point. I hope you'll join me for this next chapter. I suspect that many of you who actually read my posts all the way to the end aren't here because of factual information I share as much as my interpretation of what I see in the world around me. If that accurately describes you then it's a good bet you'll enjoy what comes next!

I want to thank specifically Blake McCord, Ashika Parsad, Sysy Morales, Maria Qadri, Fatima Shahzad, Ryan Little, Matt Spohn, Andres Arriaga, David DuChemin, Rob Muller, Tyler Smith, Joel Livesey, Mark Yaeger, Carter Clark, Christine Frost and Nate Duray for inspiring me to have the courage to return to a diabetes-free mentality. There are many others who have contributed to my liberation--knowing or otherwise. Far too many to list here--but these folks have listened and shared in the deliberative process over a long time and I want them to know how much I appreciate their example and wisdom.


here's a story about why I'm trying a modified Ketogenic diet

Why I'm trying a modified Ketogenic diet

A little over a year ago I was bored. I was working in an office environment and not able to get out climbing. I wanted to try something to shake up my routine despite the obvious constraints. I decided to do an experiment with a vegan diet, which ultimately led me to try the complete opposite--a ketogenic diet. This bit of skylarking wound up taking off and got this humble blog ranked #1 in Google for the search terms "type 1 diabetes and the ketogenic diet". This happy accident has brought many of you here no doubt although it's left me with a burden of continuing to write about a topic that I feel has been wrapped up (at least in my life). The notable exception is the modified Ketogenic diet which I am currently following.

There is one loose end, however--and that is the issue of high cholesterol. I also have the dubious honor of ranking very highly in Google searches for ketogenic diet and high cholesterol--a pleasure that I'd prefer to postpone indefinitely. I am still working on sorting out the details on my high cholesterol and what it means for my adherence to a low carb, high fat ketogenic diet. There is a dearth of information available that gives simple, clear insight into the topic of cholesterol--and much less still when you add type 1 diabetes into the mix. Half of the discussion resembles this: "Cholesterol is not a problem! Eat more butter and stop listening to the man!" The other half resembles this: "Cholesterol is a HUGE problem! Eating that butter is going to kill you!" I would like to believe that a modified ketogenic diet could win the middle ground between these two viewpoints.

The ketogenic diet stabilizes and controls my blood sugar without technology. This fact alone makes it an asset that could revolutionize the impact of diabetes if given the chance--especially significant for the millions of people who can't afford higher tech solutions. It gives me the simplicity and freedom that allows me to live out from under the burden of diabetes about 90% of the time. Still, living with the cholesterol monkey on my back is a concern.

I feel as though I can choose to either optimize cholesterol or blood sugar--but not both.

I choose to optimize blood sugar because there is no lack of conclusive clinical evidence showing what uncontrolled blood sugar does. There is also no shortage of anecdotal evidence showing how much harder it is to be active, creative, happy and productive while riding the glucoaster. Without getting all morose, let me just say that I have chosen my priority. It's not an easy choice and it gives me a lot of stress and grief--but it's the best I know to do and I am prepared to live or die with the consequences.

Welcome to my life with diabetes and climbing. These types of decisions are par for the course.

What I have learned with the help of my doctor (he is an amazing endocrinologist who is supporting my blood sugar management despite its unorthodox approach) is that I am most likely a hyper-responder to saturated fat. This is a genetic anomaly that causes my body to produce exponentially more cholesterol in the presence of saturated fats. The detriment of that cholesterol is still undetermined--along with the possibility or being able to reduce it.

Thanks, genes! The diabetes was a sweet offer--but wait, there's more...

In light of this hypothesis, I am not abandoning a low carb, high fat diet but I am following a modified ketogenic diet. I believe that most people have to modify whatever diet they follow in order to accommodate their specific needs. A modified ketogenic diet can, of course, mean many different things--it is not imply any one specific modification. I am trying to add more unsaturated fats in place of saturated fats. In simplest terms that means that I am eating more olive oil, macadamia nuts and fish. I am eating less red meat, eggs and coconut oil. In a lot of ways it's closer to hybrid mediterranean diet. It's really hard to sell this approach since it doesn't fit with the self congratulatory memes of the vegan "path" nor the devil-may-care tropes of the ketogenic community. Oh well.

My cheese intake is still predictably unaltered. I will be buried with my block of Coastal Cheddar and a paring knife if need be. Nuff said there.

I recently started swapping out olive oil in my coffee rather than coconut oil. Before you gag and click away, I have to tell you that it's actually delicious if you put it in a blender. I'm still putting heavy cream in my coffee with the olive oil. Additionally I am eating more leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables (red cabbage, brussel sprouts) as vehicles for more olive oil and more fiber. I've cut out a lot of red meat--not to complete exclusion but I'll eat a steak or some lamb once a week rather than twice or three times weekly. Meat ends and deli meats which I love--have been largely replaced with macadamia and Brazil nuts. I am also increasing fiber intake through the vegetables and adding chia seeds to just about everything I can.

I'm not on statins currently--but I am taking fish oil, vitamin D and Berberine as part of my normal supplement routine of magnesium and potassium.

I don't have any solid numbers yet to indicate the effectiveness of the modified ketogenic diet on my cholesterol. In terms of its impact on my blood sugar and energy, I feel like it takes a little more olive oil to get into ketosis. It's lower caliber--but it still seems to be getting the job done. I've been taking more insulin recently--but I am not sure if this is because I am back living in Massachusetts or because of the dietary modifications. I have always found a dramatic decrease in my insulin dosage when I am out west (10-15% consistently). On the flip side, I have more time and space to focus on my diet and supplementation here than I did when we were living on the road.


you should carry a camera

You should carry a camera-here's why

With smartphone technology constantly improving, it may seem odd to say that 'you should carry a camera'. The camera, as a standalone device may soon become a relic in the world of unprofessional photography. The iPhone 7 recently came into our household and while I don't begrudge Stefanie's enthusiasm for her new toy--I have felt less desire to upgrade for the "benefit" of a better camera. I explained to her that I feel the value of the iPhone has plateaued and is now offering minor tweaks to incentivize upgrading. I don't need a better camera in my phone. I like having a separate device dedicated to creating.

lumix g7 street photography camera

Technology is a relationship. It has two sides. Inward facing and outward facing. What we see, hold, touch and lust after is almost entirely the outward facing side. It's the new operating system that lets you draw handwritten messages, the new camera that lets you choose the focal point of your image after shooting it--we can all imagine sending more clever messages or taking better photographs and how that will somehow make our life better. We want that and will do whatever it takes to get it.

beginner photography and why you should carry a camera

Do we take an equal amount of time to consider how this technology changes us as we use it?

Conversely, do we stop to think about how the deliberate process of creating with a dedicated device may be preserving something special and rare? Simply put, I will always carry a camera not because I couldn't get good photos without it--but because I value the change that it brings about in my thinking. It changes the story that I'm telling myself as soon as it's in my hands.

lumix 15mm 1.7 lens test photos

The opposite of destruction is creation. I live every day with a body that is trying to destroy me. That's my resting state with type 1 diabetes. Being able to shift into the creative mindset allows me to directly challenge this disease--whether it's with a rope and harness or a camera. I'm particularly focused on using a camera these days because photography is much more available to me than climbing--and because the barrier of entry is so incredibly low. It's incredible therapy that has almost no downside.

  • If you believe that you're not artistic or creative--that's all the more reason to carry a camera--to be free from the distractions of consumption long enough to let something new germinate. The benefit is not the images we produce--but the changes in our mindset in the pursuit of those images. A new mindset is where creativity can spawn.
  • You can see everything for the first time--every time when it's through a camera lens--including your possibilities.
  • It creates a deliberate construct in which you have to make choices. Those choices lead to changes that either work or don't. Penalty-free failure teaches us to try new things and make a habit of taking a creative approach to problems in our life.
  • Photographing creates a flow state similar to what I experience running or climbing. It's immersive--moving meditation.
  • One of my favorite sayings by David DuChemin is that "You cannot photograph what you haven't seen". When you're going out with a deliberate creative process in mind, you will see more of the world around you.

My ultimate goal in the work I do here is to change the story of diabetes through adventure. That means that I'm constantly examining the process of storytelling. I first picked up a camera because I wanted to tell a story--not necessarily take attractive photographs. I learned by doing--poorly at first. If you want to unleash some creativity and change your perspective there is no need to spend thousands of dollars or wait for someone to give you permission to be a photographer. Find your reason why and then go take photographs.

lumix panasonic micro 4/3 cameras like the g7 are excellent for street photography


souvenirs from the road livingvertical

Souvenirs from the road

In case my most recent posts about life on the road have been too dark or self indulgent here is something different. This post is a collection of photographs and frozen moments that I believe to be priceless. These are treasures that I was privileged to witness and collect along the way. I didn't set out looking for them, which makes their occurrence along my path a much greater of a gift.

As we drove countless miles across North America, many hours were spent listening to podcasts and music. Lilo became incredibly fond of John Prine's music--a fact that was a gift in itself--and this shared appreciation eased the tension of being strapped into a car seat on many a long day. One of his songs in particular really spoke to me as I've been thinking back on the incredible trove of experiential plunder that I gained from our year on the road. I'd love it if you'd let the music video below play while you look at the photos and read the captions in the remainder of this post. Incidentally, I have linked each photo with any blog posts or podcasts that give more detail about each moment--where relevant.

These photos are not the apex of my professional work, nor my personal work. They are flawed, imperfect and beautiful. If they develop holographic headstones in the future, I'd bet that you'd see some of these images as the ellipses punctuating the end of my days.

Memories, they can't be boughten
They can't be won at carnivals for free
Well it took me years to get those souvenirs...

John Prine, "Souvenirs"

 

 

 

rock climbing in Las Vegas, Nevada red rock conservation area
Climbing in Red Rock (Las Vegas, NV) with Rob. We shifted our approach to linking up long, moderate routes and immerse ourselves in the flow state of climbing. My enjoyment of climbing was reignited as well as my realization of what could be possible with enough mileage on the rock. This photo is from Crimson Chrysalis--a classic "easy" route that we got halfway up and had to bail off of due to weather. I struggled with a low blood sugar at the start and hit my stride--just in time to descend.

 

waterfall photography with sony rx100 m4 using the built in ND filter
I discovered that I really enjoy photographing waterfalls-on a hike with Stefanie and Lilo in North Carolina as our time on the road drew to a close. This was our last "hurrah" and I wanted to get the most out of it. I didn't go looking for waterfalls in the Smokey Mountains but finding them and shooting them felt like a special gift.

 

sony rx100 m2 sample images
This was Stefanie's birthday. I had just gotten the news that my main client was not going to continue the project that had been supplying our main income. We were in Canada--at the furthest reaches of our journey and we had to focus on enjoying the moment and not giving in to despair. We went out as a family and visited Kicking Horse Mountain Ranch taking the Gondola up to the top for some hiking. I typically shy away from tourist activities but I was convinced to try it. I'm thankful that we did. It lifted a lot of the psychological burden and it was wonderful being able to enjoy time in the mountains as an entire family. That doesn't often happen in the context of my climbing.

 

adventure and travel photography using sony rx100 m4
This was my birthday. A chance to get away and spend time on the wall. A chance to climb with a fellow T1D. It wasn't a Swiss Watch--we got turned around without finishing the route when fixed gear was missing--but it was the first step towards getting ready for El Capitan which is my next project. It was a great way to close out the climbing portion of our life on the road.

 

documentary photography from the sony rx100 m4
This is one of my favorite photos I've ever taken. There's a lot going on here and it tells a few stories. I saw Lilo really start to come out of her "shell" during the last year. She went from crying when someone would say hello to her--to lighting up and reaching out to anyone nearby. This photo was from our time in Cincinnati--and we were staying with my good friend Aaron who owns this coffee shop--Covington Coffee. His dad happened to be there doing some research on his iPad when Lilo decided to share her sticker collection with him. We wouldn't have even gone through Cincinnati in the first place if our journey had gone to plan. Things changed and this happened.

 

Moraine lake in banff national park
Climbing the Tower of Babel in Banff National Park in Alberta was another game changing moment for me. I was looking forward to climbing in Canada for obvious reasons. It was a little intimidating looking up at this route from the ground and wondering if Martin and I hadn't bitten off more than we could chew. Those moments of doubt are so important because they allow us to bet on ourselves. This remains one of my favorite climbs ever--it was big and somewhat intimidating--but it flowed and was never felt desperate. (Photo by Martin Fuhrer)

 

rock climbing in zion national park on cowboy ridge 5.7
Towards the beginning of our trip I got the urge to tick off a climb that had been on my list in the Zion area for years. It was called "Cowboy Ridge" and with a moderate rating of 5.7 I expected it to be casual. My friend Chris and I went out and gave it a go--and while it turned out to be much more involved than we expected--we did it. There was tricky route finding, loose rock, more loose rock and then disintegrating rock--much of which you can see behind us here on the summit of Mt Kinesava. The descent was a true nail-biter. We were chasing daylight down the steep gullies and hoping we were not going down the wrong path. It was like navigating a steep maze in fading light. I'm really thankful we got to have that experience together--although I don't know if I plan to repeat this route any time soon!
rock climbing in joshua tree national park with diabetes and sony rx100 m2
I started our journey with the intent of organizing informal adventure meetups all along our route. I hoped to get more people with diabetes out in the real world to enjoy the AdventureRx that is available to us all. Time, money and opportunity ran short of my goal--but not before we got to have one really fantastic T1D meetup in Joshua Tree National Park. During that weekend I was spending a lot of time facilitating and trying to lead group activities. Towards the end of the weekend Chelsea suggested that we get on a route together. The weather was iffy and the guidebook was hard to read but we saw this one crack from the road that looked good. We climbed it without any difficulty but found that the descent was a bit sketchy. Problem solving, spotting, recon and support were the memories I'll take from this climb with Chelsea--and our diabetes was just along for the ride.

 

portrait photography samples sony rx100
One of the few actual goals that we set for our time on the road was visiting our friends in Canada--Martin Fuhrer and his parents, Hans and Lilo. We named our daughter after Lilo and this was the first time they met. This moment was worth everything it took to get there--and back.

 

sony rx100 m2 sample images
I had high hopes for Lilos first attempt at roped climbing. I expected a gleeful family adventure that would make everyone on Instagram jealous. Instead I found that two-year olds have their own ideas of fun and adventure which often do not align with ours. This was an important (debacle) lesson for me and a memory that I'll continue to laugh about for years to come.

 

fujifilm xt 10 sample images
This is from Mono Lake in California. If you Google search images of this landmark you'll see striking photos of tufas in the moonlight. When I think of Mono Lake I'll always see Stefanie and Lilo playing near the otherworldly-colored water.

 

fujifilm 16mm f1.4 wideangle lens
Shortly after Lilo tried (and hated) roped climbing, we discovered that she loved climbing without a rope. This is her going for it on a bite-sized slab in City of Rocks, Idaho while Stefanie spots her from below. I was impressed with her ability to do legitimate 5th class climbing moves and it was so thrilling to watch her discover her power in the (slightly less than) vertical world.

 

fuji xt 10 and the fujifilm 35mm f2 lens
This is Martin's dad--Hans. During our time in Canada we got to have many long conversations about his years in the mountains, photographing and preserving the joy and hardship he found there. At one point he gave us a tour of his film cameras and climbing gear. It was like stepping back in time--to a rich history that is now fading. I'll always be inspired by the strength of this mans spirit, which has only been honed with age. Being able to capture some of his thoughts and wisdom was an incredible gift--and that will be the topic of a short film that I'll be working on this fall as I struggle to distill the meaning of all these moments.

 

fuji 35mm f2 WR lens
One morning in Canada we decided to head out to climb the Tower of Babel with Martin--and his dad Hans who accompanied us to take photos from below. He wound up hiking up our descent route and meeting us at the top of the climb--just a casual afternoon stroll at 80 years of age. We left very early in the morning, before first light and on the way as we drove through Kootenay National Park the sun was rising. I was following Hans and Martin in my car with Stefanie and Lilo--and when I saw the mist and the sunrise I immediately wanted to stop and photograph this perfect light. Hans reached the same conclusion completely on his own and he pulled over and hopped out with his own camera. I didn't have the wide angle lens that would have been "ideal" for this shot--but I had some of the most beautiful light and smoky mist on the water--and best of all, I had a chance to be there and capture it.

 

travel photography with fuji x series camera
I don't know what I could say about this image other than it makes me happy. Earlier that day I was sitting at the picnic table in our campsite trying to do work--with limited success. I couldn't focus on writing for my client with bugs buzzing me and it occurred to me that our future looked bleak if this was to be my main source of income. I'm glad that I wrapped up early and went out to play with the girls. It was a great decision.

 

lumix g7 micro 4/3 still photography
When I started LivingVertical and embarked on Project365 I decided that no matter what happened--risk, reward, disappointment or loss--it would all be worth it if it changed one persons life. Andres was that person who made it all worthwhile. He was the first person to connect with me in the spring of 2012--when I was at a particularly low ebb--and thank me for changing his life. That changed my life. Andres has always been there to remind me that this work matters, even when it seems like no one is listening--because someone is always listening. This spring we met up in Zion and hiked out to Observation Point, diabetes and all.

 

observation point in zion national park hiking with diabetes
Zion has always been a special place for us. It's like a big classroom where I've learned many lessons--some beautiful, others harsh. It is a landscape of extremes. Beauty and danger walk hand in hand and one need not venture far from any path to find either in spades. I'm glad we got spend time as a family there. I believe that we absorb the characteristics of the places we inhabit and if that red dirt works its way into the cracks between our lives, it won't be such a bad thing.

 

gopro hero 4 photography and photo sample images
During our time with the Mahoney family in Spokane I got to enjoy parenting a little more. There were other little ones for Lilo to play with, toys galore and the area was baby friendly. Many of the big pitfalls were removed and we didn't have to constantly be saying "no". Getting to watch Lilo explore and gain confident in her surroundings was a rare gift. This photo came from an afternoon walk and a random shot. She loved that umbrella...

 

christopher pittman chris pittman pitty
I've written at length about my friend Chris Pittman. His birthday recently passed. I sure do miss him. I still struggle with his departure from this life but I am equally grateful that this moment happened--this smile and this memory that we have to carry forward. I still can't believe that I won't see him when I'm out in Vegas again. In a way though, I'll always see him everywhere when I'm out in the desert.

 

lumix camera photography adventure and travel
There was that one time that Martin and I climbed this mountain together. We huddled together below the summit for warmth, scrambled under boulders to avoid wind and rain. We crossed our fingers to avoid lightning and worked together to get back down safely. I don't think Martin has any idea of his impact on my life--as a climbing partner, a fellow T1D and a friend. I cherish every moment we've shared out on the edge or warm and safe in a restaurant eating chicken wings. He's inspired me in so many ways through his commitment to simplicity and generosity. Kindness and humility are so undervalued in the modern age. Martin has made them into an art form.

 

how to you take waterfall photographs
One day driving through Gifford Pinchot National Forest--it was just me and Lilo--we had a sort of epic. Washed out roads and many other navigational hazards sprang up to block our path at every turn. Steep grades, sharp turns and a complete lack of access to fuel only complicated the matter. Through all of this Lilo was a very good sport and I realized that together we would be able to handle whatever the road threw at us. Once I relaxed and stopped worrying it was easier to pull off the road and grab a shot of one of the many waterfalls that can be found in the wilderness of Washington State.

 

full time RVing with sony rx100 mark 4 night shots
"Memories, they can't be boughten They can't be won at carnivals for free" is what the song says. Sitting back and waiting for a safe path through life won't guarantee that it will ever show up. Failure comes to us all, whether we encounter it in pursuit of something or in flight from something else. The point of it all is not to succeed but to collect the most valuable souvenirs along the way. In this regard I believe that I've been wildly successful.

On to the next adventure. I'm thankful for those of you who follow, support and appreciate the work I do. The people who don't actually read these posts fully won't mind that I don't really care if they like my work or not--because it's not for them, it's for us.

 


chasing failure and dealing with risk in artistry

Chasing failure

If the project I'm doing is guaranteed to work then it's probably not worth doing.

I appreciate the tolerance shown by my readers over the last week as I have been unpacking the failure of the full time RVing experiment. I'm legitimately not discouraged by it. If anything I feel much better for having made a decision and being able to cross something off my list. This enables me to focus on the next project. It too, might fail. This fills me with excitement and yes, hope.

Risk and suffering are key ingredients in the process of creating art. I know that running and hiding from these inevitabilities is the fastest way to stop creating something that can change the world. Note my use of the word can in the preceding sentence. It might not work.

The important question is what is worth the risk, the likelihood of failure?

That is where my current struggle is taking place. I have things to say, things to share and show--but there is fear. Fear that a removal of the filter could destroy so much that I and many of you have labored to create through this community. Conversely, there is an intense curiosity about what change--what impact could be generated from no longer caring what people think? Better yet, what could come from challenging what people think with intention?

chasing failure in order to make a change in the world

I know deep down what is worth doing. Waiting for permission is not a characteristic of something worth doing.

I feel as though what I do here is a lot like spinach. If you give it to Popeye it gets things done. Leads to action. Stirs things up. Alternately, if it sits in the fridge just a little too long it gets watery, soggy and limp. There's a really narrow edge I am walking between impact and drivel. The reality is that the world isn't changed by climbing.

The onus is upon me to make sure I am saying something that needs to be heard or the climbing just becomes fluff instead of a vehicle for an important message of change. Visibility for it's own sake is useless. What is on the billboard and is it worth reading?

This is a game of pursuing failure with intention. If I start playing my hardest, I just may win that game. That's partly what I'm afraid of.


Love it for what it is covington coffee in covington kentucky near cincincatti ohio

Love it for what it is

A little over a week ago I sat behind the wheel of my Toyota 4Runner watching the endless miles of red desert that border I-70 disappear behind our little 13 foot trailer. This our home--once our dream of freedom, now our albatross. Lightning flickered ahead in the distance and I braced for one last desert thunderstorm as we crossed from Utah into Colorado. I couldn't begin to guess when I'd be back out west of the Rocky Mountains to witness another one like it.

I 70 in eastern utah near Moab and Arches National Park

Today I'm literally right back where I started a year ago--in Massachusetts. Fewer dollars in my pocket--and fewer options to explore. It would be more cathartic to say that we went big and failed big--crashed and burned--but fizzled out is really more honest. The logistics of life on the road are all about trade-offs. Being able to negotiate those exchanges is a delicate process that requires a certain independence that we don't have. Financial independence was the main culprit, looking back. Also looking forward.

Making a living is nearly impossible without time, resources and focus to create something valuable. After struggling to make enough money to pay for the trailer, gas and pay for RV sites to park where some semblance of work could still happen--with power and wifi--I tired of the tail wagging the dog. We were running ourselves ragged trying to make the lifestyle work but it just wasn't giving back.

Instead of climbing, shooting photographs and hosting meetups I was doing cubicle style work to pay the bills at hot, gritty picnic tables where I couldn't even see my computer screen because of the suns glare. It took me twice as long (and was half as enjoyable) to do the same work. This struggle came to a crux at the realization that our sacrifices to live this way were not building LivingVertical into a more authentic message. Somewhere in southern Idaho I woke up one morning and realized that I suddenly wanted to have a home where I could print and hang my own photographs. I have a smartphone and computer filled with digital images that have never lived in the real world.  I wanted to have a desk where I could sit and edit and record. I wanted a place where I belong. A place to adventure from and return to.

Adventure is great medicine when it helps you return home as a better person. Trailer life became the child-proof cap on the medicine bottle and when I finally got it open I found it had been empty all along. I had been cramming all of the worst parts of a 9-5 job into the worst parts of living like a transient. Climbing had become an afterthought, a distraction wedged in between worrying about paying the next months credit card and deciding how to go down the road another piece. This, I realized, was not the plan we had set out to execute.

It wasn't long after that that we decided to bail and start all over. Again.

Another cross-country retreat. Another series of blogs and Facebook posts trying to explain how and why failure set in again when I don't even have answers for myself. I guess the simplest explanation for this repeated pattern is the fact that we tried--again. Failure is always the risk of trying and we knew this from the beginning.

Now I'm sitting in my mother-in-laws kitchen in the Boston suburbs which we are calling home for the foreseeable future. It's a bit comical to be writing about potential next steps in my life at this point. I've become a millennial caricature. I'm 34 with a child, trying to set the world on fire from my smartphone--but I'm incrementally selling off my camera gear on eBay to keep that work (and my family) alive. I don't know how to make ends meet and do the work that matters--the work that started all of this off in the first place.

Despite my choice not to sugarcoat the consequences of my situation I'm not despondent. The trailer has sold of course--and I'm playing hangman with the remnants of my future. I got some good advice about my situation from a good friend as we drove east: "Love it for what it is, don't hate it for what it's not".

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The choice to try something I'd dreamed about for years was still a good one. It's a choice I'm thankful I had the opportunity to make. I still don't know where it will lead me and what it has taught me--those are longer term investments that may take some time to mature. Being broke and out of options isn't too far from being hungry and focused depending on how you look at it--and that's how I'm choosing to look at it.

Full-time life on the road was an amazing experience. Seeing incredible places with my family--watching Lilo grow and adapt through that journey has been a wild ride. I've gotten more time with her than most parents get and that is worth all of the hassle and uncertainty that has come with it. I haven't soured on adventure--I am learning to grow with it and live with the changes of life. There was a time in my life when living in the dirt was a great adventure that enabled me to do good work that mattered. Trying to go back down that road 5 years later is much different--and now it's a vexing dead end. Adventure today isn't adventure yesterday--and it wouldn't be adventurous if it was.