27 February 2016
Watching the earth tumble together, element versus element, I find my grip loosening around my camera strap as I stare out in awe, and sense my two friends doing the same. The whitewash of the waves below seems a mere speck on the surface of the earth, dwarfed by primordial granite cliffs that fall away beneath us and tower above alongside us.
The sun is beginning its slow descent into the shimmering Pacific Ocean and a van pulls into the turnoff where we have parked. A man, short, stout & flustered, jumps out and peers around the corner, "Ah, okay then!" He seems satisfied that the corner is not a dead end (or a long drop to big blue below), and moves his car further around. He jumps out once again and yells across to us, "you know you're not even there yet, right?!" The three of us are a bit startled by his odd presence, but more so by the idea that we're nowhere near our destination after so many hours on the road.
"What? No way! But... how far is it?" The 'it' and 'there' being the famed Big Sur, a stretch of rugged Californian coastline and forest that's long been home to poets, artists, naturalists and explorers; a bucket list item for any who identify with the ideals of wanderlust, who enjoy a challenging drive, or who fancy themselves to be half decent with a camera.
The man begins rifling through the contents of his passenger door, huffing and muttering as he pulls out one map after another, before walking over to us and seemingly ignoring our question. "You know everything turns to gold when the sun goes down?" A kindly revelation, that we tried our hardest not to smile at after plotting and planning entire days around that golden hour. "Yeah!" He continued enthusiastically, "and the best thing - the best place - is to watch it from this restaurant up there with a beer! And just pay whatever they want to charge you. It's worth it!"
"Oh yep! We'll do that," we tell a white lie, clutching our cameras and holding onto hope while we await his answer - we're all still imagining ourselves on the beach at Big Sur, taking photos and laughing at the magical particles of gold and orange and pink light that we know would make the land around us glow.
"Ah right, here we are. Hmmm," he mutters some more over the map. "I don't even know where we are! But this is here, and this is Big Sur, so you're a way away. Hmmm, maybe..." I don't think any of us quite understand what he's saying, except we now understand that our hopes of catching that golden light have bene shattered - a 3-hour drive has taken us 8 or 9 hours so far, and it seems there's still quite a way to go.
He returns back to his car and shuffles through the maps again, "hmmm nope. Not here either. Hrm. Ah well, here you go girls! You can take this," as he hands us a different map.
"Oh no! Thank you, but that's okay."
"No, no! You take it. You get them free when you join the club!"
"Ah, thanks. If you're sure?"
"Yes yes, you get them free when you join the club! Don't worry about it!"
Completely unsure of what club he's talking about, we accept the map and greedily snap photos of the paper remnant, waving goodbye to the man who reminds us again of the view from a pub that we will likely never visit.
As we worked our way along California's famed Highway 1, we quickly realised that all the people who hesitantly mumbled, 'well I guess you could do it in a day,' had reasons to be uncertain. Our phones told us it would take no more than 4 hours, we factored in a few stops and thought no worries. Off we went in our little blue rental car, full of excitement, and 11 hours later we rolled into our airbnb at Carmel, having passed through the entirety of Big Sur - the 1's main attraction - after nightfall.
A late night trip to whole foods later, and we'd made plans to backtrack the next day. After all, if the landscapes captured in these photos weren't even 'the good stuff', then the landscapes we'd left behind must be beyond words...
Flowers are easily one of my most favourite things - a beautiful creation of nature that can take on so many different colours, shapes and sizes, soft & delicate or bristly & rough around the edges. Blooms are one thing found in nature, unexpected necessities, but working with a gifted florist is another experience entirely, as different floral varieties and textures are combined to create breathtaking bouquets and headpieces and all manner of things.
I could wax lyrical about flowers all day, but really what I'm trying to get at, is that working with Poppies in Posies on this styled shoot last year was such an incredible joy. And not only because it meant I got to spend an entire afternoon running around with beautiful flowers and beautiful humans and call it 'a good day at the office'.
Wendy McClelland, the incredible woman behind Poppies in Posies, contacted me last year. She was getting back into floristry after suffering serious setbacks that I'm sure would make most of us give up and go home. But she bounced back, pushed on and so we found ourselves out at Bells Rapids with oh so many beautiful bouquets to choose from. It was a shoot that is testament to Wendy's dedication and passion to the craft she loves, and I'm honestly so glad to have worked with her on this.
When I arrived at Field Trip, I dropped my bags at my cabin and began the trek up to the main area to get my bearings and to collect the popcorn and gin I’d left in a new friend’s car. Before I could get more than a few metres, a golf buggy drove past and a crew of friendly faces beamed at me, “wanna lift?”
‘Sure!’ I thought. ‘Why not?’ So I jumped on happily, turned around to say hi and before any words of greeting could leave my mouth, I realised that I knew the face just centimetres from mine - Ryan Muirhead. One of my all-time favourite photographers, sitting right next to me. I don’t fancy myself the fangirl type, but my words stopped right then & there. Nothing would come out. So I turned around and spent the rest of the ride up willing some words to appear (they didn’t).
That was just a taster of the madness to come. The first night kicked off with an impassioned talk about stardust and magic, and for me, a sleep deprived Dan O’Day making rhymes about aperture (“f22, I’m proud of you”) in a talk that changed the value I place on my own work and its impact on my life.
Each day that followed was filled with just as much – waking up to painfully slow, but incredibly friendly, lines for coffee from Nice Coffee Co, to classes that made us cry (Jonas Peterson), squirm (the Woodnotes), go “ooh” & “ahh” (Joel Fox) and set those minds a-ticking (Trevor Christensen). From a mad array of new friends, to run-ins with photographers who had seemed so far removed in the social media realm, but now were just incredibly lovely humans standing right in front of me, to alcohol fuelled bingo, hilarity and dance parties.
In amongst it all, there was barely time to think. I left feeling exhausted and in dire need of time to process, but instead launched straight into the trip of a lifetime with two amazing Canadians. And so I went from Field Trip to one hectic roadtrip to 45 hours in transit to photographing a wedding to a goodbye party to struggletown. Actually, I was a complete wreck. Would I recommend Field Trip? Would I actually do it all again?
Two months down, and I can safely say the answer is yes. I’m still working through it all – the ups & the downs, the good parts and the not-so good parts, but generally, I think Field Trip took my breath away in the best possible way.
It taught me the value of humility in Field Trip’s unwilling leader & excellent rambler, Whitney, it taught me that there is no right way to do things, it taught me the power of vulnerability, it taught me to be open & caring, it taught me that sometimes, it really is okay to feel like sh*t. It taught me that this lifestyle I’ve chosen is difficult & precarious & totally worth it, even though I’ll probably never stop feeling like a fraud.
I think the part where I’m still processing shows in this blog post – it’s a bit all over the place, and not at all clear, but I’m not sure when the clarity I’m craving will arrive, if ever. And before the memories of Field Trip fade even further, I wanted to share a teensy morsel of my experience, and to remember all the lessons I learnt.
Pentax K1000 | Kodak Ektar 100 + Fujifilm Superia 200