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The Road Ahead

On September 8th I published a post that referenced the 128 hours that had elapsed since I had made the drive west from Bozeman, MT to Missoula, MT to begin my education at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography.

By some trick of the mind, eight months flew by in a blur despite spilling over the edge with countless long days and very short nights. Now, I am left counting the hours again: 28 hours have elapsed since I completed my education at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. Even as I write that... it's not quite setting in.

RMSP and the town of Missoula had become my home away from home. In the six places I have lived since graduating from college, the small city nestled between the Rattlesnake Wilderness and Bitterroot Valley affectionately referred to as Zoo-town had captured me the strongest. It was quirky-hippy accented by traditional-cowboy; wide-open big sky country surrounded by rugged, rocky, alpine vistas. Big enough to offer all you could need yet small enough to still tuck itself to bed each night and have a few hours of quiet peace. And the school... the school instructors and classmates became my best friends and extended family. On an average of eight hours a day (often more) for five days a week, we were all immersed in this world of photography, creativity, and learning. The staff understated the experience when telling us throughout the year that this environment is a hard thing to step away from -- it flat out sucks.

Luckily (if that's fair to say...) Covid-19 has offered something of a grace period in that transition as we moved to online instruction in March and have continued our learning distanced from the in-person community we had all come to love and appreciate so much. So in that sense, this 28 hour period really hasn't felt all that different. I'm writing from the same desk and chair that I have been editing from and stressing over end-of-school crises for the past month-and-a-half. I signed off from class for the final time yesterday in the same way I have been signing off since spring break -- the simple click of a button that instantly cuts off the stream of faces mid-smile and mid-conversation. But what is gone is the space in my brain that for eight months has been asking "What do I need to do next for school?" And in it's place now is a dauntingly open view: it's a road racing out before me with no center line to follow but guard rails on each side; there are no exit signs for nearby cities, just countless mile markers to keep track of my progress; there are small hills in the distance, dwarfed by mountains on the horizon that will have to be climbed, but ultimately the road disappears from view -- it's final direction a mystery until that rugged terrain is crossed.

There's a part of me that's not loving the new view. I keep wanting to look back over my shoulder for the comforting sight of the green, square RMSP sign hanging out over the sidewalk next to Doc's sandwich shop on Higgins Ave. I keep wanting to reach for my locker to hang up my jacket, drop off my headphones from my morning walk to school, and start another day of learning. I keep wanting to listen for the different melodies of footsteps coming down the stairs to the basement classrooms -- each student playing out their unique cadence distinguishable after countless trips up and down those flights of steps. Fortunately, a larger part of me is very, very excited -- desperate even -- to finally begin down this road in earnest and figure out just what the hell lies on the other side of those mountains. Admittedly, I think I already know the answer: just another mountain range. But that's okay. Life would be far worse without beautiful mountain views in our lives. And there's still unknowns to be answered: does the next mountain range lie to the north? West? Is it a deep range or just one narrow ridge to hurdle? Will I get stranded, have to be airlifted out, and put on an entirely new road? Definitely working to avoid that at all costs...but hey, who knows!

What I do know is that I am looking forward to get back to the things that made me fall in love with photography in the first place: documenting outdoor sports and cultural experiences. With the financial security of being back home and the good fortunes to have steady seasonal work for the summer, I'm taking my first few steps on this road to apply all these news skills I have learned to the things I love the most. And I'm eager to share those experience with you as I go forward. I'm excited, too, to delve more into the world of film. Some recent insight from peers has made me look closer at what my desire to combine photos and words can add up to. For three years now, that sum was always photojournalism. But I've realized that 2+2 does not just equal 4 in the artistic world -- it adds up to film-making as well. Film offers me the chance to employ my writing by piecing together the story arc of a narrative and by scripting narration. I get to incorporate my love for visual documentation on a frame by frame basis in a video timeline. It's an interesting prospect as to how I could blend my interests into one, rather than trying to push writing, photography, and film forward simultaneously.

I also know, that our society is being gifted a fresh crop of incredibly creative, talented, and smart photographers whose work and stories deserve your attention. This class of creatives has taught me, inspired me, and elevated me over the past eight months. Know their names and their work, because I'm sure you will be seeing more of it in the years to come (click "names" above, in case you missed it!).

Lastly, I know that I am eager to explore this region I have grown up in with fresh eyes. New England really does have much to offer -- and I say that somewhat hypocritically with how hell-bent I was to leave after graduation. But what can I say: it's pretty hard not be seduced by the allure of the West and the grandeur of 14,000 foot peaks that dominate the horizon of wide open spaces. It has been a definite mental struggle to see this move not as a failed dream to make it out West, but just the most natural step forward on a path I can't predict -- and that that's okay. There are plenty of new mountains to hike, trails to bike, rocks to climb, cultural experiences to have (heck, I have an entire country just a few hours away I have yet to visit!!), and most important: roads to wander.

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