A Photographer's Story
10 years ago, two friends and I scrambled together a plan to see as much of the world as we could.
The three of us were serving in the United States Navy as Corpsmen, and being stationed in Rota, Spain, was the chance of a lifetime. In between the commitment, hard work and sacrifice we signed up for, we traveled all over the country that hosted us, and soon we were taking trips to France, Italy and Morocco.
Eventually we had the kind of plan that only three young sailors would be up for: 10 countries in 20 days.
I still remember us late one night, yelling over each other in a Spanish pub overlooking Rota's bay. Ok ok!--we hollered. We're gonna start with Madrid! Fly to London, see a play in the Prince Edward theatre. Then waffles in Brussels! Not too far from Bruges, a city lost in time. From Bruges a train to Amsterdam (we were lost in those canals for days), slingshot to Oslo, tempt ourselves with the northern lights, dash over to Stockholm, jumping train tracks into the old town districts, grabbing a beer in the oldest brewery in Sweden. From there we would dig into the eastern block: Bratislava, Prague and Budapest. Those wild nights would never leave me.
The contrast between all these countries would give me not only a respect for other cultures, but a burning desire to learn as much as I could about the infinite well of individuals and ideas that span this impossibly colossal, yet detail-woven earth. After this trip, we would never be the same. But how could we remember it all, take it all in in just 20 days?
Two days before we left, I bought a camera.
I didn't know anything! I didn't have time! I plunged into the camera options, took photos and reviewed them, tried to figure out what was wrong. Every time I would review, it was wrong in a different way.
But from country to country, I kept snapping.
I took pictures of my friends, of the world's architecture, of those little streets that appear like hidden gems at every turn.
I took pictures of insouciant women and lucid men, of ancient waterways left small but alive out of respect. I took pictures of museums and trolleys, I started getting low to the ground, or finding a shot and then really looking for how to take it. I took a picture of the beauty I found, and then I tried to take a picture of what it’s like to be a human around all of that beauty.
I could never see through the foggy mystery of taking the perfect picture, but I could always see one step in front of me. Step by step, I started to learn how to see the world not just for myself, but for the story I wanted to tell.
And I fell in love with photography.
I returned from Spain in time to make the holidays with my family. I still remember walking into my parents house two weeks before they expected me, my mother dropping laundry to hug me my while my grandmother laughed. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and belonged to a huge Irish and Polish family that spans so far that twice in my life I would befriend a stranger to later find myself related to them.
I spent the next two years in Quantico, taking the VRE up to Washington DC with my camera and meeting new friends. I started my life as a shy person, but learned in both the Navy and my travels that meeting people is a chance to connect with a web of stories, of lives and a wisdom that layers the world we live in. Getting to live close enough to DC and the DMV region was a gift for a sailor coming from overseas: this area is so diverse, so open to opinions and culture. I began to feel like I simply left one amazing experience to find myself in another.
And then one day, walking out of a bar with a group of friends, I met the love of my life.
Could you imagine a crazier match for a southern girl from Georgia than some crazy eyed sailor from Philadelphia? She worked on the Hill, I worked with Marines. From the very start we learned from each other, laughed with each other, and had one zany adventure after another. I still remember us carving a pumpkin at her first apartment in Arlington, and suddenly having to sit down because of the way my heart went off when she smiled. My mother's simple wisdom came to me all at once: "Oh, you will know."
Meredith stayed with me through my deployment on the border of Kuwait and Iraq in 2008. We Skyped whenever we could. She sent packages not only to me, but to the team I deployed with: cookies, letters, cookies, knick-knacks, cakes and movies and cookies and music and cookies.
And just as I remember coming home to my mother after Spain, I remember seeing the woman I would marry after my flight touched down. There has never been a more beautiful woman moving toward me than the day she flew from the door of her car.
But that was years ago! I always say that the two best decisions I ever made in my life were serving in the United States Navy, and leaving it to be here with her. Since then we've worked both on our lives with each other and on our individual passions. And when it comes to my photography, she's been with me in every way. She doesn't mind when I scramble from bed long before the sun rises. She doesn't mind when I take chunks of my weekends to scout locations and badger my amazing clients to let me take their picture. And I can't help but smile when I open my camera bag before a shoot, to find a sandwich and maybe a cookie squirreled away, just in case I'm gone for too long.
I take being a photographer extremely seriously, and because of that I can't help but honestly say that a photographer isn't just a person who takes pictures for people.
Our job is to discover others and the world around us. Our job is to bring who we are along, and to care about what we do and who we do it for. It's about working to connect with people.
And of course, to tell a story.