If you just want to look at pictures, scroll down.
For me, I look back on three important things this year. Experiencing the landscape of the West, becoming an honorary West Virginian, and the further embracing of my visual style. The first one happened rather unintentionally. While I had explored the surrounding region of the Black Hills and Badlands to a certain extent, my work hours prevented me from venturing too far out. Once I got over the initial shock of being laid off I began thinking of all the places I’d been meaning to go to. In those few months I made my way to Montana, Eastern Idaho, Western Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and other closer but still important areas. I still struggle to describe the feelings invoked by the landscape there, everything from its vastness to how light seems to dance across it. I think about that land often and wish I could go back there even for a short time. It never felt like I was in just another part of the states, rather it truly felt like a world unto itself.
Eventually, after being unemployed for four months and living off of my severance, unemployment insurance and tax returns, I moved back to DC and took back my old job at ProPhoto and applied for jobs while crashing at my best friend’s place. On a facebook job page, I saw an opening for a staff photography position at the Gazette-Mail in Charleston; West Virginia’s capital and largest city. With the exception of Harper’s Ferry and a night trip to Shepherdstown, I had never stepped foot in West Virginia. However, I have always been interested in places that hold ideas and assumptions in the American psyche; places that everyone seems to have an opinion about without ever really having been there. Since taking the job nearly six months ago, I have visited many areas of the state and gotten to know the people who call this place home. I can thankfully say that i’ve only come to enjoy this place more as time has gone on. Yes, West Virginia has plenty of problems and issues it has yet to overcome, but this place has plenty of good in it too, and a lot of people who care deeply for its future.
Lastly, and what has personally meant the most to me, has been the overwhelmingly positive response I have received from people here regarding my more artistic images; specifically my long exposures. Long exposures were the very thing that made me fall in love with photography in the first place; a creative method that could take a scene or moment in front of you and reveal so much more than our immediate senses could perceive. Admittedly, it had been a long time since I had regularly taken long exposures (one of my biggest regrets this year being that I didn’t take nearly as many long exposures in South Dakota as I should have). I decided to take it up again as a means of showing West Virginia from a different take, and the amount of enthusiasm with which my paper has embraced those kinds of images coupled with the responses I have received from others have motivated the hell out of me to shoot, shoot and shoot more. It’s been awhile since i’ve felt so compeltely energized, and I think great things are around the corner for 2018.
So here are, in no particular order, my favorite images from 2017.
This was an unplanned trip, unplanned in that I only knew I wanted to see Glacier National Park and possibly the Tetons. I left Friday afternoon and came back early Tuesday morning, and in that time covered nearly 2000 miles. Supplementing my current writings are notes jotted down in my pocket journal while on the trip, which are in italics.
Starting out from Rapid City, the highway led along the northern border of the Black Hills to 212, a direct route through the Northeast corner of Wyoming into Montana. I had never been to Montana before and was looking forward to this trip.
Broadus, MT. 4:25 P.M:In Powder River country now. Montana is so far a continuation of Wyoming in terms of landscape, however taking into account its ridges and rocky outcroppings I think larger differences are to come.
While I had driven through Central and Northeast Wyoming; an impressively expansive land, Montana posessed a terrain I was not prepared for in scope and vastness. While ranch lands were aplenty, much of the landscape remained unrepresented by human intervention save for the nonnative grasses that permeated the land. The valleys, foothills and ridges stretched onward to the bighorn mountains; named so for the sheep that inhabit them.
I had arrived too late to tour the little bighorn battlefield which closed about an hour earlier, but I could easily say that the land itself was among the most beautiful that I have ever seen of any battlefield. Hawks flew high above the prairie dog towns that dotted the landscape.
Continuing on after stopping briefly in Billings, It became dark as I was nearing Bozeman Pass. Stopping briefly to walk under the bright neon signs lining Livingston, I continued through the pass and down into Bozeman. Being home to Montana State University, Bozeman has a solid nightlife scene with a main street lined with bars, dance clubs, restaurants and cheap eats.
Bozeman, MT. 11:15 A.M. Trying to make time to Helena, but land is incredible. The foothills and ridges surrounding Little Bighorn are among the most beautiful i’ve ever seen, stretching all the way to the Bighorn Mountains. Bozeman a wonderful college town with quite the nightlife for its size.
Being that I came through Bozeman pass at night, It was the next morning that I saw the series of mountain ranges that surrounded Bozeman. From there I immediately got on the road, wanting to make it to the area surrounding Glacier National Park before nightfall.
Helena: 1:15 P.M.The only place i’ve been that I can compare West Montana to would be Alaska.
The route to the state capital Helena was 287, with tilled fields and railroad tracks on one side and the Missouri river on the other.
Kalispell: 10:00 P.M. I started the day by drivingup from Bozeman, The drive up went well enough; though the distances are vast it certainly doesn’t feel that way with the terrain being as it is.
From Helena I took route 12 further West where the road abruptly rose into the hills, from which there were fantastic views of the surroundings valleys.
Descending from the ridge into another large valley, I suddenly turned onto a rural route that winded through ranch land that seemed to go on forever, only stopping at the foot of the nearest mountain ridge where a series of rainstorms were inundating the landscape.
Driving past a series of lakes and mountain peaks, I eventually reached route 83, which hugged the Swan range for hundreds of miles to reach the Kalispell valley.
The road up was through a wide valley with mountains towering on each adjacent side, passing through little towns such as Swan Lake while rolling the windows up and down sporadically with each passing microclimate.
I saw two bald eagles feeding off of a carcass on the side of the road here. Also saw what I thought to be a black bear sneaking off of the road as i passed it before the lake itself.
I eventually arrived just outside of Glacier in the late afternoon as a series of rainstorms were passing over the range and surrounding area.
Passing through these farmlands, I turned Northeast onto a road that hugged the North Fork of the Flathead River, whose waters originate in the Canadian Rockies.
I drove up adjacent to the north fork of the flathead river; a sizeable river with a beautiful turquoise hue that very much reminded me of the waters in Alaska.
The road zig-zagged through the immense gorge following the river until coming to a bridge over it which was gated off; closed for the season.
The road was closed over the bridge of the fork leading further into Glacier National Park, but I managed to get some decent pictures over the river before giving into the temptation of driving up the nearby trail creek road that ascended over the valley.
I tried to find a clearing in those bastard juvenile pine trees but gave up after becoming exhausted trudging through knee-deep snow and failing to find any clearing significant enough for a clean shot of the best part of the sunset over the mountain peaks.
However I was able to see with my own eyes the violet and before that golden light surrounding the towering peaks as the sun went down, and that has been good enough for me.
That night I decided to head for Missoula, in order to put myself in a better position for the drive to the Tetons the next day. Even without the moon I could still make out the massive body of water that was flathead lake. Continuing on through small towns and rural areas, I was trailed by no less than four separate police vehicles; the officers most likely being bored out of their minds in rural Montana at 2 am.
I spent a little time walking around Missoula before heading South on I-15 to Northern Idaho.
Tetons. 3:45 PM. Drove down from Missoula through mountain passes into Northern Idaho. I have never seen a valley so vast as that of which interstate 15 passes through. Coupled with one of the most visually fascinating concentrated rainstorms I have ever seen over an almost desert like terrain, it was quite a sight.
Upon getting out of the rainstorm and driving through gentle rises the land changed again to tilled fields that stretched for miles.
I photographed what I could of the tetons from the Idaho side before entering the teton pass…
was a bit riveting as it was dark and the highbeams of my car lit every piece of snowfall. It was a bit like being in the millennium falcon at lightspeed, stupid as that sounds. Found a good room and was given two slices of free pizza from a guy at Pinky G’s before having a beer at Snake River brewing.
Jackson hole itself is beautiful, with the town square and look of the town was everything I hoped it would be.
I have now been spending the day checking out areas per the suggestions of Lyford and the bartender at Dornan’s. People here are the nicest I think I’ve ever experienced in any particular place. I have seen quite a few moose around the park as I wait for fog to life which continues to inundate the Tetons. I hope that it will clear if only briefly for me to capture or at least see it before I turn east back to South Dakota.
Unfortunately it was soon after I wrote this that a snowstorm from the West moved in and completely inundated the mountains as well as the valley in quick succession. I decided to leave then, taking the road from Jackson Lake to Highway 26 which passed through the continental divide. The area itself was filled with buttes and peaks whose color and formations astounded me.
Marker for the Continental Divide. Wyoming.
Trees and hills amidst Highway 26. Wyoming.
Eventually, 26 would lead into the fronier-styled town of Dubois and the desertlike terrain of the Wind River Reservation. I’d be hard pressed to think of another place where the difference in terrain from one side of the road to the other is so stark as it is here.
Looking right going West on Route 26.
Looking left going West on Route 26.
The wind river itself snaked under the road many times, adding an additional touch of beauty to a landscape that had suddenly turned into one that looked like Arizona more than anything else.
It wasn’t long before the sun began to set, and I pulled over from route 26 onto a crest overlooking a reservoir. I took a couple frames as dusk was settling in.
There are roads across central Wyoming that stretch 100 miles at a time in total darkness with not a light to be seen except those of oncoming cars and 18-wheelers. With both of us moving at over 80 miles an hour, the semi’s shake my car to an uncomfortable degree as they go by. In such conditions one cannot tell if a car is one mile away or ten, as there is nothing with which to associate the distance. It was a bit of a surreal experience really.
After what felt like a lot longer than 10 hours, I made it home early Tuesday morning. So i’m going to wrap this up. Thanks for checking out this post!