My First Zine

I had a dream. Okay, nothing so grand. And certainly nothing compared to Dr. King’s beautiful “I have a dream” speech. But many years ago, I dreamed of writing a book. Or maybe a few books. Reality soon settled in. My ideas for a book were too narrow to be feasible. 

When I picked up a camera for the first time as an adult (not an iPhone, but a “real” camera), I never dreamed it would lead to publishing something. As I grew in my photography, I began to realize it had power to communicate. But what? Even this blog, which has long been neglected, really just spoke within my tiny brain’s fog of random thoughts.

Lockdown and the last 18 months of trying to find normal again was the spark for a photo book magazine. For years, my photographs were mainly single images on social media. But a photo zine cannot be a bunch of random pictures. Even great pictures. That’s what is called a portfolio (and that is what this website is all about).

The Zine is called “Life Rebooted”. In it, I put together a photographic narrative reflecting on the last year or so following the drastic mitigations called “lockdown”.

This zine isn’t about monetizing my photography. While you can buy my photo zine here, trust me: I ain’t gettin’ rich on it! It’s about compiling my emotions and observations over the last year that was so very difficult for all of us. I was amazed at the ability for folks to bounce back and deal with life after lockdown. It’s a reboot. And while we may go through a few more reboots in the future, I think you will find that God has endowed us with a will to rise above it all. To live again. Life has indeed rebooted, even if the system still feels a bit buggy.

Going Backwards

Recently, a good friend and fellow photographer told me it seemed my photography seemed to be getting worse lately. I respect what he says, and certainly as a lifelong photographer he has been around the block a few times. Admittedly, I reacted with a “whaddya mean?” question, which I think is valid. In what ways, specifically, do you see my quality not measuring up to my usual standards. It is important to be specific in order to learn and grow.

Whether or not his assessment is accurate is almost besides the point: do we, as artists, have a way to be objective about our own work? No, I think that’s impossible. Too much of our own emotions are tied to our craft. There’s even some profound psychological research about this. But I did find myself asking a rhetorical question to myself: are there times when growing and learning can feel like going backwards? The answer to this is absolutely YES!

I shared with my friend a relevant story to illustrate that growth as an artist is not a steady, straight line. When I was in 4th grade, I started learning to play the saxophone. I played all through high school, taking private lessons and getting good enough to compete as district. By my senior year, I really thought I was pretty good. As a freshman in college, I had a new instructor. He found that my embouchure was poor. I spent months relearning how to play. Once confronted with proper technique, it felt like I was going backwards for several months. My sound got worse, not better. My mouth hurt due to different muscles forming the proper embouchure for the first time. I really sucked (sorry, really bad pun). 

Yet after months of hard work my playing improved. I had an objectively better sound with better technique. What would have happened had I ignored my professor? I’m sure I would still have played, but the truth is that I would have hit the barrier that bad technique creates. One can compensate to a point for poor technical skills, but there is a point where compensating for ineptitudes won’t cut it. 

I see a direct parallel to photography. There are a lot of technical skills needed in the craft. To be really good as a photographer takes years and year of practice and learning. And as my former boss often quipped, “ya don’t know what ya don’t know!” Going backwards (in a sense) is a good thing if that means one is learning. It might mean relearning technique. It might mean the quality of output is objectively lower than before until the best practices are learned well. It also may be true that experimentation as a photographer means folks who previously liked your work simply do not like your new direction. We all have to own our style and not get too discouraged by naysayers.

Bottom line: while I do not see myself pursuing a full-time career in photography, my goal is to make it look so good that you would never know. But it may not always please everyone all the time–in fact, it never will, so just keep going forwards!

Masked Spring

I know we are all more than ready to put winter behind us. However, Chicagoans know a taste of spring can rapidly regress into more bone-chilling cold. Just ask what Chicagoans feel when they hear “cooler by the lake” in a weather forecast in April. This long winter was made profoundly more challenging due to COVID. Forced hibernation and isolation. Fatigue. And yes, a little fatter due to less than healthy eating. Indeed, we are ready for spring.

It might be called a masked spring. It’s hiding a bit. Even as snow melts and flowers emerge from the muddy ground, there is trepidation in our hope. Will we see another COVID spike? Will we face another round of gloomy isolation? Are we willing to live again?

Just like those first flowers pushing through the snow, there’s a risk of damage by poking up and out. Breaking through the cold, hard ground takes courage.

Yet I insist that we do live again. And I’m saying this to myself. Life is always a risky thing. It always was!

So I am coping. Are you? I get myself outdoors, even when there’s still ice on the roads. We recently hung out with friends for the first time in months. We are emerging a bit more each week. 

Now that Lent has started, I am praying my faith in Christ will take on new life and growth. Mixing a “faith fertilizer” requires trust and brokenness: I must must acknowledge my own weaknesses and fears. COVID winter has been difficult for sure. Yet when I think that I was in the ER on New Year’s Eve 2019 for anxiety, my inner spirit has been largely at peace despite all the difficulties of 2020. Even when at times I sensed a tinge of anxiousness in me, I just kept going. Through it all, God remains faithful.

And I still keep going. It’s why I still love photography. It is a catalyst to roam God’s creation to capture images of life. And I hope to keep doing that more and more.

So to make that more meaningful, I’ve started thinking about a small photo book project for this year. I’m hoping to recruit a few local friends who would be willing to spend some time with me and allow me to take their picture (portraits, candids, etc.). I want to hear the stories of how others have coped with COVID life (whether or not one has personally gone through the illness). 

Maybe you would want to take part? Would you share your story with me? Would you let me attempt to capture it in a few photos?

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