Reflections of 2021
Happy New Year! It's that time where I reflect on the past year and share thoughts and photos relating to my photography journey throughout 2021. I'll just come out of the gate and say it: 2021 was a very challenging year for me, personally and photographically. In some ways, it felt like a continuation of 2020, where the line dividing the two felt quite chaotic and muddy.
Despite the chaos, pockets of happiness and hope throughout the year kept me motivated. Photographically, it was a year of comfort-based subjects (subjects that bring me joy, such as abstracts) focusing on the aspects of my photography that make me happy and keep me inspired, even during the tough times. I believe that our moods and emotions reflect in our photography, even subconsciously, and some of my images were an open book offering clues into how the year's events shaped my mental space. Many people reached out to me with observations about my work this year having more of a moody, darker feel to it, which I hadn't realized until I looked back on it. Below, sprinkled in the writing of this post, you'll find my favorites from the year. You won't see what I consider "fan favorites" or what was popular on social media, but instead, these are the images that not only connected with me but ones I enjoyed creating.
First, let me share the not-so-fun side of 2021. There were many times this year I was ready to throw in the towel on my professional photography career and go back to the comfort of my previous career in Veterinary Medicine. Why bring this up? As crude as it sounds, this career has a side that isn't all glamorous and full of rainbows and unicorns. There are moments of doubt, feelings of inadequacy that can creep in, and days, where you feel like all the work you've put in is about to collapse. For instance, I started feeling like we'd never get to teach again, especially after our winter workshops were shut down because of California restrictions. This was a huge hit financially, especially after the more significant financial hit of 2020. It not only took a toll mentally, but it put a halt on my interest to photograph and feel creative.
Just as I was feeling better about things later in the year, we were then hit with a massive truck repair during summer, which kept us off the road for much of it. We make our living from photography and traveling full-time, so this was another hit on my already rapidly fraying mental space, and I wanted to give up. We depend on our truck for full-time travel to photograph and teach, and it felt like this whole journey was about to end. (You can read a more detailed account of all this on David's blog here.)
On top of all that, I had quite a few negative interactions this year, unfortunate moments with others and a company, reminding me that, at times, my gender isn't always taken seriously in this primarily male-dominated field. I had to walk away from volunteer opportunities that were not in my best interest, mentally taxing, and sometimes toxic. I had to drown out social media on a few occasions because it was a noisy and unpleasant experience at times. Suddenly, a fun place to share was a cacophony of competitiveness and other undesirable behavior.
Despite all the negatives, there were many positives. I marched on through the negatives, viewing them as opportunities, lessons, and motivations to be a better person, and it was a big year for mental growth. I grew more confident and taught a webinar by myself. I allowed myself more time to experiment with my photography while still photographing what was comfortable. I took away the pressure that I have to be creative at all times and that creating an image that didn't fit into my "style" was quite alright. We decided that instead of an e-book format for our Yellowstone book, we would do an actual soft-cover book instead (a scary idea, but so exciting at the same time!)
This year made me realize how many amazing colleagues and friends we have, who all helped out and offered assistance during our trying times. I'm so thankful for this community and the connections with others I've made, and there's so much support and friendships that I'm very grateful to have.
I'm thankful that I'm still living my dream despite the hardships, and now that we're back to a regular travel schedule, I have a new lease on my gratitude for the ability to photograph and teach in my favorite places. 2020 and 2021 have shown us that nothing in life is guaranteed, and we all need to live life to the fullest every day and appreciate every moment we have.
Most of all, I'm thankful for the natural world. Nature rescued me many times this year from behind my lens. When life became too much, I relied on my relationship with the natural world to help make things more transparent and find calm among the chaos. We need the darkness to appreciate the light and joyous moments in this life, and perhaps that's why my imagery came out a bit more "moody" this year.
There is so much to look forward to in 2022! I have a few exciting things on my plate that will be announced soon, and 2022 means new goals and new endeavors! Speaking of which, starting today, I'm embarking on a new personal project, "365 Days with Nature." I will challenge myself to create one photo a day while out in nature, whether it's in a National Park or locally in my backyard when I'm home. The motivations for this project are many, and I will share those thoughts as I go along. With each day and photo, I will write a small thought, lesson, or musing to accompany them, and I will hold myself accountable and post each day on Twitter. I will occasionally blog about my progress and share a few images on Instagram. (I decided on Twitter because I felt it best to share a daily photo and simple thought.) I will then compile all these into an e-book at the culmination the project in one year.
Thank you, everyone, for all your support throughout the last year. I really couldn't do it without my wonderful friends, amazing colleagues, and family. I wish you all a fabulous new year, filled with health and happiness!