Monday, February 28, 2011

A year in pictures

Five or six years ago I began spending some time perusing photographs on a site called Pbase. It’s a place where thousands of photographers – professional as well as amateur – post their portfolios. Some of the shots you see there are great, some not so. But regardless of vision or technique, it’s always interesting to have a look at the world through other people’s eyes. And it was much better than playing Solitaire as a way to stay awake during all those interminable phone meetings.

One of the most common types of galleries you’ll find on the site is the “PAD”, an acronym that took me a while to figure out. It only became obvious when it finally sunk in that each of these collections had precisely 365 photos, in other words – a Picture a Day. The content varies from pictures of teddy bears in exotic places to black and white portraits of someone’s girlfriend to shots of family picnics and flowers. I’ll admit I was intrigued and so I started one on the 1st of July, 2007.

I began the effort in the early stages of my China project, a job that provided a great opportunity for some memorable shots. I was traveling all the time to some wonderful places and on those days picking the best of the best photo was tough. The in-between times were a bit more challenging – it’s hard to find something interesting when the edges of your world are defined by driving 3.26 miles to and from work. Well, that plus some bike rides. But I stuck to it even when it became hard to stay motivated around day 275. Some of my shots were memorable, others nothing more than a truck load of weeds parked in the back yard. And many were taken at 11 o’clock at night when I realized I’d forgotten to take the day’s picture. I’ll admit I was glad when I took the final shot on June 30th 2008 - exactly the same photo as that on the first day - and put the project behind me. The wonder of it though was the product – the power of my pictures to put me right back in the moment for an entire year’s worth of days. People, places, animals and even a shot of my hospital bracelet from the day I spent having one of those tests that comes with passing 50.

As 2010 got underway I thought it might be time to make another attempt as it promised to be an auspicious year in so many ways. I was living in China and about halfway through my assignment. I had a lot of travel planned and almost certainly as many life changes. So at 6:47 AM on the 1st of March I took a shot out the office window of my Kai Fa Qu apartment. Dawn light and a dusting of fresh snow made the otherwise dingy buildings across the street look just a tiny bit better. I was tired – fresh in from a trip to the US – and I was beginning to feel the weight of being away for the better part of a year. But the project was underway and I expected it would turn out to be a very significant year.





March brought the trip of a lifetime with my youngest – Beijing and the Great Wall, Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors, the velvet rope at a Pizza Hut and then back to Beijing for the biggest sandstorm of the decade.

April found me first in Lijiang wandering the streets of the ancient town and taking a most unforgettable boat ride with my friend Mike. Then it was on to Tibet, the wonders of Lhasa and a most remarkable meal in a restaurant not far from the top of the world. A wonderful encounter with some girls and their dogs at a high pass and then another sandstorm and a delayed flight followed by a plane trip over the snowy Himalayas.

In May I was off to Datong and one of the 3 most holy sites for Buddhism. I found the first of the 3 remaining Dragon Screens here. And then a second round of travel with my oldest - nearly the same itinerary as the first but with an added trip to the Beijing Zoo where we were privileged to hand feed the most wonderful pair of elephants.

June, home for a month and a broken toe. July, some great bike rides with my friend Dermott and a new habit of strolling around my Kai Fa Qu neighborhood after dark looking for shots and experimenting with high ISO photography. August - a lifetime trip to Taiwan with my friends Ben and Scott. And then came September and my departure from China, sent off with some great dinners with friends and my driver, Jiang Yi and a couple of days in Beijing finding the other 2 Dragon Screens.

The early part of the fall was spent finding my way back to working from the US and getting reacquainted while walking the lanes of Corrales with My Lovely Wife. Pictures were a bit harder to come by but being back in a place with a bright blue sky and fresh air certainly helped. It only took a bit of thinking to find a new creative approach. November took me back for once last trip to China, a few more evening walks around my old haunts and then one of the best trips I’ve ever had, off to Chengdu with Ben, his lovely wife Sahsa and her accommodating friend Susu.

The home stretch took me to Mexico and then into retirement just after the first of the year – a huge change that I anticipated with a myriad of emotions, all of which were undeniably positive.

I spent the final 40 or so shots experimenting with techniques and my phone camera, just trying to wind my way down to the end. 2011 turned out to be just like 2008 – the last 30 or so shots were a drudge. In the final days though a few bits of inspiration came and some satisfying shots were taken and logged.

This morning was the final day and in hewing to the long-held tradition, I took the same shot I began with – out the office window. But what a difference, instead of stark gray buildings and snow I had a shocking blue sky, a horse trailer and a barn full of hay. How far the past year has taken me.


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