I found out my uncle died while on a trip to San Francisco several years ago. He was important to me when I was young even though our relationship faded as I got older. When I heard the news that morning I took a moment to breathe, grabbed my camera bag, and took to the streets.
For hours I walked and thought of my uncle and his life, pained by the choices he made and the distance the decades had created between us. He is the reason I love Star Wars, the 49ers, science fiction, action movies, and so much more. We had grown apart and I never thought that he and I would be close again, but his passing still hurts. I felt like there was a tight grip on my heart, and I found it hard to breathe as I tried to make sense of how our relationship turned out.
Yet the more photos I took on the streets of San Francisco, the more my thoughts turned to the future and the life I want to lead: one of joy, of creativity, and of possibility. I decided not to dwell on the past and instead focus on the future and how I was a better man due to my uncle.
And so as I walked for more than 14 hours, starting just as the sun was rising over the horizon. I focused on the beauty I found all around me. It was so different than what I normally would photograph. Being from Omaha, Nebraska, I was used to wide-open skies, suburbs and farmland as far as the eyes could see. Here I was a stranger without a map or destination. I didn’t know the city at all and set out to explore and see and feel.
I created images in a way that was very rare for me. In my photography I often get caught up in what lens to use, and what my settings should be. I linger on one spot for too long sometimes, trying to capture every angle in case I miss something. I focus so much on the back of the camera that I sometimes miss the “experience” of being in a beautiful location.
That day was different. I barely stopped when I took a photographed, and although I did change lenses (I had the 80 macro and 23 1.4 in my bag), I would go through long stretches without switching.
I found myself immersed in moments of thought instead of looking at objects to take photographs of. I can’t remember reviewing any of the images on the camera, and instead used the clarity of the OVF to see the world before me clearly. I felt like the optical viewfinder was made for this day.
I looked at shadows and saw beauty everywhere I walked.
I saw color and shape as it appeared before me, capturing details as I contemplated the relationship I had with my uncle.
I remember so many moments from the day, but never once do I remember taking any of these photographs. The Fuji cameras have worked for me so well because of how they get out of my way and just let me create. This became a truth for me on this day more than any other.
The camera became an extension of my thoughts. They erased the barrier between my inner self and the art I was creating.
By the end of my walk I was exhausted, but my soul was full. I felt joy for being so fortunate that I had my uncle in my life when I needed him, regardless of how our relationship turned out.
Some studies have looked at the relationship between art and healing, and this day made me a firm believer.
When I return to these photos, which I do more often than any set of photos I’ve ever taken, I focus on the power of creation and the warm incredible zone of emotions I felt as I walked these streets creating images to cherish for the rest of my life.
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