I always find it interesting to learn people’s back stories and how they wound up doing what they’re doing, so I thought I would share a bit about my photography story so you can learn a little more about me.
I’ve always loved taking pictures
Since my 20’s I’ve always enjoyed taking photographs and playing around in Photoshop. My camera was never very fancy back then, (I started with a point and shoot Canon Powershot A80, it had a whopping 4 mega pixels!) but I loved doing it and found it a great way to express my creativity. As I’ve mentioned on my ‘About Me” page, I have had vision issues my whole life due to being born premature. I was born with cataracts and developed glaucoma as a teenager. Back in 1976 when I was a born, there wasn’t as much known about the brain/eye relationship as there is now along with not knowing how long a lens implant would last in someone, so I didn’t get my first lens implant until I was an adult and by that point it was a bit late for my brain to catch up. And my glaucoma has worsened through the years (although a recent glaucoma valve implant is definitely helping to slow the progression). So I had to learn to see a bit differently than everyone else. My vision isn’t sharp (even with glasses and lens implants), and so I found that by taking pictures I could see a lot of detail that I miss in real life by zooming in on the computer. Here are some very early pictures I took in my late 20’s when we were still living in Southern California (I was born in the city of Orange and spent most of my growing up in the Costa Mesa area of Orange County). These photos are as-is from that time period (it was hard to stop myself from editing them now!)
Love of Nature
It may not come as a surprise that prior to getting serious about photography I worked as a landscaper – my love of the outdoors and nature! That was my primary occupation when I lived in California and shortly after moving to Maine in 2004 I enrolled in school at Southern Maine Community College and completed a degree in horticulture in 2008. After getting my degree I started my own landscaping business named “Greenleaf Landscaping & Gardens.” I loved my business and everything about it. However, in 2012/2013 I started to get unexplainably sick, and by 2014 I had to give the business up due to my health.
It was that year when they discovered a big hole in my lung (which was causing my illness) and I was diagnosed with Coccidioidomycosis, otherwise known as Valley Fever – a fungal infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides that lives in the soil in the southwest. You can get Valley Fever simply by breathing in the microscopic fungal spores from the air, and although most people who get it just get flu-like symptoms and totally recover, I was part of the small percentage of folks who get a much more severe case of it. They believe I had it for over 15 years before being diagnosed (I picked it up in central California in the San Joaquin Valley while working in the California Conservation Corp when I was 20). It had disseminated in my lungs over the course of 15 years, creating the hole and wreaking havoc, giving me permanent lung damage and disease (although I didn’t know I had it all those years). It also disseminated into my spine. I had multiple surgeries and therapies to deal with the affects of this disease (including having most of my left lung removed and part of my spine) and I was diagnosed with the chronic illness of Bronchiectasis due to my lung damage. Then, in late 2022/early 2023, after some genetic testing, I learned I have a rare, atypical form of Cystic Fibrosis – which provides an explanation for what the underlying issue is that could explain my lung issues as well as many GI issues I deal with. Because my particular mutations are so rare, there are still a lot of questions and we’ll continue to learn more. Unfortunately the current CF therapies out there don’t work for my mutations but hopefully more will be learned in the future. I also started losing my hearing in my left ear about five years ago due to Meniere’s Disease and dealing with vertigo and balance issues that come and go. So I’ve had a lot of health challenges (to say the least) over these last few years…but that’s where photography comes in.
Photography as Therapy
Due to my illnesses, daily life can sometimes be hard. I have weeks/days where I’m doing good, and then weeks/days where I’m miserable and just getting through the day is a struggle. Chronic illness is not for the faint of heart. But this is where photography came in and went from a hobby to something that helped keep me going, even during my really bad weeks. As a nature lover, I may not have been able to go on long hikes anymore or run my landscaping business anymore, but I could go out in my backyard and take pictures of the trees, birds, insects and all the beautiful nature around me. It may seem like small things, but for me it was huge. Chronic illness can also be a gift – it has helped shape the person I am today and it has helped me to appreciate the little things in life. I have a beautiful life regardless of my medical issues and I choose to see the positive everyday and make the best of what life has to offer. The way I see it no matter your circumstances you have a couple of choices – you can let life run you over, or you can make the best of it and live your best life.
Since about 2010, I also have been taking photographs for my wife’s knitting design business (Elizabeth Smith Knits). She designs, writes and publishes knitting patterns and I help her with taking photographs of all of her finished knits. Taking photographs for her became the first time my photography wasn’t just for fun, or as a creative outlet – it was my first go at professional photography.
Taking photographs for her knitting business really helped me to learn my craft on a new level and recently we’ve also started doing video tutorials so I’m now learning more about video production.
When the pandemic hit, due to my chronic illness and only having 1 lung, I was considered high risk. So both my wife and myself really had to hunker down and be even more careful than the average person. But I feel so grateful that we live in the beautiful state of Maine, because although I couldn’t be around a lot of people, I could be around nature. So I started taking even more nature photography and picked up few new telephoto zoom lenses. I started just with the birds right outside our house. One of the things I noticed with bird photography was that I couldn’t see their details in real life (due to my eyesight issues and glaucoma), but with the zoom lens and auto focus, I could see all the details once I loaded them up on the computer. It was such an eye opening experience (no pun intended, or maybe just a little, haha). And then I started going to our local parks and the ocean, getting up for sunrise or heading out at sunset – everyday that my health allowed for me to be out I was there. And I started an Instagram account and started posting almost everyday, being super inspired by other photographers work and learning as much as I could with online tutorials and classes.
My First Shows
This year has been such growth for me as a photographer. Between my eye impairment and my chronic health issues, I would never have imagined I could do what I’m doing right now – I’m so happy that I’ve continued this photography journey through hard work and dedication. Recently I even did my first shows, having a booth at “Makers on Main” and at the “Freeport Fall Festival” (both in my town of Freeport, Maine).
I’m continuing to build my website and putting more prints for sale on my shop page. I still have lots to learn and explore about photography but I’m enjoying this path I’m on and looking forward to where it may lead me. That’s probably enough rambling about me and my story. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little bit about the person behind the camera. If you have any questions or just want to reach out, feel free to send me a message!