The Thanksgiving Passage

Sometimes I take a photo and its message and meaning are immediately apparent. Its story appears, along with the composition, and inserts itself into the proceedings early in the process...all tied up in a neat little bow.

On other occasions the true meaning and essence of a piece takes some time to percolate through the ether and make itself known.

Case and point with the photo - "The Thanksgiving Passage"....

It was Thanksgiving 2016 and I was exploring my old stomping grounds in Southwest Missouri on a photo wandering excursion. It was a perfect late fall afternoon and there was a special crispness in the air that was both a refreshing and renewing repast before the oncoming winter's chill. The fading light of the setting sun was magically brilliant and filled the landscape with a sort of diffused glow that warmed the soul and cut the cool air like a warm knife through a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. I was in full on creative mode and madly trying to hit as many photo spots as possible before this brilliant gift of light faded into the oncoming night. 

My afternoon photo excursion was about complete when I happened to remember a quaint little tunnel that ran under some train tracks near Saginaw MO. It would be the perfect backdrop to complete my day and I had just enough time to get there and grab a few quick photos before my family starts the Thanksgiving feast without me. 

Locating the tunnel after all these years wasn't as difficult as I had thought it would be and after parking the car, and canvasing the area to plan my shots, I was pleased to find the tunnel much like I had remembered it to be back in the 80's. Sure the graffiti was funkier and denser now but it was still vibrant with layer upon layer of painted color and shape. The landscape had matured, framing the area with the greens and browns of nature in late fall, and the tunnel was showing some signs of wear as well but overall the vibe and visual aesthetic of the place was just how I remembered.

Wonderful.

I grabbed as many photos I could in the remaining light, packed my gear back into the car and headed home through the thanksgiving evening towards the waiting turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, I had an inkling that these photos had potential but at the time I had no idea how special they would indeed turn out to be.

Flash forward from November 2016 to one of my art shows in July 2017. A photo of the Saginaw tunnel is one of the pieces  on display in my exhibit and I was telling a good friend the above story of the shot. I was going on and on about the day, the history, the memories etc....when she looked me in the eye and simply said "Rob - This piece reminds me of Rob."

I was floored.

She was right.

This photo was about Rob.

Rob was a friend of ours who was, at the time I took the photo, loosing his 14 year battle with brain cancer. It was a tough time for all of us that knew and loved him as we all saw firsthand the absolute finality and cruelty that cancer can bring to those affected by it. Rob and his family fought a courageous fight against his cancer but ultimately the disease was just too much and Rob passed, peacefully surround by family and friends, on November 28th of that year. 

An important part of my creative process is that I heavily rely on my instincts, and "gut" reactions, to guide me as I produce my work. One of my favorite songs from singer/songwriter Willie Nelson goes... "Anything outside of the gut ain't necessarily so..." and it's on this principle that I use as a check and balance against myself as I do my work. If a shot doesn't feel good in the moment....it probably isn't. As a result it is only natural that what is going on in and around my life, especially something as consequential and painful as the terminal illness of a friend, would seep through the cracks of my psyche' and find its way into my artistic process as well. While on the surface it appears that I was simply capturing a fleeting moment of beauty actually turned out, instead, to be a powerful visual metaphor of my friend Rob's cancer journey.

Reframing the context of the piece against the backdrop of Rob's illness places you as a viewer at the threshold of an epic and potentially dangerous journey. The warm light at the end of the tunnel beckons you forward and promises better days, and lighter journeys, for those who have the courage to push though the darkness to the illuminated road on the other side. Much like Rob's cancer journey, where he fought through the years of darkness during his illness to be rewarded with a warm/lighted road on the other end, this photo can give all of those who have the courage to fight the darkness hope that there is also a reward for them at the other side.

It is my hope that the photo also serves, and inspires, you during your own journey as well. 

You can buy a print of this piece through my online store by clicking here and 5% of all sales will be donated in Rob's name to the Be Head Strong Foundation, - an organization whose mission is to support and assist all those who are affected by brain cancer. Rob was a founding member.