My first memory of Neil Siegal is from my first semester at teaching English 102 at Reno’s Truckee Meadows Community College. Neil knew that my class was themed on rock & roll, so he lead them during their library tour day while wearing a button-downed, collared shirt that featured Jimi Hendrix. Unfortunately, most of the students really weren’t that into rock & roll, but Neil gave them a good five to eight minute lecture about the lyrics of The Sex Pistols’ song,”Pretty Vacant.” It was a brilliant lecture about England’s terrible economy during the 1970s, and how even though it is “pretty vacant” for the youth, they should live for today because tomorrow might even be worse. According to Neil, “the early punk movement got it right because they identified with the problem” and brought it to the world’s attention. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York and lived there for 30 years and saw “every great jazz musician” of the time while also enjoying all the perks of New York City. He then decided that California was the place to be and moved to San Francisco. He decided to move to Reno, Nevada 20 years ago and works as a librarian and history professor at Truckee Meadows Community College. “I love walking these hills,” he states, while elaborating about why he enjoys living in Reno. Neil is planning to head to Southeast Asia in a few years to retire in Vietnam: “The place I didn’t want to be at in the 1960s is where I’m going to be in my 60s.”
For the past twenty years, photography has definitely been the most dominant factor of my life. Pretty much everything has evolved around it in some shape or form, and many of my successes and failures are tied to it. Those who are familiar with my work of the last ten years typically think of me as a landscape photographer, and while that’s always been my favorite thing to photograph, I also had a good ten-year run as a sports photographer. Ironically, the first photography job that I ever had was as a portrait photographer for a small studio at a camera shop. It was a very difficult job for me, honestly, and I was totally in over my head. I did it for about six months and ended up being happily demoted to a camera salesman / film processor. To make matters worse, when my photojournalism career started a couple years later, I still struggled with portraits and almost got fired by the Associated Press for submitting some terrible portraits of a CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world.
But photography has always been an outlet for me to challenge myself and continue to learn, and about a year ago I decided to really push myself to become a much better portrait photographer. My goal is to photograph people who I think are cool and interesting and have the setting help compliment who they are as a person. I’m hoping to focus this mainly on the residents of Reno, Nevada, but I will definitely be deviating from that at times. So here is my first Portraits of Reno blog post, and it features something that the world really needs a lot these days, some young guys who can rock! Rigorous Proof, featuring Jessie Gaddis, Johnny Bailey, Adam Landis, and Wes Forster, is one of Reno, Nevada’s best up-and-coming bands. Landis was in my English 101 class a couple years ago at Truckee Meadows Community College and wrote his first essay about his band’s victory in the Clash for Cash band competition where they rocked the house with their amazing cover of The Clash’s “Train in Vain.” I laughed and never forgot about his oh-so-important opening paragraph about, “munching on a spoonful of bran and raisins,” while learning about the contest through an email on his phone from a promoter.
So while brainstorming about this project a couple months ago and noticing the band’s name on display upon the Knitting Factory’s marquee on Reno’s Virginia Street, I decided to send Landis an email to see if Rigorous Proof would like some new photos. They said yes, and it all fell into place a month or so later. Upon arrival, they gave me a copy of their CD, Perspectives, and I think it’s really good. They’re cool dudes who can play their instruments and have good songs. I haven’t been to a live show yet, but I watched some clips on You Tube, and it looks like they can get a good crowd of folks to show up to see them perform. Their website is rigorousproof.com.
I want to continue this project and have purchased lighting equipment that is far superior to anything that I’ve ever used. For the most part, I’d like to keep this project in Reno and feature on-location Renoites in a setting that compliments and helps to define them. Please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any suggestions about people in Reno who really need to be photographed, thanks!
There is just something very appealing to me about the Cascade Range. Yes, I also love other mountain ranges in the United States, but the Cascades dominate their surrounding landscape. They aren’t closely strung together like the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada, and on clear days, they can be seen from a distance of 100 miles. The first time that I saw Mt. Hood, I was on Phish tour during the summer of 1997. My good friend, Brent Stroud, and I took my 1980 Volkswagon Westfalia to Phoenix, Arizona, Ventura Beach and Mountain View, California, and the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington. We were running late for the show at the Gorge, so we didn’t have time to stop at the mountain; we just saw it from the road. Still though, the wow factor was amazing, and we figured that Phish was paying tribute to the mountain when they performed their long-time-fan-favorite, “Harry Hood,” at the Gorge.
Three years later, I visited Mt. Hood with the intention of photographing it seriously, but the clouds and rain wouldn’t let me. It was covered again when I drove past it on the way to Dr. Scott Slovic’s home in Moscow, Idaho, but I decided to head directly for it again after spending two days with him and receiving a giant dose of inspiration. I camped one night at Lost Lake and another night near Trillium Lake and made some photographs that I like while also shooting a lot of time-lapse stuff. I’ve been collecting quite a bit of images for a time-lapse video that I’ll put together when I get back to Reno in August, but I did take the time to piece together one little 90 second clip from Trillium Lake. There will be a lot more of this to show in the future. I also used a little bit of Phish’s “Harry Hood.” Yeah, it might get taken down because I don’t have permission to use their music, but I’ve sure spent a lot of cash on their concert tickets, and I’m hoping that they’ll let it slide.
If you look at a list of the highest paid state employees in the United States, you’ll mostly see football and basketball coaches. While these people are seen as valuable because of their ability to coach a winning team or recruit talented athletes to play for free, I think the country’s most valuable state employee has very little at all to do with athletics. His name is Dr. Scott Slovic, and he is the new English Department Chair at the University of Idaho. When I was a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, he was the chair of my graduate committee and the kindest and most warm-hearted person on campus.
Scott grew up in Eugene, Oregon where his father is a professor at the University of Oregon. He earned his bachelor degree at Stanford and was on the track team there for three years. He was also a Fullbright Scholar three times, once in Japan, once in Germany, and once in China. He earned his Masters and PhD at Brown University in Rhode Island and has been the rock star of environmental literature ever since. Just being in the same room with the guy is a treat, and students from all over the world travel thousands of miles to learn from him and be inspired to find their own ways to help improve the world.
When I decided to go to Reno for graduate school, the location of the city on a map of the American West was one of my primary reasons, but I remembered Scott’s name on their faculty list because I used one of his essays about Edward Abbey on my undergraduate honors thesis about Edward Abbey and Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam. I was beyond happy when Scott was named as my academic mentor during my first year as a graduate student. That first semester, I took his Native American Literature course, and he always went out of the way to help me, even though I was far from the academic all-star like many of his other students. Much of it is my own fault, but graduate school was really hard for me, and I rarely felt like I belonged. I wasn’t a good student in high school, and even though I did really well as a thirty-year-old undergrad, I went to a non-traditional college in Little Rock and never was the oldest student in the class. But Scott kind of took me under his wing and really helped me. He vouched for me and helped me begin my teaching career. There were a few times when I was dealing with some tough situations, and he would invite me over to his house for breakfast, and I could talk about my issues and receive positive feedback from him and his amazing wife, Susie.
The amazing thing to me is that he is doing things like this all the time. I’ve been around him and have heard his phone buzz every time he gets an important email. He gets hundreds of important emails a week from all over the world. He is just as much a diplomat as an extremely intelligent scholar, and I think he should be working for the government to promote global ways to improve the environment. He lectures all around the world about environmental literature, sustainability, wilderness, and many other important topics. When I had the honor to spend time with him this past June at his home in Moscow, Idaho, he had just finished spending a month in China where he inspired many young academics to pay attention to the way that environment is depicted in literature. He does things like this all the time and has been basically everywhere. Scott served as the founding president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (Asle). He has published more than 200 books and is the author, co-author, or editor of twenty-one books. He also serves on the editorial board for eleven different scholarly journals.
One thing that I think is super awesome about Scott is that he hasn’t let any of this go to his head. He’s a super nice person and is helpful, positive, and encouraging to hundreds, if not thousands of people around the world. I know some other professors who couldn’t hold his pencil sharpener but think they’re God’s gift to academics. He is very humble in his daily awesomeness, and that is why I believe that he is the most valuable state paid employee in the country.
The very important and inspirational friend that I was meeting in Moscow, Idaho was just finishing up with some teaching work in China, and I didn’t want to arrive too early because I knew that he would be dealing with jetlag and a long time away from home. So I took his advice and spent a few days exploring an area of Eastern Washington called The Palouse Region. It’s a very otherworldly place that looks like it was created just for landscape photographers. If I remember correctly from a geography of the American West class I took in grad school, a natural dam made of ice broke near Missoula, Montana many ages ago, and eroded the ground hundreds of miles to the west. There is also a giant natural aquifer underground which makes the Palouse very lush and green.
I had only read a little bit about the Palouse Region and looked at some photographs that awesome photographers from the Pacific Northwest had posted onto social media sites. My map wasn’t much help, and the Stuck on Earth iPhone app that I had been using stopped working once I finally arrived, so I just went to the notable places that I had heard about and made some stops along the way. Palouse Falls was really high on my photographic hit-list, so I decided to go there first. Even though it is a big waterfall, and I had just photographed a couple other waterfalls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, Palouse Falls is completely different. Instead of the lush green color of abundant plant life, Palouse Falls is more sparse and desert-like. I haven’t been to those famous waterfalls near the Grand Canyon, but I bet that they are similar. Regardless, it is a very impressive waterfall, and the trail which runs near it is quite breathtaking.
Steptoe Butte is the other place in the area that was high on my photographic radar. It’s a Washington State Park and contains the highest elevation of the Palouse Region. There are great, 360 degree views from all over the top of the butte (windmill shot above was made from top of Steptoe Butte), and I also shot some time-lapse stuff that I’ll use for a video that will be put together in a few months. I spent an entire day at the park and ended up shooting almost 3,000 images. My only complaint is the lack of campgrounds. I got tired after dark while looking for one and ended up sleeping in my truck behind some kind of silo on somebody’s farm. Yeah, I know that could be relatively dangerous, and there are a lot of trigger-happy people who are looking for a reason to shoot their new gun at somebody, so I set my alarm for 5 AM and made sure to be back on the road before daylight.
When the rainy weather hit the Oregon Coast, I decided to go photograph some waterfalls. Oregon has some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, and they’re even more special after a bit of rain. I had been to the super famous Multnomah Falls during my summer 2000 visit, and I knew that other waterfalls nearby wouldn’t have so many people around, and they are just as special. I began by getting a campsite at Eagle Creek Campground, which is the first United States Forest Service Campground and is over 100 years old. The location is great, and for $15, I think it’s one of the best deals in all of Oregon.
After securing that night’s lodging, I began hiking near Tanner Creek towards Wahclella Falls. It was so lush, green, and vibrant that I felt like I was walking through the scene of some sort of movie filmed in fantasyland. The beautiful hike crosses a bridge or two over Tanner Creek and then ends at the waterfall. It was flowing super-hard, at least from the perspective of someone who has lived in Nevada during the past six years. My love of nature photography began nearly twenty years ago with photographing waterfalls in Arkansas, and even though Oregon’s waterfalls are a little larger, they did make me think about those waterfalls in the Ozark Mountains that I used to joyfully photograph every spring.
My intention was to get some groceries the following morning and hike fourteen miles on the nearby Eagle Creek Trail, so I could see and photograph several other lovely waterfalls, but it was the Saturday of Fathers Day Weekend, and by the time I drove over to the trailhead, there was nowhere to park, and hundreds of hikers were already on the trail. Not seeing those other waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge is one of my biggest regrets of my trip so far, but I don’t really like to battle big crowds and felt like it was a sign that I should go ahead and move on to my next destination.
The original plan was to slowly work my way up the coast and then make a quick jaunt east towards Moscow, Idaho to see an inspirational and important friend, but about five days before I planned to make the side-quest, a ton of rain hit the Oregon Coast. I was camped at the Oregon Dunes and hiked around a bit but left a few hours before sunset to try to photograph the Heceta Head Lighthouse. It was about an hour drive north from where I was camping, and I stopped at a pullover on Highway 101, which offered this view. I put a neutral density filter on the 12-40 f2.8 Olympus lens to try to slow the exposure down and emphasize the motion of the clouds in the sky. I also timed how long that it took for the light to spin around and started my long exposures just before the lighthouse’s lamp was shining in my direction.
Prints are available at Fine Art America. Please click the link to see the sizes and options available.
When I began doing research about where I wanted to photograph, I kept reading about and seeing photos of Bandon, Oregon, a place with striking sea-stacks and some of the roughest weather on the Pacific Coast. Many people actually call it the storm-watching-capital of the West. Luckily for me, the weather wasn’t that bad away from the coastline during my three night stay, but one night was really tough for photography. There was strong wind from the west that carried thousands of grains of waste-high-sand across the beach at about forty miles an hour. During that evening, I coincidentally ran into the same well-known professional photographer who was running his workshop at the Klammath River Overlook a few days earlier in California. I guess that going to the same place as where the bigshots are going means that I did a good job doing research. I don’t know if he got anything good, but there were a few seconds of somewhat decent light during my two hour wait. I kind of like the image, but the dirty minds of some of my friends have convinced me that the sea-stack kind of looks like something else.
Speaking of the sea-stacks, my favorite one in Oregon is right there at Bandon, and during my second night, I waited for some good light during sunset and tried to silhouette it with the reddish-orange sky. I waited a few hours, and the wind was still brutal. The last couple minutes, when the sun appeared to be taking a dive into the Pacific were the most aesthetically pleasing to me. Oh, by the way, this sea-stack is called the Howling Dog.
During my last night around Bandon, I decided to stay north of the Coquille River to photograph an old lighthouse and a jetty that had tons of seagulls flying over it. I’ve been collecting images of lighthouses on the West Coast, and this one may be my favorite. It’s old and out of order, but it sure does look cool.
Most of these images are available at Fine Art America. Please click the links to see the sizes and options available, thanks!
Coquille River Lighthouse — http://fineartamerica.com/featured/dusk-at-coquille-river-lighthouse-beau-rogers.html
Howling Dog Sea-Stack — http://fineartamerica.com/featured/sunset-at-howling-dog-sea-stacks-beau-rogers.html
For the sunset on my second night on the Oregon Coast, I drove a few miles north and spent my time at Whalehead Rock. The wind was all kinds of intense, and I ate a couple pounds of sand while waiting on the light, but it was worth it. At least Harris Beach State Park has some nice showers. It was quite a lovely sunset once it finally got time for the magical sun to drop into my favorite ocean. There were quite a few other photographers out there, and I just found my spot and stayed there. I liked the way this little creek emptied into the ocean and thought it might pick up a bit of a reflection from the sun.
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It’s really hard for me to believe that it took me almost twenty years to get a decent photograph in Oregon. Yes, I have been there before, and I’m not counting my week of working as a photojournalist at the NCAA Outdoor Track Championship in Eugene, Oregon. Even after the meet, I had several days for personal photography, but the weather didn’t cooperate, and I was traveling with a non-photographer. So I finally returned fourteen years later with nothing to do but wait for the light and make some images in one of the most parts of the world. Oregon’s coastline is amazing, and my plan was to spend a good chunk of my summer trip making photographs in many of it’s most aesthetic locations, and my first stop was a dozen miles or so north of the California state line at Harris Beach State Park. I camped there two nights, and this was my view at the beach which was about a twenty minute walk from camp. I feel like it was a real good start for my coastal project.
Prints are available at Fine Art America. Click the link to see the available options.