thankful for

November 25, 2009

I believe that we are all born with fire in us. The fire in me is different than the fire in you. My passions aren't your passions. The causes I want to fight for, the jobs I'll stay up late working on my resume to get, the people I'll spend hours listening to - they're all different than the causes and jobs and people that you'll put energy into. My victory dances aren't your victory dances. My heartaches aren't your heartaches.

It's the difference in our flames that make the world go round, isn't it?

This week I'm thankful for passion, and for the people who keep it alive in us. People like my mother, who STILL corrects my papers when I beg her, people like my father who told me it was "cool" when I was afraid of gunshots in Haiti, and people like my grandfather, who rants and raves that I'll be a Fox journalist in Kuwait someday (I apologize for how much I love CNN and the NY Times Gramps, I really do. Thanks for loving me anyways...). 

I've been wanting to travel, wanting to write, wanting to take pictures and tell people's stories since I was a little girl. I'm thankful for the people who share my passion, and encourage me to do what I love - thankful for people like Jan Kapple Klein, John Sauer, Harumi Gondo and Greg Perreault, people who have believed in me and pushed me and helped me to network, when I was buying organic coffee by the truckload just to cope with the overwhelming amount of information being thrown at me.

I didn't know I could succeed as a journalist until Perreault told me that I, in all actuality, was doing fine, and would do fine. I didn't know what networking meant until Sauer met me for coffee, and spent an hour giving a lowly intern so much water information that she was able to succeed in helping to spearhead a UPI feature. I didn't know how to grow my own writing, until Gondo entered my life and forced and stretched my words into places I didn't know they could go. I thought things were "good enough." She told me they could be better. And Klein? Klein awakened the artist in me when I felt like a deadbeat writing for a local paper and living in my grandparent's gunroom.

Next on the list is Keith Sutter, a local photographer that took three hours out of his busy schedule last week to take me to coffee, show me around his studio and, in all truth, to laugh and shoot the wind about everything from soccer to religion.

I don't think he could have known, in his wildest imagination, that I was a person in need of a shove - a shove towards putting one foot in front of the other. Or that I couldn't have planned our conversation better. He shared networking ideas with me. He shared his stories of working overseas, and the way he left the normalcy of a soccer scholarship for what he realized was his dream. I needed someone to connect the dots for me - how you get from here to the places you want to be. Sutter did it brilliantly.

Sutter convinced his parents to let him leave a soccer scholarship at UC Berkeley to pursue a degree at Brooks Institute. He left for Alaska after graduation, where he spent three months in the wild, driving to the end of every road he could find to photograph what he found. He built up his resume that way, and began trying to sell his photos when he arrived home.

It was in working to get his photos published in the editorial market that Sutter learned a juicy little tip about interns and assistants that he shared with me. He said that his work as a freelance photographer grew by leaps and bounds when he began emailing assistants and interns, rather than editors. Letters came back. Work got accepted. His market grew.

Much of Sutter's current work is in commercial photography, a career that began with an Audio Book cover for Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, and is now centered around work for major companies such as Cosco, and UC Davis. He has also been kind enough to do some work for the Sacramento Ballet.

It seems to me that Sutter is most alive when his work gives him a platform for telling stories. I watched him get excited about things that happened years ago like they were happening just then, in the middle of Depoe Bay Coffee Co. His visible excitement excited me, and reminded me why I keep getting on planes and writing for free.

After receiving the Mountain Photographer of the Year award from Summit Magazine and Britain's Scientific Exploration Society at 24, Sutter was invited to photograph the Royal Geographical Society's expedition across the Taklamakan Desert in China. The trip was a 58 day walk across the world's second largest desert (780 miles), and Sutter's face lit up when he talked about it.

"My most once in a lifetime thing was the China trip," Sutter said. "Being in sand dunes and walking with forty it's Taliban country, but back then it was nice people country."

Sutter talked about the way his photography has changed his view of the world. His travels in China opened his eyes to a different way of living, where less makes the heart take in more. 

"We have tons of layers of shit that we don't need," Sutter said. "I feel like they are closer to the mark."

After his trip to China, Sutter convinced a friend of his to submit a proposal to National Geographic, and landed himself a position as the photographer for a project on the Volcanic Hazards of the Baja Peninsula.

Sutter's love for photography was contagious. As he talked, his work felt like more than art to me. It felt like a new perspective on the world. I loved hearing his stories, and seeing the way he re-lived them as he talked. Like the time a helicopter flew him underneath the Foresthill bridge, and afterwards let him hang out the so he could wave to his son practicing soccer, or how he got up close and personal with a nuclear reactor at McClellen Airforce base.

"There's no way in hell people can go there normally," Sutter said. "And I got to climb on top of aircraft."

It was Sutter's interest in his subjects that made me realize that the flame in him burns much the same way mine does. As he talked about the people he's worked with, I could tell that he takes pictures to tell stories. After getting excited about his trip through the Taklamakan desert, he got excited all over again about a photo essay he did on a surgery for a man who had been blind for 40 years, and came out seeing.

"I get to see things most people don't get to see," Sutter said.

Next up? Sutter says he has the itch for another trip. For now, he's chasing around two kids and a new puppy. "My wife is super easy," Sutter laughed. "But a puppy is like another kid!"

Sutter said the future looks like a process of elimination - nipping opportunities he doesn't want in the bud. In the meantime, he's bound to keep telling stories - the stories that nature needs told, the stories people need told, the stories that those of us who are doubting ourselves need to hear.

(all photos via Sutter)


Bridget "Fun" Lynott said...

Very Cool.

Happy Thanksgiving.

angela said...

astounding photos.