Tuesday, October 13, 2009


by Ben

As I sit here editing images from a great weekend of shooting in the Gunks, I can't help but to unpack my mind a little bit-mainly because it's easier than unpacking my truck, which will have to wait. The way this weekend came to be sent my thoughts into a whirlwind of trying to understand where I am and how I got here. A year and a half ago I didn't own a camera, didn't know what an f/stop was, and was wrestling with the growing reality that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

You see, I spent this last weekend working with Nicky Dyal, who is a very strong and talented climber who is also very accustomed to being in front of a camera. Along with her was her longtime friend Joel, who is also a great climber and has been recently getting into photography, and her father who is a small, unassuming, fantastically old-school climber. Nicky has been in many of the major climbing magazines many times, and the opportunity to work with her was absolutely great. So how did it happen? That's what I'm trying to figure out.

I guess it all started about 6 months ago on Twitter. I became acquainted with a gal named Sara Lingefelter, better known as @theclimbergirl. Sara is very connected to the climbing community on twitter, a prolific blogger, and just seems to know everyone. A month later, when she made a trip to CO and set up a climbers' gathering, I went along to meet new people. She was super cool and we stayed in touch via Twitter, and also ran into each other again at the Outdoor Retailer show in SLC. A few weeks ago when I mentioned to her that I was looking for people to shoot in the Gunks while I was home in the East, and she told me that she would be happy to send out a message to all her climbing contacts. A girl named Katie, or @AdventureGrrl on twitter, replied to her, and let her know that I should get in contact with Jannette Pazer, aka @cliffmama, since she is very active in the Gunks community. When I did, she did the same as Sara and hit up all her local contacts, letting them know that I wanted to shoot two routes: The Dangler and Shockley's Ceiling. Needless to say, I was pretty excited when she emailed me to let me know that a friend of hers, Nicky Dyal, was interested in working with me. It just so happens that she was home visiting family and was going to be in the Gunks that weekend anyways, before returning to her home in CA. The whole sequence of events left my mind pretty blown. It was amazing timing, and not much of it had to do with anything I did.

For the last year, I've been on the crazy adventure that I suppose should be expected when you get up off the couch, decide you're going to be a professional photographer, and then chase after it with everything you've got... which at the beginning wasn't much. Only in the last few months has it started to feel like I'm getting somewhere. But the absurd way in which this weekend's shoot came together has caused me to reflect on all the other good fortune that has graced my life in the last 18 months. Sure, I've worked hard, but so many things that exist outside of myself have played huge parts in moving me along my path. So much love and support from friends and family, so many amazing chances and opportunities that could only be gifts from God, and most importantly, Genny. She has been the single biggest contributor to my growth as a photographer, and the biggest gift from God. Not only does she win all the bread, so that I can devote all my time to building a career as a photographer; but she also comes home from looking at photos all day, and is still willing to go over things with me and give her very excellent, and sometimes brutally honest, critique. If I have any advice for someone wishing to improve at photography, or anything else for that matter, it is to find the most qualified source of critique that you can, and subject yourself to it regularly.

So I don't know where I am, and I'm still unsure of how I got here, but I know is that I'm headed someplace good. During the two days I spent with Nicky and Joel, we had an amazing amount of deep and meaningful conversations. Nicky had talked about feeling like she has a grip on life at the moment, and I remarked that I felt like I was headed that way. Both of them were tremendously warm and open people who by prompting quality conversations made me realize how easy it is to go through our daily interactions on auto-pilot or safe mode, and never let things get real. It's so natural to exist solely on small talk and the requisite word-vomit of 'getting to know each other.' Meaningful conversations have to be pursued. They require a little digging. Sometimes they're messy, and they're far from safe. But I got to know two people, who they actually are, not just about them.

Working with Nicky was just plain awesome. She is fun to work with and professional, and has a strong commitment to doing everything she can to help the images look their best. Joel was an awesome support player, helping out with things on my end, belaying, taking photos of me working with Nicky, helping create an awesome working environment and even jumping in front of the camera for a quick lead of Ken's Crack. Because of those two short days, I have two new friends, some great new photos, and a new intention to spend more time getting real and less time on auto-pilot. Enjoy the photos!

Photo of Nicky and I by Joel Dashnaw


Anonymous said...

Ben, I'm THRILLED that it all worked out for you. The pictures are beautiful, and I'm so glad that it was more than just a photo shoot and a chance to get to know them. Happy that I was able to help, and give me a shout next time you're back in the area.


Anonymous said...

Such an eloquent summary of our weekend! Good luck with everything--I'm so glad that we got to be real together.
Nicky D.

Todd Paris said...

great write up Ben. I wish that we could have gotten together while you were here. I am amazed at how small the climbing community is. I know Joel from our local climbing gym. Some good photos too!