I was mentally worn out. My worry over the daily headlines was causing me anxiety to a level that I needed to escape. I needed to run, even if only for a few days.
Deciding to join the storm chasing group in late May was a risk considering the implications of COVID-19 and the fact that the country was still by and large shut down. It was not a decision that was made without a lot of care and consideration, but masks, close coordination with the others in the group and spending 90% of the time driving were mitigations that made the risk seem manageable and reasonable.
After driving north to Oklahoma City from home in Austin to link up with the group, we immediately turned back south to Texas and began searching for bad weather. The following days were very hit and miss, but we did manage to run into a few good storms in Southwest Texas during travels that tooks us 4,600 miles in 8 days and across 5 states including Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma and Wyoming.
After spending three months in a self imposed quarantine, the open road was like greeting an old friend I hadn't seen in forever. I had forgotten over many years of air travel just how healing a real road trip can be. The long stretches of open road and solitude were the best kind of therapy for a mind that had been awash in worry over world events and personal troubles. The mental space that a road tip provides also allowed me to think through what I wanted to capture and the essence of what I wanted the photos I took to be on that trip. So much of a good photograph is the time needed to envision what you are trying to capture - creating it in your mind's eye and then working to bring that vision to life.
I wanted to the best of my ability create photos that communicated the unique combination of raw power, unpredictability, and beauty of these storms that sweep the Southwest and Great Plains every year. I am not completely certain I succeeded in this, but for those reading, that was the message I wanted my work to convey when it was all said and done.
In all of the people, places and things that I have had the opportunity to photograph in my life, the anticipation of a storm is unique. Positioning yourself in its path and watching it roll towards you from the horizon is a feeling that I am not sure you can replicate in any other situation. Knowing that you have no control over what comes next is incredibly thrilling. while simultaneously terrifying. All you can do is hope the storm cooperates with your artistic vision as it passes by, completely indifferent to your efforts or desires.
You set up and wait, feeling the the environment all around you cease movement in anticipation of what is coming.
For a brief moment, it is almost meditative. The calm, the cool air ahead of the storm, the stillness of everything around you. Then the storm is there, shattering the stillness in an abrupt and magnificent way.
From that moment it is a scramble to try and spot patterns in the chaos. Working to see your vision for a photograph before it happens. You are immediately immersed in the moment. Briefly you are incapable of being distracted. Your daily worries take a backseat to the beauty in front of you. A show of nature's power that not only commands your attention, it demands it. Once is has you, it reminds you that you are only a small and inconsequential part of a much bigger system, and it delivers that reminder in a visceral and unforgettable way.
Spending 4,600 miles chasing storms across the Midwest and Southwest is something I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to do. I am always happiest when I have a singular purpose, and for eight days, I had no purpose but the chase.
It was a poignant reminder of how trivial most of my concerns are, and also gave me opportunity to remember just how beautiful the world around me can be when I am smart enough to stop and take notice.
We live in uncertain times. Times that demand more of our energy and soul than we would are capable of giving in many cases. Take time to maintain perspective and take care of yourself. It is incredibly important.
We can only give to those that need us if we have something to give. Ensure you have something to give.