If there is one part of my career that I could say that I have let myself down in, it would be not shooting enough editorial projects.
For many years all I shot was editorial, and I loved it. However the lure of high dollar advertising work was too much and I started turning down work in the editorial world to focus more on ad campaigns. In a sense I had sold my photographic soul to the devil. I will admit it, I made a mistake.
I had forgotten about the fun experiences, incredible opportunities and most importantly, I had forgotten about the people one meets while on editorial assignments. This is not to say that ad work doesn’t introduce me to some very interesting people, it’s just that the barrier of entry limits the number that you will meet.
Fast forward to a couple months back and Shape Magazine called me to see if I would be willing to do a photoshoot of a runner in Flagstaff, AZ. At the time Scottsdale was going through a heat wave, so I thought, “why not?” and drove the 2 hours to Flagstaff with my assistant.
Upon stepping out of the car in Flagstaff we immediately rejoiced in the 20 degree cooler temperature along with the large evergreen trees all around us… it was beautiful.
I rang the doorbell to a cute little house on a hill and was met by our subject, Alicia Shay. After a quick discussion of wardrobe for the shoot, we got in my car and the three of us headed to a nearby mountain preserve where she often does trail running. The location was absolutely stunning, I found myself going for a walk more than looking for the photo opportunities. To tell you how distracted I was by the landscape, we got to a spot that we decided to shoot our first shot at only for me to have forgotten the cables to the strobes in the car (almost a half mile away). Rather than transport all the gear back with us to the car, my assistant said he would run to the car and grab the cables while I set stuff up at the location.
While getting gear out of the cases I began talking to Alicia about her career as a runner and about her life. She told me about how she fell in love with running, and how it was an extension of who she is. It was a very romantic view of a sport that conveyed true passion and dedication. She had gone to college on a running scholarship and was expected to compete for the USA at the Beijing olympics in the 10,000 meter race. Running was her life, so it was only appropriate that it had her heart as well, as she met her husband while competing in college for he was a runner too. They got married only four months before the Olympic trials in New York where he was competing to qualify for the marathon race in Beijing.
Standing on the course, waiting for him to run by, the world as she knew it would disappear. Her husband Ryan collapsed only six miles into the competition. Although taken immediately to the hospital, he did not make it.
I froze as she told me this. I tried to act as if I was completely engaged to the conversation, but the truth is that inside I was heart broken for her. She was calm and continued on about what happened in the months and years that followed. Her passion for running slowly went away as it reminded her too much of him, until one day she stopped running. Injuries forced her out of the Olympic trials, and she was left to only watch them on tv.
As time went by, the idea of returning to running grew and Alicia began to run the trails of the mountains in Flagstaff. At this point in the conversation the clouds broke and the sun hit the mountain we had both been looking at. I made the comment that the trail where we were at was beautiful and extremely peaceful. She said it was a place where she is at peace. I knew that it was a place where he was with her.
It was a day that left me speechless and in admiration of the strength that Alicia has. I knew that the image we got was strong, but truly feel that seeing the will of human spirit that she has will mean more than anything. I left Flagstaff humbled and grateful for taking that assignment.