The early morning birds chirped peacefully as I made my way through the sleepy camp. It was around 8:00 in the morning, and golden strands of light shone through the branches of the great Douglas Fir pines. I was in Washington state, a place I had never been until this very moment. I quietly unpacked my tent, and within a few minutes had set up my place within the campground. I had finally arrived. After months of panning, studying, and practice I had traveled all the way from Mississippi to the legendary Mount Saint Helens, all to take part in an epic gathering. This meeting consisted of a very special and unique group of people, each with their own stories, talents, and dreams. My tent neighbors were no ordinary people. Like me, they were lightpainters, with many being among today's greatest artists. This was a melding of minds, and skill; The Light Painting World Alliance Pacific Northwest Meetup!
Up until this point in my life I had never encountered another lightpainter. All the abilities I had acquired were through my own research and practice. Little did I know how much knowledge I would gain in my two days on the mountain, nor how interacting and collaborating with these people would provide me with some of the most incredible memories of my life.
Shortly after setting up camp, I encountered Paul Burns and Michelle Lark. We exchanged pleasantries and Paul began brewing some fresh coffee. "Do you want to go see the mountain?" Michelle asked, and excitedly I jumped at the opportunity! Michelle and I walked down the road from the campsite with cameras in town and there, not far off in the distance, stood the ancient volcano shrouded in a layer of clouds. Though I could not see the top, this slumbering titan was nonetheless impressive. Michelle and I talked about the famous 1980 eruption, and what and incredible show of nature it must have been. Taking about the mountain took me back to my childhood when I had first studied about Mount Saint Helens. I remember after learning about the massive eruption I had been inspired to learn about geology, and now, years later I stood in pure awe at seeing the mountain face to face.
After returning to camp I was able to share some coffee with Paul and the other lightpainters. Chris Bauer, the man who organized the meetup greeted me with a warm welcome and I shared some extremely hot coffee with him, his girlfriend Kristen, Bill Burk and his wife Beth. Shortly after my new friends Derek, Johnny, Aaron, and Gareth gathered in a circle and I felt like I hit it off instantly with these people. I was amazed at how our mindsets about lightpainting, art, and life were so similar.
"What's your big stuff you've got man?" Derek Lawrence asked me, and I showed him a few of my favorite photos from the Hellfire photoshoot in the factory. Derek then pulled out his phone then showed me a few of his photos from the shoreline around Victoria, Canada as well as some very cool and creative lightpaintings he had created in a few of his own abandoned places. Show and tell had begun, and everyone jumped at the chance to show off their work. Gareth, from Ireland showed off his recent Northern Lights shots while the newly awakened Dan Chick presented his ultra cool 360 lightpaintings. Eventually, Chris jumped in and brought us up to speed on all the art he had created in the past week alone, working like a beast to and creating some truly legendary images! Soon after, the rest of the camp awakened, and we all began discussing our images for later once night had arrived.
The urge to explore had gotten the best of myself, Christina Vasquez, and Jonathan Lloyd and not long after breakfast we broke away from the main camp to do some scouting. We went down the road a little ways close to where the others had done some shots in the tunnel. I was excited about the steel wool images I had seen from the night prior at this location, and I could not wait to sling some fire of my own later that night.
John had also come up with a brilliant, and innovative idea for spinning some wool in the tunnel. He had modified a drill to where it would have a couple of flaming wool cores spinning as he pulled the trigger. There was an open vent over part of the tunnel, and John planned on positioning himself and the drill standing above the opening so once he powered the drill it would send a raining barrage of fire down below. As a pyromaniac, I could not help but feel giddy at the thought of seeing that idea put into practice. Since John had to return to Portland later, we planned to capture the drill shots the following night.
Emerging from the tunnel back into daylight, I felt an instant feeling of synesthesia hit me as I scanned the nearby landscape. On the opposite end of the tunnel was a large, boulder filled canyon and I got the feeling this was to be the site of a great collaboration. My eyes looked upon its features and I could see the final image in my mind, a grand menagerie of lights both man-made and natural coming together in a perfect synchronization of cosmic timing.
Analyzing all this areas features, I took note of specific details which would have to be emphasized in order for the vision to be made real. My sight skimmed over the large, man-sized rocks on the canyon floor and then moved upward to the Douglas Fir trees on either sides of the canyon. The ledges at the top of the canyon's walls must have been around 35-40 feet up from its base at the bottom. Perhaps the most important feature, the vast open sky floating directly over the center of the canyon unobstructed, sealed the deal for this being a truly amazing photo. Images of fire, colored lights, and shining stars filled my head and I could see the image clear as day as if it were something out of deja vu.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the other major happening of the afternoon. Shortly after Christina, John, and myself returned to base camp Chris gathered all of the lightpainters together to go for a hike. We were heading to a location where he said we could get a clear view of the mountain. It was early afternoon and we all gathered our camera equipment, then embarked on our hike.
While walking through the woods, I took in all the natural scenery while discussing art with my fellow comrades. I recall having quite the enlightening conversation with Mack Murdoc about how we both got into photography, and in between different subjects I would stop to snap photos of anything that caught my eye. Blue bonnets, foxtails, and open grassy meadows intermittent between the great evergreens and moss covered rocks provided vibrant displays of color in the Pacific Northwest summer. As we grew closer to our destination, the terrain became increasingly more rocky, and the trees began to thin out.
About a half-hour later we appeared in a large area of grey colored boulders, with a clear view of the mountain in the distance. The rock field was barren, save for a winding stream curving through the large stones and a lone patch of trees standing solitary in the middle of the quarry. Straight ahead stood the giant monolith that is Mount Saint Helens, towering above us like and angry god deep in slumber. The morning clouds had cleared from the summit during the time since Michelle and I had gone for our walk.
Ice and snow at the mountain summit were now clearly visible, and we all watched as clouds rolled around its top. Johnny Andrews and I took this opportunity to set our cameras up for some timelapses, and everyone began snapping photos with their own cameras. We took the opportunity to celebrate by taking some group shots and toasting to some beers. It was hard to believe that a scene as peaceful as where we were standing was rocked by one of the worst natural disasters in history mere decades ago.
While my camera snapped away during the timelapse, I sat down by the little stream and took in the quarry's surroundings. I dipped my hands into the flowing water nearby, and was surprised at how ice cold it felt. Chris stated that this water had come from the glaciers at the top of the mountain and this water was the result of the ice melting during the summer. We stayed and enjoyed several hours at this location, then headed back to camp in preparation for nightfall.