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Author: John & Chase | May 10, 2022

I’m a Chicago-based commercial photographer and I rely on my equipment.

My gear is my life, my livelihood and how I express myself. As time goes on, the relationship with my tools deepens. I know all the quirks, all the marks and all the little details of my camera bodies, my lenses and can pack my camera bag blindfolded with one hand. My watch is integral to my ability to work and informs many of the decisions I make. My watch, my camera and my eye work together in unison to capture the world around me. Sun’s going down in 10 minutes? No problem. Storm is about 15 minutes away? Gotta act fast. 5 minutes until the shoot starts? I’m ready. Even a minute late and you’ll miss out on the photo of a lifetime. My Olmsted helps keep me focused and on schedule to get the perfect shot.

Oak & Oscar John F Photographer

It goes without saying that Covid has had an extreme impact on nearly everyone’s lives. As we’ve had to alter our lives to help stop the spread we’ve also had to postpone major events and family gatherings. By the summer of 2021, vaccines came and restrictions started to be lifted. With this new found confidence in science, my mother was finally able to plan a small gathering for her wedding ceremony.

Naturally, since I am the photographer in the family, I was entrusted to document the event. In California—more than 2,100 miles away. I wasn’t confident in the safety of air travel and given the amount of equipment I wanted to bring along I decided that driving from my north side Chicago home to California would be my best option. Plus, it gave me an excuse to document my travels and visit exciting destinations along the way. Every photographer’s dream!

My first stop was the town of Wall, South Dakota, just at the end of the PRCA Rodeo event. Picture a small town overrun with professional rodeo cowboys and their fans from all over the country. This made it difficult to find accommodations, but it was well worth it. Wall is better known as a tourist attraction, it's hard to miss if you are traveling out west. You will see signs promoting its existence over one hundred miles before you get to the town. The Wall Drug Store is a fun kitsch roadside attraction, but it's worth driving through the rest of the town. 

The following day I drove a couple miles outside of Wall to visit The Badlands National Park. I had originally planned for a full day hike, but there was a severe thunderstorm rolling in. This wouldn't typically dissuade me, but flash flooding in The Badlands happens at a moment's notice. I decided to hike Notch Trail instead. It would only take a couple of hours and that was roughly the amount of time I had. I needed to keep a close eye on the weather headed my way. After seeing lighting, I could keep track of how much time had passed by on my Olmsted until the crack was audible. Every five seconds represented one mile of distance between me and the storm. 

The National Park Service Website was not joking, if you have a fear of heights, this is not the trail for you. There is no defined path, it's a choose your own adventure hike. One of the more exciting experiences I had was climbing a wood rung ladder fifty feet up the side of a rock formation. Past that point, a significant amount of coordination was required to safely pass by other visitors while traversing boulders while gaining elevation. The sky was darkening, and my watch indicated that there was roughly one and a half miles between me and the storm. I got back to my car within five minutes of the downpour. On my way out of the park, I stopped at as many lookout points as I could. Getting to see the larger than life geographic formations mixed in with endless grassy plains was well worth the trip. 

It was getting dark, and I was in need of food. I made it to the Two Bit Saloon & Steakhouse in the nearby town of Quinn (population: 60). The saloon is a local hangout with cheap beer along with whatever the meal of the day is. The people there were warm and inviting. Furthermore the steak sandwich I had was well worth the money. I took some time while I was there to write a speech for the wedding while I waited for a break in the storm before heading back to my motel. 

The next big destination was Salt Lake City Utah. I found a hotel nestled away at the base of O’Sullivan’s Peak, and got a solid night's rest. I had learned that anyone could drive onto the Bonneville Salt Flats because it is public land. Knowing this was on my way out of the city, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. 

It felt weird pulling off of the highway and directly onto the salt flats, but that is quite literally how it is set up. I wasn't able to drive quickly due to how rough the surface was. Apparently the area where the races occur is leveled with specialized equipment. Made no difference to me, I drove out as far as I could, or rather until I felt uneasy enough to stop. Getting out of the car was an eerie experience. It was dead silent, and I could smell the lake bed for the first time. It was akin to what I felt while traveling through Death Valley. No people or obstructions for what looked like hundreds of miles. Not wanting to tempt fate, I got the photos I wanted and headed back out on the highway. 

In the end, I made it back to the Bay Area in time for my mothers wedding. I was shocked to learn that the entirety of my family ended up making it. This included my cousin and his family all the way from Alaska. We were able to get photos of every generation that is still with us. My grandmother now has photos of her with all the great grandkids to take home and cherish. Ultimately, that alone made transporting all my equipment 2,105 miles worth it.

I use my tools to document moments in time for others to cherish. I am a photographer.