Chasing the Big Picture

1 year ago on this very day I moved to the big city of Toronto. But more importantly, it has been exactly 1 year since I challenged myself to became a full time photographer.

I was done with my life as a cook, I was done with my life as an office administrator, I was done with my life working as a 7-Eleven employee or whatever other random occupation I took to make some quick cash. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed every single one of those gigs, there are skills to be gained from any job if you keep an open mind. But for me, at the end of the day when I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw a dude who had become tired of running from his true calling.

As humans we are presented with the gifts of talent, and everyone has their own particular set. It is through trial and error that we are able to discover where our true passions lie, and that is what we should pursue. Many of us deny the world our greatest gifts, hiding them behind the safety of a regular paycheque or “job security”, and in doing so deny ourselves the possibility of having complete satisfaction and contentment in every single moment of our lives.

When we are underutilized in our jobs we can become frustrated and depressed. When our skills and talents go completely unrecognized by ourselves and others we become resentful. We want to feel valued in the work that we do, we want to know that what we do for 8 hours a day makes a difference, that our lives are meaningful. Not all of us are going to be curing cancer, but we can all do our part in the world by understanding what makes us special, what makes us unique, and using that to it’s full advantage to help humanity.

Thanks to the support of my parents, family, friends, mentors, colleagues and strangers, I was fortunate to discover at a young age that I had a knack for this whole photo taking thing. 7 years ago I decided to study it, 5 years ago I graduated for it, and then 4 years went by while I kept it at arms length. I was scared to take the plunge of pursuing it full time, scared of what I might be able to achieve, but mostly scared that I would fail, scared that I wasn't good enough.

After having an amazing time shooting a week long gig in Toronto back in November of 2013, the universe started throwing out signs that I was ready to take the next big step in my life. It was giving me hints that I should move to Toronto and make a fresh start as a full time freelance photographer. The only people I knew in town was my mentor Pete, the Red Bull Canada HQ crew, and a few photographers who had kindly offered to introduce me to their local scene. That would be enough, hell, blind faith would have been enough, and this was substantially more tangible than that.

After travelling around Australia, Japan and parts of Canada for the next few months I finally arrived in Toronto on the 23rd. I had no money to my name because I had spent it all on partying, which left me grinding from day dot. I imagined that when I arrived in Toronto there would be jobs available left, right and centre. That I would easily make enough money to pay the rent, buy the groceries, start paying off debt and begin purchasing new gear. It all seemed so simple, but as it turns out, this shit was tougher than I thought.

Throughout the spring and summer I sat in my room trying not to spend any money, just hoping that the phone would ring with a dream job that would get me up out of this mess. I was so tempted at times to get a part time job to help pay the bills, but I knew that was just a cop out and that the job would end up consuming all of my time. Like the amazing writer Janne Robinson says; "I don’t believe we can manifest our dream career while we are working a career that simply isn’t it. There isn’t space for it. Compare your mediocre job to being in a mediocre relationship, and you’re just waiting for that dream partner. But even if you find that dream partner, where is he/she going to sleep? Your bed’s taken. We have to create space for the things we desire to manifest in our lives."

I knew if I could stick it out just a little while longer then something would have to budge. I prayed that when times got tough I would get off my ass and manage to find a way through. I would hustle hard out of pure desperation, I would get creative and find alternative means of getting my work out there. But the truth was, I couldn't even do that. I just sat there, paralyzed by fear, unable to help myself, failing at life. I was broke and sometimes depressed, but I still found energy to love and appreciate every second of it, this is what I had really signed up for, the definition of a starving artist.

Then one day things just started to change. The storm that metaphorically clouded my summer had parted in time for the fall. Jobs started coming in, an amazing opportunity to go to Austria presented itself, my regular routine in Toronto had been established, solid friendships had been built. I was alive again, although it felt different this time, this time it was electric, this time it was sustainable.

I had discovered the joy of working for yourself, every minute of every day dedicated towards the end goal that you decide. No more time would be spent working towards someone else’s dream. This was my dream, these were my skills, and I was going to use them however I saw fit. I had finally stopped running from my destiny just long enough to see that it was possible.

Life for me today isn't ‘perfect’ in the traditional sense of the word. It’s not like I have any investments or money stashed away for a rainy day. I don't have a house, a wife, 3 kids, or 2 cars sitting in the driveway. That stuff might be nice to have in the future, but for now, what I do have is contentment and peace. A serenity that what I am doing in this moment is precisely what I am supposed to be doing. I am because I am. And that to me is worth more than anything in the world. It is the ultimate feeling of freedom, not an ounce of stress in my body, because I am always right where I need to be. Happy… content… and fancy free.

Thank you Toronto, you've given me a new me.

Escaping the City Lights

For 10 years some new friends of mine have been escaping the city lights for one weekend in the summer each year. They go to get away, get drunk, get sober, switch off and disconnect. That's something I haven't done in a while. I honestly can't remember the last time I went an entire 3 days straight without a signal. If being continuously connected is the drug of the 21st century, then I had been hooked on that shit for a while. I was probably going to need more than just a few hours of rehab before I could start to unwind. Seb, Brian, Leonard and myself woke up dark and early in Toronto on a Friday morning, packed up our gear into the car and hit the road. First things first... McDonalds breakfast and a large double double from Timmy's; Let the journey begin. We made our way north towards the Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. When we arrived we pulled into the parks office to pick up our fishing/camping licenses before swinging past another spot to pick up our canoes. We proceeded to load them up with a tonne of gear, with 3 out of the 4 people camping professional photographers we were rolling in heavy. Apparently we weren't as bad as these 2 other dudes who came through and loaded theirs up with Electric Guitars and Amps so they could jam out in the wilderness. If it wasn't for them flipping their canoes and destroying the gear I'm sure it would have been a damn good night!

We paddled and portaged, making our way deeper into the park beating everyone else to the perfect campsite alongside a lake. It was one of the busiest weekends of the year so there were others out there camping, but the sites were so far apart you could generally be as loud as you wanted without disturbing a single soul. I thought "This is exactly what I needed!". A physical distance to separate myself from society so I could focus on just being in the moment and enjoy the natural world around me. And with no ability to text or email I was able to let my mind wander to places usually interrupted by beeps and bops.

After a while I noticed I would sit in one particular spot for 15 minutes before moving to another spot to sit for another 15. At that point I would really need to knuckle down and come up with a plan for where I would sit after that, as you can imagine the extent of my responsibilities was almost insurmountable. Along with all that stressful stuff the first 2 days of our trip was essentially just concentrating on consuming all of the booze we bought. By the 3rd day we would have hopefully ran out and sobered up so we could really hone in and get our zen on with nature.

Everything went according to plan, endless intoxicating creative juices flowing like the river Nile, followed by a lengthy sobering up session where everything started to become more clear. You could sit and listen to the enthralling orchestra of the forest, the hum of the mosquitos, the buzzing of the bees and even the eerie calls of the loons that echo across the water. Analyse yourself as you breath in deeply the divinely clean fresh scented air, filling up your lungs to the brim and exhaling into the soothing breeze.

It was at that point that we were all a bit sick of eating dehydrated packet meals. We had to make a serious attempt at being men and catch some real food in the form of creatures swimming in the lake. Brian stepped up his game and hooked up 2 smallmouth bass. It was my first time cleaning and gutting a fish and it went terribly as expected. Hacked the shit out of it but somehow managed to slice off some nice filet chunks to fry up for dinner.

The main course however was saved for the final day. As is tradition, on the way home to Toronto from the park we made a quick stop at Huntsville for the Swiss Chalet chicken and gravy (extra swiss chalet sauce obviously), plus some Kawartha Dairy ice cream for dessert.

All in all it was a pretty sweet trip, it gave my system a nice little reboot for my continued life in the big city. As good as it is, it's always nice, to escape the city lights.

All photos taken with a Nikon D700 w/ 24mm 2.8 & 50mm 1.4