About six months ago, I flew out to Chicago to photograph three incredible human beings. One was a part-musician, part-comedian. The other two will be revealed in later posts. Today, I'm focusing on Matt Griffo.
What first got me interested in photographing his face was his voice. Not only that, but the way he crafted his songs, most slightly inappropriate, had mothers to requesting him at children's birthday parties I found hilarious.
We had greeted one another by me standing in his front yard and ignoring him as he waved from down the street. I forgot that not everywhere is like New York and not everyone is looking for spare change for the “subway system”. Sorry Matt.
Despite being around people constantly, I was feeling pretty alone in Chicago. Before the trip, someone had recently stepped out of my life and I found myself staying in on the weekends to avoid an awkward encounter. I was hoping that by leaving town for a few days, I would start to heal. Instead, I found the pain followed me on the flight there and seemed to hit at the worst of times, which meant any moment I started to relax. It threw my game off, I felt myself fumbling with the lights and my camera settings I knew by heart as I tried to maintain composure as a Normal Human Girl around Matt and his wife. It felt like a disaster.
For reasons still unknown to me, they invited me to his lady's burlesque show that night. My host and assistant for the shoot ultimately decided against staying out late, so I grabbed her an Uber after dinner and sent her on her way.
Burlesque has always fascinated me, watching strong-willed, powerful women twirl around on stage took not only killer legs, but also a lot of courage to be almost completely naked in the process. I probably watched the movie Burlesque a dozen times in the year it came out, completely entranced by the outfits, and of course, my girl Cher. I’m going to leave this video here so you can see what I mean. “You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me” STILL makes me want to cry every time I listen to it.
But this was to be my first, live burlesque show, there was no way I was going to miss this. Getting there earlier than need be, I took my seat at the bar off to the side and observed the people that trickled in and sat on the other side of the room. Everyone seemed to have someone there to see the show with, even the bartender was preoccupied with grabbing some girl’s butt behind the bar. At this point, I wasn’t sure if I had made a big mistake in coming here. As I got my wallet out to close out my tab, Matt materialized in the seat next to me. I guess I hadn’t seemed like too much of a bumbling mess a few hours prior as two large pizza slices plop down in front of us. Again, maybe I’m just not used to the Midwestern niceness, but after the second slice sat there untouched, Matt let me know he had bought it for me. In New York City, you know not to touch another’s pizza slice, so I figured the same rules applied. Hey, I’m learning.
Watching the show and obsessing over the amount of sequins on everything, I forgot about the pain. Maybe it was going to be waiting for me at the door, ready to attack once I had emerged. But for those few hours, I felt as free at the incredible women who dominated the stage. The bartender even managed to detangle himself from the other girl, walked over to me and poured me, as well as himself, a hefty shot of whiskey. No words were exchanged, we both just drank and he returned back to work after slamming the glass down. I’m still trying to figure that one out.
Watching Matt look at his wife with love in his eyes made me a little more hopeful for what the future held. Both of them surely had gone through their own share of heartbreak over the years, felt something similar to what was churning inside of me at one point or another. It made me realized it doesn’t matter in the end, it ultimately lead them to one another after seeing the two of them interact, that was all the proof I needed that things were going to work out in the end.
If I were to sum up my experiences in 2015 with one word, I don't believe I truly could. It was certainly a year of exploration, adoration, happiness, and strengh. On the other hand, there was also a lot of pain. I lost a best friend to her own demons, a beloved grandfather to old age, and had my heart broken harder than I could have ever imagined possible. The kind that leaves you screaming your hurt into a pillow and sobbing in the car on your way to the post office, even though you once laughed at the idea of such ridiculousness. In all, I had a lot of things taken away from me and for awhile, I tried to live to memorialize them, to dedicate each and every thing I was doing to the ghosts around me. I was no longer living for myself and that's when I started losing bits of what made me happy to be me.
For awhile, I lost my passion for photography. I couldn't seem to find that one portrait or assignment that would again kindle the burning desire to become a photographer I once possessed. So I took on a lot of client work and pushed what I wanted most aside to the point I forgot what it was exactly. But instead of searching, I just sat and dwelled. There were attempts made, but I was surrounding myself with negative feelings and memories of painful events. For a long time, I simply wouldn't allow myself to enjoy the ride or to feel any sort of joy.
But this isn't a story about defeat. 2015 held a lot of great personal milestones for me. I grew up, quick. My feet touched 18 states and 2 cities in Canada. I overshot my goal of reading 25 books by finishing my 29th one today. I woke up before sunrise (a near impossible feat for me) to explore Chicago on my own. I pushed my body to train for and complete my first solo Tough Mudder. For once, I actually talked to strangers and made a friend out of it.
Not all of my goals were met on a list I made a year ago today, but all the important ones were crossed off. Well, aside from the goal to not lose my wallet (only temporarily misplaced it, twice.) As disappointed as I was that I didn't seem to utilize this year's potential to further myself in my career, I know there was a lot inside of me I needed to work on first.
Maybe there is a word I can finally use for 2015: Growth. I learned how to endure, how to weather some storms I never thought I'd find myself caught in. And I grew from them. So here's to 2016 being a year of even more personal expansion, but also transitioning to focusing on some harder professional growth. I wish you all a happy New Year!
Ten days in ten states. Technically eleven, if you count my stressful layover in Minneapolis, where the lovely women at the gate told me to come back in thirty minutes to see if I was to get a seat because, "there's a bit of a situation right now.."
A half hour and one large beer later, I was waiting back in line when out of the corner of my eye, I spot a folding table being set up and the smell of delicious pizza wafted on over in my direction. Minneapolis' airport felt so bad about over-booking the flight to Seattle that they were giving away an INSANE amount of pizza. So, grabbing a slice as well as the very last ticket in the middle seat of the final row, I was ready to board.
Day 1: Seattle, WA
One of the cleanest cities I've ever been to. Everything is very modern, community gardens are very popular, and of course, the coffee is great. I was introduced to my very first toddy, aka not the alcoholic hot toddy, but cold brew coffee. The process of using cold water ends up creating a flavorful, concentrated coffee much less acidic than regular, hot brewed coffee.
My cousin's stomping grounds for 4-5 years while he attended school. This one was fun because not only did I have a personal tour guide, but I was able to get a thrifted leather jacket as smooth as butter for $40. Not my cheapest of finds, but it fit so well I couldn't pass it up.
Bypassing Portland for sake of timing, we headed on down to Salem to spend the night on his buddy's farm. Surrounded by vineyards and farmland was definitely not what I expected from this place at all. Wineries were aplenty when we checked the map.
Day 3: The Pacific Coast Highway & Redwoods
Speeding down the Pacific Coast highway whilst trying to stop at every beautiful spot along the way to drink it all in brought us to the Redwood Forest with about a half hour of daylight left, struggling to filter through the dense trees. We did the part before the more-traveled piece between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but the views were still just as stunning with half the amount of cars wedged into the scenic overlook parking lots.
Day 4: San Francisco
We were able to take a quick detour through to Battery Spencer to really get a good look at the bridge. And boy was it wiiiiiindy!
Day 5: Los Angeles to Phoenix
Big day of travel over here. Drove two hours into the heart of LA traffic. Stopped to see an old friend of mine near Manhattan beach for some good food and great beers, we made the long haul trek to Phoenix, AZ. There we were greeted by the friendliest dog and his owner & company where I promptly fell asleep in a hammock outside. It was perfect.
Day 6: Sunsets in New Mexico
This deserves its own post and I cannot wait to share it. It was one of the only states we didn't stay in, yet left the biggest impact on me. I can see why people brag about the sunsets here, it was unlike anything I've ever experienced.
San Antonio, Texas
This place was packed on a Friday night with tourists, but the Riverwalk is where it was at for some Tex-Mex and hearty margaritas. We quickly discovered that the better places are always the ones tucked away, up the stairs and off the street.
Day 8: New Orleans
Cheap drinks and swing dancing is all I'm going to say for now. That, and this place has to be one of the more unique places I've ever visited with it's brightly painted houses sitting next to completely dilapidated homes. That, and the stores that are grocery store on the bottom and party stores on the top, shelves stuffed with beads and feather boas.
Day 9: Walking around NOLA & Tallahassee-
The culture is vibrant in New Orleans and the air of the place screams, "we do what we want" here and Tallahassee surprised me in the most pleasant way possible with its abundance of old oak trees covered in Spanish moss and thriving music scene.
Day 10- Jacksonville, Florida
We ended our road trip officially by dipping our toes into the Atlantic whilst admiring the double rainbow forming. Here is where I was able to visit some familiar faces, play bingo at the bar and learning how to (finally) eat Pho. I say goodbye to Bryan & family and head back up to Connecticut.
It was a whirlwind of a trip and one that makes me glad I wrote every insignificant detail down just so I could keep track of the days, because boy, do they start to blend together after awhile. Would I do it again with only ten days to spare? Absolutely not. You forget how much time will be spent stopping for bathroom breaks, food, gas, and actually seeing things. I was glad to see parts of the United States I had never laid eyes upon before, but I think next time I'll double the days needed. At the very least.
Cruising through New Mexico, a place I assumed there wouldn't be much to look at as the flat fields rolled by, the mountains in the distace just barely making an impression. We needed to make it to El Paso by nightfall, so there wasn't much time to check out some of the gorgeous White Sands, or much of anything really. We were on a mission, but one that did not account for what became single most beautiful moment of the entire trip, a New Mexico sunset.
And boy, did we get just that.
My head was buried in my travel journal, attempting to write down each and every detail from the night before in Phoenix, when Bryan called attention to the sky. Looking up, the shades of pink faded to orange and finally to yellow, kissing the top of the now-purple mountains. I was stunned. We drove through landscapes transformed into hues of bright blue and purple, mountain passes erupting with color on each side of the road. The main event was directly behind it and neither of us could keep our eyes on the road while we kept stealing glances in the rearview mirror.
I was stunned. Never before had I seen so many colors, changing so very rapidly. They filled up 2/3rds of the sky, surrounding me with soft pastels and neon hues that looked as if someone took a match to the sky and set the world on fire. Those scrubby, flat lands I merely glanced at before allowed one to have the perfect, unobstructed view of this event that seemed to take about an hour from beginning to end. We quickly swerved off the road into a small breakdown lane just to be a part of the wonder that was going on in the world around us. Stepping out of the car, I felt as if I was thrown into a painting of sorts, a surreal experience one can only attempt to describe, but never capture the feeling of just being there.
Drinking it in for a few moments longer, I knew what I needed to do. I had yet to work up the courage to create something on the drive for my 52 Week Project, but this needed to be documented. Quickly setting up my tripod, I remembered the signs on the rest stop bathrooms indicating the area was filled with all sorts of venomous insects and creatures. This wasn't New England anymore, and my mind began to wonder if those holes in the ground near my feet were due to some furry creature, or something worse. There wasn't time to set up the proper composition, lights for fill, or even really a moment to look closely enough to see if I was going to be in focus. Bryan brushed up against something that sent him in a frenzy of itching, and we could feel the wind from the semi's passing us at 70-80 mph right near the car. Self timer, ten shots on burst. I hoped with everything in me that I got something I could use.
The main explosion of colors had died down, the mountains began to return to a dark hue, but I was happy. Experiencing such beauty became an emotional, almost religious, experience, one that reminded me of just how beautiful America is. A place I took for granted I would be traveling through, became my favorite piece of road on this journey.
Looking back on my geo-tag for the pictures I took on my phone, I had to laugh at the name of the town we had stopped in. Neither Bryan nor I are anything close to religious, but sometimes the universe likes to make jokes.
Week 30 of 52- "Lordsburg, New Mexico"
Until next time,