“I See In Layers”
I have been a professional photographer since I was 16, and I often get asked the same question: “How did you get into photography?” My answer continues to be the same –“I see in layers.”
Allow me to explain. Hold a single finger up about 12” from your face and switch between your eyes. See how the background changes behind your finger?
Furthermore, keep your finger still and slowly move your head back and forth while still looking at your finger. Notice how the the background changes even more? There is a point during this awkward exercise where your finger either has a clean background or has a computer, car, corner of a table or doorway sticking out of it. The view is completely different with the slightest of movements.
As long as I can remember, I have always taken this a couple steps further. I often move in my seat during a conversation with someone so their head has a clean background. If I am driving and there is a spot on the windshield, I’ll move my head up and down to have that spot bounce over passing road signs. Some may call this O.C.D, but this is how I see the world and it has allowed me to be a professional photographer since I was 16 years old.
Fast forward about 17 years to the evening of October 31, 2016. I was shaving my face and thought I had left the plastic protector on the razor. I checked and I hadn’t, I finished on the right side and moved over to the left where all felt normal. I realized I had no feeling in the entire right side of my face. I then remembered that my right hand had felt like it was half asleep most of the day. I came to bed and mentioned it to my wife in passing. The following morning, there was no noticeable change. I promised my wife I would call our primary care doctor for an appointment after my morning dentist appointment.
I sat in the dental chair and (thankfully) standard protocol for this office was to check blood pressure and heart rate before getting started. The dental hygienist checked and asked if I was feeling OK. I laughingly said, “Yep, feel fine, just have had a little numbness in my face and hand, why do you ask?” I had registered a 170 over 111 and was in stage 2 hypertension. I was sent straight to the emergency room.
To ensure this does not become a health diary, I’ll summarize by saying that after weeks of further symptoms, hospital visits, double vision, migraines, medivacs, stroke watch scares and ER visits, I was diagnosed with an unnamed Connective Tissue Disorder. This affects everyone differently. For me it was in the form of aneurysms all over my body and veins and arteries that resemble dry-rotted rubber bands rather than normal elastic ones. Long term, this means I can’t lift more than 50 pounds, participate in physical team sports, go running or do any activities that get my heart rate above 130 bpm for any extended time.
In February of 2017 I underwent open-heart surgery for the most troubling aneurysm on my aorta. As scary as that was for me and my family, I was most concerned about how my disorder was affecting my eyes. Between 2017-2018, my prescription worsened about 20% in each eye and we were unsure if this pace would continue and if we would ever be able to get it back fully corrected with contacts/glasses.
Nothing was really that focused any longer. I started to notice I couldn’t take photos through my normal “shooting eye” and had to adjust to my other eye behind the camera. What would happen when my other eye catches up? Fear of going blind was filling my every thought and I was forced to re-examine how I was going to continue to be able to provide for my family if I could no longer “see in layers.”
Finding New Layers
Forced to think about what I could offer my client (and family) that didn’t require me to be tack sharp behind the camera, I began to think about why clients were really continuing to work with me. I used to think these clients were coming back to me for my beautiful photography, but I realized it was for different reasons.
My work was different, my work was organized.
Widespread disorganization plagued the hard drives and text-based servers of so many of my clients. The increasing number of visual assets (photos, videos, design files) were creating log jams in their workflows.
My O.C.D ways of seeing in layers had seeped into how I organized the years of varying projects I was delivering. My work was placed in properly named folders with beautiful thumbnails, specific file names and searchable captions, keywords and employee names. Everything lined up, made sense, and was easy on the eyes. This was a breath of fresh“digital” air to my clients at a time when my colleagues were still delivering their work on DVDs, zip files and USB drives full of“img_8191.jpg”files in unnamed folders.
I learned that regardless of size, every client of mine was dealing with the same issues, and I knew I could help them with the right team.
The problem seemed simple; build a proven process to bring organization back to organizations. If I wanted to build something bigger than myself– something that I could really scale – I needed a team.
One by one, a team started to form centered around this “layered” approach to building what we call “visual asset libraries.” A few months and a few brave initial-clients later, we are a hodgepodge of hard-working creatives thankful to be a part of a team.
In life, setbacks are inevitable but it’s how people react to them that matters. While the last several years may have been some of the hardest of my life, I’m thankful for the clarity and greater purpose they have introduced me to. Sometimes it takes a little loss of vision to gain the right vision.