Where to begin?

A year and some change ago, I went down to Charleston. 

I met a woman there while wandering the streets around the Battery. Got caught in the rain with her. Had a downright magical day. I really enjoyed life that day. I felt free and adventurous.

I ended up following her to Chicago in the dead of winter, then again to the deserts of New Mexico in the spring.

Now, we're following our own paths.

It's a lesson I'm learning late in life... How to let go and embrace the ride. Now, I've always been fond of solo exploration, but I don't tend to interact much with people along the way. That's changing.

Recently I read Bryan Cranston's (auto?)biography, A Life in Parts, and it honestly had me questioning many of the choices I've made in life along the way and wondering "what if" I'd embraced events that scared me shitless and just let things happen.

I am a bit of a control freak and while I'm fairly easy going about it on the surface, it's really a well thought out ballet of options and choices.  I always go down the well thought out path that I feel good about.  I gather intelligence on as many possible outcomes as I can and prepare myself for most scenarios.

Cranston tells many tales of facing his terrifying events with a smile and the knowledge that he'd be ok on the other side. To step off that cliff and learn to repel - after he's already told the producers of a Mars Bar commercial he's an expert - and to let go. To become an ordained minister and, on the same day, marry a couple on an airplane just because Reverend Bob double booked.

Truly, an inspiring read and an intimate insight into the mind and craft of one of my favorite actors. Highly recommend you check it out.

That sort of mentality that led Cranston to Albuquerque to play Walter White found me in the same place.

It was a rough trip but a great learning experience. I captured many beautiful images - Desert Prayer, Overcome, Dance the Dunes -and met some great people.

When I was open to what was in front of me, it was miraculous. When I focused too much on the plan and trying to keep everything on the rails, it was a miserable failure. Both moods really affected me. I learned I really do need to let go.

It's taken a while to get over the failures of the past. To open up and let people in my life. To talk to strangers.

How else can we grow if we don't break out of our little world?

===========Chicago=================================

I went to Chicago in the middle of January 2016, a lovesick fool. Why else would anyone do something that stupid? I'd met a lovely girl, spent a magical day straight out of a movie with her, at the end of which she invited me up.

It was 1 degree outside when I left my hotel that first morning. I walked around the block and almost lost my hat twice as Chicago lived up to it's nickname. I thought I was ready for the cold, but I wasn't. I popped into a convenience store and bought a beanie and a scarf. I'd considered all the other parts of my body except my face.

Now, I love Chicago from all the movies, tv shows, and books set there and was quite excited to visit it myself. I popped in to meet Sue. I visited Wrigley (the marquee was under renovation) and Graceland (which has quite an eerie hush about it, especially in freshly fallen snow).  Walked up and down the Magnificent Mile. Out to the greenhouse jungle on Navy Pier. Saw the city from on high. Goofed off at the Bean. Took in a fantastic day of masterpieces at the Art Institute Museum. And of course I took in a show at Second City!

Alone.

Everything that could go wrong between me and her seems to have done so. That's life. That's how it happened.

Now, I enjoyed what I did, but I still feel I could have experienced more if I hadn't isolated myself whenever something went wrong.

But hey, I went to Chicago in the middle of winter and got some phenomenal images. Small steps.

==========Apocalypse==============================

I had a crazy idea. What would happen if we screwed the world up enough that plants could not grow naturally? That they needed special care and protection or they would die and take us with them. But technology had broken down. Well perhaps a sect would devote themselves to becoming symbiotic hosts to plants so that they could breathe while their flesh protected the tender vegetation until it could grow into bigger, resilient forms.

That's how Tree-Mothers came to be. A series in which I glued plants to a few friends. Very creepy and conceptual. Far away from 'pretty' but at the same time engaging. Yes, there's an entire sci-fi story around this Apocalypse. Perhaps one day I'll finish it and publish it. For now though you can enjoy a glimpse of that world in the photos.

Welcome to one of the worlds inside my head.

=============Albuquerque===========================

The advertising slogan for New Mexico is "The Land of Enchantment" and it absolutely is.  Just being there is enthralling. The sky is so wide. The land rich with imagery. It has all climate types but for one within a few hundred miles. Truly magical.

And the magic carries over to the people. After the Chicago debacle, I certainly approached this trip differently.  When I was by myself, I talked to as many people as I felt some spark of a connection with, getting to know the place and seeking out recommendations. Really got to know some good people in the few days I was there before my travel companion joined me.

On my second day there I drove up to Santa Fe and met a fellow named Gabe in an art gallery showing work very similar to my Infrared cactus series. We spoke for roughly an hour about a myriad of topics from art & armor to nano-technology. We even talked about the flow of life, how what seems to be happenstance flows into incredible encounters. As I departed the gallery, he recommended I look up his sister in Albuquerque. She'd just opened a crepe cafe I should check out and tell her he sent me.

Now the next day I was supposed to pick my Chicago friend up from the airport in the morning and dash over to Arizona...well that didn't happen. She missed her flight, got rerouted through Dallas, and so the majority of the day was going to be mine. So of course I go wander downtown ABQ and end up at Breve Coffee and Crepes to meet Teddy, Gabe's charming and lovely sister. I wish I'd had more guts in talking to her, but I can only make so much progress at once. Meanwhile, I end up chatting with Francisco - a fellow on an adventure from west cost to east and then hopping over to Europe - with Teddy dropping in to talk every now and then.

If you're ever in ABQ, check Teddy's crepe place out. Good stuff.

So my friend arrives later that afternoon tired and frustrated and just blech so I just do what any reasonable guy should do, have wine and chocolate waiting back in the room.

A relaxing evening on the balcony follow and we set out on adventure to the Laguna Pueblo the next day.  

Following that we meet up with her AirBnB hostess Priscilla and her roommates and an Irish fellow by the name of Alan who is also crashing at the AirBnB who both become our traveling companions the next day.

That's how you do it, really. You sod all quit worrying and just go where life takes you. You don't get bent out of shape about little things.

I was only marginally successful at that. Ah well. Lesson learned.

Overall, and in retrospect, that next day we spent in Madrid was quite special...though I couldn't enjoy it at the time. Wasted opportunity. I know.

The rest of the trip was about the same...a mixed bag of frustration, worry, and joy. I also didn't recognize that last at the time.

=============Life Changes============================

I was a bit of a cluster after ABQ. I was bitter and mistrustful. Pissed. Hadn't cleared my head yet and pretty much cut that friend out of my life.

I'd been doing that. Negative influences. Trigger people. Things that set me off. I cut them out. Shut them down.

It was good for me. I needed distance and perspective. I wish I'd been able to approach it in a healthier manner, but at the time I just couldn't.

Then I tried to buy a shelf at Lowes.

I couldn't get it out of the cart and into my car. It was too heavy at 70 lbs. Of course the box recommended having two people lift it, but I didn't have another person. I was alone.

I pride myself on being capable and smart enough to think my way around limitations and obstacles like that, but sometimes you have to face an unpleasant truth. In my case that my capacities had diminished.

That didn't sit well with me.

I've never been in the best shape, but I could manage. I decided I wanted more than that.

I want to be strong.

So I turned to my friend Bill. He took me into his tutelage and taught me how to properly go about weightlifting training so that I don't hurt myself...throwing in a little jiujitsu and boxing for fun...and something finally clicked. 

I was having fun working out. 

I was making massive progress.

I was stronger and I loved the feeling. I was capable. I was mobile. I wasn't winded. 

Funny thing, I haven't lost a pound. For anyone reading this who struggles with such things, you cannot go by weight. Everyone always asks how much weight I've lost.  Not a damn pound. I still weigh 260. But the percentage of that that's muscle has drastically increased in proportion to the fat. I've lost 2 shirt sizes and I'm wearing 38 pants for the first time in my life. I can do legit push-ups for the first time in my life. And I can lift those damn shelves by myself. 

Don't measure yourself by others' metrics.

I've kinda become a bit obsessed with PT. I like the results I've seen in myself and I have been able to encourage others on the path.

I'm a big advocate of strength first. Of building a solid foundation of muscle. Doing weight training exercises. Why? Because the stronger you are, the more confident you are, the more capable you are, and the better your quality of life will be. Because muscle burns more calories. It raises your metabolism.  It makes no sense to me to do exercises for a longer period of time when you can change your body composition so that it simply burns more calories going about everyday activities.  Change the build of your body, then use it more, that's the way to burn excess fat off. 

That being said, everything in moderation. I workout 2-4 times a week for about 45min each session. I eat better than I did - cutting out bored eating, sodas, eating more protein and fresh foods - but I'm not depriving myself. I'm not starving myself or eliminating the foods I do enjoy to eat. I'm simply being smarter about how I eat. Deprivation is the route to failure. You aren't going to stick to something that makes you miserable. A healthier body is a thing that brings elation and joy.

===========================Greenville to Spartanburg======

Ah, the summer of Pokemon GO. Remember when that app dropped and people who hadn't seen the sun in ages were swarming the streets and countryside looking for virtual monsters and instead finding dead bodies?

Yeah, I used it as a tool to explore with my own camera. I'd wander around places for the game and took all kinds of pictures along the way.

I had a method to the madness and ended up basically wandering around all the towns along 29 from Downtown Greenville to Downtown Spartanburg. Catching the Pokemon along the way.

I'm glad the devs broke the game, but I do miss it to some extent.

=====Conceptual Figures==================================

I've developed a fondness and a bit of talent for bodypainting over the years and it's my favorite thing to inflict on people. This really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows my penchant for sci-fi, fantasy, anime, and pretty much anything other.  I love doing these transformations. Transcending convention and defying expectation.

Bold and Brash. That's the look I go for.

It's also hard as hell to do. It takes forever to apply. Doesn't always cooperate. And is entirely exhausting. Needless to say I hardly get any volunteers, and even fewer come back for seconds.

The results are stunning though.

Totally worth it.

==========Art Party=========aka Salon Show=================

In the Fall last year, a friend of mine threw a party to show off my work. She and her husband hosted a nice Sunday afternoon get together at their house and invited the neighborhood. They supplied the wine, I supplied the art.

I was blown away.

People loved what I do. People I didn't know. Strangers. They saw my work and gave me praise and wanted to have it in their own homes.

That was entirely new.

You here reading this are my friends. I know you love what I do and support what I do. That means the world to me.  But you discovered my work through me and so you have a predisposition to like it because you like me.

When I do shows at the Mill out of my studio...I get very tepid reaction at best. A lot of "Oh, that's nice." Muttered with a glazed look. And "thank you for sharing" with a plastered on smile.

I expected a similar reaction. The same casual disinterest I've encountered at innumerable art openings and juried shows.

Boy was I wrong.

I want to do more of that.

=====================Just Ask==============================

The hardest thing for a loner like me to do is ask people to do anything. Whether it's help out on a project. A favor. If they want to work out. If they want to see a movie. 

Big or little, the ask is the hardest part. At least for me. I want to be self reliant and self sufficient. I equip myself with the knowledge and tools to deal with just about any situation I encounter.

That's exhausting though. It's much better to pull together as a community.

I'm learning that.  You can't just put it out there either and hope someone will volunteer the help. You have to ask specifically. Some will say yes, some will say no. You have to accept either answer. But you have to ask.

=====James Selects==========================================

So I'm going to ask you to help me out.  

I need people to see my work. To know who I am.  

Please share it when you see it posted on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. Chatter it up.  Leave comments, likes, etc. The more interactions the more people see it.

Please tell others about what I do directly.

Please forward this newsletter - or send this link to it - to someone you think needs to see what I do.

Please think about hosting a Salon Show. They're quite fun!

Please volunteer to shoot with me or introduce me to others who would be interested.

And please consider buying some of my work. (Or get others to ;-)

I'm starting a retrospective series called James Selects. Each month I will be making a select art print available for purchase to help fund my continued work. This will be a Limited Edition of 10, signed & numbered 13x19 (11x17 image area) art print I print myself. Laser etched title & numbering thanks to a friend. Only available for one month.

Next month I will select a new image for the large print, and make this month's available as a half size. Further down the line the image will be retired.

First up is Edinburgh 2, the red phone booth. One of my long standing favorite images mostly for the bright contrast and the fact that it's an authentic, iconic London phone booth found instead in Edinburgh.

The price for this James Select is $40.

Please contact me if you'd like to purchase one. In future editions of the Roundabout I'll detail what I'm going to fund with this. I have many plans.

=====New Site===============================================

Today I am launching a new version of my website. It is a more streamlined entity less burdened by indecisiveness. Meaning that I will be more discerning about the images shown instead of simply dumping entire sets.

Instead when you visit you'll be welcomed by images from my most recent shoot, the current James Selects, The Roundabout, and possibly an article of interest. It's a more minimalist presentation but I believe it makes the work more accessible. Don't worry, hard core fans will still be able to drill down and see more, but there is another alternative.

=========In Studio============================================

Come to the studio! I have amazing metal prints and canvases done of several images. I have all my photobooks. And I have a growing collection of print portfolios featuring my travels.

So shoot me a message and come hang out. I have art. My studio is pretty damn cool. The Mill is awesome. And I have games!

=============Top 3 Must=======================================

I would be remiss if I didn't include some record of my media consumption the past year. There's been a lot...

A lot of it fantastic and a whole slew of drek.

Three Movies You Must Watch: (From 2016)

Hell or High Water
The Accountant

Arrival

Three Shows:

Westworld
Bosch
Sneaky Pete

Three Books:

A Life in Parts - Bryan Cranston (biography)
The Shadow of What Was Lost - James Islington (fantasy)
Red Rising - Pierce Brown (science fiction)

If you would like further details, ask.

=====================================Thus Concludes============

I thought about playing an April Fools joke with the newsletter, but I've been fool enough. Sorry for keeping you waiting. 

Let's have some fun!

Happy New Year!

--James