Life is too short. Too short to accomplish everything that you could want to do, to go everywhere you could want to go, and to spend enough time with everyone you love. I had the most painful reminder of this truth one afternoon while I was temporarily living in Portland, just over a year ago. As I was preparing dinner, I got a call from the wife of one of my best friends: Jeff Swanson, her husband, my shooting buddy and fellow sailing crew member, had passed away that morning. At the age of 30.
Anyone who knew Jeff, even just through photography circles on the internet, genuinely adored him. His inimitable wit, playful charm, and positive attitude made him an internet darling and, to those of us lucky enough to know him “in real life,” a cherished friend. We all knew that he had melanoma and was fighting it valiantly, but somehow I felt that nothing could bring down a guy like Jeff, at least not so soon. It’s really hard to communicate even an inkling of the pain that I still feel today, pain and frustration that this amazing world with all of its wonders and miracles couldn’t save this awesome person. Perhaps with more support, the Melanoma Research Foundation will achieve a breakthrough that will make a huge difference, maybe even a cure. Wouldn’t that be awesome? If you would like to help, please consider visiting the memorial page set up in Jeff’s honor and generously hosted by SmugMug, with all proceeds from print sales going to fund the MRF.
ABOUT THIS PHOTO
Of all of the photos that I could dedicate to Jeff right now, this one seems the most appropriate. It is about friendship, about photography, about the trials and wonders of life, and it perfectly encapsulates Jeff’s famous motto of “f/it and be there”.
While exploring some of the higher elevations of the Dolomites with my dear friend Ted Gore, we both caught a nasty cold from someone we had been shooting with earlier in the week. That cold took us down hard, and we spent days holed up in a tiny room of a refuge hut just big enough for two bunkbeds, feeling pretty sorry for ourselves as we sneezed, coughed, sniffled, groaned, and slept the hours away. We were completely off the grid, with no data signal or WiFi, and because we were in bunkbeds, we couldn’t even see each other. It’s about as close to solitary confinement as I’ve ever come, but there was great consolation in knowing that I was in fact there with my friend, and we were in it together.
Finally, we decided that we would try to “f/it and be there” for a sunset outing. Could we muster the strength to venture out, hike up a peak, and try to be creative? Would it even be worthwhile, given the thick weather that day?
Well, it wasn’t easy, but we got ourselves out and up the peak, and I soon found this spot to park my tripod and wait for a clearing. Just as it started to happen, Ted came down from where he had been scouting and asked if I wanted a figure in my shot. Of course I did, but I replied, “No, I think I like you too much for that.” The cliff where he wanted to stand would put him in a death-defying position with a drop of hundreds of feet beneath him, so I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of him standing there. He climbed up anyway and took a few photos of the drama unfolding before us, while I shot a couple of frames and held my breath, hoping that he would be sure-footed as usual. My concern amounted to a complete double standard, since I tend to be pretty foolhardy around cliffs myself, but I had already lost one close friend in the last year, and I couldn’t bear the idea of losing another one. I don’t ever want to lose another friend, especially not Ted.
I remember us being all giddy after having seen such a wonderful display of nature, and Ted remarking that, for a while there, he had completely forgotten that we were so sick; I had forgotten too. So we accomplished something, went somewhere awesome, and got in some quality friend time. Thankfully, Jeff’s spirit of optimism came alive in us and made us head out instead of remaining incarcerated in our bunks. Like I said, life is too short. Make the most of it. Get out and do awesome things. Love your friends. Peace.
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