All images by H.S. Bentley. Used with permission. Words by H.S. Bentley for the Phoblographer.
I consider myself a generalist. My interest tends to change with my surroundings, though lately I’ve been leaning more towards street and portrait photography. I sustain a few paid gigs a month: I wouldn’t consider myself a professional just yet. My lack of a specialty comes from my desire to explore the art of photography in its entirety. I was introduced to the art form through street photography, then quickly developed a passion for landscape photography and most recently portraiture. Regardless of the subject matter, my approach to crafting a photograph remains fairly consistent. I take a slow and measured approach. I take the time to define and contextualize what my subject is and what type of feelings I want to elicit in my photo. Once I have that idea, I allow myself the freedom to experiment and allow my imagination take over.
My approach is really a reflection of my personality. I’m naturally introverted and tend to dissect and plan details of my life goals, only to let my instincts take over when its time to act.
My evolution as a photographer and artist is very much a conscious effort. I have a drive in me to acquire as much knowledge as possible. This becomes even more pronounced when I find passions that genuinely interest me and provide me with the type of catharsis and artistic expression that photography facilitates. I’m always looking to push my artistic vision outside of my comfort zone in an attempt to find the aesthetic that really represents what I envision in my mind.
One of my favorite artists of all time is Miles Davis. He had a brilliant quote that said, “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” I believe that same outlook can be applied to nearly every artist endeavor. That’s where I find myself at now. I’m constantly challenging myself to find what it is I really want to say through this medium.
This project in particular was fueled by my determination to accomplish a life dream and the increasingly frequent acknowledgment of my own mortality as I’ve grown older. I was born to a family that moved nearly every other year for the first 17 years of my life. This imprinted a perpetual sense of wanderlust within me.
From a young age I had a particular fascination with the south-west. It seemed so far removed from the bustling cities I had been exposed to during my life that I began imagine it as a completely different world. I envisioned it in a very stereotypical, highly romanticized, hollywood fashion. For me it was a mystical place where the young pseudo-intellectuals went to find themselves and discover the secrets to life. In high school I made a promise that, when I had the means to travel there, I would do it without hesitation.
The years passed by and, like so many other young people acclimating themselves to the real world, I fell into a pattern of working endless hours and not making time for myself. One day I decided to rest back control over my life and enrolled in college. It took me a while, but I finally graduated and felt empowered by my ability to see that decision through. After graduation I decided to not sit back and allow myself to fall into the same patterns and I created a list of dreams that I wanted to accomplish before I die. The first thing on that list was my trip through the South West. I spoke with my wife and told her that this is something I had to do for myself. After some convincing, she understood. Three weeks after making the decision to go, we were in the middle of the desert.
When I dreamt up this trip I had a very generalized idea of what it would entail. The initial romanticized idea was one of me just driving along the open road, going wherever life took me in a very Jack Kerouac manner of traveling. That notion quickly got tossed aside when I began to actually piece together the trip. My wife and I then went about meticulously planning a 14 day trip that would take us through Nevada, California, Arizona, and Utah. I was determined to cram as much sightseeing as I could, so we planned our trips around visits to tourist stalwarts as well as lesser known locations to allow time away from the crowds. All in all we were able to visit 8 State and National Parks, Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Las Vegas.
The importance of this project is very personal. I have a real fear of dying before I experience everything I want to and this was something that I’ve always wanted to do. I personally don’t believe everything has to be done with so tangible a reward in mind. Sometimes actions need to be taken and followed through for no other reason but growth and self-fulfillment. My love for photography provided me with a little extra incentive to follow through with the trip but I didn’t go with any particular outcome for my photographs in mind. I just wanted to go there and document my experience.
While we were driving through Nevada, California, Arizona, and Utah I had countless moments when I had to remind myself that this was actually happening. I made conscious efforts to be in the moment. I used that realization to build the narrative of the images. I decided to photograph every single image that I thought I may never see again. Any moment that made me get out of my own head and realize I was actually fulfilling a life dream by just existing at that place in time was documented.
As a photographer, I gained the experience of shooting in some truly brutal and daunting conditions. The heat was so unbearable and the altitude so unpredictable at times, that I found myself pre-visualizing everything about a particular shot before I took it, just to limit my exposure to the elements. That’s a skill I don’t think I would’ve developed otherwise and one that has been paying dividends ever since. I also increased my base of knowledge regarding the intricacies of light, and the way in which every lighting situation can help tell a story. I no longer wait for the optimal lighting situations in my personal photography, I take what exists in that moment and use it to relay what I’m trying to say. This, more than anything, really pushed me out of my comfort zone. The harsh flat light of the desert can become very limiting if you try to fight against it. Instead of waiting everyday of the trip for the few hours of sunrise and sunset, I embraced every condition I was placed in.
It’s hard to say why I like some images more than others. It could be the technical precision of the photo or whether or not it reminds me of a particularly important memory of the trip. I love them all for different reasons. For the sake of this particular story, I chose the ones that meant the most to me from a purely sentimental rationale.
In all I view the experience as one of the few times in life where I was consciously aware of my growth as a person while it was happening. I found myself with a renewed sense of peace as I came to terms with the transition of the next phase of my adult life. I also finished the trip with a feeling of accomplishment and a newly discovered confidence in myself as a photographer, thanks to my ability to capture nearly every shot I wanted, no matter how difficult it may have been, in exactly the way I wanted.
Photo Essays is a series on the Phoblographer where photographers get to candidly speak their mind about a specific subject or project of theirs. Want to submit? Send them to email@example.com.