Oregon for Ohio

Princeton's big snow. Early 2010.

This isn’t what I had planned.

Not by a long shot.

Snow is falling outside my Cincinnati hotel room. I’ve been here for a week. Jersey is 600 miles east. And I’m still feverishly searching Google and Craigslist and tons of rental sites to find my next, well — landlord.

And hopefully, the new digs will have room for a new photo studio, while not being too far away from my new, um…


Up until a week ago, I was working full time for a small ad agency. The work wasn’t terribly demanding, and it didn’t tap all that deep into the right side of my cerebellum, but it also left the left side pretty much alone. My apartment was only 8 miles away down roads that cut through farmland, and I didn’t find myself at the office very late, and never on weekends.

When you get past the Parkway, Jersey ain't that bad...

But, as you’d probably expect, it wasn’t exactly helping me acquire new Ducati’s for my collection, either. It was a small potatoes operation. I reasoned that the job, although not pushing me to win creative awards, would allow for enough  flexibility in terms of time to win some clients of my own — as a photographer. The career path I had briefly fantasized over in college, but discarded due to fears of equipment costs, might be realized by incremental steps; one impassioned shoot at a time.

Culling through my hard drives to review my photo portfolio, I see how much work I did accomplish in just a little under a year. A meager bonus check from that not-too-aspirational full time job had allowed me to begin investing in a semi-pro Nikon, and over the course of that year, I’d add a lens here and a flash or two there, and before you knew it, www.samlowephoto.com was born.

There are lots of images you don’t see for every one you do, there online.

While exploring my passion for the single image, and for telling a concentrated story in one shot, I started thinking of where I’d ultimately want to live if my photographic aspirations took off.

I was so completely through with the northeast. Dirty. Crowded. Rude people. Fast and selfish drivers. A cost of living that pinned me down and wouldn’t let me budge. The south? I didn’t want to return to the “polite racism” of my youth, despite the relative beauty of the surroundings. I had been raised in the midwest. The people were polite, but there never seemed to be much ambition, and the physical environs often left me uninspired. West coast? Well, California, despite being beautiful, was as cost-prohibitive as the northeast.

I turned my wondering eye to the pacific northwest. I had been to Seattle, although it was a very long time ago. I found it stunning. Green and silver. And I never really did mind rain, in fact, I always sort of liked the gentle melancholy it inspired. But, it seemed that it had become a bit of a fad, almost.

Where to go?

Just a little south of there.


Rustic. Woodsy. Rugged coast. Vinyards. Liberally-minded, artistic, creative individualists in a place where the cost of living seemed manageable. Or so it seemed. I’d never been. But the plan was to at least see the place while doing what I loved; shooting. Perhaps there’d be a way to pay my own way, you know, kind of a barter deal. That way I could taste the place, and shoot, and make someone happy in the process of sowing some seeds for a potential future.

I had every intention of shooting for free where hazelnuts grow wild, where award-winning cabernet grapes grow but aren’t in California or France, and see mountains the likes of which aren’t anywhere to be found new New Jersey, the kind that sit amidst cold, clear water.

A pair of Jersey shore hazelnuts

I figured I would develop a list of Oregon companies that were involved in things that I loved or am interested in, or were iconic to the pacific northwest: cycling, paper making, forestry, and smaller, local advertising agencies that really had a creative bent. Then, I’d create an “escape from Jersey” photo campaign, and do my darnedest to get those images into the hands and onto the screens of as many of those Oregonians as possible.

My “value proposition?” Simple:

You need great photography from a shooter who has a painter’s eye and a marketer’s brain. I need to see if your part of the country is where I want to work towards being. So let’s trade. I’ll shoot a photo shoot for you, absolutely free. Well, within reason. See, I won’t charge you a dime for the time or the images. Not even the retouching as long as it doesn’t go hog wild in terms of time. Your side of it is equally simple: Pay to fly me out, and put me up in not-too-ostentatious accommodations, and make sure I’m fed. I’ll shoot while I’m there, collaborate with you and yours on the project, and when we’re done, you’ll have imagery you’re proud of, and I’ll have hopefully made some new friends and been inspired to come back with a bit more ambitious intentions.

Bottle cap crater lake

I know. I’m an idealist. And I don’t apologize for it. But it all sounds completely reasonable to me.

The wind’s starting to blow outside this hotel window. 1 to 3 inches is expected. I’ve got a new set of rental houses to see tomorrow, and a new leasing agent to buy coffee for, while she tools me about the Queen city, and northern Kentucky.

The new job is…very demanding. For an unforeseen length of time, long hours will be the norm. Stress will be a constant bedfellow, picking locks on it’s way into my dreams. If I do find a house with space for a tripod, lights, and backdrops, I honestly don’t know when I’ll be researching models, and conceptualizing new images.

I’m…a little worried.

A mountain of Jersey 'hood

The tyranny of the urgent has demanded to be fed. Decisions gone awry in the past decade have given rise to needs that, in the face of impending age and dwindling credit scores and savings that have never been replenished, must be tended to, or they threaten to obfuscate the landscape of hope.

I’m quite certain I won’t cease asking for hazelnuts in my coffee. When my weary body climbs into bed at night, my heart pounding from the effort of understanding corporate realities, I’ll still allow myself to revel in the majesty and mystery of light. The portfolio won’t demand to be satiated like the fiscal needs do. It’s more…human. I’ll pray that it will somehow accept the spaces of time between exposures, and that it will recognize the effort that will still go into sketches lovingly archived in yet another Moleskine.

A yard of VIN's in New Jersey

I will see Oregon. My heart hopes it’ll be with a Nikon in my hand, rather than a corporate mandate to fill billable hours. But before then, I’ll have my own rocky shores to navigate.

Do, please, wish me luck.


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