• Alyce Bender

2018: Year in the Rear View


We are just days away from the end of 2018 and I guess its natural to reflect on what has been over the past year. For me, honestly, it feels like this was by far one of the most trying, yet adventurous years I have in my life. Its the year I finally learned to bend to the winds of change, rather than fight them (too much at least.) It seemed I was destined to travel whether or not I wanted it.

As photography is a creative pursuit, every photographer's personal life does impact them in their craft somehow. For me, my personal life is woven into the locations and timing of the places I choose to visit. So lets see where I have traveled over the last 360 odd days and revisit some of my favorite images from those places.

January

January saw me having just gotten back from some holiday travel at the end of 2017. By back, I mean, back to Misawa, Japan, where I had been living for a bit under two years. January is typically the month that our area would get covered in snow. So it was a month of enjoying the famous Japanese powder as I worked to improve my snowboarding. I also worked at capturing the beautiful Oirase Gorge in its winter dressing. My favorite winter scene from this area was made, braving sub-freezing temperatures and icy cold water, at sunset while sitting on a frozen branch at the base of this amazing waterfall.

February

Still in Japan, I undertook an amazing adventure to the northern most island, Hokkaido. In the dead of winter, this is by far the best time to visit Hokkaido for photography in my opinion, especially for wildlife. I would say it was a stellar trip, but there was so much more than just the Steller's Sea Eagles. I spent a week capturing the endangered red crown cranes and their mating dance, made even more beautiful by falling snow, photographing various sea eagles in flight, and following red fox across frozen lakes.

Yes, it was cold. Very, very cold some mornings. But it was also such an amazing experience I am returning again in 2019 and going to be offering a photography adventure tour to those interested in 2020 (more on this later in this coming year).

March

Partaking in what has become an annual ritual for me, I attended the Create Photography Retreat in March. This year it was held in my old stomping ground of Charleston, South Carolina. For those not familiar with my previous history, I lived in South Carolina for two and a half years before moving to Japan. I also was married in Charleston, so the Holy City holds a special place in my heart.

The Create Photography Retreat is an annual event held at various locations around the country each year at the end of March and I love attending for many reasons. It is an event where I can go just to nerd out on photography, surrounded by friends, peers, and mentors who all share the same love of photography. People come from all over the world to attend. This year was no different and I got the chance, after the Retreat ended, to take a new friend from England to one of my favorite shooting spots outside Charleston, towards Edisto Island. Its called Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area and this was by far my favorite image from the trip.

Photo tip: On overcast days, when on the beach, use a dark neutral density filter to allow for long exposures. This can create unique images showing both water and cloud movement while a subject, such as a tree, driftwood, or even person, holds still.

April

Well, April was a bit of a mess as this is where my personal life started to hit a bit of turbulence. Back in March, my husband had returned from deployment to find out he was leaving again in June for an assignment I would not be able to follow him to, unfortunately. I also would not be allowed to stay in Japan.

As we were suppose to have been in Japan for another year, this was very unexpected and totally screwed up all the trips I had planned exploring other areas of Japan. Adjustments had to be made and quickly, as three months is not a whole lot of time to move a household from overseas back to the states, especially when I didn't have a home to go home to and my husband would not be joining me.

Anyway, while trying to find options for living situations, still working a day job, and trying to spend as much time with my husband as I could before he left again, shooting wasn't high on my priority list. However, I did still use it as an outlet when I needed a breather away from the convoluted situation we were facing.

Knowing my time in Japan was growing short, I chose to explore areas I had not yet seen that were within a day's drive of the house. Some of those meant a four to four and a half hour drive one way across the country to the Sea of Japan. It was on the western coast I found this beautiful, craggy, coastline complete with an array of sea stacks.

May

With only a few weeks before my husband had to leave again, we decided on a game plan and set everything in motion. We decided that, once I got back to the States, the dogs and I would hit the road, living out of an RV, allowing me to concentrate on my photography and allowing the bulk of our household goods to be put into storage awaiting our next assignment together.

As the dust settled from us getting that plan in motion, my day job suddenly became short on staff, requiring me to work full time at what was suppose to be a part time gig.

Spring had come forth fully and the wild cherry trees where blooming over ice free water once again in the Hakkoda Mountains. Once again, in my off time, I turned to photography to sooth my nerves and bring a peacefulness back to my life. I think my choice of colors and subjects this month communicate that need for quiet moments.

June

Rain and work. Rain and work. That is what June brought. Perfect for my mood once my husband left. It was not the best month for me. Yet, somehow, the drive to get out and shoot was still there, even when muted by stress and depression.

Oirase Gorge was always my go to place when I needed to get out of the house. It was about an hour's drive and always provided something to photograph along with over 14km of hiking trails. On my off days, when not busy with move requirements or housebound by severe weather, I would seek refuge next to this mountain stream, soaking in the sound and bathing in the emerald view.

Then there was one day I decided not to go to the gorge and wanted something further afield. The stormy weather had me just kind of driving for hours, having wanted to escape the moving mess at home, but not wanting to bother with the elements. During a break in the rain, I ended up at Hotoke-ga-ura, a rock formation that is named after Buddha (translates to Buddha's Cove). The weather, rocks, and mood all seemed to come together in an image that screamed to be turned black and white. Don't you agree?

July

My final month in Japan and I was so caught up in finalizing moving details, I quit my day job, and rarely picked up the camera.

One of the few times I did pick it up, I just went out to the local beach. Along the coastline, the Japanese have built these giant concrete cube piers and, still in rainy season, it was overcast with some fast moving clouds. Utilizing a long exposure technique similar to that I used in March, this was the result.

August

Finally back stateside and living in Vegas with his amazing Aunt and Uncle, who took me in as if I was their own daughter. They even treated my pups as their own and continue to pup sit when my travels have me going where the pups can't go.

The hunt for a van/RV had me traveling all over the state of Nevada, California, Utah, and even Colorado. Rarely did I build in time to stop and shoot as I was in such a hurry to find what would ultimately be my "home" until sometime in 2019. However, when I went to Colorado, it was going to be an overnight trip anyway, so I left early enough to get a sunset shoot in at the Colorado National Monument park. Smoke from California fires had reached Colorado and created a red haze at sunset, adding to the already umber tone of the environment.

September

One of the trips I had planned before we ever had an inkling we would be moved from Japan was a trip to the Faroe Islands with Photog Adventures. I kept that on the calendar figuring I would be settled by the time it came up. Thankfully I was, at least enough, to be able to go exploring internationally as I visited both Iceland for ten days and then the Faroe Islands for eight in September.

Iceland left me with mixed emotions but I did come away with a huge respect for those who live on the land of fire and ice. If you want a more in depth explanation of why the mixed emotions, click here for the article on my Iceland experience.

The Faroe Islands, on the other hand, made me fall in love with another island country. Rugged, wild, and unpredictable are just a few of the words I would use to describe the landscape of the Faroes. I loved them so much that by the time I departed, I already had dates in October when I would be returning for another eight days.

Upon returning from the Faroe Islands, I struck out on my first RV adventure. This time I decided to explore Nevada a bit. All the neighboring states have these big parks or locations that are meccas for photographers, what with places like Zion, the Grand Canyon, and Joshua Tree. But as Nevada is now my new home, I wanted to find out what she had to offer. So I spent some time in the southern state parks and found gems like Cathedral Gorge.

October

My RV adventure spilled over into October as I headed back towards Vegas. About an hour from the Strip is Valley of Fire State park and it is an outstanding location for desert photography. So many unique rock features and a variety of wildlife, there is practically something for everyone.

From the desert, I dropped the pups with my Aunt and Uncle and took off for Scotland and the Faroe Islands.

On my last visit to the Faroes, Photog Adventures had partnered with James Kelly, a great photographer and guide to the Faroe Islands. He has been visiting the Faroe Islands for years but actually lives outside Aberdeen in Scotland. As we became fast friends during my first visit to the Faroes, he invited me to visit Scotland on my return trip. Well, far be it from me to pass up exploring a new location, especially when I can visit it with the help of a local! So off to Scotland I went for a total of ten days, five before the Faroe Islands and then more five days when departing the Faroes.

Autumn was in full color throughout the highlands and it was just stunning to see the color everywhere, saturated by the famous Scottish rain.

Then it was back to the Faroes, where we had much harsher weather with more dramatic light than I experienced during my first visit. You can read more on my visits to the Faroe Islands here.

When I arrived back in Scotland, I headed to the western highlands, near Loch Awe. Between the cute AirBnB and Kilchurn Castle ruins only a mile and a half walk, I spend several days just taking in this area of Scotland and socializing with my host family.

November

Between getting home from Scotland and hitting the road in the RV, I spent about a week in Vegas starting the process to legitimize my photography business in the state of Nevada.

From there I packed up the pups and headed south to Arizona where I spent the month until returning to Vegas for Thanksgiving with family. While in Arizona, I visited several state and municipal parks as well as several national forests, photographing both landscapes and wildlife.

The wild equines of the area really held my interest as I photographed several bands of wild horses near Phoenix and wild burros outside Ajo. Another wonderful photographer, Joe Neeley, was kind enough to take me out the first day I was in the area to find some of the lesser known bands that roam the Tonto National Forest.

December

So all that brings us to this month, where I spent a bit of time off the road as my husband was able to come to the states for a visit and I had some printed pieces to get ready for an upcoming event (more details to come after the first of the new year.)

While my husband was home we did some day trips and explored a bit of California. Those included trips to places like Death Valley and Monterey.

And now, I write this, back in the RV in Arizona meandering towards New Mexico where I will start the New Year filled with adventure, friends, and photography.

May you also find your New Year filled with friends, family and all the things that bring you joy!

Cheers!

A Bender

#2018 #Japan #Nevada #Arizona #California #Scotland #Iceland #FaroeIslands #hokkaido #wildlifephotography #landscapes #travel

     A Bender Photography LLC      |     Las Vegas, NV    |     bender@abenderphotography.com