For one month this summer I left my home, and my poodle, to remember things I’d forgotten and to learn a few things new. My first stop was a bluegrass festival in Virginia near my hometown where each year I reunite with high school friends, sleep on the ground, brush my teeth in the woods, turn my phone off (for the most part) and hear good live music. This was the first time that I was hired to photograph and, yes, I felt very fancy with my all access pass. I felt less fancy, however, lugging my cameras around all day and night in the heat and using a porta-potty with all of my equipment. But the week-long festival was rewarding on many levels.
I made an effort to find balance between shooting and listening. I got into a groove of photographing all day and all night then waking up before anyone else to edit for about four to five hours each morning. I grew to love this routine. My job was simple - capture great images, hopefully better than anyone else, of as many bands as possible, and have them edited and uploaded before the festival woke up. I loved this challenge. I was exhausted and dirty. My cameras were exhausted and dirty. I fell back in love with portraiture.
A few days later I found myself in Denver, dirty camera in hand, shooting two of my favorite bands at Red Rocks. For a photographer, and also a huge fan of these bands, this represented the pinnacle of my concert photography career. The pressure, as well as a serious case of altitude sickness, was not going to stand in the way of my Red Rocks dreams. I worked extremely hard that night. My photos are okay. Good enough for me to feel like I didn’t botch the whole thing, and I’ll always have the memory of sitting on the ground backstage against one of the big red rocks, gasping for oxygen during Yonder Mountain String Band’s last set, happy to be in that place in that moment. Grateful for my inhaler.
The rest of that week was spent getting used to the altitude by climbing big mountains and feeling very small, white water rafting, biking, hunting moose (with a camera, not a gun) and sleeping in my car next to a river one night because it felt like the right thing to do. I listened to just the right amount of John Denver (a lot). I read our summer reading book, thought of our students, and why we do what we do. Though school feels so far away during the summer, especially when I travel, I’m grateful for the perspective brought by the distance and for the time to refocus my passions for teaching and making.
My last week before returning to school was spent—thanks to GFS professional development (!)—at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Aspen. I spent my days in a log cabin built in the 1920s with other makers. I went to artists’ talks and sunrise yoga with potters, painters and sculptors. I got to be a student on the ranch. I learned to make four new types of joinery, milled my own wood, got re-acquainted with my old friends Jointer and Planer, hand chiseled mortise and tenon joints, designed a piece of furniture, built it, and then sat on it for a while, appreciating my newfound love of woodworking and contemplating the many differences between fine art and design.
There is something so rewarding about designing something, spending 50 hours making it, collecting countless splinters, bathing in sawdust, and then finally… sitting on that thing.
I’m grateful to have had so many creative opportunities this summer, to return with a few new tricks up my sleeves, new tools in my belt (I bought a lot of new tools). I’m grateful for everything I learned and for my new bench. If you’d like to see some of the photos taken with my very dirty camera, check out BirdDogStudio on Instagram, and please stop by the 3D studio and photo lab to see what we’re up to throughout the year!
Sarah Sachs joined the arts faculty at Garrison Forest in 2014. She has previously taught at Maryland Institute College of Art as well as Anne Arundel Community College and Howard Community College. She also works as a professional photographer and has acted as studio manager for a Baltimore based studio. She is an active member of the Society for Photographic Education (SPE), and is also committed to making time for her own personal fine art practice.