It is a bit of a surreal experience to be surrounded by such great talent.
It’s something I take for granted, too, having looked up to so many of these guys involved with Speedhunters for years and then, suddenly, finding myself in their company at events. Remember, I bought my first camera in 2013 after reading this story by Paddy.
Thus, looking back at 2018, as my first full year as a Speedhunter, brings on a variety of emotions.
Taking a step back, when 2017 went down I thought that was the year.
It was the year I had my first story for Speedhunters published as well as the year I graduated from college. I moved back to the area I grew up in, well close to it anyways, and I started a 9-to-5 — which turned out to be more like a 7-to-6 with a 2am wakeup call here and there thanks to Tesla’s Fremont factory being the worst client in the world, but that’s another story.
Still, somehow, 2018 brought more changes for me than any other previous year has. 2018 is the year I left said 7-to-6 job after just a few weeks into January. I realized I wasn’t growing or learning anything (read: hated it), and told myself I’d soon apply for another more interesting job to utilize my mechanical engineering degree.
Instead, I took 14,351 photos every month and called it good enough.
Assuming that I took two days off a week, that comes to an average of 660 photos captured every other day of the year, a number that somehow feels a bit low. I know many others in the industry who shoot far more but, still, this really wouldn’t have been possible without help from my wife and our friends, both here at Speedhunters and in the automotive world at large.
The thing that’s been most striking to me this past year is the attitude of people that I knew before I shot for Speedhunters, and after. Let’s just say it’s a guaranteed way to tell who the good ones are.
Looking back at where 2018 has taken me, it’s sort of hard to digest it all. Going through the archives it appears I’ve shot and written some 163 stories, not including this one and the 6 or 7 others I need to finish in the next two days.
I never would have suspected that this would have been the case at the end of 2017 and it wasn’t even on my radar in 2010 when I didn’t own a camera, nor in 2016 when I finally thought my shots were turning out halfway decent. But after sitting around for a couple weeks in January and February of 2018, relatively unemployed and eager to shoot more, I figured it was now or never. After all, you can only play so much Overwatch.
So, I started to pick things up, transitioning from a story or two each month to, in August, a story every single day. That pace didn’t last, but you get the idea.
Probably the best way to recap 2018 is to have you simply come along for the whole ride, complete with thoughtful insights and useless whinings.Winter
Looking at 2018 in its entirety, I started off in good fashion, hitting up a local cars and coffee event hosted by GMP Cars.
The group brought out both an F40 and an F50, because obviously two is better than one. Of course, hundreds of other cars showed up as well, but the F50 is the one for me.
Another feature I had a lot of fun shooting was Earl Buenavente’s FD3S. When I first got serious about taking photos, grassroots drift events was where I got started. You get decent access with essentially zero affiliation.
Earl’s car was always one I really looked up to, for so many reasons that I can’t even share them here. But I will list a few: sparkle, rotary, Fast & Furious, and Earl himself. Go have a read if you missed it.
I finished off the winter by fitting in more Cars and Coffee and making stops to three totally different shops: Goodguys Rod & Custom’s offices, the SharkWerks workshop, and Matt Field’s Drift Cave. All places I never would have suspected I’d be visiting a year before.
With Matt currently fresh off a remodel and in the middle of tearing down his Formula D-spec C6 Corvette, who’s ready for another visit?
Moving into Spring, I started having some serious issues with my equipment. My 5D Mark III had well over 150,000 clicks and started to front focus terribly. I sent it in (and it still won’t focus) but in the meantime features and events started picking up meaning I’d need to shoot these on my backup crop body.
One such event was one which I hadn’t really tried my hand at shooting before, Porsche Club of America’s local autocross event where I shot one of my favorite features of the year.
Ed Hunter’s 914 is one part Porsche hot-rod, one part time attack, and one part mental. And, having the chance to shoot it at the usually off-limits air strip in Alameda made it all that much better. My one wish was that I had my proper body on me, but with such great light everything turned out just fine.
Still without my proper full frame, I made my way across the bay to shoot Jeremy’s awesome 3.5L 240Z, a car which might just be my favorite car of the year.
And, no, it’s not powered by a V6.
Then, in April, I got married.
In fact, I got married the very next day after Formula Drift Long Beach, and Paddy asked me why I was even there with my then-fianceé at all. [You old romantic you - PMcG]
From here we started to hit our stride, heading North to Portland area, Oregon.
In the PNW we held a small invite-only drift event at Pats Acres (who’d like to see a round two?!) which was the perfect excuse to shoot with some of my favorite local boys: Mark Vasilyuk, the ShaDynasty drift team, and ITEM-B, in particular.
Later, my wife and I honeymooned on O’ahu, lodging a few days in the tourist trap that is Waikiki followed up with an extended stay on the west side with my Auntie and Uncle.
Of course, we couldn’t altogether avoid cars there, either.
We’ll need to make a proper trip back to really document the vibrant car (and motorcycle) culture on the Hawaiian islands, but at least we got a small taste.
The day after my return from O’ahu I headed straight to Coalinga, a cow-smelling place with an airstrip for the Never Lift half-mile shootout. I’d shot this event before but this time having some proper gear changed everything for me (rest in peace, 300mm f/2.8 IS).
I also got to take a close look at the fastest car at the event, a C6 like no other.
Shortly after getting back I hopped on a plane to check out Miami, a location that completely blew me away. In fact, in sifting through my shots I realize there are a good few stories from here I left untold, something I’ll surely remedy in a future post.
It’s safe to say that it was only at this point, after six months (more or less) full time plus my six month introductory internship, that I finally felt comfortable in the shoes I was trying to fill here at Speedhunters.Summer
Then, the summer months.
My abhorrent $2000 monthly lease for two downstairs rooms (which included four roommates in other rooms, mind you) finally ended. This meant that I could leave Fremont, the virtual armpit of the Bay Area, and had no where I needed to be. As good as a feeling as it was, it was a bit unsettling, too.
With a couple weeks of a lapse in our lease my wife and I decided to travel around Ohio, mostly because it’d be really cheap to do so. My friend Mickey Sorrel, owner of the above Starion, helped steer me to a bunch of shoots, most of which I had published for muscle-car centric websites.
Finally, my wife and I opted to live with a couple of friends in Aptos, California. It’s a small coastal town, with beautiful forest views and uncrowded beaches.
A warm day here is about 75F and the water sits around 60. Certainly nothing like Hawaii, but we did our best to run down to the beach every day we could and get in the waves, one of the many perks of making your own schedule.
Summer also brought a few trips to LA, as well as one to Reno (how about a full feature on that Chevy Nomad recreation?) with a stop by Sonoma on the way, if I remember right. But the most significant event for us, by a long shot, was Monterey Car Week.
As incredible as it was, I’m not so sure we’ll hit everything again next year like we did this time around. It was draining, and the cars aren’t all very… Speedhunters-y.
The Monterey Motorsports Reunion, though, is not to be missed.Fall
Moving on the to fall, I saw myself shooting more race events, from Rennsport at Laguna Seca to track days at Thunderhill to Speed Ring at the M1 Concourse outside of Detroit, Michigan.
Speaking of Motovicity’s Speed Ring, I still have the feature on Will’s record-holding RSX to share with you.
This trip to Detroit for Motoviticy’s Speed Ring competition was indeed a special one, mostly due to my photo friend Ken Cox, who arranged for a night out with Tom Bailey’s Drag Week-winning Camaro. Yes, another feature I still need to share.
We started out the trip with a stop in Irwindale where I followed Aasbø’s last minute quest for the title during the excruciatingly exciting Formula Drift finale. Come Monday morning, we jumped on a plane to Atlanta, one of our favorite stops of the year.
There’s so much car culture to be uncovered here in Atlanta and, besides ZCON events, the bulk of my photos from this stop still reside on my hard drive. From Georgia, it was back to Los Angeles (certainly far from our favorite place, sorry) for SEMA prep and off to Vegas for SEMA itself.
Through all of this, countless friends were made and I got the chance to see a load of incredible machinery, machinery like this Tesla-Powered E-RWB by Streetfighter LA. Of course, this list doesn’t include all the other little stops along the way, but hopefully it does give you a sense of things.Not All Smooth Sailing
Over all of these miles (some 15,000 miles on the road and another 25,000 by air, paltry numbers compared to some of my friends, mind you) things started to break down a bit. Shooting and writing became a chore instead of something I was passionate about.
Certain semi-professional relationships got strained, as other work I was doing before started to interfere with hunting speed and other editorial work. Jobs I’d previously done pro bono or for minimal pay (always a no-no anyways) either for practice or testing, naturally became something I’d need to get paid to continue doing.
Some groups happily obliged but others met me with with harsh resistance; “I thought photos were free? They’re all over the internet…” That’s entirely another topic, but it obviously left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Then, one of the major groups I was working with shut down their content creation branch. This wouldn’t be so bad, except with weeks worth of content shot and left unpublished (and thus, unpaid) all of these things combined left me questioning what the next step would be.
I started cutting ties with the companies that didn’t want to support me after years supporting them, casual as those arrangements once were, and I began applying for engineering jobs in Portland and Atlanta, places we could reasonably afford to purchase a home and not become a slave to it as we might in California.
Maybe taking photos full time just wasn’t for me.The Future
I don’t share these insights to be negative but, instead, realistic. People often tell me I’m living the dream, but things aren’t always as nice as they may seem from the outside. Personally, it’s easy to lose perspective when you get caught up in the details rather than the big picture.
And even when everything’s cherry, every creative person I know goes through a slump. I’m in a few group chats with various friends who shoot and they seem to be a constant stream of “does this suck?” with a photo attached.
One thing I’ve done to help in this regard is to pick up another film body after my Nikon FE2 shutter curtain broke (anyone have a spare?). Shooting with film forces me to focus far more on getting the shot I want in the first place, rather than endlessly messing around with post-processing.
Still, I’ve had more than one conversation with Matt Everingham about whether my work is getting better or worse, and he’s admitted he sometimes feels the same way about his own shots. I think what it really comes down to is continually pushing ourselves and constantly raising our standards. Surely, a great thing, but one that often leaves you feeling a bit inadequate. [I don't think there's a successful photographer out there who thinks their work can't be improved - PMcG]
All in all, the truth is that if I wasn’t surrounded by some of the most talented and hardworking people in the industry, people who directly and indirectly help me to always be better at what I do, I simply wouldn’t be where I am today.
So, what does 2019 hold? No one knows, especially not me. There’s a good chance my wife and I will run off somewhere, buy a house, and settle down. There’s an equally good chance we’ll just keep living the beach bum life at our rental in California, too. I also might have to significantly slow down my photo work if I do pick up an engineering job again, but who’s to say?
Whatever happens, I’m guessing that these 170-odd stories from this year will remain a high score for me, if you will. 2019 won’t be a repeat of 2018; it just can’t be. Regardless of the quantity, the journey behind each new story I track down will be entirely new, something I find comforting and exciting at the same time.
Still, with many of the big-picture things relatively unknown, one thing is for certain: I truly do enjoy being a Speedhunter.
Surrounding myself with the guys I’ve looked up to for years has led to tons of creative and professional growth for me, a trend I hope continues well into 2019 and beyond.
Perhaps what I’ve realized most with this retrospective turned introspective is that I have lots of work from 2018 still to share. Little stories that went missing during big trips, awesome cars that I just never quite wrapped up, or entire folders I simply forgot about in the rush of things.
All of these will come, in good time.
Lastly, as I’ve surely droned on plenty long enough now, I wanted to finish with a couple of quotes from an article by David Wong that I read back in 2012. I might have even shared this before but these words, in large part, prompted me to finally pick up my own camera and make my own images, rather than simply admiring (and critiquing) the work of others.
“Do the math: How much of your time is spent consuming things other people made (TV, music, video games, websites) versus making your own? Only one of those adds to your value as a human being. It’s incredibly comforting to know that as long as you don’t create anything in your life, then nobody can attack the thing you created.”
And as I started out on this picture-taking journey some five years ago, I realized that this next bit David Wong wrote was true, too:
“Yeah, whatever you try to build or create — be it a poem, or a new skill, or a new relationship — you will find yourself immediately surrounded by non-creators who trash it. Maybe not to your face, but they’ll do it.”
So here’s to 2019, another year of creating images and sharing them with you. It’s right around the corner, yet still full of mystery.
Thanks for reading along, and I hope this story, and perhaps those quotes, will encourage you to get out more and do your thing, whatever that thing is. And (within reason) don’t worry about what others might say to try and derail you.
If you’re on the fence, unsure about that next move, your next job, your next relationship, whatever, just remember that none of us really know what we’re doing. We all make mistakes and we’re all learning. You don’t need to take everything so seriously.
As my close friend and protégé Wayne Gretzky once told me: “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
Yeah, I think that’s the what he said… explains why I took nearly 200,000 photos for less than 200 stories, anyway.