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Out of the dark Northwest

We lift off on a rare gorgeous November day. Above bands of shadowy conifers and glittery rivers rise the snowcoated mountains: Baker, Adams, Saint Helens.

It’s a good moment to leave the Northwest, under blue skies instead of sodden gray clouds. A little bit of regret on departure is always better than being desperate to leave. My last vision of my home base will be one of warm sun, not the cold rain that seeps into my bones during the winter.

For me, this is a season when time spins faster and faster into the year-end abyss; the diminishing lengths of the day and the deepening cold cause me to crawl further into my burrow, a grimace on my face from the overdose of holiday consumerist cheer.

On a short trip to Italy last December, the warmer and sunnier climes woke me back up, opened my eyes, straightened up my back, let me breathe. I decided then that after a decade of enduring the Northwest winters, it was time to admit defeat and move on for this season, returning once a new year has come and the days begin to lengthen.

My month-long trip to Istanbul in June was a successful first stab at a new way of travel: to live in one place for a while, to get to know its land, light, air, streets, people, and the life that happens there. The trip took me on a path that ran nearby the travelers road — for one month is certainly not enough time to go truly local — but one that felt more like a meandering lane than the usual hectic freeway of hotels, sights, restaurants, trains, and buses.

This time I am continuing in this deliberate method, but with yet more intention. I have applied for and received an artist’s residency at a decommissioned convent, now art center, in the town of Mértola in southeastern Portugal. My proposal to the Convento Saõ Francisco, though vague in body, does sketch a definite skeleton: I will photograph around the area, and write my impressions; at the same time, I will design and layout a book to contain the images and text. By the time I return in January, I plan to have a volume that encapsulates some aspect of my time spent in this rural land.

In a sort of photographer’s penance, I have loaded myself down with a large backpack filled with cameras, lenses, film, tripod, and laptop, and a smaller bag of clothing and other minimal living gear. I am my own mule and assistant, yet I am looking forward to the hopeful discipline and focus that I hope will come from making both the physical and verbal declaration that I am a photographer, photographing.

Posted by jslabovitz 14:10

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