I've always loved to explore. I love nature, cultures, histories and places. I used to spend hours as a kid looking at atlases, wondering what life was like in so many far off places. I devoured National Geographics and documentaries. I simultaneously desired travel and was overwhelmed by the thought. At the time, simply crossing the state line was an epic adventure. I grew up loving both the outdoors and stories of the past.
I've had the great fortune of growing up in one of the most embarrassingly beautiful places in the country, Asheville, North Carolina. Back then, it was still a sleepy, southern mountain town - not the cosmopolitan hot spot of today. I was raised with a strong sense of place, with bloodlines going back centuries in the Blue Ridge. I was also steeped in the culture of the Appalachian Mountains. My grandfather was a master mountain musician; my father one of the last masters of southern highland pottery. Being raised by an artist intuitively trained my eye to form, color, perspective, and composition. I could never really throw a pot, but by high school I felt I could take a pretty decent photo. I also still loved history. I went to numerous museums and reenactments with my father. I became very interested in the traditional past of the local Cherokee, and I joined my first archaeological excavation at 16. I went on to the The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I majored in Anthropology and History. In 2000, I took a deep breath and moved across the country to start graduate school at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
I received my M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from UCSB, hoping for a career in archaeology. I loved the idea of constructing past behaviors and decision making based mainly upon the material record past peoples left behind. I specialized in hunter-gatherer ecology, spending long stretches in the Rockies and Sierra Nevada. It joined my two passions: the outdoors and culture. However, since leaving academics, I found something was missing. After 20-plus years, I'm still in the business, but my passions have shifted.
About ten years ago, I opened my own archaeology business, allowing me to keep my own schedule. I spend a significant part of my year on the road, sleeping in tents or on the ground, walking trails and climbing rocks. I've had the good fortune of traveling all across this spectacular country, and seeing some of the wonders of the globe. I've rafted the Amazon source waters, trekked the Himalayas, peered at the faces of Angkor, and baked in the Sahara sands - all the while with my camera at the ready. I also was lucky enough to meet Rachel, who shared these same passions with a lightness of spirit, and she became the other half of my heart. We sit in our little Santa Barbara home, dreaming up new adventures.
My philosophy in photography is two-fold. First, you must push past the first layer. While you can get great shots at the rim of the Grand Canyon, put on a pack and see what you can find at the bottom. Don't just take photos of the pyramids. Avoid the tour groups and discover the streets of Cairo. Go deeper down the trail. Immerse yourself in the new culture you find yourself in. Find the stories that created the world you see. Second, treat photography as a narrative when possible, and not just a static impression. A good photo will develop setting, characters, or action. A great photo will do all three. Learn the techniques, but focus on the scene. My favorite photographs not only transport me to a new environment, but provide me an emotional context. As I learn, move and grow, I aspire for my photographs to do the same.
Finally, I want to encourage anyone reading this to use your public lands. Our public lands are our right, and they contain this country's greatest natural, cultural, and historic treasures. Fight to keep our lands public and clean. Use your lands!
If you would like to learn more about the other half of my life, please visit Leftwich Archaeology.