A guy, a camera, a dog, and a van!

My name is Mike Farnsworth.  I travel the country in my Sprinter van photographing amazing places and selling my work at craft shows along the way.   My dog Ollie is my enthusiastic exploration leader and constant companion.  Together we explore this great, vast country and share my photographic experiences with countless people.  It is a very enriching life.  I am grateful to do something I love and humbled by the awe and splendor of the natural world.


If you've ever seen a Roadrunner cartoon, or a Marlboro Man commercial then you are familiar with Monument Valley.  The topography is legendary and deeply imbued into our cultural consciouness.  So how was I to take a photo that would stand out?  With just a few hours to scout a location, set up and wait for the light...

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I didn't think I would have the opportunity to capture such an iconic western park in such stunning conditions, but such is life on the road.  Some days the beauty of serendipitous grace, natural forces and the availability of proximal lodging come together.  

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Headlights and moonlight.  Stars above. The crashing surf a thousand feet below, and the steady groan of engines winding thru the darkness.  The smell of the ocean, the smell of the land, and the absence of birds calling.  The distant, pacific horizon and the edge of the continent at my feet.  Big is at night is beyond words.

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When I arrived at this well known, well photographed waterfall-icon of the Big Sur Region, I was delighted to see how TALL it is!  Most shots I had seen were taken wide enough to include the ocean beyond this spit of land from which the water spills into the small inlet.  Because of the inherent perspective distortion of wide lenses, the 80 ft waterfall seems much smaller.   I wanted to represent the height of McWay falls and several technical and aesthetic challenges loomed in my mind.   I grabbed my long lens (70-200mm), set it up on my sturdy tripod and composed for effect.  And here she is.  One of the most elegant coastal waterfalls in the entire world, full of recent rainwater and gracefully landing at the high tide mark in the mid winter twilight. 

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Morro Rock is an odd thing.  It is by FAR the most photographed and iconic feature of Morro Bay.  Not only can you see it from every place in town, but it represents this coastal village all around the state, the US and the World.  Personally I found it boring because it's been shot from every conceivable angle and vantage point already.  I had no intentions of getting a portfolio piece when I walked my dog there one night.  We found a nice spot in the sand dunes and sea grasses.  I decided not to represent it's solitary might.  It decided to focus on the sand and the grasses and the sunset.  When it was getting to camera time, I brought Ollie back to my rig, collected my equipment and trudged back to my spot.  I set up expecting nothing special and that's when nature decided to tug at my intentions.  The heavy clouds and sporadic rain that had defined the day, lifted as the light broke thru beyond the famous "rock".  The elegant shapes and lines of the sky seemed to mimic the windblown dunes.  And what was meant to be an exercise, turned into an experience of awe and wonder.

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Sometimes a no parking sign is to thank for wonderful moments on nomadic adventure.  While at La Jolla Tidal pools, I was fortunate enough to park RIGHT by the best spots for photos.  I had finally reached the pacific ocean and I wanted to stay at long as I could.  Unfortunately/fortunately the signage said "No Parking 2am to 6am".  So after half a nights sleep, I broke open my tired eyes, puttered in the darkness, readied myself and Ollie for another drive and headed East.  I wound up at a mountain pass in Ramona, California, some 36 miles away.  There were no parking signs and I crawled back in bed, cuddled my pup and got more shuteye.  At sunrise I was ready...  And here you see a shot that would have never happened were it not for La Jolla's darn parking signage.  


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After many weeks and countless miles I was about to traverse the entire nation.  Arriving at La Jolla Tidal Pools, I got my first oceanside experience in several months.  I breathed in the salt air, watched pelicans flock and flap thru the amazing light.  I had parking RIGHT by the best views and met so many interesting people and dogs.  Ollie seemed delighted to be a Pacific Puppers.  And he introduced me to several passers by.  When it came time to photograph the sunset I took my time and collected to RAW captures that I'm still working on.  At night, Iwas able to capture the stars, the clouds, the surf and even a tiny rainbow caused my sea mist and moonlight!  Do yo usee it?


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Sometimes you just need to get away from people.  Quartzsite is a great place to park it in the dessert and recharge in the cold beauty of January.  Recent rains has caused a good deal of green shoots to spring up everywhere.  Each and every one of them competing for sunlight and a foothold in the sandy soil.  At sunset I composed this shot with one of the few trees in the region.   The unnamed mountains beyond guided the heavy clouds up and over me to the distant basin behind me that stretches for untold miles.  

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Sometimes ya just gotta go.  4am?  Really brain?  THIS is when you decide we must be awake?  Ok then.... lets head to Parker, AZ for a little roadside fun...

If you'd like to see how this photo was shot and edited, let me know and I'll post a tutorial on long exposure night photography and HDR techniques.  


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Even though I had never been,  I felt the pull of Vegas calling out to me.   Though I don't gamble with my money,  I do gamble with sunsets, and after a 4 hour dash to be there in time for sunset, this shot...


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As an east coast guy,  I didn't exactly know what to expect in an arid region like the Sonoran Desert. When I arrived in Quartzite, AZ, I knew there'd be Saguaros, the iconic western cactus,  but I was shocked to discover Palm Trees planted near many of the RV parks...


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The day I arrived in Quartzite, AZ it was raining buckets. Folks on BLM land were being towed out of the mud left and right.   The washes were running, and instead off dust,  humidity clung to every thing and every body.


A week and a half later, 45 mins south of town, in a gorgeous wildlife refuge, a record setting bloom began.  It was 2 1/2 MONTHS early!


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Palm Canyon saved me from the desert.   Just as the recent rain nourished the desert plants and animals,  the sounds of spring brought me back to life...


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This handsome Saguaro Cactus invited me over to him and offered me more than I could ever describe.  Not only do I have an iconic western portfolio piece now, I also have...


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New Mexico is unlike any place I have ever spent time before.  The landscape, culture and politics of that state are entirely unique is every way.  There are aliens in the sky some say,  and there are "aliens" crossing the desert without anyone seeing...


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NM stands for National Monuments and Nuclear Missles!


My eastern eyes were enthralled by New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment.  Every mountain, every quality of light, every plant surviving or dying, was beautiful in a way I had never experienced. But... what they don't tell you about White Sands National Monument is...


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Puttering in the predawn light, photographing the stars and the moving traffic, the hills softly silhouetted by the promise of dawn.


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If I hadn't mistaken gasoline for diesel (if I hadn't almost blow my engine apart),  I never would have been stuck at a random highway exit in Eastern Alabama.  I would have continued on in the darkness of the predawn and the small, abandoned gas station would have gone unnoticed in my experience of the place.  As it were I did mistake petrol for diesel, so while sorting that out...


First Lesson of Van Life, A.K.A. "Getting On 'Alabama Time' "...


How many times must a man break down on the side of the road before he gets the message?  1 time? 2 times maybe?  Nope... it took me 3 times!  


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Rushing to Relax... A.K.A. "just go"!


Have you ever planned on planning your daily plans?  Have you ever visualized something for years and been on the precipice of launching that vision?  Have you ever simply launched yourself off that precipice like a fledgling hawk?  I have.


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Regional Excursions A.K.A. "Cargo Van Vagrant in Cape Cod"!


After buying my van, I was excited beyond measure, but still uncertain if I had choose the best path for myself as an artist, and a disabled sole proprietor.  Three words: Lobster. Eggs. Bennedict...


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MILE 147,000: Buying my very first Van!  


After months of reading reviews, searching within my budget, and visualizing my conversion, I flew myself to Indianapolis and found my rig.  She's a boat and a half...  What should I name her?


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Inspiration for #VanLife!


They say that "necessity is the mother of invention".  After years and years of shame, hardships and failures of every single variety, I would amend that notion.  For me desperation can be a catalyst for setting a new intention.  Just as a compass gives us our bearings, the many challenges in my career, my love life, and my health eventually inspired me.  I now feel I have a way forward, and a means to a life and not just a means to an end.


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F#CK Events & Portraiture Gigs!


Oh you believe in love at first site, but you dont believe in paying a professional for their time, experience, education, fancy equipment and ability to tolerate your crazy ass? No problem there's an app for that... 


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Millenial Savings Plan, A.K.A. "Living with the parents"!


Camera gear is expensive.  So is starting a business. Need I say more?


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So long New York City A.K.A. "I need my sanity"!


The City is a predatory animal.  It will seduce you, entice you, promise you money and opportunities, and then it will chew you up and shit you out onto the curb next to a rat guarding it's tiny slice of pizza.


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Self-Identifying as a 'professional' A.K.A. "hashtag legit baby"


There comes a time in every artist's life when they must make a choice. Either to put down the camera, paint brush, chisel, mouse, etc, or somehow incorporate their passion into their adult lives...


Graduating with my degree was one of the most anticlimactic moments of my life.  I had expected to become someone new: a full fledged creative citizen with job offers and a clear path forward.  Nope.  I was the same guy with a specific set of skills and the same inherent fear of success I'd always held.  The only difference was now I also had a piece of paper to hold.  It was blank.  No joke.  My college actually handed us blank token diplomas for that walk to the stage and handshake moment.  The real ones required us to pay an additional 40 bucks and wait for it to arrive in the mail.  I kept my 40 bucks and I have never had cause to regret that choice.


I faced a big hurdle as a graduate of photo school.  Sure I had a good portfolio, a sound technical education, passion and drive....but I lacked something rather essential:  a camera.  Mine had broken half way thru my degree, and I had been using the school's equipment.  Now as a newly graduated photographer, I lacked the most essential tool.  I tried to find work as a photographer's assistant at weddings and other events.  I clearly new more about lights then the owner of the business, so why wouldn't he hire me?  I needed a tool.  Ugh....

I tried my hand at Real Estate.  I did apartment rentals in Brooklyn, and thought I would use that short term career to earn and save up for camera equipment.  Only one problem.  I am WAY too honest for selling people on Brooklyn apartments rentals.  That path lead to little if any financial gain, but a plethora of experiences that are still dear to me and come in handy as an independent artist. 


I discovered yoga.  Quite by accident.  It was a first date actually.  And that practice (yoga not dating) lead me to a sense of inner strength and peace.  The frenetic, rat race of Queens, Brooklyn and The City disappeared in my midtown oasis of calm.  Despite my brokers insistence that I work 7 days a week or I'd never make it, I took every Monday off to heal and strengthen my core self.


Yoga attracts all types.  Especially yoga in mid town manhattan that costs $160/month.  All types of rich people.  But yoga is far more than a romantasized instagram projection of how affluent mid life crisis types want their friends and colleagues to see them.  The practice itself is inherently centering.  It realigns body and spirit.  It was my refuge from the rat race.  It was my oasis of calm.  It was a place both outside and within me that got my life back on track.  To the woman who took us there on our first date, you know who you are.  High five.


New York City is a place of labels.  No Standing.  One Way.  Mind the Gap.  If you see something, say something.  It's a place of cultural labels that illustrated my inherent small town naivete,  It pointed out my whiteness.  My priviledges.  And without my passion, I was NOTHING in New York City.  I could nolonger call myself an art major or a digital photography major.  I could nolonger tout the academic jounrey in self defense of the world's ideals.  I had to step up and self identify as more.  I had no camera, a tiny crash pad of an apartment, parents who still fronted many of the bills, and one hell of a skill set.  I.  Was.  A. PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER and to hell with anyone who thinks otherwise.  


After 4 years in NYC I decided to leave, reground myself in VT and launch my career as a pro photographer. 


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A country boy studying Photography in Queens, NY.  


Have you every uprooted yourself, taking a giant leap of faith, and pursued your dreams in a city like New York?  Have you ever transitioned from sunrises on a mountain top to smelly, over-crowded buses full of expressionless faces...? I have.


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Setbacks in my Education A.K.A. "The Sh#tstorm of my 20s"!


Are you looking to waste your energies and money on a a dead end "career" path?  Would you like to experience more doubt and inspiration than you think you can tolerate?  Would you enjoy hearing your passions reduced to a clinical appraisal of their aesthetic worth?  THEN ART SCHOOL IS FOR YOU!!!!  Nothing could ever bleed your ego from your tender heart, like a critique of your personal passions.  Nothing could ever detach you from the concepts of talent, drive, goals and a future like getting your favorite new piece torn apart before your very eyes by a studious hoard of semi intelligent peers and a pretentious asshat of a professor.  If you go to ANY art school anywhere, you WILL have these experiences.  You may cry, or punch a wall, or fall down and give up entirely.  But ultimately you will come out stronger and ready....for.....something? *shrugs*.


JOB STATS 1999-2016:

Dishwasher / Burn Victim

Maker of Bagel Sandwiches

Ben and Jerry's scoop shop scooper.
Deck hand on a passenger / vehicle ferry.

Salad Bar Attendant
Hydro-polycarbonate Engineer (dishwasher)

Seller of spiffy knives

Custom Framer of fine art

Pizza Delivery

Giver of random free samples

Pizza Delivery

Baked goods delivery

Pizza Delivery

Air National Guard flunky

Broke Traveler

Stay at home adult kid 

Professional Boyfriend

Pizza Delivery

Video Store Supervisor / movieholic

Retail Photo Lab Technician/ Custom Framer

Covert Monitor for a private security outfit (coolest job title EVER!)

Real Estate Agent in Brooklyn

Handyman / Superintendent for a residential building in an urban beachside community

Seasonal Factory worker

Seasonal Welcome Center staff at a sustainabilty non-profit

Seasonal factory worker

Seasonal Cheese Guy

Professional Boyfriend (seasonal)

Seasonal seller of plants over the phone

Part Time Bellman / Front Desk Envoy for a historic inn

And then.....

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Pretty much the standard path of any artist really.


Pursuing a Career in Art A.K.A. "The Myth of the Struggling Artist"!


Want to embrace self defeating behavior and suffer for your art?  Do you want to resist "selling out" at all costs and strive for a bohemian legacy before you can even pay the rent?  Are you interested in burning your money as "performance art"?  Cool.  But just so you know....YOU are why we get a bad rap in society at large.  Most people don't pursue a passion.  Most people don't spend years developing their voice.  Most people don't care more for expressions that consumption.  And frankly, most people are not going to understand or support you if you believe you have to struggle to be successful.  It's a paradox the average citizen has not time to consider.  You WILL struggle with your passion, voice and intentions going forward in any life path.  But as an artist it will give you your greatest currency: EMPATHY.  


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Seeing myself and an artist A.K.A. "5th grade show and tell"!


I still remember working on that drawing of the tree on the left.  It was created before I could spell.  I titled that fine art masterpiece "three".  I still remember VIVIDLY the feeling I got when I brought one my latest drawings to our 5th grade show and tell circle.  I recall where I was sitting "Indian Style" in the room.  How I felt when I was about to reveal my labor of love.  I held it upside down on my lap.  I flipped it over and stared at it while someone else went on about something I cared nothing about.  I hoped someone on my left or right was looking down at my lap and the drawing I held their.  I imagined their reaction.  I was nervous.  "Michael?  MICHAEL!" Said Mrs Baldwin.  My head shot up and the whole class was looking at me.  I raised the flimsy construction paper I had taped my drawing to.  It felt feeble and my heart was a vulnerable as could be.  I had worked on this all the way to Maine and back while my mom drove us to the ocean.  We had listened to New Kids on the Block on repeat and sang it to the road, the sky and the experience itself.  I had drawn every grain of wood in the rough cut siding of a rural drug store.  It was seen from the perspective of a child in a tree, high above the structure, yet intimately rendered.  I was so proud of this drawing.  

The class still stared at me, and I eventually  flipped it around....  and the little 5th grade girl who held my silly, infatuated heart, in her beautiful hands, suddenly gasped aloud, and the heavy stillness of the room lifted... enough to stir a career in art.  (If you're reading, this you know who you are.  High five.)


One day I was sitting near the back of the classroom at my assigned desk, and two little girls were teasing me for drawing every single tree on a distant hillside.  They were just small downward strokes of the pencil.  They mocked and teased me and I kept my head down.  When the teacher saw us, the little girls say bolt upright and put on their best little angels face.  I kept my head down.  Mrs Baldwin had been lecturing us at the teleprompter and was not amused at the distraction.  "Michael Farnsworth!  WHAT DID I JUST SAY?"  With my head still down I repeated back the last 5 sentences she had uttered word for word.  Every single word, plus something about what it meant to me. Something happened in that moment.  The energy of the room changed and my teacher did one of the best things I have ever had the grace to experience.  She didn't ask me to look up.  From that day on, I was the only student allowed to draw while she instructed us.  For other children it was a distraction.  For me it actually helped me keep focus and learn.  If you're reading this Mrs Baldwin.  High Five.  I still think of frozen bubbles, paper airplanes and Bernoulli's Princinple.  But most importantly you gave me the courage to be different.  I can never repay that gift.  


From that point on not only did the class see me as the token artist in the bunch, but so did I.  I realized that my work was not just personal.  It could affect others.  By the time I got to high school that awareness had take a back see to architecture studies. I still loved I showing people a hand drafted creation of mine creating and watching their faces for comprehension.  I began to look at infrastructure differently and I also took my first photography class.  The teacher was also my drafting and principles of engineering teacher.  Jeff Tobroke, if you're reading this.  High five!


By my senior year art was taking charge of my passions again.  My inspiration lay in the musings of philosophy, art and culture, not merely how to house people, transport goods and services and conduct commerce.  I saw art as something with raw potential.  A never ending source of something elemental that can reach ANYONE if the artist knows what they are doing.  So despite my father's protests and my mothers hand twisting nerves, I embarked on my career in art.


CVUHS had a program they call Grad Challenge.  Many of my peers dreaded the project that every senior had to pass to graduate.  It was essentially and exercise in freedom to give us the best chance in the "real world".  I chose pursuing a career in art.  I learned that my mother and father's concerns were based on real life stories, but not necessarily grounded perspectives on the actual field of creative endeavors.  Sure many artists struggled but they are not destined to.  They could choose to be business minded without selling out.  The path forward was anything but clear, but in my heart I had what it took and I still believe that.  Val, if you're reading this.  High Five!