S: The Sun Does Not Shine In Vain - Photography by Clay McGlaughlin
FC: The Sun Does Not Shine in Vain | Photography by Clay McGlaughlin | The Sun Does Not Shine in Vain | Photography by Clay McGlaughlin
1: The Sun Does Not Shine in Vain The Photography and Philosophy of Clay McGlaughlin | Dedicated to my wonderful parents, Bruce and Tempe McGlaughlin, for their constant love, support and encouragement, to my sister, Katy, for her patience and good humor, and to my beloved Heather, for all those things and more. | Copyright 2011 World Tree Photography/Clay McGlaughlin
2: Introduction What a beautiful thought is contained in those seven simple words: The sun does not shine in vain. In my mind the phrase is an affirmation of the essential order of the universe. A statement of belief, and a statement of purpose. A way of saying, in no uncertain terms, that the world is what we make of it. Most people spend their lives chasing money, fame, drugs, and religion in a desperate search for meaning. Much pain and misery would be saved if it were possible to communicate to everyone, all at once, an essential truth: We are, each of us, a manifestation of the Divine. We are all "God" in exactly the same way one might say, "we are all made of atoms." Every living thing is precious and holy, from the tiniest bacteria to the most massive multi-state fungi, inclusive of whales, dolphins, tigers, turtles, | butterflies, bumblebees and all the rest. (Mosquitoes and spiders, too.) All Life is one system. We are tied to each other, inevitably, inextricably, eternally. The process is not magical, though it is definitely mysterious. The more we learn about our origins, the more it seems that Life is an inevitable result of the physical laws of the universe. An emergent property of an initially random system. Ever-changing, constantly evolving; bending itself in an endless dance that allows it to thrive and grow in the most hostile conditions. From Chaos, Order emerges. Molecules fuse in elaborate chains, one cell becomes two, two become four, and from a single common origin Life develops into a trillion incredible forms. That fact is more amazing and awe-inspiring to me than any religious text, and it makes me thankful every day for this chance to experience the world in all its incredible complexity. It is a wondrous blessing to be alive. | It was my desire to communicate these moments of joy and wonder that drew me to photography in the first place. Pictures allow me to transcend words, however briefly, and communicate impressions that would otherwise be indescribable. They offer me an opportunity to share my vision with you; to let you see through my eyes for a moment and glimpse a tiny fragment of my life so you can know, in your very bones and through your own eyes, that we are all interconnected. In the end, that is what this book is all about. It is a celebration of life, and a way for me to express my eternal gratitude for these few fleeting moments of exquisite beauty. I feel incredibly lucky to be here to experience the world in all its wonderful strangeness, and it is an incomparable joy for me to be able to freeze a few of these marvelous instants in time, and share them with you today. I sincerely hope that you enjoy them. -Clay McGlaughlin, April 2011
3: In the Beginning... Light, Color, Texture Columbia, Missouri 2005-2007 | In the Beginning... Light, Color, Texture Columbia, Missouri 2005-2007
4: Light, Color, Texture My earliest experience with photography beyond snapshots and family portraits began in August, 2005, shortly before Hurricane Katrina leveled New Orleans. I had moved to the city only a few weeks before the storm, and I was working as a filing clerk in the HR office of the Belle of Orleans casino when I came across an old Fujifilm digital camera. It had a 4 megapixel sensor and a 16 mb memory card and was slow as hell. I loved it immediately. | My boss gave me permission to mess around with it for a couple of weeks before we shipped it off to a storage warehouse with all the old employee files. Just under a week later Katrina tore through town like an angry drunk on a bender and left the casino bobbing in the bay. I felt no pressing need to give the camera back after that. With nothing to keep me in New Orleans after the hurricane, I returned from Louisiana to Columbia, Missouri, where I had been working as a computer technician for several years prior to my move south. I was able to resume my job at the University of Missouri with a minimum of trouble, and a few months later I re-enrolled there to study Sustainable Agriculture. As I learned more about the interconnectedness of the world and came to appreciate how dependent we are on every strand in the fabric of life, I began to use my camera to explore small details of light, color and texture. My photos from this period are disjointed and hesitant, but as I learned to see the world photographically I began to gain a new appreciation for each passing moment. At first I concentrated on textures and patterns, playing with the camera's sense of time and attempting to make sense of the world by taking pieces of it out of context.
5: The pictures on these pages represent a few images out of the dozens, hundreds, and eventually thousands that began to accumulate on my computer as my hobby became a profession. They are presented here in roughly chronological order, though in certain cases I have rearranged them to highlight recurring themes. I have omitted dates and captions for the most part except when a picture has been given special prominence. Unless otherwise noted, virtually all of the pictures are from the Missouri area with the majority taken in or around Columbia.
8: Two boys take turns leaping from a platform into the warm, turquoise waters of Xel Ha estuary near Cancun, Mexico. This was one of the first images I took that captured a real moment. Note the tiny fraction of space between the boy's foot and the hand rail. That's what really makes this photo stand out for me. May 2006.
9: A lonely kangaroo mopes in the grass at St. Louis Zoo in Missouri. He looked terribly out of place; I think he felt the distance from home. This image is one of my favorite animal shots, but it makes me a bit melancholy, too. My later pictures of kangaroos at home in Australia are more authentic, but somehow less poignant. May 2007.
23: Into the Great Wide Open Las Vegas / Spain Summer 2007 | Into the Great Wide Open Las Vegas / Spain Summer 2007
24: Into the Great Wide Open When I was a child my parents read to me a great deal, and as a consequence I developed a highly romantic view of the world. I decided early on that I wanted to be an adventurer, and I quickly found out that a camera is a perfect excuse to travel to distant and exotic places. Being limited by funds and time constraints for many years, I traveled sporadically until a steady income from my job at MU began to provide me with some financial flexibility. By the spring of 2007 I had saved up enough money to afford a couple of plane tickets. The first trip I took was to Las Vegas where I spent an exhausting, exhilarating, and expensive weekend enjoying a sneak peek at the end of the world. Las Vegas was stunning in many ways, but the glitz and the glamour were such | obvious facades that it made the whole place seem sad and tawdry even in its wealth. I enjoyed my time there, but a weekend was more than enough. My travels began in earnest a couple of months later when an old friend named Joern Lorenzen contacted me to ask if I would like to visit
25: This photo was taken outside the Venetian casino in Las Vegas. I enjoy it for the sense of weightlessness of the gondola, but also for the obvious boredom of the gondolier. March 2007. | him in Aranjuez, Spain for a few weeks while he completed an internship. Joern was a German exchange student that I befriended while playing on the soccer team in high school, and we maintained contact off and on over the years, taking turns visiting one another wherever we happened to be. | Of course I jumped at the chance to visit him overseas, and in May, 2007, I arrived in Madrid. Joern had to work during the days, so I spent two wonderful weeks wandering about exploring and taking pictures. It was the first time I really dedicated myself to photography, and it resulted in some of my favorite images to date.
26: I took this picture almost as soon as I stepped off the train in Aranjuez. It was a beautiful spring day and flecks of dandelion fuzz blew about in the sunshine like immortal snowflakes. I was on my way to meet Joern at his office, and I was dragging a pile of luggage across a busy bridge when I noticed these little sunbursts growing straight out of the concrete. I snapped off a few shots in a hurry and kept moving, only find out later when I reviewed the pictures what wonderful angles and patterns I had captured. There are lines going in every direction in this photo, and I love the way they all converge at different points in the frame. I considered digitally removing the trash from the stairs, but I decided to leave it in for contrast. Overdone, I know, but still poignant. Having had no photographic training up to that point in my life, formal or otherwise, I decided to embark on a series of experiments in composition, contrast, and exposure. I wanted to teach myself how to see photographically; how to translate the million cascading moments that filter past our senses into meaningful images that could communicate something timeless and powerful. Most of the time my attempts failed miserably or, worse, came out utterly
27: mediocre, but occasionally I hit on something that worked. My father gave me his tripod to use for the trip, and I spent many nights wandering the streets of Aranjuez until dawn, much to the consternation of the local police. The above photo is an image of the Royal Family's spring palace in Aranjuez. It was commissioned by Phillip II and completed in the mid-1700s. Although I could never quite capture them with my limited equipment, hundreds of bats swooped and flitted around the lights in this plaza. I learned a great deal about aperture and shutter speed while trying to get pictures of them. Incidentally, Joern and I got into a bar fight just hours after my arrival in Spain. We were out having drinks in a disco when Joern got too close to some girls in a wedding party. One of the guys in the group thought Joern was flirting with his girlfriend, and he flicked a cigarette in his face. Before either of us knew what was happening we were in the middle of a full-on brawl. Someone grabbed me from behind and tried to pin my arms to my sides, so I threw my head back and felt something crunch. His grip | loosened and I dropped my weight and pulled away. I got free in time to help Joern get away from his assailant and we headed for the door. Unfortunately, the bouncers couldn't tell who had started the fight; they only saw us come out of the middle of it. Assuming that we must have started it since we were the only foreigners involved, they grabbed us and threw us outside. One of them punched Joern in the eye and I took a sucker punch to the jaw before they kicked us, quite literally, into the street. Joern went to the hospital the next day, and while the doctor told him that his eye would recover with no permanent damage, he refused to go out again for the remainder of my trip. As a result I ended up wandering around by myself a lot, trying to find interesting places and people. I felt awful for my friend and spent as much time with him as his busy work schedule allowed, but in my abundant spare time I began to explore the surrounding communities, eventually making my way to Madrid and Barcelona.
28: At this point in my photographic development I was mainly focused on shooting architecture and structural forms. (A teacher would later tell me that I had a habit of photographing beautiful sets without any actors.) I sought out symmetry and the sense of perspective, toying with angles and elements until I began to understand how they fit together inside the limited frame of a picture. While most of my experiments and explorations didn't come out anything like I hoped or expected, I still felt like each day came alive in the search for novelty and beauty. I had an almost unbearable sense of the enormity of life and activity going on around me and I could hardly wait to get out of bed in the morning to go off in search of the next batch of images. The picture shown at left, as well as the set of six on the opposing page, were taken in and around the summer palace in Aranjuez. The following pages were drawn from several day trips to Madrid and an extended weekend exploring Barcelona. It was my first time traveling independently in another country, and the experience gave me a wonderful feeling of freedom and mobility. I spoke only a few fragments of Spanish and I generally had no idea where I was heading, but invariably I ended up in exactly where I wanted to be.
30: I captured this image at Cervantes Plaza while traveling in Madrid. I didn't realize I had taken it until a month or two after the fact. I now consider it one of my favorite pictures. I especially love the way the girl's foot is turned to the side with the sandal dangling carelessly as she plays in the water. May 2007.
31: I took this picture outside Parc Royal on the same trip to Madrid. The pigeons were clustered outside the park gate and I spent a few happy minutes running through them with the shutter snapping. This was my favorite shot of the lot and between the two images I count it as a highly productive day. May 2007.
37: Establishing a Vision The Pacific Northwest Fall 2007 | Establishing a Vision The Pacific Northwest Fall 2007
38: Establishing a Vision My next excursion into the unknown came a few short months after I returned from Spain. My girlfriend at the time, Karen, had always wanted to visit Canada, so at her urging we booked tickets that August. We flew into Portland and rented a car to drive up the coast, stopping in Washington along the way to hike and take pictures. The following shots were taken in Mt. Rainier National Park, at the Glass Museum in Tacoma, around the Space Needle in Seattle, and on Vancouver Island. | In the months between my trip to Spain and my trip to Canada I had already begun to focus more on natural forms and objects, exploring a fascination with trees, flowers, rocks and water that continues to this day. I grew up in the tiny village of Arrow Rock, Missouri, and as a child I remember wandering for hours along the trails near my home. That experience was idyllic, but it did nothing to prepare me for the majesty and grandeur of the Northwestern redwoods. I fell in love with the forest immediately and found a sense of peace and connection there that I can only convey in pictures.
44: This is a picture of some of the beautiful glass work done by Dale Chihuly and featured along the walkway at the Tacoma Glass Museum. Chihuly's work is also featured in one of my earlier photos of the ceiling of the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas. August 2007.
46: I took this picture while hiking along the coast north of Vancouver, B.C. Two boys were playing on the logs as their mother watched nearby, and I was taken by the arrangement of forms and the contrast of body language between the two brothers. The elder brother seems so thoughtful and reflective while the younger skips about on the log without a care in the world. August 2007.
47: I call this photo Alligator Log for what I hope are obvious reasons. I see faces and animal forms in nature almost everywhere, and I love how expressive inert objects can be if you look at them for a few minutes. I also love this picture for the sparks of sunlight dancing on the water. My father referred to it once as " the picture with the miniature galaxy at the bottom," and I now like to think of it that way as well. August 2007.
56: Learning to See Clearly New York City Summer 2008 | Learning to See Clearly New York City Summer 2008
57: Learning to See Clearly In the fall of 2007, shortly after I returned from my trip to Canada, my good friend and fellow photographer Bea Wallace urged me to volunteer at the Missouri Photo Workshop. The Workshop is a long-time tradition at the University of Missouri, and it offers student photographers the chance to work with photo editors from some of the most prestigious newspapers and magazines in the country. I filled out the application without expecting much, but my years working as a computer technician helped me get a job as the head of the digital darkroom at the workshop. It was an amazing experience, and halfway through the week Bea introduced me to her friend Mary Anne Golon, the head of photography at TIME magazine. I was star struck, of course, and I must have embarrassed myself considerably by showing her some of my work from the first semester of journalism classes, but she was very gracious and kind, and the following summer I was able to parlay that meeting into an internship at TIME in New York City. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I could not have been more excited as I boarded the plane. I felt like I was stepping right into a movie. The magazine put me up in student housing at Columbia University, and I spent the summer wandering the city and trying to wrap my head around the strangeness of it all.
58: Having grown up in a town of only 70 residents, the concept of 8 million people crammed into a space of only a few square miles never ceased to seem crazy to me. I was amazed by the architecture, music, theater, film and culture on display in the city, but I missed the plants and trees intensely and spent a lot of my time in the city retreating to the parks. | It helped a great deal that my sister, Katy, and my best friend, Bryant, were both getting married (to different people) that summer. Since I had already promised to perform as the minister at Bryant's wedding and shoot pictures at Katy's, I had a great excuse to fly back to Missouri a couple of times and get a break from the crush of densely packed people.
59: This image is a closeup of the metal sculpture on the opposite page. In a city of so many millions it would make sense for most of my pictures to be of people, but I am by nature somewhat shy and I was reluctant to point my camera at people in the city. I wanted to avoid feeling like a stereotypical photographer, exploiting the homeless and destitute for the sake of "art". So, I focused mainly on inanimate objects, finding points of interest in the grit, texture and color of the city itself. June 2008.
70: Completing the Circle Missouri Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall | Completing the Circle Missouri Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall
71: Completing the Circle After living in New York for two hectic months, I returned to Missouri with a renewed appreciation for the natural world. My school projects took up a great deal of my photographic effort during that period, but in my spare time I hiked the trails and back roads around Columbia photographing flowers, leaves, insects and landscapes. The following section is even less chronological than the others in this book, and it contains images drawn from several years and several states, though the majority are from Missouri. As woefully bland as the Midwest is geographically, it has a wonderful progression of seasons. I have tried to capture the sense of life and health in full bloom that can be felt so tangibly in the untouched places of that region. While my teachers insisted that there is very little "journalistic value" in pictures of flowers, trees and sunshine, they have a wonderful intrinsic value for me in that they provide a lasting sense of joy and peace. For that reason I have included them here, stereotypical as they may be.
89: About the Author Clay McGlaughlin graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia during the summer of 2010 with a degree in photojournalism. Prior to graduation he worked as a professional photographer for the Missouri Students Association, the Publications and Communications Office and the Columbia Missourian. During his university years Clay volunteered as the head of the digital darkroom for the Missouri Photo Workshop (2007 and 2008), worked as an editorial intern at TIME magazine (summer 2008), and spent the fall semester of 2009 studying abroad at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. As a practicing Animist, his work is focused on bridging the gap between human beings and the rest of the natural world. He currently lives in Northern California with his beautiful fiance, Heather.