Michael George (b. 1988) is a photographer living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Michael’s formative years were spent in Fort Myers, Florida where he grew up with the ocean, “snowbirds,” and probably your grandma. He moved to New York City six years ago and has somehow maintained his sense of child-like optimism. Based in Brooklyn, he considers himself a freelance photographer/adventurer. In 2010 he biked across the country and in 2012 he walked across Spain. Next, he will be crawling across Russia. Not true. Michael loves photographing people and often uses his camera as a vehicle for sharing their stories. Today we share Michael’s most recent work from his visit to Zion National Park.
“Last May, my friend Matt and I spent ten days exploring Zion National Park and the surrounding areas. We make a good travel team because he is a reckless Eagle Scout that likes to push boundaries and I am a middle-aged soccer Mom stuck in a twenty-something man body.
I grew up surrounded by alligators and cottonmouth snakes in southern Florida but currently I live in Brooklyn, New York where the closest wildlife is the family of mice that scurry up and down the walls of my bedroom. Matt and I chose Zion because it let’s nature capture you, throw you into the crumbling sandstone, and see if you make it out alive.”
AB : Hey Michael, can you start by telling us how you get started with Photography?
MG : My first photography class was not until my junior year of high school. From the day I received my first assignment I remember feeling like I was all in. From there I went to NYU Tisch’s Department of Photography & Imaging where I developed my voice as an artist. I started my freelance business during my sophomore year to help pay for tuition and I am really thankful I made that decision. It allowed me to build a client base and remain freelance after I graduated in 2011.
AB : What usually inspires your work?
MG :A sense of calm and natural beauty. I do my best work when I am in a quiet place in my head, working one on one with a subject or out in the middle of nowhere.
AB : Was this trip to Zion National Park intended solely for this series?
MG : I actually had no plans to produce this project (writing or photography) before this trip began. My friend Matt and I had long dreamed of exploring the park and while I was there the landscape inspired me to make this series.
AB : What got you interested in travel photography?
MG : Living in New York I find it hard to make work here. It feels overly documented and hard to control. Because of that feeling I always travel outside of it to make work and I have fallen in love with the images that I produce when seeing a place for the first time.
AB : Do you have any interesting stories from while you were traveling?
MG : Here is an excerpt from the essay that goes along with this project during which I legitimately thought I was about to lose my life to a mountain lion! :
The monoliths that make up the walls of Zion canyon were once sand dunes, similar to those found in the Sahara desert. Over time they compacted into a hard but barely-stable rock. On our first morning, we set out on the Watchman Trail, a small climb to a cliff edge that overlooked our campsite. Once we reached the end, despite my incessant arguments against it, Matt suggested we continue on our own path up to the canyon walls. Every couple of steps would send a small avalanche of rocks bouncing down to the river below. I used desert plants, also known as God’s wide array of pincushions, to keep my balance. After about ten minutes my fingers and wrists were bleeding in multiple places. Occasionally Matt would pick up the pace and hike far out of sight.
After about an hour we took toll of our rations: half a bottle of water, two thirds of a peanut butter sandwich, and a Clif bar that I was allergic to. We kept passing deer pellets and a pile of something Matt identified as mountain lion scat. I kept silent about the little S curves in the sand, evidence of snakes. Lots of snakes.
Eventually we reached the canyon wall and everything fell silent. We climbed up into a crevice where a two-story rock had fallen many years ago. I tried to imagine what it sounded like as it cut away. Out of nowhere, we heard a massive rockslide below. It began with a rush that sounded like the crash of an ocean wave before it trickled into a light rain. I don’t know if it was the intensity of the silence, my high-strung imagination, or a combination of the two, but I started to hear the growl of a large cat and grabbed the nearest blunt object to use in my defense.
We sat there in the silence again. The blood on my arm began to dry and I stared at the other side of the canyon where the morning sun was beginning to arc. No lion appeared.
Matt and I made our way back by following a trail of water that fell all the way from the canyon wall down to the main road. There were times we had to jump up to fifteen feet and then slide with the rocks to catch our balance. I fell into at least three more cacti and decided that, even though this was only Day 1, I was definitely de-friending Matt on Facebook.
AB : What is your best advice for someone who is traveling to this National Park today?
Get a permit and plan a day to hike on one of the less traveled routes like the Subway. It is amazing to feel alone in such an epic landscape.
AB : Can you tell me more about this inside swimming area that’s pictured in your series?
MG :After hiking to the point that we destroyed both of our knees, Matt and I decided to end our trip by relaxing in Homestead Crater. The natural swimming hole isn’t actually in Zion but was on our way back to Salt Lake City. It is “a geothermal spring, hidden within a 55-foot tall, beehive-shaped limestone rock located on the Homestead property.” While swimming there are scuba divers who dive down into the clear water and their bubbles tickle you as you float about.
AB : It looks as though you managed to travel outside of the touristy areas to find yourselves in the wild. What was that like?
MG :The tourism is not so bad because they don’t allow anyone to drive into the canyon on their own. Instead they have developed a shuttle system to space out the tourists and avoid congestion. On every trail we hiked we usually found ourselves alone for a large portion of the day.
AB : Do you have any new projects you’re working on?
MG :Currently I am gearing up to be an instructor on the Passport Express, a cross-country creative workshop/summer camp with Amtrak & Passion Passport. I will be on the tracks traveling from D.C. to San Francisco from 9/11 – 9/24. I absolutely can’t wait!
To view more of Michael’s work please visit his website.