12 Defining Images From 2015. / by chris miele

Reflection is a huge part of my creative process and sorting through a year's worth of experiences is something I look forward to every year.  In 2015 my photographic journey embraced different directions, new challenges, and richer stories.  When reviewing my 2015 the fist thing I noticed was the sheer volume of images.  My catalog had nearly four times as many images as previous years.  It was clear my imagery and voice had greatly expanded.  When compiling this list I decided to not make it a "Best Of" or "Top Shots" but more of a curated glimpse at where the year took me, what stories I deemed important, and how I decided to document them.  So here, in semi-chronological order are the images that defined my 2015.

Downtown Detroit's "cathedral of finance" - The Guardian Building.

Picking up a camera in Detroit was challenging for me.  Having never really shot much outside of nature and landscapes, the transition to urban elements was something I had to face.  I hadn't quite found the crossover link until I first explored the Guardian Building downtown.  Soft light, rich color, and geometry everywhere had my eyes in overload.  It was truly one of the most dazling spaces I'd ever stepped foot in.  After several visits I had a few images that I really felt excited about, but what I didn't realize right away was that the seeds for my architectural work had been planted.  This was one of the first images that really solidified a direction for me to follow.

Sean Phelps of Easton West apparel.  Santa Monica, CA.

I've been mildly afraid to shoot people.  I avoided it for so long that when I met Sean Phelps in a Santa Monica post office I instinctively shrugged off his initial question/proposal about potentially collaborating.  Nearly two months when by before I mentally revisited our encounter.  For the first time I imagined what it would be like to include the human form within my landscape images.  When I reached out to re-consider a collaboration he was super excited about the possibilities.  Between being an insanely talented yogi and owner of his own yoga apparel line Easton West, he had plenty of high quality action shots so I really wanted to created something different.  This winter day in Santa Monica really allowed us both to stretch our creativity and see what was possible.  This image gave me the confidence that I could continue using my favorite techniques while expanding into new territory. 

Cass Tech High.  Cass Corridor, Detroit.

When I returned to Detroit in the late winter I had a direction.  For the first time I was working on an all encompassed and focused project. Within the project I had committed to creating tight knit series exploring various theme in the city.  It was a time laced with tons of "firsts."  Having been bit (badly) by the architectural bug, I dug in on my first series chronically clean and precise architecture.  Since Detroit is a city known worldwide (and rightfully so) for its incomprehensible decay, neglect, and abandonment, I knew it would be an important first series to show the opposite side of that.  This image of Cass Tech High helped cement the series not just visually, but hammered home the message that urban decay wasn't the only relevant topic. 

Expert re-packing before exiting the desert.  Kelso Dunes, CA.

After 7 years in California it was the right time to open the next door.  Pursuing photographing full time while being based out of Detroit was that next door.  In January I had swapped out and upgraded to a new adventure wagon.  My chariot was prime for crossing country cruising.  After sending a few belongings to Portland with friends (where I'd be spending several months during the year) I packed up my few remaining important items, loaded my dog in the car, and set sail.  This image was from the start of the first full day of driving.  My computer is in that slightly crumpled box...seriously. 

Magic finds you in the West.  Monument Valley, UT.

Life should be a labor of love and that's exactly what my girlfriend and I are passionate about.  It's what we built our businesses on.  Our travels pull double duty, while I'm shooting, she's handpicking vintage items for her Detroit boutique Eldorado General Store.  We love the Southwest so naturally she flew out to join me early in the cross country adventure.  We had both been itching to see the magic of Monument Valley and this image describes exactly how we felt about our visit.  Fringe on. 

The land of dreams.  North Corktown, Detroit.

While much of my Detroit work has focused on a different, more presentable side of Detroit, it honestly would be misleading for me not to include imagery that's accurate, and frankly, culturally important.  Just across the freeway from our home is our sister neighborhood of North Corktown.  It's a quintessential snap shot of the city at large.  Urban farms flank burned out houses, vacant lots are divided only by overgrown country roads, yet dedicated citizens still occupy and maintain entire blocks.  It's the perfect slice of a complex city and our favorite zone for summer bike rides.  One day as we cruised I spotted this gem.  Storybook in stature, this fairy-tale home defies most American's logic and thrives within a city that's changing rapidly or not at all, depending on where you look.  Along with a new perspective, this house has inspired a whole series, one that I plan on diving into when spring and the magic of nature returns to Detroit. 

History changes before your eyes in Detroit.  Corktown, Detroit.

In early July a humid evening bike ride led us past our neighborhood mascot, Michigan Central Station.  It would be a night that marked two events.  Illuminated by a rising full moon, The Station's ghostly, yet noble shell stood hollow for a final night.  The following day the first face-lift in decades would begin.  New windows began replacing empty sockets changing the derelict, yet iconic structure forever.  In Detroit lore, this was huge.  The second notable headline of this evening was that this image marked the first in a month long project where I would take a photo a day.  While not a revolutionary idea on paper, this "30 day" project taught me so much about how I create, how to alter patterns, and defining a ritual.   It was this series that spawned a new work ethic, one that forces me to (thankfully) ask myself "what story and I'm I creating today" before I even get out of bed. 

Wake up inspiration.  Scoville Point, Isle Royale NP.

Backcountry travel has always been a core aspect of my work, but this year didn't afford as many chances to wander.  Despite this, my new home in Michigan put me in proximity to a unique and underrated National Park, Isle Royale.  Accessible only by ferry, this tiny archipelago offered a backcountry experience unlike any I'd had before.  After 5 days on the island I embarked on a pre dawn two hour hike to the northeast corner of the island.  When I reached Scoville Point I was delighted to find the best views of the whole trip combined with the best light.  This morning was easily the best nature experience I had all year.  

No words.  Burning Man.

As with every year it's immensely challenging to sum up the power of the playa.  Our fourth year returning to Burning Man had so many story-lines; another two cross-country drives, the first anniversary of my professional independence, several sunrise epiphanies, it was a heavy and robustly emotional year.  The main theme that resonated though was the power of the sunrise and all it symbolizes.  By day 7 even the most sturdy playa warriors are worn down to their core.  The previous 48 hours had been a calculated marathon culminating with the coldest night and morning I had ever experienced on the playa.  Digging into my last bit of reserve energy I headed out for this final morning.  I've been fortunate to view many a beautiful event on the playa, but this morning was something else. This photo is still just as surreal to view today as it was standing there.

Hallowed yet endangered ground.  Navin Field.  Corktown, Detroit.

Less than 20 yards across the street from our home sits the site of the Old Tiger's Stadium, sacred and historical ground in Detroit.  It's a space beloved by many and cared for by the passionate.  The site is amidst some controversial changes that would not just alter its history, but nearly erase it.  I really don't even care much about baseball, but I do love history so as the summer drew to a close I realized I hadn't done any work to document the site.  Just days before I left for a six week West Coast visit the sky gave me a chance to catch some magic.  As I stood in the same batter's box as Babe Ruth I hurried to photograph what I feared would be the remaining days of the field.

Participants enjoying our first sunrise of the fall workshop.  What a neon dream.  Grant Lake, CA.

Sharing my passion and vision in the form of instruction is a goal that I've been working on since early 2013.  Video tutorials, private lessons, and small in-field group workshops were facets of my business that I'd been meticulously crafting.  2015 was the year where these elements came together to create the large scale workshops I had been dreaming of.  In early October I returned to California to lead a passionate and skilled group of photographers on a 5 day workshop in the Eastern Sierras.  Returning to California was amazing enough, but getting the chance to show other photographer one of my favorite places on the planet while sharing my knowledge was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had through photography. 

Eastbank Esplanade.  Portland, Oregon.

Early in the year I committed to moving my home base to Detroit, but I also arranged for a West Coast jump off point.  Through the gracious efforts of some close friends I established a place to stay in Portland, OR.  The Northwest is a region that's been calling to me for sometime and executing this arrangement was a huge step professionally.  It's one thing to travel for leisure, but to be able to work anywhere was step that took a lot of planning, commitment, and surrender.  My first month in Portland was the most professionally profound experience to date.

Perhaps reflection is the biggest power of photography.  It allows us to place ourselves whether we were there or not and the more images I collect, the more surreal life feels.  As my focus grows and my pace intensifies, culminating these lists actually reminds me to slow down a bit.  It's become more than second nature for me to capture scenes and transport viewers, but as happy as these images make me, I'm more delighted that I can remember the exact breaths I took when I shot each and every one of these photos.  Cheers and thanks for a wonderful 2015.  Can't wait to share my upcoming projects in 2016.