When I left you last week, the mood was pretty grim. I’ve received quite a few “hang in there” emails over the last week and I do appreciate everyone’s encouragement.
Jacksonville made it very easy for us to gain some perspective and a little bit of positivity for two very good reasons. The first was, we had made some wonderful friends while swimming with the dolphins in Tortola (British Virgin Islands) a year and a half ago–and they live in Jacksonville. The second reason is that Jacksonville is less than an hour from Historic St Augustine. If you haven’t heard of St Augustine, this is probably one of the most photographic destinations on the planet. St Augustine has a pirate ship.
As we left Alabama for Florida, the second day of a two-day drive to Jacksonville from N’Awlins, we called our friends in Jax to let them know we’d be in town and that it would be great to catch up. A date was set for that evening; they were excited and we were excited, and we continued motoring eastbound.
Throughout the day, our mood remained up and down. We discussed a lot of options from discontinuing the tour after Atlanta, to new marketing strategies to let people know about the workshops and what we were going to do in Jacksonville to turn life around.
On the advice of our friend Rose, we went to the Katherine Abbey Hanna Park to get settled and plug in the RV. (Rose managed to send us to the one dry (no alcohol permitted) park in the region, when all we really needed was a shot of something incredibly strong–but c’est la vie!) As I was plugging in the RV, a shooting pain overtook my back and almost had me whimpering on the ground. Spasms wracked my body and proving that things could always get worse–I could barely move. We showered (the hot water helped) and drove to our friends where we were given the opportunity to vent–it helped having someone who we knew to share the frustrations we were feeling with. Admittedly, once we’d offloaded those frustrations, we started feeling better, though my back was still killing me.
On Wednesday, following a deep tissue massage to try and sort out my back, we explored downtown Jacksonville and made plans on where we’d be photographing and where we’d be teaching. We decided to work from St Johns Park and Marina, next to the River City Brewhouse (which became our bar and restaurant of choice for the rest of the week) and the Friendship Fountain, a very large fountain that changes color frequently throughout the evening.
We were starting to feel better on Wednesday night. We had a few drinks and also a few strategies in place for Thursday, and I was very much looking forward to the weekend’s classes. However, just to prove that a) we shouldn’t ever let down our guard and b) you should not rent a motorhome from Canada, our hot water system went boom–seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up! Thursday morning became about getting the hot water system repaired. We drove around for a while before finding someone who could fix it for us immediately (rather than waiting for 5-6 days) and within a couple of hours we were back on the road.
We decided to shift our focus out of Jacksonville and essentially have our first day off in quite some time. We drove to St Augustine. The city is the oldest in the United States, having been founded in 1565; the modern city as it is was largely designed in a style termed ‘Spanish Renaissance’ by Henry Flagler, founder of Standard Oil. Pretty much everything in St Augustine is named for the guy. I don’t know much about him (though I am reading a lot at the moment), but what I can tell you, is that he had impeccable taste.
This is Flagler College, which prior to being a college was the Hotel Ponce de Leon, built by (you guessed it) Henry Flagler in 1888. Move over Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and Yale–this college is second only to Hogwarts as far as being the most photogenic educational institution in the world. However, it isn’t just the college. The entire city has similarities in the architecture as Flagler had his fingers in every pie. But it worked.
One of the great things we discovered in St Augustine is the “America the Beautiful” pass–an annual pass sold by the Department of National Parks for $80–which gets us both into every national park in America. If you’re coming to America for longer than a month to photograph, you might want to look into this! We purchased ours at the Castillo de San Marcos.
On Friday, following a day of marketing in Jacksonville, we joined our friends Rose, Mike and Josh again for dinner. Good friends can make all the difference when things are looking a little grim, which makes life on the road a little harder. Following Saturday’s morning class, our much smaller afternoon class ended up joining with a group of professional, semi-professional and student photographers for an afternoon of shooting near where we were running classes. I would like to thank Kathryn and her students from Bishop John J. Snyder High School for allowing me to help them on Saturday afternoon.
A great dinner was had with a wonderful new friend, Ann, who was also with us on the night photography class–where, as usual some of the most stunning photographs come from.
I don’t know why but it seems that the best photographs I’m taking on the tour are the fountains. I’m wondering if the eventual book stops being Photographing America and gets renamed the PhotoFountain Tour of America!
Jacksonville for us was an opportunity to get our bearings. If you’ve been reading the blog, you know something has gone wrong almost every week. We thought 2013 was behind us, but maybe 2014 is just 2013.5 in disguise. Or maybe it’s all getting out of the way and the rest of the tour will be amazing fun. Regardless, our mood is currently positive and upbeat, we’re in Savannah for St Patrick’s Day, so we’ll let you know how that goes and the reviews that are coming in for our workshops are all extremely positive. If you’re reading this from Atlanta, Birmingham, Jackson, Houston or San Antonio, you better book your night class NOW before it sells out.
It’s definitely getting better and hopefully we will see you on the road.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Luke Ballard is the owner and managing photographer at Remember Forever. A travel and portrait photographer for over twenty years, Ballard developed a curriculum of modules to help people become better photographers which later evolved into the Remember Forever system, now available in ten cities around the United States and Australia.
In 2014, Luke and his wife Nicole are exploring America in an RV stopping only to stock up on snacks, take photographs and teach some photography workshops around the country. He will send us regular updates on his cross-country trip. Stay tuned for more of his adventures and photo tips from the road!