Last year firefighter Doug Bailey put down his garb one last time. Now, as a retired firefighter, he spends his days capturing breathtaking images. In this compelling interview, Doug shares the struggles and the poetic similarities of the two.
Q. Describe the feeling when the alarm sets off at the firehouse.
DB: I was a firefighter for 25 years, first as a reserve and then full time. I prepared myself for any situation that may arise, but never knew what those situations may be. So when the alarm sounded my feeling was anticipation suffused with happiness. I knew that by the end of the day I will be deeply satisfied by having done something I was created to do. And always, there was a deeply rooted sense of joy.
I was fortunate enough to have worked in a seaside location in Southern California, so what began as a small hobby of taking morning and evening surf photos and posting them to my social media friends, turned into a real passion. When I think about it, going to work at the fire station was a lot like going on a photo shoot. I have much the same feeling of joyful anticipation. You never know what you may find! There is also a similar sense of deep satisfaction. I believe knowing one’s life purpose allows for the deep satisfaction in job or photo shoot.
Q. Are there any similarities between firefighting and photography?
DB: On first thought it would seem that the hurry, pressure, high stress critical choices and controlled efforts used in fighting fires has nothing to do with photography. But I am a strong believer that one’s life is built much as a house. First the foundation, then the walls, next the roof, etc. So each life experience builds on what has gone before. So, do I use my fire experience when I take photos? Yes, in a thousand intangible ways. From sizing up a fire scene to sizing up a landscape scene. From quickly establishing an emergency strategy to quickly composing a photo before the light fades. The same hurried, but not rushed, feelings and skills emerge. And humility surfaces, knowing that few are so privileged as to make such a difference in other people’s lives.
Saving lives or property is deeply satisfying and humbles my spirit. But so does touching someone’s life with a beautiful photo that reaches their soul. For instance, right now I am texting with a major hospital chain’s bio ethicist. His job is to help families make life or death decisions about their loved ones. He watched my YouTube photo video “Journey” and wanted me to know how much it helped him after a hard day. He is forwarding the video to his Chief Operating Officer for evaluation in their work. Now, that is very cool, and humbling.
Q. What is it about landscapes versus portraits or fine art that you prefer?
DB: I shoot landscapes for a couple of reasons. First, there is a certain feeling of adventure and discovery whenever I set off on a shoot. That very much attracts my attention. Next, there is the feeling of being lost in time and moment while composing a photo. My friend calls it the “Zen Moment” of photography. Time stops and I become lost in the scene, I could be there five minutes or five hours and that feeling of time suspension is always with me. Very relaxing. Third and most important, I believe we are made to enjoy and celebrate the beauty of creation. To capture and share just a bit of that beauty makes my life full, and to be in touch with the creative part of my being brings me close to my Creator. That is not to say I am above a great portrait session or fine art, I definitely have not finished growing yet!
Q. Which of your images is your favorite?
DB: My first concept of photography was as a journey, and I was greatly inspired by Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”. You know, the one that begins “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both…” I had a definite choice to make when I left the fire service, and I chose photography as my life’s pursuit and passion. Not exactly an easy road! So my development as a photographer has been very much like a journey. I have to say my favorite photo would be the original Lightfinder signature self portrait where I am standing on a misty hilltop with my hiking staff and hat and watching the rising sun. That photo is my touchstone, the one that will always point me back to myself if I wander too far afield.
Q. You’re known as the “Lightfinder.” What is your thought process when analyzing light?
DB: It is the light, always the light, that first attracts my eye. Everything flows from finding that sweet light, and I have had the good fortune to find more than my share of that pure, beautiful light. So I look for light crossing in front of my lens and try to shoot a close into the sun as I can. In my mind I think of it as sailing close to the wind.
I need to say here that another important and tangible component to my personal style is my love of music composition. One of my earliest childhood memories is that of looking at the family piano and wanting to create music just by placing my fingers on the keyboard. At the age of twelve I began to study music seriously, first as a classical pianist and then as a composer and singer/songwriter. I have never stopped. I find a natural connection between composing music and composing a photo. I look for the light, subject, lines, and harmony in every photo I take. Since I love a simple, uncomplicated composition with a pure melody and sweet harmonies, I see that translating into my photo style, which is why I came up with the term “Lyrical Photographer” So, the light begins the composition, the lines and melody, lyrics and harmony completes. That is the essence of “Lightfinder.
Q. Where have your images been, or will be, on display.
June-July 2012, San Diego County Fair
June-July 2013, San Diego County Fair
November 2013: Metalography Gallery, Temecula California
December 2013: Calumet Photo San Diego
June 2014, Temecula Art Festival
June-July 2014, San Diego County Fair
March 2015, City of Temecula Featured artist in the Old Merc Theater.