My Time in Marfa
Over the course of the month of June, I was able to get the opportunity to go to Marfa, TX with Lululemon. Where the hell is Marfa you might ask? Well, I asked that very same question. Marfa is a small town in West Texas about 600 miles West of San Antonio. It became somewhat of a hippie commune in the 1970s, and now boasts more museums poor capita than any other city in the US. That sounds a lot more interesting until you take into account the “per capita” part of the equation. With that said, it is quite an interesting place. The surrounding landscape is absolutely beautiful, the people are definitely interesting to take in, and the place we were staying at had a ton of character. Not to mention the people that Lulu was bringing out there are the purpose for the trip. Hopefully I can catch some of that magic here. The three groups I had the pleasure to spend that time with were the Men Take Marfa group, the Hall Pass group, and the Yogi group. I think ti’s probably best that I tell each of these stories on their own as each group has it’s own purpose, merit, and experience that was unique and awesome in its own right, and completely separate from the others.
The Men Take Marfa
I sincerely believe that this particular trip will always have a special place in my heart. Not necessarily because this group or time was better or superior to all of the others, but because it was my first group, I was a short-timer compared to the other guys on the trip, and I truly felt like one of the guys that was invited. I wasn’t just the photographer there to capture the experiences for social media purposes which is was I was initially expecting. Actually, that last part of the sentence is probably an overstatement because I really wasn’t sure what to expect all together. Let me back up a bit… You’re probably wondering why the hell Lulu is doing this in the first place, right? Let me tell you why…
Lululemon is a company unlike any other I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with on a social or professional level. They truly seem to be a company that sets itself apart from the rest by caring about how people interact with their brand, and this series of trips and set of uniquely amazing individuals is a testament to that very theory. Apparently, Lulu decided to do a series of houses over the course of several months across the Southwest region. Each ‘stay’ would last the course of a month and include a series of different groups that represented a variety of different interests and aspects of the branch. Each group had people from both inside and outside the company, and the topics weren’t even ‘Lulu-centric’ (copyrighting that!) in nature. They were mostly geared towards the growth of the people attending the session. All of this was part of the Lululemon Residency project, and all of it because Lulu wants to create a different kind of clothing brand. Actually, that’s an understatement because what they do goes far beyond just clothing. They want to create a brand of people who want to better themselves, the world around them, and the people they come to interact with inside their world on a daily basis. In my short experience, that is an amazing thing and a huge investment on their part towards something that really has no measurable, direct effect on their bottom line. That’s not something that can be said about many publicly traded clothing companies, and I can tell you – personally – it worked. As somebody who attended even in a peripheral capacity, I am an even bigger fan of Lulu than I ever was before and I relate to their brand more than I can to most others I’ve ever come into contact with, nevertheless a clothing line. So, well played Lulu, now back to the story at hand…
So, I was committed to act as the resident photographer for 3 of the sessions that occurred during the time at the Marfa house. The first was the Men Take Marfa event and I had absolutely zero idea of what was going to be in store. I didn’t even know what the point of the trip was at the time I started heading West. But, I was committed to the trip, and the drive… Holy crap that drive. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery once yo get West of San Antonio is absolutely breathtaking, but 10 hours through the middle of nowhere is still a long ass drive. While I was headed out there, thinking to myself and listening to books on tape (audiobooks), I realized that these guys had loaded up in Houston and San Antonio, driven by Kelley (the only person I knew at the time as well as the kick-ass chick that invited me on this trip in the first place), and had 10 hours to get to know each other. I was going to be getting in essentially a day late because of work engagement as it was, and had no idea who any of these guys were. No idea what their background was, their affiliation to Lulu, or really much of anything at all. That set me up for one of two situations: I could be the awkward outsider, or I could ignore that feeling and immerse myself into the culture around me. I chose the latter and, fortunately for me, I had an awesome group of guys to get to know as soon as I stepped out of my car an stretched my legs.
I arrived just after noon on the first full day in Marfa, and made it just in time to grab my camera out of my bag, load up in a van, and head out across town (I believe it was literally 4-5 blocks…) to the bike shop to rent bikes and roll around Marfa. It was actually pretty perfect timing for me because I had the entire group together where I could ask names, ask again, get them wrong, and ask again until I knew everybody’s name and had introduced myself as the guy with the big lens pointed at them all week. We grabbed bikes, looked like some kind of extremely fit, well clothed, and extremely poor gang, and headed to a local burrito shop for some lunch. Here I learned something very key about a group of super-fit dudes: damn can they eat… Seriously. I have never seen so many calories pounded in such a way in my entire life. These burritos were huge and I watched as these guys were pounding 2-3 each and apparently they had only eat about two and a half hours beforehand. You would have thought they just got out of a prison camp or something. It was absolutely mind blowing and ended up being pretty consistent throughout the entire trip. It was feast or famine! It also made me realize how much more I cold eat if I ran an extra 3 or 4 miles each day :)
After lunch it was time to load up and explore. This was my first time riding a bike while handling a camera and trying to take pictures, but I was confident in my capabilities and knew where the limitations were in my bike handling skills. From there, it was just about capturing the guys, their interactions, and the weirdness and interest that is Marfa, TX. It was a great way to break the ice and have some time to get to know the guys as a group and in more 1 on 1 situations as the groups naturally broke down at times here and there. Exploring Marfa was an interesting experience in itself as well. El Cosmico was an interesting little place that I’d learn more about in my next two experiences, and the Chinati art installation was interesting in its own right. I’m not saying that I “got it” or that I really get much of modern art works, but it was interesting nonetheless.
By the end of the first day and into the first evening, I realized that this wasn’t going to be my typical assignment or anything like what I was expecting. But, it was going to be an amazing experience and a place where I could learn some new skills and take on the style of a documentary photographer rather than a advertising photographer in the typical sense. Documenting, journaling, and enjoying was all part of the experience, and I honestly believe that if I had not joined in and acted like I was a part of the group and not just the photographer, I would not have been able to accurately or effectively tell the photographic story that Kelley and Lululemon were trying to tell.
As the days progressed, I found myself joining in on the experiences more often and losing myself in the fun of the moment. Playing slam ball, running a broken bike back to the shop with it thrown over my shoulder (true story), enjoying a beer at the end of the day, taking the time to peer through a telescope at the McDonal Observatory and take in one of the most breathtaking views of the moon I have ever had the pleasures of viewing, swimming with the guys at Balmorhea State Park in one of the largest and clearest springs I have ever witnessed, and even taking the time to snag a snake swimming in one of the creeks to everyone’s collective horror and amazement. (Sam was neither of those when she found out, just exasperated and rolling her eyes at me for continuing to be a little boy at heart out catching critters. #nevergrowup) It was all part of the adventure and the learning experience, but it was really all just a precursor to the last day of the guys’ trip: Big Bend National Park.
The final day of the trip was set aside for the – I feel – longest, most physical, and spiritual day of the entire experience across all of the groups I had the pleasure of getting to accompany. We were going to drive for close to two hours in each direction for the hike in the beauty that is Big Bend. One of my favorite place on Earth to visit and extremely underrated when compared to others, Big Bend is a space that has always helped me feel slightly more at peace than I do anywhere else in this insanely large state. Needless to say, I was stoked.
After taking off early-ish (there really is no sense of urgency in Marfa), we made a quick stop in Alpine, TX at an awesome little locally owned coffee shop for some of the best cold brew coffee I have ever tasted and that’s saying something because I think cold-0brew coffee is 1. unnatural and 2. absolutely disgusting. This was neither of those things. In fact, it was downright delicious!
Fully caffeinated, we arrived in the park before it got too hot and I say ‘too hot’ with a giant asterisk as it was reading 126 degrees later in the day when we made our second stop!! Our trail for the day was the Lost Mine Trail, which is a 5 mile round trip hike that takes off right around 5700ft in elevation and ends right around 6800ft (according to my phone…) overlooking some of the most sweeping vistas the park has to offer. This was made even more interesting by me carrying my trusty F-Stop bag with about 30lbs of camera gear on my back, continually running from the back of the group to the front in order to set up, shoot the team walking by, and the repeat the process all the way to the top. Demanding? Hell yes. But, it was an absolute blast if truth be told, and it gave me moments to truly enjoy where I was, who I was with, and what we were really their to do: experience. We got to experience the beauty nature has to offer, the challenge it can present, and the natural ability it has to open the soul up to the amazing people and places we were their to experience. But, the best was still yet to come…
At the top of the hike, after a very smushed peanut butter sandwich, the guys were going to do finish the set of assignments they had been doing intermittently and reach the apex of where it was taking them. Let me explain, along with putting these guys on a cool trip, Kelley and Beth were leading them through a series of exercises that would help these men, business owners, trainers, fathers, husbands, and life-shapers understand better their own purposes, drives, and the legacies they were wanting to create around them. The climax of this assignment was sitting on a mountain top in West, TX, overlooking a sweeping ravine, declaring their purpose in life. At first, I just wandered off to the other side of the peak to eat my own sandwich, do a little reflecting in my own journal, and think about how I missed my wife and wish she could be there to experience the view with me. (Not joking or trying to suck up at all. I was really a little mopey in such an awesome place.) I didn’t realize at the time what they were going to be doing and you can only take so many intriguing photos of people sitting around talking about things. BUT, then I started listening to what was occurring behind me. Not only were these guys just doing what I believed to be another exercise, they were taking it to next-level status by standing up, reading aloud, and having to convince everybody else what their purpose really was. On top of a firkin mountain. THAT. IS. BAD. ASS. Seriously, I had to grab my camera to document, but more importantly, I had to get over there to be a part of the exercise and the experience as quickly as possible. It was awesome to both see and hear these guys once they really found and nailed their purpose. The pride and deep-found belief in their voice was immediately noticeable when they knew they had it compared to when they were just reciting words and going through the paces. It was real when it became their purpose, defined and laid out before them like a map for how they wanted to effect the world. A statement that they could check their actions and goals against. I had to get in on this immediately, here here’s what I came to:
“I tell the stories of the Heroes that surround us, to inspire others to be the Heroes we need.”
Here are some of theirs!
Defining that and saying it out load for such a powerful group of individuals in such an awe-inspiring place was absolutely goose-flesh inducing, and an experience that I will cherish forever.
There were plenty of other moments and facets of the trip that made it special, but I can assure you, not only as the hired observer and documenter on the trip, but as somebody who partook in the trip itself, it was that moment on the mountain that defined the time for all of us. Having that as the explanation point on that first three days was perfect, and getting to reflect on it for the 10 hour drive home will probably leave it echoed into my memory forever. A perfect close to the perfect beginning for what Marfa and the Lululemon Residency project had in store for me of the course of the entire stay. A huge thank you again to Kelley for this time and a big shout out to the guys on the trip for making this such an unexpectedly special three days.