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  • Writer's pictureJustin Key

The Long Shutter Project

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

There was one thing I knew for certain growing up, I wanted to be passionate about my career. I didn't want a safe job, it wasn't about the money, I just wanted to wake up and be excited about the day ahead and to be happy would be enough for me. That lone requirement wasn't pushing me in a certain direction though.

In high school, I was incredibly shy, choosing to be invisible rather then face the possibility of rejection. The majority of my four years were spent with my head down hoping nobody noticed me. I over analyzed every interaction, dissecting every word that tripped out of my mouth just chipping away at my self-esteem. My focus was on my piers' perception of me to the point I never focused on becoming an individual.

Photography helped cure both of those problems. My initial focus was on sports. I walked into the first handful of games feeling extremely self-conscious. Standing on the sidelines, exposed, I was concerned with the crowd reigning judgment on me rather than watching the game. Then my eye looked through the lens and my world ran on twitches. I had to follow the flow, anticipate a player's actions, find my frame, grab focus, and fire. I couldn't think so my body could focus on reacting. Once I started getting some good shots, that nervousness dissipated and a passion began to form.

Doubts have worked me over plenty since those initial days on the sidelines. My passion for photography faded after I graduated from college and was thrown into a world without direction. I wandered around in a fog of options until I settled for a secure income that entered me into the realm of mundane. They were emotionless mornings, sitting in traffic, making it through my 8 hours, then more traffic before spending the night recharging for Tuesday. I was reduced to finding ways to make myself happy on weekends and it didn't often involve a camera.

Black and white photograph of Hanakapiai Falls in Kauai

Then I met a woman that woke up every day ready to take on the world. She wasn't afraid of the future because she was going to pave her own way. Her ambition began to poke at me and she pushed me to think beyond the realm of possibilities and create my "in a perfect world" scenario. I had always loved to travel and to do so working as a photographer never felt attainable. Then I started to ask myself, why not me? Why couldn't I go for it? Why couldn't I find success? The only thing holding me back was me.

Fast forward and here I am today. I married that girl and together we have been traveling the world. I've started selling my photos and been lucky enough to display a few in galleries. This was not a future I saw possible for myself but once I quit listening to the doubts, pieces started to fall into place. I don't believe I have made it by any means but a string of good fortune has me running on a fuel of hope, determination, and excitement to build on this momentum. Doubts still creep in from time to time but there is so much potential ahead of me that it's become easier to fight them off.

There is still one problem that has plagued me from the beginning. There is a mass of landscape photographers out there and I still wonder why someone would buy a print from me over the rest of them. After I make a sale a wave of guilt comes over me because I realize how selfish my pursuit is. I see myself as just some kid with a camera selling my memories to fund my next trip. Even though I was pursuing my passion, it felt like something was missing.

Once I set my sights on being a world-traveling landscape photographer, a part of my brain started looking for ways to do more. A part of me knew that selling my work to fund another trip wouldn't be enough. After a sale, that part of my brain would kick on and go to work searching for a solution.

A few good ideas came and went. One was to donate a portion of sales to help protect the location where that photo was captured. After speaking with a few individuals with experience helping world communities I realized my travels were too extensive to cover all of my photos. Then I started to think about some of the causes that are close to my heart. In 2016 one of my best friends who was battling muscular dystrophy passed away unexpectedly while Sarah's family has a history of Alzheimer's which she has been a strong advocate for. Helping those causes would benefit a lot more people than myself.

Then the problem became how could I use my work to benefit those causes. I could donate a portion of every sale to each one but if I found more causes that I wanted to help it became a similar problem with too many cookie jars and not enough cookies. I eventually thought about creating work specifically for each cause and donating a portion of each sale to its associated charity. That was when The Long Shutter Project was created.

The Long Shutter Project is a new branch of my photography designed to give back. Each segment of The Long Shutter Project will be connected to a charity for which a portion of every sale will be donated to. Over the years new segments will be added to benefit different causes and with the inception of The Long Shutter Project comes the "Earth Forms" collection.

"Earth Forms" is a collection of series and studies focusing on details found in nature. A series is limited to 25 abstract images and one parent image involving a phenomenon found in nature while a study is an open body of work revolving around a single landscape. The "Earth Forms" collection is associated with the Muscular Dystrophy Association where 10% of any sale will be donated. I have also set up a donations page with the MDA where you can donate directly to the cause as well as read more about my buddy Nate.

Over the years I hope to continue to expand The Long Shutter Project to help other causes. I am already working on a study for the "Earth Forms" collection and developing an idea for a second branch to benefit Alzheimer's. For special announcements regarding The Long Shutter Project please follow me on Facebook and Instagram. This is only the beginning of The Long Shutter Project and over the years as it grows and develops I think it has the potential to do a lot of good.

As we grow, life throws a lot at us and our passions are tested and adjusted. As a kid, I just wanted to find something I could be passionate about and run with it. Photography became the foundation for which that passion was built but there was still a void. Building The Long Shutter Project brought new life to that passion and I hope everyone that finds it can get as excited about it as I am. I see enormous potential to help a lot of people through this body of work. My hope is to raise awareness and support for these causes that mean a lot to me. I consider myself lucky to be able to chase this dream of mine and it feels more complete with the beginning of this new chapter.

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