• Justin Key

The Year of Establishment

Updated: Apr 11

As we get ready to welcome the New Year we reflect on the year that was. For most of us, it was 11 months of rebelling against a new year’s promise to ourselves. The good news is we have a new one teed up and this year it’s going to stick, right?


When we christened 2016 with a giant disco ball sliding down a pole and semi-forced PDA, my resolution list was blank. I was tired of telling myself I would develop a workout regimen or thinking I would have the will power to turn down every free sample of fudge. 2016 was going to be much bigger, it would be my year of establishment. 


January 1st I awoke with clarity and motivation, two traits that had been avoiding me since graduating college. The past two years were filled with doubt and a little voice constantly telling me to chase my dreams. Well, that little voice wasn’t going anywhere, I was engaged to it, and in 2016 I married it. This would become the year I started telling people I was a photographer.


I didn’t set the bar very high for 2016; it was a year of establishment, a year with direction and filled with purpose. It was a year dedicated to setting the foundation for Justin Key the photographer and it had to be done delicately. I lost all sense of who Justin Key was when puberty started, yes we’re going third person for a bit. The kid who once stood in the middle of a gymnasium and led his school in a Super Bowl ritual known as the Macarena had become introverted overnight. It wasn’t until college that the shell began to chip away but Justin Key was still an enigma, Justin Key the photographer wasn’t even a concept. After years of uncertainty and self-doubt, there was something taking form.


Step one was building a website, check! The process missed its deadline by a couple months but was completed nonetheless. I was now free to focus on a flurry of other tasks. My social media presence was reestablished, business cards were printed, a domain was purchased, email set up, programs downloaded and hardware upgraded. I began recording finances for tax purposes (way too adult). Justin Key Photography was being built.


Justin Key the photographer was also starting to emerge. With a focus on landscape, my subject matter was finally concentrated on one field, and I began to notice a style. You won’t find scenes that make you go “Wow!”, my captures aren’t taken under a field of stars, at the top of a mountain, or under the glow of a dying evening. My work is found along the way, vantage points that reward the courageous, places that get overshadowed and overlooked, and emphasize textures and shapes.

In college, we learned about abstract art and I remember a painter that I never understood. Mark Rothko’s paintings were just shapes and colors to me but they were supposedly filled with emotion. I was never able to look at one of his paintings and feel anything but confusion. The emotions are still lost on me, but I now have an understanding of how one could see more than a mass of streaks with a similar hue. It helps that it was my eye behind the camera when my images were captured. In each shot there is a memory, I can recall how each scene moved between exposures, the sounds, the weather, who was there with me and who I wish could have been, what it took to get there and where I went next. In a year, I have seen more emotion coming out and my work getting stronger. I don’t want someone to see a piece and go “I like that”, I want them to have to stop and look, stare at it, and for a moment be there. That’s progress from the kid with a booth set up at a bridal show squeezing a sweat-soaked stress cube with his logo on it knowing he’s going in the wrong direction. A year ago today I had no idea where I wanted to go. In a time full of optimism, hope, and love, a dream caught fire. It hasn’t been easy but knowing every day I’m taking a baby step in the right direction is worth every second. When you get hit with the inspiration of the holiday upon us, don’t stand outside the fire like I did for 24 years. I jumped in and took those flames for a ride, and shit, it’s been fun.

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