Ups & Downs

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Life really is a roller coaster ride, filled with so many ups and downs. Personally, I've been climbing an apex lately, everything is just right. Two weeks ago I was finishing a personal trip, taking pictures in Iceland and backpacking in the Alps, experiencing things so spectacular that they didn't seem real, even in the moment. My twin sister Jackie was pregnant with her second boy, and I was flying home to document his first few weeks. Life couldn't be better.

During the final weeks of Jackie's pregnancy she was experiencing extreme back pain and numbness from her chest down. It was first thought to be a rare pregnancy side effect or a pinched nerve, and the doctors believed it would take care of itself after the birth.aaThe birth was pushed forward a week, from September 22nd to September 13th for the sake of Jackies well-being . She gave birth to my new nephew, Kenton Oliver Coll, a beautiful and healthy, 7lb little dude!

The night I arrived in New Hampshire Jackie started experiencing increased numbness from her chest down, making her unable to walk. She was admitted to the regional hospital emergency room, and was immediately transported to a larger hospital with better neurology facilities. The doctors were concerned that there could be an infection in her spine causing it to swell, so they kept her overnight to run tests, including an MRI scan. She was forced to give up her three day old baby boy Kenton to our mom, which Jackie admits was the hardest part of the whole ordeal. She had been carrying little Kenton around in her belly for the past nine months and nursing the past few days, so naturally she was devastated at the thought that she couldn't be with him.

Meanwhile, three day old Kenton and his big brother Landon are staying at my folks house while Jackie is at the hospital with her husband James. Landon is great at staying busy, building trains from scraps of wood, and assembling crazy matchbox car race tracks.

The following day Jackie receives the results from her MRI scan. The doctors discover a large tumor pressing against her spine, which is causing the numbness. This was devastating news for everyone. Like the feeling I experienced in the Alps weeks before, this didn't seem real. Jackie's husband James is with her when she receives the news.

I point out the tumor on the MRI scan results. It is almost 4" long, and is inside her spinal cavity, compressing her spinal cord.

Jackie texts our parents the MRI scan results. I'm struggling with the idea that there is a tumor in her back, laying right beneath the knot on her hospital gown. The worst sorts of thoughts pop inside my head at a time like this, and all I could do was fight them off. I can only imagine how tough this was for Jackie.

Many doctors are in and out of Jackie's room all morning, including a team of neurologists, and a team of oncologists. They ultimately decide that operating to remove the tumor was a priority.

 Neurosurgeon Dr. Bauer talks about the surgery to Jackie, describing how parts of her vertebrae will be removed to gain access to her spinal cord so the tumor can be cut out. He calls it "routine surgery", which is soothing in a conversation of the sort. Surgery is scheduled for 2:00 PM, and it will take about four hours. Recovery will take six weeks.

Surgery went smooth, and Doctor Bauer was able to remove the entire tumor from her spine. However, the oncologists feel that the tumor is Cancerous, probably of the Lymphatic type, though we won't know for sure until test results are back in "five to ten days". In this new MRI scan you can see that the tumor is gone, and the spinal cord is not being compressed anymore. You can also notice the bone pieces that are now gone when comparing to the original MRI results.

I'm constantly reminded how strong my sister is. The way she handles news like this is admirable. Her unwavering sensibility and composition make me wonder if I could react the same way in her situation.

Jackie spends two more days in the hospital recovering from the surgery. She has remained in high spirits, making jokes and laughing often. Five days after she was pulled away from her newborn son Kenton, she is finally reunited. Jackie, her husband James, and their two sons, Landon, and Kenton will be living with our folks while she recovers. She cant lift anything for weeks and needs a walker to navigate everywhere.

At times its easy to forget the magnitude of the surgery due to Jackie constant high spirits, but one look at the the incision is a swift reminder.

A few days after returning home Jackie is able to walk small distances with help, and is able to leave the house for breakfast at Landon's favorite place, the Bagel Mill.

Kenton likes having his mom back. He's a week and a half here, and he is the shining light through the fog for everyone. He is just a joy to have around.

Jackie's recovery is going smooth. We are waiting for the final test results still, but we do know that she has B Cell Lymphoma. The treatment will likely include both chemotherapy, and radiation. As disturbing as that may be, Jackie has set a tone that the whole family seems to have also adopted. She chooses to live in the moment and take everything day by day, as opposed to thinking too much about what the future might hold and letting it consume her in the present moments. This philosophy has made life much more enjoyable for her and the family among difficult times.

Like Jackie, I choose to focus on the positives, like how wonderful it is to all be living under the same roof again. I've really enjoyed spending quality time with Jackie and my family. I also appreciate the way an event like this puts life's daily woes into perspective for everyone involved. Things that seemed so important two weeks ago immediately seem trivial now. Its always important not to sweat the small stuff, because you never know when the larger stuff might pop up that actually matters.

We are all confident Jackie will make a full recovery from the Lymphoma. In the meantime I look forward to enjoying lots of time with my family.

Life is still good.

the journey so far

My job as a stage manager affords me a lot of free time and flexibility throughout the year, which I absolutely love. Depending on the year, I can be on the road from six to ten months, and at home in Nashville the for rest of the year. While home, I spend my time relaxing and refueling from the high energy, always on-the-go lifestyle the road provides. This is also the perfect time for me to work on various passion projects, such as bag making, woodworking, and most recently, photography. I have been off of the road since January this year, and I have spent the time hyper focused on setting myself up to transition from my current career as a stage manager, into a career as a photographer. It has been a wonderful process so far.

I spent January building up the perfect photography travel kit for my needs on the road. I purchased a wonderfully tiny, lightweight flash, as well as a wireless flash trigger kit that enables me to capture great moments even in dark situations. I made my own camera bag using my favorite materials, waxed canvas and leather as a precisely fitting home for my FujiFilm X100T camera and flash kit.

By February, offers for stage managing work started coming in for the spring, and I realized it was the perfect opportunity to throw myself into the life of a working photographer. I decided to offer my photography as an added service to the band I would be stage managing for, in exchange for the visibility from my photos being used in social media and print with my credit. 

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In March I finished this website as a portfolio to show what I'm capable of, and soon after I committed to a job that will keep me busy for the rest of the year, stage managing and photographing a wonderful band called Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness. Success! My first photo gig!

I spent April and early May adding the essay and journal sections to this site so they are ready to display all of the adventures I'll will be experiencing while on the road this year.

Last week I flew out to Los Angeles to work my first few shows with Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness. My first impressions were amazing, and I'm absolutely stoked for the rest of the year! They are all wonderfully talented guys, and I look forward to the friendships that have sprouted already. This journal entry follows my first week as a working photographer, shooting and stage managing in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. 

I spent four days in Los Angeles, learning the gear that I will be maintaining, and rehearsing with the band. The photo above is from the first bunch I took, during rehearsals in a sound studio south of LA. We flew to San Francisco the night we finished rehearsals, and I took full advantage of the free night.

I went for a midnight walk down Market Street, and I photographed a few kids who were skateboarding in front of the San Francisco Ferry Building downtown. While I was shooting them a man dressed as an Alcatraz prisoner walked up, and one of the guys whispered to me "Be careful, this guy will talk your ear off". Boy were they right!

This is Dan Buddy. He is a locally known homeless man, who wanders the city entertaining tourists by singing the songs of an Alcatraz prisoner and spreading "good loving vibes" as he says. Upon being offered a few baguettes by one of the skateboarders, Dan quickly replied "I don't need food, but I will duel with you", and good, lighthearted foolishness ensued.

After the dueling was over, I walked with Dan Buddy for close to an hour and was fascinated with his energy, his stories, and his openness to connect with me. Dan is a 60 year old veteran who fought in the Vietnam War, where he says he held his best friends as they were dying on the war fields. When speaking of his time in the Army, Dan repeated a particular phrase often, "They didn't teach me how to kill, they taught me how to destroy". His animosity toward the US Army and war in general was obvious. I noticed Dan's mood shift from happy and playful to straight anger very quickly a few times throughout our walk. When speaking about losing his eyesight for instance, he spoke fiercely and violently about defending himself against his attacker on the street years before, but quickly snapped out of it. "But I'm not a violent person, I'm really not" would follow after each brief fit of rage. I was beginning to imagine the life Dan had experienced, and it filled me with empathy for him.

It was intriguing to me that Dan was quite prideful of his homeless lifestyle, explaining that unlike other homeless people he knows, he is always respectful to the area where he sleeps and would never leave garbage behind. Dan spoke eagerly about the time he spent train hopping around the county in the 80's, as if they were his glory days. He pridefully considers himself a street actor, and enjoyed showing me a few of his songs that he performs on the streets daily, complete with a searing guitar solo played on his cane. "Ever seen someone play the trash cans?!" He was performing for my camera.

Dan repeatedly excused himself from our conversation to sip his "go-go juice", a Gatorade bottle containing whiskey because he felt guilty drinking in front of me. He explained that he keeps his whiskey in a Gatorade bottle to avoid the attention of the police, but also so mothers don't have to explain to their kids what he's drinking. Later when I asked him what his greatest passion in life is, he replied "My two girls and my two boys". They all live in New York state, but Dan hasn't talked to them in years. He went on to detail how he had been in and out of jail and homeless for the past 30 years, starting when his "old lady" died. I pictured her being the glue that held him together, and again was filled with empathy for him. Before parting ways I asked Dan if he had any advice that I might find useful. Without much thought he quickly replied "You should help people only when they are ready to help themselves, otherwise you're just wasting your time."

The next day I worked my first show with Andrew McMahon. We played a corporate event for a Silicone Valley tech startup called Zendesk, who's software is embedded into apps like Uber and Facebook Messenger. The event was held in a beautiful old warehouse on a pier, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

For lunch I walked to a park across the street and found a few pictures.

My first show went quite smooth, mostly due to the band being such pro's on stage. I was able to focus on getting pictures through most of the set. These are my favorites.

That same night we flew to Las Vegas for a show the next day. Again, we took full advantage of the remainder of the night, sharing drinks, walking the strip, and meeting new people.

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This is Andrew, the frontman in the band, 56 floors up, but not too worried.

These woman liked Zac, the keyboard player because he looks like Jesus. They also loved playing for my camera, it was so fun!

"I want my picture without her!" 

Beautiful women seemed to be coming out of the woodwork.

And pizza to end a great Las Vegas night.

I spent the next day at the Cosmopolitan rooftop pool because that's where the stage was, overlooking the Las Vegas strip! It was one of the more exotic stage locations I've gotten the opportunity to work on. Before our set began I shot some photos of BØRNS, a band I've been really loving lately. They played a great set, I was excited to see them!

By the time we played its was dark out, and the energy was palpable! What a joy the set was to shoot! The show went off without a hitch.

 I love how Andrew engauges his fans during the set. During the last song he jumped in the crowd, posed for selfies, and even signed some autographs! All mid-song, without missing a note! I loved it.

I had a fantastic week and I'm as excited as ever for the rest of the year working with these guys. I cant wait to document our lives on the road together and everything in between. I feel relieved to have a week of tour photography work under my belt, and I'm really eager to see what my portfolio will look like by the end of the year. Next I need to streamline the editing process and everything that happens after I capture these photos. This journal post alone must have taken me six hours or more to produce! Starting in June I'll be working a show almost every day until August, so developing an efficient workflow will be imperative. I suppose practice will help, so expect more soon!

A New Creative Journey

Dear friend,

My name is Alex Perkins, I'm 32, currently loving life in Nashville, Tennessee. I'm a transplant here, originally from a small town in the beautiful New Hampshire countryside, though I've lived in Nashville for close to five years now. I moved here for the music industry, in which I've been participating for the past seven years as a traveling stage manager and guitar tech. For more than ten years prior to my career as a tech, I pursued the music industry from the other side, as a musician, creating music that I loved with my best friends and traveling the country trying to be heard. The idea that I could possibly spend my life this way, experiencing so many new places and people while spreading music I helped create and believed in was so Utopian to me! Those were some of the best years in my life, and I was sad when they were over.

 Photo: Kolby Schnelli

Photo: Kolby Schnelli

The end of that chapter in my life brought the beginning of the next, which I am currently still writing, though I feel a new chapter is near. As my band decided it was time to throw in the towel seven years ago now, my love for the gear brought me my first gig as a guitar tech. I quickly found that my skill set was better suited to this tech side of music, and have since traveled around the world working for bands like Owl City, Relient K, Say Anything, NeedToBreathe, and many others. Through these years and experiences I have become much more introspective, and have been learning a lot about myself including my strengths and my weaknesses, as well as noticing my patterns and habits. One big revelation was realizing my reliance on maintaining a constant creative outlet. Working as a traditional guitar tech or stage manager, there really isn't much creativity in the job. Since I had stopped writing music with my friends, I soon found myself building elaborate rigs (AlexPerkinsBuilds) for the musicians I worked for to solve problems I faced on the road. Only recently have I realized that I've been subconsciously using these gear builds as my creative fix, an outlet which I now understand is vital to my well-being. 

 This is my shop where I do all my building work, as well as hangs

This is my shop where I do all my building work, as well as hangs

  Here is a flyable guitar rig and a MainStage keyboard rig I built for Owl City in 2015

 Here is a flyable guitar rig and a MainStage keyboard rig I built for Owl City in 2015

 An Owl City soundcheck in Yokohama, Japan

An Owl City soundcheck in Yokohama, Japan

Despite the fact that I really enjoy designing and building job specific gear, I've begun to question whether or not it is the creative outlet that I desire. I spend hundreds of hours building a piece of musical gear that performs as dependably and efficiently as possible. I love using the gear on the road daily or watching someone else interact with gear that I built, but I have since learned the harsh reality; these builds I pour my heart and my time into often get used for only a few tours before collecting dust in storage, or worse, get ripped apart by clueless techs.

 Here is a MIDI controlled wireless rack that took over 80 hours to design and build in 2014

Here is a MIDI controlled wireless rack that took over 80 hours to design and build in 2014

 Here is the same rack in 2016, just bones collecting dust in a storage unit graveyard

Here is the same rack in 2016, just bones collecting dust in a storage unit graveyard

This past year I witnessed my creative attention wander from gear building, and I began searching for the "next step" as I've termed it. Although I love the work that I do now traveling as a stage manager, I decided if I were to do something different it would need to include a few things: travel and adventures, a constant flow of new people and evolving situations, and most importantly, it would need to serve my creative hunger in a more infused and natural way. I had a few ideas I was pursuing as a possible "next step", but none seemed to offer all three of the core things I value most. Last summer I fell in love with a FujiFilm camera after holding one in a camera shop in Tokyo. Days later I climbed Mt. Fuji, and after shooting the trip on my phone I really wished I had the FujiFilm camera. I ordered one immediately, and It turned out to be the best purchase I've made for myself in years. I regret not buying a camera sooner.

 The view from the summit of Mt. Fuji, as seen by my phone

The view from the summit of Mt. Fuji, as seen by my phone

I have owned cameras in the past and even questioned photography as a career path almost ten years ago, but I never revisited it seriously until now. This FujiFilm X100T camera has been the best way to be reintroduced into photography. It reminds me of shooting on an old Japanese Pentax film camera that I used in high school, when the photo bug grabbed me for the first time 15 years ago. It has physical controls for shutter speed and aperture, which make it a blast to shoot manually with. I've become absolutely obsessed with shooting with this camera! After six months of heavy research, studying the photos of the worlds greatest photographers, and shooting all day every day to grow my own skill, a new "next step" has materialized:

I WANT TO MAKE GREAT PICTURES THAT INSPIRE PEOPLE!

 An inspired man inspires others in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, but not everyone succumbs to the power of inspiration

An inspired man inspires others in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, but not everyone succumbs to the power of inspiration

It hit me like an explosion! suddenly it occurred to me that photography is the "next step" I had been searching for, unfolding before my eyes for me to discover! I couldn't contain myself!  I can maintain the travel and adventure, the new people and evolving situations, and feed my creative hunger by producing photos and photo essays of things that interest me most! I recently finished my first ever photo essay about Appalachian Trail thru-hikers passing through the Smoky Mountains. Every step of that process was an absolutely thrilling experience. I photographed the last tour I worked on, and thoroughly enjoyed that experience as well. 

 38, a hiker I met early in his 2200 mile hike along the Appalachian Trail

38, a hiker I met early in his 2200 mile hike along the Appalachian Trail

 Mannheim Steamroller finishing their set at the historic Fox Theater in Detroit, Michigan

Mannheim Steamroller finishing their set at the historic Fox Theater in Detroit, Michigan

So that is where I will start my journey, shooting the people that I travel and work with, as well as anything I find that inspires me. I am going to record my experiences and results in this journal as a record for myself, so I can revisit at future points in my life and remember where I have been, and hopefully learn from it. But I also hope that I can inspire others to pursue whatever it is that excites them in life, because there is no time to waste! Wish me luck on my new journey, and please follow along for lots of pictures to come in future posts!

-Alex

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