Searching for the real in an already overly saturated artistic land, and bringing my son along for the ride.
I was born in Willits, a rural community along the 101 corridor, deep within the heart of California's rugged north coast, in late 1975. It was a blue collar community; smack dab in the middle of the Redwood Empire. Timber still put food on tables. In a sense, fishing did too. It was also an important rail hub for the Northwestern Pacific. And even though there was a pretty big migration of back-to-the-land folk, moving out of the concrete confines of the San Francisco Bay Area, Mendocino County and the north coast still had plenty of wide open spaces.
My history with this land actually extends a lot further back than the year of my birth. The family lineage can be traced to 1844, when Fernando Feliz moved into the Sanel Valley with a herd of livestock to establish Rancho Sanel. He would remain in Hopland until his passing, but by that point, most of his land had been partitioned out. From stories I'd been told as a child, some of the remaining Feliz clan moved south into Sonoma County.
Aletha Feliz, my grandmother, married Douglas Rowley when they both lived in the Bay Area during the war years. After moving north to Healdsburg, they had my mother and in 1952, moved further up the 101 corridor to Willits, where they planted roots. And that's where I came into the picture.
Growing up in Mendocino County was enchanting. Children of my generation were very outdoorsy. We fished the rivers, hunted in the mountains and played in areas steeped in history. Though my mother was a single parent and worked hard to provide, we also had many adventures in the county and beyond. By the time I was ten, I knew every country road around here like the back of my hand. And it was through her that I developed a keen sense of creativity behind the lens of a camera and a strong desire to explore and document my home. It would serve me well after I got my license at 16.
Mendocino County has changed so much since then. We now live in the ashes of the Redwood Empire. Timber has made a bit of a comeback, yet it does not sustain us like it used to. These days, when you think “Mendo,” you think of tourism, wine grapes and cannabis. Though the landscape is still as rugged as ever, life north of the Golden Gate is a bit softer.
My aim as a photographer up here has always been quite simple. I document. Time and changes that come through it's passage absolutely fascinates me. I don't sugarcoat my work, and make no attempts to portray this area from an almost fantasy-like point of view. There are plenty of very talented photographers who do fine art quite well. My work is real. They are snapshots of life in the every day.
What's cool about living up here and doing what I do, is that I have been able to share all of it with my son. Our own adventurous nature has bonded us, as it did with my mother and I when I was that age. It's been awesome to see how he views Mendocino County from behind the lens, and in turn, that inspires me to keep creating and pushing my own levels in photography!
Our family's legacy with California's north coast continues.