Royalty in my blood
by Dennis Ernst • May 21, 2021
Before my wife and I were married, she met a photographer who asked her out to lunch. When it came time to exchange phone numbers, he presented her with his business card, which read: Prints Charming Photography. Self-proclaimed, card-carrying Prince Charmings don't come along every day (no matter how they spell their name). Any other single woman would have asked where he parked his white horse, then fall off her chair laughing. She married him instead.
We've been married 22 years now.
I'll admit, the play on words for my photography business was a little vainglorious. Despite that, my scenic and nature prints won Best of Show at several juried art fairs and I had built a local reputation for my work. If I took my love of photography to an extreme, I thought, maybe it could become my next career. My favorite subjects were sunsets, sunrises, covered bridges, water scenics, birds, and lighthouses. But Southern Indiana, where I lived at the time, was not exactly a photographer's mecca for any of those subjects. That meant I had to travel. As a single dad with two kids, my Nikons could not replace them as my top priority. For that reason I ultimately abandoned photography and immersed myself in something else I could take to an extreme: phlebotomy.
Before I changed my trajectory, though, I did manage to take a few road trips seeking my subjects. The Everglades, the Bahamas, Key West, and Park County, Indiana where there are more covered bridges than any other county in America. The most memorable, though, was a self-assignment to photograph every lighthouse on Michigan's western shore. It took half a day just to get all the way out of Indiana from where I lived, but when I got within striking distance of the first light, I set up camp and set my alarm. The week ahead would be glorious. No time clock to punch, no boss, no schedule. Just me, my Nikons and a case of Kodachrome 64s. Back then, there was no better film on the market. Crisp, forgiving, and archival.
In the 347 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline from Benton Harbor, Michigan to Mackinaw City, there are 27 lighthouses. I photographed them all that week from daybreak to sunset. From 11 a.m. to around 5 p.m. is the absolute worst time to photograph almost anything in nature, including lighthouses. With the sun directly overhead, colors are washed out, lack saturation, and take on too much contrast. Your best photos are when the sun is at a low angle and the rays are soft, warm, and less intense. That meant the middle of my days were either spent driving or waiting. But on Michigan's west coast, there's always something worth exploring. Take, for example, all the "world's largest" things within a few miles of U.S. 31 or M-22 that snake up the coast:
• the world's largest cherry pie pan (Traverse City)
• world's largest weathervane (Montague)
• world's largest crucifix (Indian River)
• world's largest front porch (Mackinac Island)
I probably shot 600 slides on that trip of lighthouses from various angles and with a variety of foregrounds and backgrounds. I was pretty ruthless when it came to editing what came back from the processor, sorting the wheat from the chaff. Most went into the trash. Of the 120 that I've kept, there's some real beautes that I still have today.
After I got to Mackinaw City and photographed #27, I put my cameras away and headed south down M-23 along the eastern shore of Michigan where Lake Huron stretches out before you for as far as you can see. It was time to head back home to Indiana, a two-day drive. Just south of Cheboygan, though, an offshore lighthouse caught my eye. I pulled over and snapped the shutter just as a large sailboat passed by. It was a grab shot, for sure. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time in the right kind of weather. It's not the most beautiful lighthouse picture of the trip, just the last and, as it turned out, the most prophetic.
That was 31 years ago. Little did I know at the time that decades later that lighthouse would be visible from my back yard. A multitude of pathways, opportunities, and decisions led to leaving Indiana and relocating to Cheboygan in 2019 where I can now sit at our firepit and see that very same lighthouse. I know exactly where I stood when I took that shot passing through in 1990; I pass it every time I go to the office and again on my way home. I am far from the same person, yet an aspect of my life has come full circle.
The chain of events that had to happen in order for that circle to complete had impossible odds. Yet it happened as if it was destined.
In order to live on Lake Huron within sight of that lighthouse, my wife and I had to take a pass on the 61 other homes we looked at in person, including 12 in Maine. In order to even be looking for homes in the first place, my wife would have to tell me she wants to move from Indiana to a cooler climate. That would have required us to be working in a capacity that allowed us to relocate, like owning our own company. Having our own company required us to create one in the first place, not something a nurse and medical technologist have any experience in doing, but since I was professionally burned-out, I was the one who got to quit my job first. In order to do that, I had to have a wife who believed in her husband so much that finding joy in his work was more important than his paycheck. In order for that to happen, she had to marry him instead of falling off her chair laughing when he first introduced himself as Prints Charming. In order for that to happen, he had to have a photography business that required him to take road trips to take and sell photographs of his favorite subjects, like lighthouses. That completes the circle.
Coincidence? I don't think so. Going where your heart tells you to go and not going where it tells you not to go is key to the process. That's discernment. I believe there's a path already designed for us and through discernment everyone ends up where they're supposed to be eventually. All we have to do is walk through the open doors.
Presenting business cards proclaiming you're royalty might not complete your circle, though. But it might be good for a laugh.
overall rating: my rating: log in to rate