The sun rises over a remote playa in Death Valley National Park, California. This is about a friend who left us way too early...

For Jeff

Death Valley National Park, California

The sun rises over a remote playa in Death Valley National Park, California.

This is about a friend who left us way too early. This is for Jeff Swanson.

I am often surprised by how quickly I have formed deep friendships with some people in the landscape photography community. I have met numerous people in the past three years that have had a profound impact on not only my photography, but my life and the way that I think about the world. I am invigorated by the generosity and support that has come my way, and the memories and experiences that have been forged because of it. My friends have truly been a beacon of hope in some pretty trying times. They tighten my grip. They boost me up so that I can continue to keep my eye on the shore while I tread the waves of life and try to make it to dry land.

Jeff was one of those people. While I had only known Jeff for a short time, I felt a deep connection to him. Our friendship formed online over photography. Our shared passion for both photography and cheesy humor resulted in some pretty long threads where we traded bad puns and had a blast doing it. Jeff's positivity and outlook were contagious and he pulled many people into that circle. I know I'm not the only one who had been impacted in a positive way by this dude over words on a screen.

I had the luxury of meeting Jeff in the Bay Area when he and another friend came to support me for my first gallery show. I battle myself a lot on my creativity and my art and to have two people I only knew online get in their car and drive somewhere to show their support for me really hit me. I'm sure they were enticed by the free wine and cookies at the opening reception, but I try to ignore that part.

The thing is... it never felt weird or awkward. I'm good at faking it but most times I don't feel comfortable in social settings with a bunch of people I don't know, and one of those settings where I am at the center of focus is even worse. I can't explain the excitement I felt when I saw my two friends standing there. In that moment our friendship had grown immensely. I felt more comfortable in that big white room. I laughed genuinely instead of nervously. It felt like I had known them for years instead of months. The next day the three of us shared a photographic memory on Hawk Hill shooting the Golden Gate Bridge. While that kind of photography isn't necessarily my jam, standing on the side of a hill with two people I enjoy, watching the weather move around us, experiencing that moment, laughing, talking, and using our cameras while the sun dipped below the horizon totally is.

That's the kind of person Jeff was to me and I find it weird that I was affected by his death in the way that I was. But it made sense. He was a good person and he exuded that energy. I know everyone says good things about someone when they pass.. but from my experience.. it's all true about Jeff.

I'm glad that I got to spend several more days creating memories and photographing nature with Jeff when he came to visit Oregon in the spring of 2014. I knew he was sick.. but I didn't know that would be the last time I saw him.

I hope that he knew what kind of impact he had on people. I never got a chance to tell him.

To all of my friends reading this.. I love you.

Jeff passed at the young age of 30 due to complications from Melanoma. I encourage you to visit and donate to the Melanoma Research Foundation. ( You can also view some of his photography at
Photo © copyright by TJ Thorne.