By Michael H. Kew
FIVE HOURS FROM SURF. Three hours past dusk. Mark McInnis, 36, shouts at his friend.
“Hey, Laner! For this big main arc, drive on the inside lane! And don’t forget: running lights only!”
Down the hill, 500 yards out, behind a low ridge we can’t see, Lane Pearson—also a lensman—sits in McInnis’s new gray Tacoma, waiting to grind the sharp curves of this remote highway.
Wasco County, Oregon. The high desert plateau is black and cold, its sky vast and starry. No moon. No cell service. Sage, tussock, dirt. Nearest town: population 46.
“See the problem?” McInnis says to me, tracing the horseshoe with his finger. “Right there, Lane is driving straight toward my lens, so we might get a weird lens flare, but if he gets to right here before it clicks….Goooo, Laner!”
Pearson stomps the gas. The truck roars; its knobby tires squeal.
Thirty-second exposure. McInnis watches his timer.
“Gogogogogogogo! Go! Go! Go!”
….2…1…click. The truck’s red tail lights coast out of frame.
“We nailed it!” McInnis laughs. His breath is steam. He dances a slight jig, speaks fast. “We nailed it, dude! Si-hi-hi-hi-hi-ck! Laner’s just driving like a mad dog. Dude. We’re, like, done. First try. We’re literally done. That’s all I wanted.”
Hunched and cackling, waiting for the pixels to process, he squints at the camera’s LCD screen.
“Wait, why isn’t it showing the image? Do I not have a card in this thing? Oh, there it goes. Yup. That was sick. We already nailed it. I love when stuff works out this easily. We can go home right now. Obviously we’re not going to.”
What’s your vision here, Mark?
“I had this idea to juxtapose two photos of this vantage, one with no car in the daytime, one with a car on it at night.”
Did the dealership request that?
“No. It’s what I want to do. I love this kind of stuff. I get so excited making a cool shot for a client, or for whoever. It’s fun to do something different.”
“Surfing, of course.”
What kind of photographer are you?
“A kook with a camera. Surfing and adventure lifestyle. Travel. Outdoor adventure.”
What drives you?
“Photography has been my passion for half my life. The reason I started was to get an easy A in my senior year of high school. It trips me out when I’ll talk with someone or I’ll get a random email, and the person is telling me one of my shots made them feel something, or they connect to my photography. It’s cool putting something out there that makes somebody feel. I don’t know if that’s what I’m after, but when it happens, it’s badass.”
We sit on cool, pebbly soil and wait for Lane. A beer can is opened. Sage scent abounds.
“This reminds me of my childhood,” McInnis says quietly. “The sage smells vibrant because rain fell today. It rarely rains here.”
He swigs ale.
“One big job a month. That’s an easy way of saying it. I’d love to do big jobs to get the money to do things I’m passionate about, like surfing. The corporate shoots have been fun. I work with great people.”
Somewhere in the night, Pearson has left the truck and is walking back to us to shoot the next image using his camera from a different angle.
McInnis: “For this one, it’ll look cool as long as we shoot for at least 20 minutes. But the longer we go, the better. I want to go until at least 11:30. It’s 10:55 now. Thirty-five minutes? That’ll be a nice exposure as long as no cars come.”
We watch for satellites and shooting stars.
“The older I get and the longer I stay in places like this, the more I realize their potential for photography. In the past, I’d never think about it. This is where I grew up. Back then, we’d just hang out—shoot guns, snowboard, ride motorcycles, fish, whatever. Today, I appreciate it 100 percent more.”
Until recently, McInnis shunned the desert, splitting years between the rainy coast and Portland, where his girlfriend lived. “I thought there was nothing in Bend for me besides my mom and friends I grew up with.”
Singlehood struck in September 2014. That winter, McInnis roamed the West Coast and traveled a bit, notably to Scotland for “Seawolf,” a film project.
“My stepdad passed away in April 2015, so I spent a ton of time in Bend comforting my mom, and Lane was comforting me. It was pre-summer—my friends and I had the mountains and lakes and everything to ourselves. I was so stoked to be hanging with Lane a lot, and with my mom. It was a badass time to be in Bend. Lots of love radiating from all over.”
Love: Honolua Bay, 1995. Gray sky, three-foot swell. McInnis’s first surf. He’s 15. Willis, a skilled surfer and Mark’s biological father, lives nearby. “My dad explained nothing about surfing to me. I didn’t know what I was doing. I paddled a longboard over a wave, and it jacked; the board smacked my nose. So I sat on the shoulder, bleeding, watching my dad surf. He was bummed at himself for not offering me pointers.”
“When I was 10, my real dad had moved back to Bend to be with me for my formative years. I hated summer, because all I wanted to do was snowboard. I had nowhere to go. It was like, I have to stay here? It sucked. Hot and dusty.”
In 2001 McInnis moved to Eugene, where he studied journalism at the University of Oregon. “By then, my dad had returned to Maui, so for each college Christmas break—I was 20, 21, 22—we spent three weeks surfing there. All day, every day. Those years, when we were in love with surfing, were the most we ever connected.”
Early one morning in April 2004, surfing in murky water off Maui’s Pohaku Park, Willis McInnis was fatally mauled by a tiger shark.
“When he died, I decided I’d surf everywhere, not just on Maui, since I could no longer surf with him. Thought I’d get a wetsuit and learn whatever all this Oregon crap is about, because surfing was a way I could still connect with my dad. I talk to him every time I go surfing—out loud, if no one’s around.” (laughs) “Actually, I talk to both my dads all the time.”
Pearson approaches—a headlamped ghost. Thrilled, McInnis stands and adjusts the tripod. Completes his thought.
“This whole path I’ve taken…it’s a direct result of my dads passing.”
Star trails. Zest.