Storm-chasing photographer Lori Grace has always had a passion for extreme weather. But, after buying her first camera, she was transfixed by the spiritual process of turning the mighty forces of nature into art. She speaks with Ola Kalejaye about her run-ins with lightning, the validation of NFTs, and doing her bit to make web3 a more inclusive place.
The arresting beauty of Lori Grace’s photography speaks for itself. Through her images, she captures the shocking power of nature with a quality that transports the viewer right into the heart of some of the most extreme weather on earth.
It makes sense that more than a few people have questioned if Lori’s images are digitally augmented in some way, but the truth of Lori’s process is much more inspiring. Her images come only as the result of immense amounts of time, patience, and significant personal risk.
It’s not just that the results are worth it to Lori. Rather, it’s the entire journey, with equal parts adrenaline-pumping thrills and long, solitary anticipation, that keeps her coming back to the work that she has come to love more than any other creative endeavour. In Lori’s world, to capture an image of these storms is an act of reverence towards the untameable parts of the earth around us that we so frequently take for granted.
“It is much more than just capturing a photograph,” Lori explains, evoking the spiritual aspect of photographing such mighty forces of nature. “It’s paying obeisance to God, or nature, or whatever you perceive is happening here.”
Growing up in West Texas, Lori’s passion for extreme weather came about early in her life. She was captivated by the awe-inspiring storms that formed every year during the summer monsoon season. However, the storms were not what first prompted Lori’s interest in photography.
“It is much more than just capturing a photograph.”
— Lori Grace
That journey began in 2003, around the time of the birth of Lori’s daughter. Wanting to document her child as she grew up, Lori bought herself a Canon Rebel DSLR. It didn’t take long for her to fully catch the photography bug after that. From taking pictures of her children playing to capturing natural landscapes, Lori continued to dive deeper into the craft.
Eventually, as her skills continued to sharpen, Lori pondered how she could capture the sense of wonder that came from witnessing the extreme weather where she grew up. That’s when she took her first steps into the wild world of storm chasing.
Storm chasing is hardly a hobby for the faint-hearted. As Lori says, the safest way to be a storm chaser is to not be one. But for those who desire the thrill of the chase, Lori explains how there are ways that she and her peers can mitigate risks.
These safety procedures, such as setting up the camera on a tripod, automating the process, and shooting from a safe vantage point, like in a vehicle, are important pieces of the equation. Lori would know: she’s already lived through the nightmare scenario.
Over a decade before she ever started storm photography, Lori was struck by lightning. “It was like I was being teleported in a purplish-white light. It was a millisecond, but it was excruciating,” Lori recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘That was close.’ And then the next minute, I didn’t remember anything.”
Lori came away from the strike without needing a major recovery period, though she does deal with minor short-term memory loss as a result. One might think that such a life-altering event would have made her inclined to avoid storms for the rest of her life. On the contrary, Lori’s respect for the explosive power of nature only intensified in the years following the lightning strike. “It was the spark I needed to really appreciate and pursue this kind of life,” she says, apologising for the well-earned pun.
Beyond safety, storm chasing is by nature a difficult craft that requires enormous expertise and patience. Those who practise it must practically become meteorologists to understand storm patterns and which clouds produce lightning. On top of that, mother nature is an infamously fickle subject to attempt to record.
“Chasing storms is an incredibly unsuccessful hobby. You’re going to fail, day in and day out, and eventually, you might get a great shot,” Lori admits. “95% of your time is boredom and failure.”
It’s a fascinating dichotomy that storm chasers navigate, balancing significant danger and adrenaline-pumping risk with intense boredom and painfully infrequent success.
And during the storm season, there simply isn’t time to waste. The monsoon season in the southwestern US desert lasts for roughly three months, making the window of opportunity for storm chasers desperately narrow. On a typical day, Lori might get home at three or four in the morning, be up by nine, and be out of the house at midday for another 12-to-14-hour day of storm chasing. “Sleep,” she smiles, “is for the off-season.”
Lori attributes her perseverance to her deep passion for the craft. It’s only through that passion, she says, that she can endure the many disappointments. “I want to make sure that I leave a legacy,” she says, “that I did something different which most people didn’t know how to do.”
In early 2021, something changed Lori’s world once again. Two of her photographer friends started selling their photography as NFTs, and it immediately captured her attention. By this point, she had experienced the unfortunate reality known to so many photographers when it comes to getting compensated for their work. Despite selling her photography to major corporations like CNN, The Weather Channel, and Fox, Lori reports making a pittance for her hard-earned images.
“It was the spark I needed to really appreciate and pursue this kind of life.”
— Lori Grace
She wouldn’t need too much convincing to try her hand at NFTs. Just a couple of weeks after minting a collection of seven photographs on the Foundation marketplace in August 2021, she sold two of them for 0.8 eth, worth just over $2,600 at the time. In just over a fortnight, she made ten times what she had earned from selling her images to media outlets over the past twelve months.
“Once I realised that I could actually sell my work for what I thought it was worth, and somebody else would agree with that, it was a no-brainer,” she says. “You’re respected and not devalued. That alone is so validating.”
“You’re going to fail, day in and day out, and eventually, you might get a great shot.”
— Lori Grace
Now with around 50 eth in sales, one might think that the financial impact of NFTs is what Lori is most grateful for. Instead, it has consistently been the supportive network of fellow photographers that welcomed her into the space with open arms.
That said, Lori argues that there is still work to be done in moving the needle on web3’s crypto art community when it comes to the ecosystem’s well-noted lack of representation. To that end, she hosts a weekly Rug Radio Twitter Space, Elevate, which promotes female, non-binary, and other underrepresented artists in web3.
“I could actually sell my work for what I thought it was worth.”
— Lori Grace
“I know what it feels like to be excluded, so I don’t want to ever be that person that closes the door on somebody,” Lori says, emphasising the importance of putting inclusivity at the forefront of her community-building efforts. “I can’t change the entire ecosystem of web3 and the issues that are still rampant that need to change, but I can do my part.”
Ultimately for Lori, web3 offers a chance to break down barriers that have kept artists out of the cultural ecosystem and disconnected from one another. She doesn’t expect the blockchain to be a silver bullet, but she does believe that the difference it can make is still worth striving for.
“I want to make sure that we can join together and make people’s lives just a little less miserable,” Lori says. “I think it’s possible, even in a world of seven or eight billion people.”
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