We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Underwood and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Michael, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I pursued a career in photography because I wanted to spend time out in nature. I just wanted to be able to hike or spend the day looking for animals, but still feel like I was doing something and not just escaping from the real world, Photography gave me the excuse to visit these places and spend countless hours outside. After awhile, it become more about sharing the places and experiences I was having in hopes of bringing others closer to the natural world and to protect it.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
In 2010 I moved to the most remote county in the continental United States. I had an interest in photography, but had never done any photography outside of cities and a trip to Alaska. Two weeks later, I had completely fallen in love with the San Juan Mountains, bought a professional camera, and was spending all my free time in the mountains.

I never expected the interest in photography would be something I’d ever make money at, much less become a career. I sold my first print in the summer of 2011, and slowly started to try and grow it into something sustainable. In 2015, after some health issues, I had to physically leave my mountain town, but never left mentally. Less than 3 years later, I was back in Lake City when I saw an ad in the local paper for a retail space. I didn’t have a place to live in town, or any plans to open a gallery, but I wanted to return to the mountains I loved, I rented out the space, opened it up that week, found a place to live the same weekend, and my gallery was born! Since then I’ve sold thousands of prints, and so far this year alone, my prints have gone to 39 states, and 6 countries!

My gallery has been open 4 years now, in 4 different locations thanks to month to month rentals, and the skyrocketing housing prices. It’s been an incredible challenge to keep it going and somehow profitable. Lake City is a tourist town, and our season is June-September. The rest of the year the town is a near ghost town. My first year in business, the tourism industry in the town was devastated by smoke from forest fires, the second year saw record snowfalls, avalanches, and run-off from the melting snow threatened to flood the town, the third year brought Covid-19 and a huge increase in tourists, and finally last summer the best yet. I was still on a month to month rental though so the threat of my gallery being homeless and me jobless was still a concern, until a friend offered to sell his building to me. I closed on that in October. I’ll open officially next month at 200 Gunnison Avenue in Lake City. So come on by, and “Take the mountains you love home!”

During the past 4 years, I’ve also greatly increased my time in the field taking new photos. I’ve hiked, driven, flown, and kayaked hundreds of miles in search of new perspectives on the mountains I call home. I’ve spent thousands of hours with moose and other animals, enduring frozen mornings as cold as -30f.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is perseverance and patience. The amount of times I’ve watched a sunset fizzle into nothing as a cloud blocks the light, not seen an animal, or just missed an opportunity is countless, and each time I know I’ll be back up in the mountains the next morning because sometimes it all works out perfectly. Same thing with the gallery. I’ve sat in the store for days and not had a single person come in, much less a sale. Other days my rent is paid before I get around to turning on the open sign. You just have to keep showing up

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If I’ve got a week long road trip in Colorado, I’m headed to the San Juan Mountains. Sure, I already live there on the eastern side of the range in Lake City, but I love the western side just as much and spend a lot of time in Ouray, Silverton, and Telluride, as well as Pagosa Springs and Creede.

They offer everything you could want from a mountain range. There are jagged rocky peaks, valleys filled with animals, untouched wilderness areas, and a network of 4wd roads connecting the towns so highways can be avoided. There’s just so much I haven’t seen and so many places left to explore. Plus you can never spend enough time in each of the towns. All have so much to offer, especially in terms of food! The Lake City Bakery is always my first stop before any trip, and I’ve made many trips to Creede just for Kip’s Grille.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The communities of Lake City and Creede, Colorado, were so helpful to me! Without their support, my photography and business would be nothing of what it is today! From friends buying my work, to friends in other stores like Cabin Fever Mercantile and Slumgullion Gift Gallery, both in Lake City, stocking my photography when I didn’t have my own place, or helping me fix my poor, neglected 4runner the day before I left on a two month road trip, picking up groceries (or Chinese food) from the closest town 50 miles away, or just all the time spent hiking, rafting, camping, driving, and flying around these mountains with friends we call home. The reason I moved to a mountain town was the mountains, but the reason I’ve stuck around for so long is the people (and moose).

As for photographer inspirations, Jack Brauer is definitely at the top of the list. I have never met him personally, but I remember seeing one of his photos in 2010 right when I was trying to move back to Colorado. Once I saw that photo, there was no doubt in my mind the San Juans was where I wanted to be. Steve Steve Mattheis is one of my favorite wildlife photographers as well.

Website: www.michaelunderwoodphotography.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/michaelunderwood

Facebook: www.facebook.com/munderwoodphoto

Image Credits
Photo of me is by Mallory Mann

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