Thanking a hero.

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In 2002, I took my first photography class at Austin Peay State University. Thankfully, my teacher gave us an assignment to take a field trip to the library and read books about other photographers. Little did I know this assignment would change my trajectory as an artist. I picked up a book by Duane Michals, who I’d never heard of but who quickly seeped into the deepest parts of my artmaking soul. He became “famous” (as famous as artists get, I suppose) in the 60’s for his avantgarde approach to black and white photography and storytelling. As Mary Thomas said in an article for a Pittsburgh newspaper:

“An innovator in the realm of fine art photography, Mr. Michals is credited with introducing the use of several photographs, or sequencing, in narrative work, and with the addition of handwritten text. His subjects include such universal themes as familial relationships and sexuality, and his formal expression often includes elements of the poetic, surreal and metaphysical.”

Finding an artist whose words are as moving as their art is about as rare as finding a performer who can sing as equally well as they can rap (ahem… how many Lauryn Hills are out there?). Duane Michals is the total package. In fact, I typed up many quotes from that first library book in Arial Black typeface on my Compaq laptop in 2002 (printed on plain white paper), and I’ve carried them around with me ever since, decorating every new space with his thoughts. The one I always keep closest to my desk is this one: “I believe that art should touch. I believe that it should move one to a greater consciousness of what one’s life is all about.”  Such words to live by! And I have tried. And I have felt grateful to Mr. Michals over and over these past 15 years for inspiring me to.

This past Friday, Cinco de Mayo of 2016, I got to thank him in person.  My gift to myself for enduring my first surgery and all the subsequent physical therapy and such was a ticket to New York City to attend the opening of his new exhibit. He did not disappoint! At 83, he’s still pushing himself as an artist but he also has such impeccable humor and kindness, refreshing to see in someone with his amount of celebrity and accomplishment. In fact, I had been standing around trying to meet him for quite some time at the gallery, but being both very short and in a leg brace left me at a slight disadvantage for getting to the front of the line. Mr. Michals noticed this and, after a while, interrupted someone he was currently talking to, put his hand out towards me and said “This young lady has been waiting for quite some time, and I’m going to get her over here.” So he took my hand, pulled me in, and we began to chat about life and photos and where we were from. When I told him I live in Colorado Springs, he said “Oh, it’s beautiful there.” Then he pulled back quickly and asked in an almost frightened way, “You’re not a born again Christian, are you?”  I was prepared to talk cameras or film or a whole host of things with him, but not my spirituality! Ha. So, in my caught-off-guard state, here’s what came out: “Yes. But… I love you!” Followed by, “And your work is SO important.” Relief came over him at that, so he went on to tell me some about his short films in the new show and said I should definitely see them. (In one of them, he’s walking up and down a NYC neighborhood street with a sign on him that says “Tickets to Heaven : $5)

So, that was that. It was a short conversation that was long awaited. It was worth it. I’m thrilled I got to meet him and thank him in person for being so courageous with his life and art and for inspiring me to do the same. And I think he liked hearing it because, as my college drawing professor just told me in January, “They’re just like you and me. They like to hear nice things about themselves.”  :)

[below are pictures of Mr. Michals’ work and some my photographer friend Joanna took of me meeting him. it’s so handy to have photog friends! ]

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Duane Michals at his opening at DC Moore Gallery in New York.

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My fabulous friend who captured all the moments at DC Moore Gallery

Some of Duane Michals’ iconic work : 

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This one was on display in the gallery. It was amazing to see it in person hanging on a wall after admiring it in books for so many years!

Black Diamonds & Fat Bikes

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I found myself at the clinic at Crested Butte, at the bottom of the ski resort. I was waiting for my friend to come be with me and tell me everything was going to be okay, so I checked my phone in the interim, hoping the distraction would ease my mind. I had just been carried down on the ski patrol sled, after all, and I was all kinds of distraught. I checked my email and saw one from the designer of Springs Magazine, asking “What size bike do you want to ride for the photo shoot this week?”

In my mind, there were mostly expletives and sadness. I had been looking forward to this shoot for weeks! I was going to get to ride a Borealis fat bike for the first time and photograph a group ride out at Venetucci Farm; it was going to be epic! A great combination of things I love… outdoors, bicycles, and cameras! I started my response email: “About that… ” But before I could finish, my lovely friend arrived, followed by the doctor. I would soon find out that I had most likely torn my ACL and some other things. My worst nightmare was coming true. Not only would I be unable to ski any more in this epic season of snow, but I was unable to drive or walk or do my job well. And it’s not like I had never thought about this moment. On the contrary, I thought of it often, how thankful I was that I was able-bodied and so capable of doing my job well, not limited in my creativity by any physical constraints. I started a mental downward spiral…

But then I stopped. This shoot was important. It was important in one sense because it’s for a new magazine I adore and this was a feature story, but it was important in an entirely different sense because it was my first test as a crippled photographer. But, I’m a creative. How was I going to creatively solve this problem? I was made to solve problems like this! And then, the same little brain spark that pushes me to shred down double black diamonds and hit tricks in the terrain park was the same little brain spark that led me to push on and employ a lovely assistant, 2 crutches, my Subaru, and a stepladder to do the shoot. The show must go on!

So, 3 days after I tore my ACL and meniscus and sprained a crap-ton of other things, I found myself at Venetucci Farm with a great group of riders (Allen Beauchamp, John Sawyer, Jeremy Jones, Sam Elliott, and a few others), with Brenna (my amazing intern), and a couple of cameras around my neck. I’m so thankful for this shoot because it was like the double black diamond of photography for me. And thanks to the help of Brenna and the others, we totally shred the gnar :)  These photos will always be special to me because I worked so incredibly hard to capture them and because I had to think of new and different ways to shoot what I needed. And you know what? I honestly think they’re better photos than they would’ve been if I had been biking with everyone. So, I’m thankful for the way this injury pushes the boundaries of where I thought I could go and what I thought I could do. I’m handicapable, dangit!  And here’s the fruit of that labor, which is featured in the magazine as of this week:

[shot on Nikon d700 with 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm lenses]

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[phone pic] One Behind the Scenes shot of me

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Just to show the fatness!

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These wheels seriously roll over EVERYTHING.

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Just a little light crutchy stroll through the forest…

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The professional :)

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Brenna in action!

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They even work great on sand. It’s like a miracle!

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Allen’s signature wheelie

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