Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guest Blog : Peggy Duffy

I met Peg Duffy on Oct, 10th 2011.  I was setting up the One Million Faces at for an event with Shiva Rea.  We were chatted about the project and I recited my poem, Once Upon a Yoga Mat.    

When I scheduled my sons' senior pictures to be taken by Peggy Dyer, I was excited.  I had met her briefly at a workshop prior to scheduling with her.  I felt the passion she had for her job and saw the talent she brought to the table. Done, photographer scheduled.  During our session, we asked if we could get in a couple family photos, yes all 6 of us.   Peggy was  up for whatever we needed and encouraged us to be our "normal" to get "giggly". NOT the traditional, "Pose, tilt your head, lift your chin, HOLD, SMILES" and click.  No, Peggy brought us out.  Our true selves, our goofy, shy and smart selves.  She brought out things in us we had forgotten were there.  As many of you know, teenagers help us parents forget to smile.  We forget to laugh with each other.  (Maybe 'forget' isn't the proper word here, we had lost our laughter.)    

Jake, our senior, was no exception.  In fact, he had mastered bringing out our demons.  I never knew I could be so frustrated, so heart-broken, so sad, SO WORRIED until Jake showed me I could.  Without detailing the 4 years of our journey through teenage boy-dom (or boy-DUMB), the hardest part was  watching my son disappear.  He was lost inside himself.  Drugs had stolen my son. No matter how loud we became, how quiet, how much we hugged him, loved him or TOUGH loved him, no matter how many therapist appointments, he was not coming back.  We had lost.  

We decided to move to Colorado.  A fresh start, a new perspective.  Jake stayed in Michigan.  I left expecting we would not see him alive again.  Some may say I ran.  Some (who have been there) say it was strong and needed.  

For the next 4 months, I woke up and before my feet hit the floor, I would see Jake happy and healthy.  Then I let go (again).  Jake came to visit for Thanksgiving, I had scheduled Peggy to meet us right after he landed, and she bent over backwards to meet our schedule.  When Jake came off the plane, I could see him.  I mean, I could see my son who had disappeared for 4 years.  He was bright and beautiful and alive.

We drove home from the airport and Peggy was there to meet us.  She instantly took Jake outside to start his photo session and what I can say is:  she is more than a woman holding a camera.  She, from behind and through the lens, sees you.  AND.... AND has the unbelievable ability to bring you out so that you too can see the truth of who you are.  Within seconds, she had Jake laughing.  LAUGHING!  I watched, laughing and crying from the house.  Who was this woman?  I was convinced she MUST have magical powers, some sort of secret superhero, with the power to conjure laughter in the most unlikely people.  Yes, that must be it.

We spent a 30-minute turbo shoot with Peggy.  Thirty minutes.  180 seconds, for the photo shoot.  She took a ton of photos, all of which we LOVE. She had us laughing, jumping, playing.  We were having fun, together.  "Who cares about the photos, we're having a blast!!!"  The photos were all of that, they turned out fun, full of laughter, so playful and real.

But there was one.  One that I look at every day, one that I show at least one person a day (I carry a copy in my wallet).  It is my 'Hope' photo.  When I saw it, I was blown away with the power of a photograph.  She had captured my beautiful son.  His smile was not seen for years, and there it was.  He's looking bright, alive and into his future, with his arm on my shoulder.   I'm looking at my son.  I'm proud and full of unconditional love for him, standing strong by his side.  Wow, really?  I had forgotten these people existed.

Peggy caught it, she knew, and she captured it so we would have a reminder to hold and look at.  Every day, through this photo, I'm reminded of the power of love.  The power of forgiveness.  The power of family. To have more faith than worry.  A photo, worth a thousand words, brings me to my knees almost every time I look at it.  And I hear just 2 words: Thank you.  Without this reminder, this photo, I would have stayed in fear and worry, doubting his future.  Through this photo that Peggy Dyer brought to us, I was free and so was Jake. (it's his FB profile pic). 

I've repeated this story many times to Peggy.  I'm not sure I could ever in words, tears or facial expressions, make her feel what she gave our family that day.  So, Peggy Dyer, I will give you the words I hear each and every time I look at this photo:   THANK you, thank YOU, thank you.  Your gift of bringing us out into our truth was a healing for our family.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pledge support for the Kickstarter campaign

8 days to go..   KICKSTARTER for Family Time Book

A book of beautiful photographs in the hands of the families of soldiers from the Colorado Army National Guard.  A celebration of Family Time for them while their loved ones are deployed to Kuwait, serving as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.  

Steady on and thankful for all the encouragement.  Pledge your support today.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Guest Post - Heather Janssen - "Evocative"

I met Heather at The Little Fig Bakery in Longmont on day 14 of the One Million Faces Project.  The photos and her story remains some of the most poignant, iconic moments I have ever witnessed.  She shared her messages, with poise, and resolve.   Heather had a stack of her new sassy mom magazine, Get Born in one hand a sweet shy little girl peeked out from behind her.  She walked up to me and stated "Hi, I'm Heather I'm a mother of 4 young girls, I'm the editor of a new sassy magazine, and I want to do a topless photo, I'm a stage 4 cancer survivor I have nothing to hide." 

These photographs document a sliver of my story. They’re mere moments in the expansive consumption of my days since cancer hijacked my hope. Sometimes there is an hour, occasionally even a day of joy, but the cloud of stolen innocence—the expectation for a different life than the one I’ve come to live—remains. I still had some innocence when my youngest daughter accompanied me to a little bakery in north Longmont, Colorado, where Peggy Dyer first photographed us. Me tipping her little two-year-old self upside-down, Peggy catching her determined scrunchy face on film, the face that defined her infancy and remains a family favorite, though her growing, little girl face no longer affords us the adoration of her previous infant chub. 

Evocative: this word has defined my writing, my stories, my career as a publisher and proponent of honest community, a survivor of cancer (god, I hate that word survivor—it implies that something has been survived. What’s the word for still surviving? Not yet done, never done, always still fucking dealing with the monster at my back??) My essays evoke an experience for other women knee-deep in the lost-ness that often accompanies motherhood. My personality—brash, sassy, colorful, honest to a fault—evokes laughter, sometimes embarrassment, when what I reveal in a moment of transparency makes the listener uncomfortable. My survivorship—ongoing, relentless, bold, the epitome of exhaustion—evokes pity, inspiration, grief, awe.

Me, going topless for the cause of making a statement about how this cancer wouldn’t change me, wouldn’t be my undoing.  In spite of my resolve, I am undone.
But what these photos evoke in me, more than anything, is overwhelming, debilitating grief. I look at my once two-year-old clutching to my neck as tightly as the Ecuadorian monkey I owned in Ecuador, and weep bitterly for what has been taken from me, and from her. I weep as I attempt to write this and cannot continue without taking a break, because the lymphedema that has affected my right hand causes it to fall asleep, so what I want more than anything—to make my writing my career—is thwarted, too, by cancer.
What’s the point, I wonder, in evocation? Maybe the masses who promote denial via polite conversation have the better way—if it’s hard, or different, or tragic, just ignore it, paint it with blue and purple polka dots and pretend it doesn’t exist. Evocative means tears, means guttural moans of deep grief, pulled from a deeper reservoir of pain and disappointment, anger and despair than I can even begin to “handle.” Perhaps denial is the better way, because then the pain doesn’t wrap its relentless hands around my neck and squeeze, choking the hope and joy out of life.

I try. I really do. I try to look forward to coffee in the morning and 20-year-reunions with high school acquaintances-turned friends, and my kids’ cross country meets and a bike ride in the beautiful Colorado autumn chill. It usually works, and I bravely make it through weeks days months without coming undone.
Today, though, I’m undone. The photos of my daughters undo me, as they evoke their younger years, gorgeous, fresh faces against a stunning white backdrop. Augmented, unalterably changed, damaged, refashioned by a disease that neither they nor I asked for or caused. They evoke a hope I once had to not have a family so damaged that I cannot see a way again to any semblance of wholeness.
What is the point of all this evocation, I wonder? It just makes me cry, pulled from this yawning well of tears and days upon which I’ve put on a brave face and resolute smile. They remind me not only of all we have suffered through—namely, a loss of a life unaltered by the ongoing threat of death—but also of how alone I feel in this.
I am alone. Utterly alone. No one can comprehend the fear and pain associated with wondering if I will live to see those girls grow up. No one can fully appreciate the pain of realizing that the partner with which you brought those girls into the world has become an enemy of any happiness that may have been redeemed from the pain of a stolen future. No one can feel the acute disappointment at watching as the lives of those around you march merrily along, punctuated by quirky status updates and photos documenting everyday happenings, while yours stagnates in an ever-revolving door of monthly CT scans, weekly chemo infusions, daily lymphedema routines, and hourly attempts not to succumb to the utter depression of it all.

Nonetheless, hope - the fucking miracle that it is - arises out of the ashes of despair. Alone though I am, in experience and the daily struggle to not drink myself to death, I am surrounded by an indescribable wealth of friendship, beauty, support and love. Real love. The kind that, when I talk about how alone I feel, doesn’t make that about itself, but rather says, “Yes, you’re right. And it’s awful.” The kind of love that assures me, even in the cavern of struggle, even when I’m at my least loveable, I am loved. The kind of love that responds to my depressing status updates with “you are loved beyond measure,” and even more unbelievable, is the kind of love so encompassing that, for one second, I actually believe it. The kind of love that doesn’t eliminate the pain or the fatigue, but makes it bearable for at least one more day.
These pictures show me that I am loved. They remind me that the love I have given was not given in vain. They will remain so that my daughters can see themselves in a former state, when their smiles weren’t overshadowed by the haunted look in their eyes, when their mom’s bright smile wasn’t eclipsed by chronic fatigue.
So they evoke a time from before: before the endless cancer days had eroded my resolve and hope so that all that remains is pain. They evoke children not yet completely robbed of their innocence by a disease cruel enough to take away a childhood free from fear, but not merciful enough to just kill me so that they can grieve and move on. This constant grief is what is so fucking exhausting. Of course I don’t want to die. Of course they don’t want me to die. But what kind of living is this? This waiting around for the next news of the next scan, relieved that it’s clean but the next one is only six weeks away. Wouldn’t it be better for them to grieve the loss of their mother and move on with their lives? How fair is it for them to be in this holding pattern?
Maybe this is why men fight wars. Because, at the end of the day, the pain of life is so excruciating that all I want to do is punch a wall and curse out my best friend, because it’s all so completely meaningless. 

Or maybe, just maybe, the documentation of this story, of my small sliver and all its messy, unresolved is-ness, is what will, finally, be part of the beginning of the nail in the coffin of violent outburst in response to senseless shit—holocausts, disease, poverty, famine. Maybe when we tell our stories and those who read our stories see our faces and our bright hope and deep pain, then we evoke a response of “Me, too!” and that response creates a chain reaction of story-sharing, and in this story sharing we find a friend where we’d first seen a stranger, a compadre where before we’d seen only an enemy. Because once you hear my story and see my face, you’ll never see me the same way again.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"I am here on this planet to make your painting"

I've had the wonderful adventure of sharing creative space with Laurie Maves for the past 2 years.  Laurie is one of the most stunning, creative, talented, loving and joyful and most inspiring people I've ever known.    We have collaborated on several art pieces, including the very first and limited edition fine art book from the One Million Faces project, Once Upon A Yoga Mat, 2011.  

GUEST BLOGGER : Laurie Maves  "I am here on this planet to make your painting"

This is one of the first images one would see on my websiteand one my favorite One Million Faces portraits that Peggy Dyer has taken of me in our basement studio in the Santa Fe Arts
District of Denver, Colorado.

As a commissioned artist and live painter, I had found a challenging yet most awesome career for myself. After residing in the Denver metro area forthe past fifteen years, and after showing my paintings in over a hundredvenues, I found that the same clients that would purchase my studio paintings were often hesitant, for whatever reason, to request commissioned work. I gradually discovered that many people were attracted to my abstracted, "pop surrealist" style, but often times had a specific subject matter in mind. Once I opened up my gamut of work to anything and everything at the request of the client, I found my own areas of expertise were increasing. For a number of years, I had been strictly making paintings about poppies and my little stylized lollipop characters.  When I realized that more and more people really loved my style of work, but wanted their own subject matter, and I was open to painting that subject matter, my business increased tremendously.

   Over the past year, I have made a strange variety of paintings about so many different things, with varying degrees of seriousness and humor. I have made series of portraits for individuals, families and for corporate offices.  I have made a painting of a marriage proposal. I have made paintings about Buddhas and parrots, flamingos, owls, and giraffes.  I have made landscapes of Red Rocks, Pikes Peak, the Royal Gorge, as well as the landscape surrounding Arrowhead Golf Course. I have even made a painting about a glittery ham sandwich!  And on a more serious of notes, I have made a number of paintings to memorialize people that have passed or to honor people and their life's work.

   As a commissioned artist, I feel that I am answering to a calling of sorts.  When I deliver commissioned paintings to people upon completion, I often find that my clients are moved to tears. There is something mystical in the way that I am making work, specific work at the request of the client, that touches them deeply and moves them spiritually.  I cannot exactly explain why this is happening, but I do know in my soul that commission work is my duty as an artist at this point in my life.  So this is why, "I'm here on this planet to make your painting."  It is my life's purpose.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

DADT, 1 year later

One year ago today, gay servicemen and women were allowed to serve openly in US armed forces.  President Obama overturned the policy, Don't ask Don't Tell.  

I met this wonderful couple on June 15th, at the BABES around Denver's Candyland party.

We'd been photographing people and talking about the One Million Faces project since the doors opened.  It was after midnight,  I was exhausted, we were striking the set, packing up the gear.

"2 more"  Danette said.  "It's the last $20 of the night, do you want it?" I turned the lights back on.  They thanked me and got started on their model release.  "She's leaving for training in a few days, Officer training."  My heart started to pound, as once again the Military came front and center in my project.   

"What's your name?"  I wrote their first names on the white board.
"We have the same last name." she said 

"What should we write on our sign?" they asked.
"How long are you going to be gone?"
"4 months for officer training"

Officer training..  
Made me think of Richard Gere and Debra Winger's classic movie.

"How about an Officer and a Wife?"

"Perfect!" they said in unison.

Put your arms around each other, Lean in for a kiss

As I took their photos I tried not to cry, I just pushed the button.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A little video of some of the photos from the OMF Family Time session.
"Hang Out in Your Heart" courtesy of Chely Wright

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Guest Post: When Elle Met Peggy

Over the past two years, Elle Potter has been working with Peggy Dyer on a number of One Million Faces shoots and projects.  She joins forces with OMF again this month as we work hard to get funding for our Kickstarter campaign.  Today she shares a brief history of how we met, and how she became a part of One Million Faces.
June 2011 - Pride in Denver
On St. Patrick's Day 2010, I closed up om time yoga studio in Boulder to walk down to Whole Foods (now Alfalfa's) for lunch.  A boisterous photographer was set-up outside the entrance, snapping shots of a shopper posing with a white board.  Like a moth to the flame, this narcissist was immediately drawn to the photographer.  I ate my salad at one of the tables outside, eavesdropping while she explained the One Million Faces project to passersby.
March 17, 2010 - #2353
What came to pass is more than becoming #2353 in a project that is now nearing the 10,000 mark; I made friends with one of the most enigmatic, bright and sparkly personalities I have ever met.

I invited Peggy to be our featured artist for a month at the Denver om time studio on Santa Fe.  When she arrived to deliver her work, she took me aboard "The Turtle," a little rundown RV which she confided was where she had been living.  It was small and crowded with her work, which we unloaded into the studio.

Later that summer, Peggy moved into the basement of the Denver studio, which became Studio Shakta (and is now Breathe Denver).  At the same time, I left my job at the yoga studio but eagerly took the opportunity to assist Peggy at OMF shoots and in her studio, creating art, sharing it online, editing images and passing out white boards to new faces lining up to get their photo taken.
A hard day's work at Whole Foods in September 2010
Peggy generally did not ask for payment to participate in the project, and although we accepted donations from a thoughtful few, it was not creating a salary for Peggy - let alone a budget to pay an assistant.  My early days of compensation consisted of green juice, sushi lunches and on one occasion, crimping a set of feathers into my hair at a Boulder hair salon.
A 10+ hour work day followed by sushi and feathers - one of my favorite paychecks ever.
I cannot tell you how many times Peggy has made me breakfast or stir-fry on the little hot plate she had in the back of the yoga studio as a thank-you for coming in to help.  Even now that I live over 800 miles away, when Peggy asks for help, I always do what I can, knowing OMF is not making steady income - yet.  She pays me what she can, when she can - but ultimately, I do what I do to try to make not only her voice heard in the world at large, but the message and beauty of every one who has ever been photographed by her.
Our One-Year Anniversary of Meeting, March 2011
Peggy never stops doing what she has been doing, which is why I am always so drawn to her and the One Million Faces project.  Never once has she walked away from photography and art because there might not be a guaranteed paycheck waiting for her.  She orchestrates shows at the studio on Santa Fe even still, and is quick to take the opportunity for a great photo shoot, whether it is a private concert with Michael Franti or a troop of soldiers and their families before their deployment.

Now, she turns her voice outward to her beloved community to ask for her with her first-ever push for funding through Kickstarter.  Just think - one day, when Peggy is super famous for traveling all over the world to take her One Million Faces photos and she is featured in all the newspapers, all the magazines and all the television talk shows, you can proudly say "I did that!"  Because you really will have helped make that happen, and all because you backed this crazy dream.
My Friend Peggy, the Giggling Shaman