Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Death and London - Honoring Paul Nicholls

I recently found out that my friend Paul Nicholls, founder of Team Continuum, which supports the immediate needs of cancer patients primarily through New York City marathon sponsorship, had passed away last month. He was 61, although Paul would tell you he was 15, given that he was born on February 29th, and had only had that many birthdays. In reflecting on his life, I could feel the presence of his energy, still, and I knew that I had lost nothing. I will always have the beautiful way that he inspired me - the change he instilled in me was permanent. It became abundantly clear to me that death is simply a transition of energy states, and that the energy he brought during his life is absolutely still alive and present.

Below is the entry I wrote in his online memorial guestbook:

Paul first hired me as a photographer to shoot a Team Continuum event in New York before Christmas in 2005. From the very first production meeting, he struck me with his powerful forward momentum and energy. I had just founded my photography business, and Paul’s support of my work meant much more to me than a paycheck. It meant that the “real me,” that I was trying to put forth in my work, was coming across - someone was noticing - someone very special and full of powerful energy himself.

A couple months later, after shooting a few events for the organization, Paul and I were chatting, and he said, “I have to go to London in March. Do you want to come?” Because of the somewhat random nature of the invitation, he made it clear that it was an entirely friendly invitation (always the gentleman), and having never been to London (although a dear friend of mine was living there at the time), I accepted.

What a strange and exciting experience to have a client ask me to fly abroad with him, just for fun! At this early stage in my career, I was absolutely floored that work could lead to such magical experiences as getting to see London for the first time, and getting to spend time with my friend, Clara. I began to suspect that his likenings to Santa Claus were not unfounded, by the way I had lit up about the possibility of going to London (was he joking when he first asked? I’ll never know!), and then he making it happen.

Paul was there networking for the London Marathon, so I didn’t spend the whole time with him. But he insisted on taking Clara and I to dinner, and I also attended a marathon luncheon with Paul the afternoon of the event. At the luncheon, Paul said to me, “You should run in the New York Marathon this year.” And I said, “I can’t, I have asthma.” Paul said, “So? I have cancer!” (Paul had run in 2003, just 6 weeks after a bone marrow transplant.)

I knew right then that I was witnessing a truly unstoppable person, and that I had met exactly the right example for me and my then seedling-sized photography business.

You see, it was not just “becoming a photographer” or “starting a business” that I had undertaken, although my endeavor was both of those things. What I was doing was trying to follow my truest heart’s desires, and make my life as authentically my own as I possibly could. Paul was the best example of that I have ever met.

I took his generosity in our trip to London as a challenge, in that I wanted all my heart-felt whims and expansive ideas to take flight just as easily as we did on American Airlines that day. My work took on a new level of accountability.

2006, my first full year in business, was a huge success. I wrote Paul a heartfelt letter of thanks for the way he demonstrated what thinking big really means - following his example of making things happen in business, I was able to make my business thrive. I presented him with a framed print of London at night that I had taken on our trip, and a check for $1,500.00 made out to Team Continuum. I had never been in a position to make a donation of that kind before in my life, and it felt extraordinary. I knew that, inspired by Paul Nicholls, I would live this life of mine as big as I could.

With heartfelt love to his family, his wife (who I met), and his ex-wife, children and grand-children (who I never met, although Paul threatened to fly me back to England to photograph the grandkids once), I wanted to share this story, in the hopes that telling “Paul” stories will have us all living out our lives in the biggest ways we can, given both our advantages and our shortcomings. Paul saw the gift of his condition, and that, in and of itself, is one of the greatest human accomplishments.

Photos, top to bottom: London street shot, London from the Oxo Tower (the same photo I presented to Paul in print form), Kids laughing at a magician at the Team Continuum Party in 2005, Paul Nicholls presenting a gift (also in 2005).

If you would like to learn more about Team Continuum, run in the marathon, or make a donation, please visit:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ohio Field Trip - July 2009

Admittedly, I've taken quite a few "field trips" to my hometown (Cleveland, Ohio) and surrounding area. As I grow and change as a person, I find I get more and more out of these returns home. My relationships with each of my parents and my brother, who all live there, each become more nuanced with time. I have grown to appreciate them immensely, and the relationships are flourishing!
When I go "home" to Ohio, I like to do things I don't often make time for in my usual bustling city life. This recent trip, I baked cupcakes, and helped my mom plant new flowers and ground-covers in her garden. I always take lots of walks down the long, straight rural road on which my parents live, listening to the roosters crow, feeling the air on my skin, and watching the clouds move across the sky. It is the time when I remember most acutely to slow down, to just be.

This trip, I hosted a photo event at my parents' residence, featuring the delicious treats of Honey Hut ice cream. I also had the pleasure of photographing the senior pictures of my young friend Olivia - who I used to babysit when I was her age! And, I photographed my mother's friend Arthur, with his wife, in their home on the east side of the city. So, although I was soothed by the natural surroundings, and the somewhat slower pace, it was, indeed a working field trip this time. I got to see some of my cousins, their kids, and some of my mom's siblings. It is unusual for me to get to see so many of my relatives in a single weekend, and there was something deeply comforting about feeling part of a large family again. Not that I am ever not a part of it, but sometimes the chaotic, constant motion of city life distracts me from truly connecting with what it means to be part of my family.

Perhaps most special about this trip, was an evening visit with my Uncle David. He had twittered me (ah, modern family life!) a few months back to inquire as to when I might be home, and was sincerely interested in my life and my pursuits. David has always been a person I greatly admire - when I was young, he would tell me all about his travels to Egypt, and he is one of the smartest, most educated people I know. Not to mention, one of the kindest. It touched my heart that he had specially requested to see me at this time - you see, he is in a time of transition. He has accepted a prestigious position at a university in Austin, Texas, and will be soon relocating to a new life down south. In my experience, transitions are a time when we want to express our truths (perhaps prompted by a tangible time-frame in the otherwise never-ending-ness of "someday I will..."), and I could feel that David was recognizing the we way share a zest and curiosity for life. It felt wonderful to have someone point it out to me.

It was hard to leave the beautiful, long summer days in Ohio, where it doesn't get dark until close to 10 p.m. in early July. My parents nurtured me with their constant loving support, helping with my shoot, and doing everything they could to make sure I was comfortable and happy. It dawned on me, they have always done this. I am deeply loved.

I wonder if everything that happened had to happen for me to have this sink in. If I had to go off to college, to move to New York City, to start my own business, to travel, to see the world, to study, to explore spiritual practices, to read about psychotherapy - and keep checking back in with what was truly my "home," the place I came from, the people who believed in me the most - in order to finally arrive at the place where I could feel the love that has been there from the very start.

I just want to say thanks to my family, the whole, big lot of them, for being the wonderful, kind, loving souls that they are, and for supporting me, even when you thought I was crazy.

To view photos from some of the portrait sessions in Ohio (as well as other recent shoots), please visit my online proofing gallery at

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pasadena Field Trip

My friends Jerilyn and Peter got married this year, on the 4th of July, and I was fortunate enough to be their pre- and post- wedding event photographer (I got to attend the wedding as a guest!). It had been four years since I was last in California, to shoot the wedding of my brilliant graphic designers, Tracey and Nat Bolton (who did Previously, I had spent a great deal of time there, in my short-lived career in television, whilst helping to produce the 2005 People's Choice Awards. It was interesting to reflect on that time of my life, as I saw some familiar sights, and some new ones. All in all, I was so happy to be back in California!

I love the sagebrush scent on the desert air, and cool breeze near the ocean. I love driving around, through twists and turns and over and through the mountains. It was a lot of fun being there. I stayed (and worked) in Pasadena, and also had a chance to hit the beach and a fish taco stand in Malibu, as well as pay a visit to one of my favorite places on earth - The Getty Center, high atop a hill overlooking LA. After 6 solid weeks of rain in New York, the remarkably clear sky in southern California was an absolute godsend.

Below are several of the photos I took on this trip. Soon, I will post the highlights from Jerilyn & Peter's wedding weekend, and you will be able to find their gallery on this page:

All of the photos in this post were shot on color film, using a Voigtlander make rangefinder camera: