Recently I got a gift from the past.Out of the blue last week an email arrived from a young photographer I hadn't seen for seven years. (I call all photographers who are younger than me "young." It's a form of affirmative action for geezer photographers.) And with it came a touching story about autism, as well as a lesson about photographers who just do the right thing, for their communities and for themselves. Kevin Wellenius is the photographer and he was a student of mine at my first Maine Photographic Workshop back in 2002. Kevin is such a nice guy he actually tries to make out that he learned some things from me during that week in Rockport. This was a travel photography workshop and I was pitching the idea of doing earnest research and putting your pictures to work. (Sound familiar?) As I remember Kevin was both affable and hard working and I had no doubt that he would find a way to do something with his photography, which was quite good. Kevin's email tells some of the story. "I recall often the workshop with you in Maine in 2002. For me it really marked an important point in my growth and commitment to photography. I moved to central Maine with my wife in 2005, and I started working on some small documentary projects on local folks. I'm on temporary hiatus since the birth of our first child in May, but hope to ramp back up in the coming months." What I found when I followed his link was a really heartfelt story about a man who had spent years of his life running a group home for autistic men. But Kevin went further in the second segment and didn't flinch when the man finally admitted that he withdraw from his world of caregiving. It's not the usual storyline you expect and it's a rough go. Then part three takes the story in yet another unexpected direction. It's worth seeing. Take a look here: http://kevinwellenius.com/foster_mm/act_1/ I was curious about how this story had come into being, where it had been used and where it was leading. "The autism project is the third in an effort a producing small documentary projects in my community," Kevin said. "The first, about a designer that quit his job, sold his house, and moved into a trailer on his uncle's lot to focus on becoming a fine art sculptor, shows some pretty obvious signs of being an early effort. The second, about our local postmaster and the anger and violence issues that ruined his first marriage, was completed last year (and picked up a nice nod of approval in Best of Photojournalism). They have all been self funded and have only seen the light of day on my website, though they have benefited from a close collaboration with Bill Kuykendall, formerly of Univ. of Missouri and the affiliated photo workshop, and now semi-retired and teaching New Media at the University of Maine. For the time being, the projects serve as a vehicle for me to learn to do this kind of work and for neighbors to learn a little bit about one another." I can't really think of better reasons for doing stories like these. Well, actually, making a little money would be nice, especially with a growing family to think about. But there's reason for hope that the confluence of technology and caring photographers can occasionally lift otherwise unknown moments out of obscurity and present them on center stage.
That's the gift I got with Kevin's email. I'd like to think his kind words about what he learned from me are true. And I'll hope that Kevin finds a bigger forum for his many talents (and good pay, as well.) But in the meantime it was just a pleasure to see what good photographer can do with pictures (and bask in a little bit of reflected glory.) Jim