Saying good-bye to a new kind of friend
February 12th was a very normal day for me. I woke up early, made coffee, turned on my computer, and started to see what was going on in the world of social media. I imagine this is how a lot of us start our day. We like, comment, and share things from people that we likely have never met. Whether its a friend, or a relative, or maybe just a hobby, something has connected us to these strangers in this digital age. Over the past few years, I have made many online friends that 10 years ago, I would have zero interaction with. We are in a new world of social interaction, and we connect with people all over the world, through a little box on our desk. Just bites of information linking us all together. I know that most of these people I will never meet in person, but should I still consider many of them, close personal friends?
Shortly into my daily routine, I learned that one of these "Online" friends had died. Suddenly, I was having feeling of loss and grief very similar to a death of one of my real life friends. I had never met this person, yet we shared a passion when it came to photography. Her name was Lee Daniels and she was an educator, writer, and photographer who lived in Tucson, Arizona. Lee was one of the first people that I connected with shortly after G+ launched a few years back. She was very active in G+’s photography community and her death has hit this community hard. Lee had be fighting an open battle with cancer for a few years, but her spirit never wavered. She always seem to lift everyone around her, even though she was quickly losing a battle to cancer. Lee was a fiery personality and made her opinions known to anyone who asked. Her witty and amusing spirit will be missed by this community dearly.
I once had a “Online” friend ask me if I thought we would still be friends in 5 years. I hastily replied, “No” giving the reason that since we had never met in person, I doubted our friendship would last. But lately, I have been rethinking the friendships I have made in social media. Quite a few of my "Real life friends" begun as online acquaintances, and with the death of Lee hitting me in the manner it did, maybe its time I rethink the value of these "Online" friends.
Back in 2012 I did a series of interviews showcasing influential photographers in my life and in the G+ community. Lee was one of these people, and I was happy she agreed to answer a few questions from me. Below is a small part of the interview. Please take a moment to read and remember Lee for the gem she was.
Image by Lee Daniels
Inspirational People of G+: Q&A With Lee Dainels
What got you started in photography? Tell us little about yourself, background and interests.
Actually, I started in front of the camera. My father was a creative director and figured that his kids shouldn’t just be overhead, so we were put to work in ad campaigns. I did stuff from cute little girl standing on tippy toe at the teller to open her first savings account to “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on a product box" to industrial films, to being a regional “spokesmodel" (horrible term) for a big car brand and doing the ads, voice-overs, personal appearances and teaching car clinics. I continued with that off and on for many years and worked with a lot of great photographers and learned so much from them. My parents were also fine photographers as was my brother, Neil. I already knew my way around a darkroom since my then husband was an excellent b&w photographer. I loved the whole “Wow! Golly gee whiz" part of it and understanding how to work with dodging and burning and filters and grain. I‘m kind of a nerd. My passion since childhood though, has always been nature, wildlife, the quality of natural light, the endless diversity and fascination of living things. I really wanted to be a natural history writer in the vein of Farley Mowat and Gerald Durrell and Gavin Maxwell. It was the beauty of the light that influenced my move to Arizona and the first day I arrived, a roadrunner showed up on my patio and stayed there. I was smitten. When he showed up the next day as well, I borrowed my (ex)husband’s camera and started taking pictures. I really just wanted to remember it so I could write about it later. And then some javelina showed up. And then owls and quail and bunnies and coyotes. Then there were the sunsets. I’m not sure if he ever got to use the camera again. I still have it.
Who or what influenced you to become a photographer?
I’ve always admired photography, but it was never a goal. I loved Avendon, Penn, Scavullo, the Life magazine photographers. I poured over fine art photography books with awe, but never with the notion of “I want to or could do that." I was riveted by nature and wildlife photography and to me, those photographers were an exotic species in their own firmament. There was not the remotest consideration that I could even try it. Then one day, I went with my mother to visit a neighbor of hers, Bianca Lavies. Bianca was a National Geo photographer and I was galvanized by the images on her walls. “I want to do that.” The thought was so strong, so sure. I think it was the combination of meeting this slightly loony, strong-willed woman combined with the images combined with the stories that were not, in fact, exotic that made it accessible as a goal. That was not so much a “who” as a “what” moment. Years later when I finally picked up a camera, it was a combination of all those past experiences that made me realize “I can do this.” And even better, “I want to do this.” And best of all, “I am compelled to do this, it is my passion.” It was the right time and I was ready.
What is your favorite subject to photograph? How did you get into that?
I hate to say “nature” because that encompasses so much, but there you go: nature. Primarily birds and landscapes, but if it crosses my field of view, it’s fair game. Hummingbirds. Lots of hummingbirds. I’m easily distracted by butterflies, dragonflies, bright shiny things. I will actually brake for clouds and great skies. Flowers. For several years it was what I was known for. But through all of it, I’m really still a little kid mesmerized by light and how it shapes things and changes things. It’s incredibly tangible and tactile to me.
What has been your most exciting moment taking a photograph?
How to choose? There are so very many. And many without a camera as well. I’m a great one for being so entranced by something, that I sometimes zoom with my feet unwisely. There was a rattlesnake that used to visit the patio outside the door and commune with my cat on the other side of the screen. It started when he was newly hatched. His second year he was considerably larger, with the prettiest coloring. I grabbed the camera and went out in bare feet and shorts and only a 50mm mounted. I was hunched down and kept moving in closer and didn’t realize I was almost on top of him. I politely backed off. He was the most laid-back snake in the world and would probably roll over to have you rub his tummy if he could, but still... Or when the original bobcat came and sat on the wall right next to my window. Shorts, flip-flops, 50-200mm attached, I went outside. As I rounded the corner of the garage, he rounded it from the other side and we almost literally collided. We looked at each other. He sat down next to me. I could feel a whisker and his breath on my shin. We stayed that way for a few moments until I told him he was too close for my lens. He did move off, but would obligingly stop when I said something and give me a look and I’d press the shutter. It was exciting and lovely. Or shooting sunrise at the Grand Canyon in the freezing cold and setting up a little too close to the edge of the narrow cliff I was on and being blown by the fierce wind and starting to slide on the invisible black ice. Terrifying. Shooting in Florida with my brother, I was moving in to get the best angle on some bird when he jerked me back, pointed and said “alligator.” That happened a couple times. Watching a great sunrise or sunset develop can be a heart-pounding experience. I get excited by clouds and sunlight. All of it is still exciting to me. All of it makes my heart soar.
What do you consider the best part of your life? What makes you happy the most?
Now. I consider “now” the best part of my life. Sunrises make me happy. Each new one is a gift. Small kindnesses make me happy. Being here makes me happy.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
List 3 things you wish you had done sooner in life.
Toughest question so far! I’m pretty good at doing and I’ve had wonderful opportunities all along. For the most part, things have come along at the right time when I was ready for them and receptive to them. My list is mostly about “stop doing sooner.” Stop holding on to unhappy situations out of misguided compassion. Stop feeling obligated to do things just because I’m good at them. Stop accepting the opinion that I’m stupid and a disappointment.
What has been your greatest challenge in life so far?
Well, certainly the cancer has caused a major dent in my life. It has meant readjusting habits, curtailing normal activities, re-focusing. The challenge in all of it has been asking for help or accepting help. I’m fiercely independent and am used to being the care-er, not the care-ee. It is ironic that I spent time as a consulting project manager at the National Cancer Institute. Being a patient is like being on another planet and all that research knowledge was fairly useless when faced with the actuality. Cancer is a great leveler and no one is immune. The bureaucratic battle of simply obtaining insurance and help at the beginning was staggering. My treatment was delayed for a month because I had no insurance and with my kind of cancer and as sick as I was, that is tantamount to a death sentence. It’s a horrible disease, but the fight for the ability to get treatment was worse and more exhausting. Being in a wheelchair or in bed, not being able to do normal things like cook or get the mail or take the trash out was frustrating. Not driving or being able to shop. Sometimes I still can’t do those things, but never for long. And I hope never to sit in a wheelchair again. Photography kept me sane through this. Just holding the camera was immediate peace and strength. I even had the camera brought to me when I was in the hospital and spent part of my days snapping flowers and the IV line that turned a spooky green in the dark, my daily bananas, the phone and the birds outside my window. At home, being able to see the sunrise from my bed each morning and the need to be out shooting was a driving force. The first time I did it was wobbly, but liberating! Getting up and taking a few steps so I could take a picture of a flower or a pattern became my only goal. Then a few more steps, then a few more. My mantra of “go as far as you can and then take one more step” became my guide. Getting to the top of my rock again on my birthday was fantastic. Now I go out in my pajamas and silly hats and climb fences and make the neighbors wince. I go down to the little creek behind me and get into contorted positions on the ground while shooting dragonflies. I don’t get up so easily, but that will come. Chemotherapy is cumulative. It doesn’t clear your system each time. Recovering from each session gets harder as time goes on and takes a toll. Having the camera in hand gives me an incentive to fight harder, to push myself so that I can return to doing what I love. That and being stubborn and wanting to prove people wrong. :)
On the other hand, I have years worth of processing waiting and now I have the time to start it. I can finally work on stories I want to tell. I’m not getting much done because I’d rather be here looking at everyone’s work, hearing everyone’s stories and thinking about their observations and opinions. The diversity of perspective and experience fill me with wonder and admiration. I know I’m not out of the woods, but I don’t think about that. I rarely think about being ill at all. It is peripheral. I live for “can” not “can’t.” I cherish my world of “what if...”
What changes would you like to see in the world?
I’d like to see an incurable epidemic of common sense. I’d like for everyone to be endowed with courtesy. I’d like everyone to look up into the night sky every night and try to grasp the wonder of the universe, to look outside themselves, to put things in perspective. I’d like people to stop and think. Or just think. Or stop. That would solve everything else, wouldn’t it?
If you could tell someone from a younger generation one thing, what would it be?
Do as much as you can as young as you can so you don’t look back and say “I should have, I would have, I could have” Take chances. Explore. Slow down. Listen.