Pop Television and Epilepsy Heroes

“People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen to you in life that’s unreal.” From the Philosophy of Andy Warhol (bryan farley)

On Saturday November 19, I photographed the 2016 Candlelight Gala for the Epilepsy Foundation of Northern California. (I have included the entire photo gallery from the Westin St. Francis with individual selections throughout this post.) Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars was the guest speaker.

 (bryan farley)

Since I had my first seizure when I was 16, I have been reconstructing reality. Each time I had a seizure, I felt as if I had entered a movie or television show. In 2004, something similar happened when my father shot himself. I felt like Humpty Dumpty in a surreal reality show. Coincidentally, November 19, 2016 was Survivor Day (International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.)

 (bryan farley)

My father shot himself with a gun he purchased from a Las Vegas pawn shop. He built a Harley and drove an old 1940 Ford. Does it sound unreal that my father could have known our guest speaker before Rick Harrison became famous? What sounds real?

 (bryan farley)

After my father died, I tried to make sense of the loss. I wondered if the receipt for the gun was a message. I wondered if his loss had a greater meaning. I decided that I needed to stop hiding my disability… from myself and others. Those of us with epilepsy have learned to hide, often for survival. Even now, it might be safer to hide.

 (bryan farley)

We need heroes… our own heroes. Several months after my father died, I heard a short news story by Katie Couric about a young man who was saved on a New York subway. It was touching. Cameron Hollopeter, a 19 year old film student, had been saved. Cameron had a seizure and fell onto the tracks and another person became a hero. Couric was not the only journalist to simplify the story.  (Donald Trump also gave the hero $10,000 dollars too.)

Years later, Hollopeter remains the object of a melodrama.

 (bryan farley)

Katie Couric appeared on Pawn Stars in 2013. She purchased a signed Mark Twain handwritten aphorism, “We ought never do wrong when anyone is looking.” The quote reminds me of the expression that is often attributed to John Wooden, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

 (bryan farley)

As much as I admire John Wooden and Mark Twain, I think that their aphorisms oversimplify character, or at best, set the bar too low. A true test of a person’s character could be how he or she behaves when facing peer pressure.

Does a person do right when everyone is looking?

 (bryan farley)

As a person with a disability, I wonder if people even look at me. Do people see me? When opponents of the new administration stand with groups who feel threatened, is there a reason that people with disabilities are omitted from the list? Are we intentionally omitted or are we just forgotten? When supporters of the new administration heard their candidate mock a reporter with a disability, why were the supporters quiet?

We need our own heroes, because, regardless of the definition of character, we know what it means to be ignored by our friends and enemies. It’s unreal, except it isn’t.

 (bryan farley)

The times are a slowly changing. Miles Levin, a young filmmaker, presented his video about summer camp during at the gala. It was the highlight of the evening. I thought about Cameron during Miles’ presentation and wondered what could have happened if the world have encouraged Cameron while recognizing the person who eventually saved Cameron’s life. Perhaps those of us with disabilities need to start our own magazine, on this 80th anniversary of Life Magazine, and we need to start our own code. Perhaps we could call it the Cameron Code.

(Notes to follow)

Here is a link to my notes on this blog post. I also edited this post on 11/28 to read more easily.

Pride – In the Name of 15 Years

What do we remember when we say that we will “never forget?”

 (bryan farley)

I spent the 15 year anniversary of the September 11th attacks at the Oakland Pride Parade. I found my church (and then lost them) and then joined the denomination that baptized me as a baby (the Methodists). I did not want to be alone this 9/11.

 (bryan farley)

While many Americans will never forget 9/11, most Americans did not know someone who died on 9/11. I knew Mark Bingham, one of the passengers on Flight 93. Mark was an incredible man who has become an American icon and symbol for the LGBT community.

 (bryan farley)

I met Mark shortly after I moved to the Bay Area. Mark organized a weekly football game at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Five years ago, I wrote more about how we knew each other.  He was one of the best athletes and one of the best leaders I have known. He was many things, and if you met him, you would not forget him. He was an openly gay, business man, national champion rugby playing … Republican (in San Francisco). Senator John McCain eulogized Mark on September 22, 2011.

 (bryan farley)

After September 2001, I remained in contact with the football group for a couple months or a couple years… I don’t know why I drifted apart. Fifteen years later, I realize that I did not know how to deal with the loss. So many other people had lost more on 9/11, I did not feel that I had a right to grieve. Our whole group lost something that cannot be replaced by memorials. I disconnected from my large group of male friends and never replaced them.

 (bryan farley)

Fifteen years is a long time, and sometimes I can see the changes in events like an Oakland Pride Parade. Fifteen years ago, marriage equality was barely a fight. When I moved to San Francisco, there were two places where I felt most safe – my church and our football field. This might sound strange coming from me, but fifteen years ago, even the Democratic Party did not share my political beliefs. I was the crazy guy.

 (bryan farley)

Even though I have no photos my people from St. John’s Episcopal Church, I did see them… and I photographed many other organizations that I knew before moving to the Bay Area. I saw Planned Parenthood (above) and the local Stonewall Democratic Club. In the mid-1990’s, I was one of the founding members of the Santa Barbara County Stonewall Democratic Club. I wouldn’t change my registration for the Congressional campaign, but I would for the club.

 (bryan farley)

For September 11th, I photographed everything at f/11. Usually I would shoot with a shallow depth of field when I am in a crowd. Some photos still worked, but there are a few images that I did not include in the photo gallery, because of distractions.

 (bryan farley)

The 73 image Oakland Pride Parade photo gallery is here.

 (bryan farley)

Once I started remembering how I made it to the Bay Area from Santa Barbara, I remembered my standard for cool mayors. What would Harriet Miller do with a fire breathing snail?

 (bryan farley)

Mayor Harriet Miller reminded me of my old high school principal Jeanne Contel. Contel was a hall of fame softball player before becoming a principal. Harriet was a State Superintendent of Public Schools in Montana before moving to Santa Barbara. When Harriet Miller ran a city council meeting, it was clear that she knew what she was doing. I will always remember how Harriet calmed me when I spoke first on the new domestic partnership legislation. I had forgotten how to talk.

 (bryan farley)

Note: this part has been edited on September 14.

There were times when Harriet was underestimated. Harriet Miller was often the smartest person in the room … and at the Santa Barbara Solstice Parade, she was the most fun. When Harriet was about 80, she wore outrageous costumes and carried a magic wand. In no way does this mean that she was not tough. She could have organized the passengers on Flight 93 too. I imagine that Oakland’s current mayor has been similarly underestimated, and that Mayor Schaaf seems to be on the same path as Harriet. (Let’s give her another 30 or 40 years and bring her back.)

After I published this post the first time yesterday, I found another article written on the one year anniversary of 9/11. I wanted to include The Guardian article by Mark’s friend Bryce Eberhart at the end of my post. Perhaps this year has been especially difficult because I lost my rugby shirt that I wore when playing football with Mark or because a long time friend died this year… or perhaps I have finally started to allow myself to “never forget.”

The song of a shuttered soundstage

This feels more like an obituary than an anniversary… an acknowledgement that a language has died, or as John Lennon sang, “Everybody’s talking and no one says a word.”

 (bryan farley)

Before photography portfolio presentation at the 2012 JEA Minneapolis National Convention

13 years ago today, I began working at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. At the time, Brooks was a visual art college respected throughout the world. If you believe the press reports and Facebook postings, Brooks closed last month. I don’t believe everything I see about Brooks. While working for Brooks, I learned how imagery can be manipulated. I also learned to question the parent company that owned Brooks during the nearly five years that I worked for the school.

 (bryan farley)

Santa Barbara Harbor, Winter

I was going to start the post with the phrase, “Life is a paradox,” and so it was with Brooks. Many of us who worked for Brooks were loyal to the college, but not the company. We searched for a safe harbor, so that we could live with the turbulence caused by our dysfunctional parent. I am still searching for the right balance that is part appreciation, part confession and part warning.

 (bryan farley)

Jim McNay with Me, Anaheim, before a JEA Presentation

The Appreciation

While I am heartbroken that Brooks Institute closed, I am forever grateful that I found myself working at the school thirteen years ago. What started as a one year commitment became a five year job with many life long friendships. Earlier this week, I emailed Jim McNay after photographer Marc Riboud  died. Jim mentioned something about the New York Times obituary so I waited for it. The obituary explains Riboud’s relationships with his mentor Henri Cartier-Bresson. Riboud learned “which books to read” and “the art of photography.” Riboud learned what made “good photography.” I didn’t have Cartier-Bresson, but I had McNay and many other guides I met because I worked at Brooks.

I can’t overstate my gratitude for working at Brooks. I rekindled my love for photography. I have been able to document the important moments in my own life. I have been able to help others. I have met hundreds (probably thousands) of visual art and journalism educators. I have been fortunate to visit hundreds of classrooms and meet students and teachers at their schools and at conventions. I have known some of the leading visual art educators, photographers and industry professionals. There are times when I was embarrassed by how fortunate I had become, especially considering how underqualified I felt.


Accidental Gothic, Nashville, November 2006

I can take a decent photograph now, but when I first started to work for Brooks, I was overwhelmed. I hadn’t taken pictures in ten years and I was working at a college with some of the best photographers in the world. These people were on a different level. This is the first picture I remember taking that I thought might be good. Brooks instructor Paul Myers and I were walking around downtown Nashville when we were at a journalism education conference. I had worked for a homeless relief non-profit, so I knew people, but I didn’t know much about photography. I was embarrassed a few years later when I learned about Gordon Parks’ American Gothic photo and the painting that my image resembles. I was embarrassed often by my lack of knowledge when I worked for Brooks.

I am also grateful that I was able to make a difference in the visual art education field and the college recruiting world. Since I felt that I did not know much, I worked hard. I helped create a college fair in a county that did not have one. When I felt that I was ignorant about photography portfolios, I learned. I learned a lot.

If I didn’t mention someone, I probably did not forget you… I am thankful often.

The Confession

I tried stop the parent company and save the school. I couldn’t do either. I was hired in September 2003. By early 2005, CEC was featured on 60 Minutes for problems with some of their other colleges. (One of the schools was called Brooks College. Brooks Institute and Brooks College were often confused with each other. I believe that one of the colleges encouraged this confusion.) Later in 2005, Brooks Institute received its own bad publicity. I have included the New York Times article. The publicity was worse locally.

The Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education was investigating Brooks. While there were problems with the way BPPE conducted their investigation, CEC misrepresented the findings. CEC was also tone deaf to the local Santa Barbara community. I had contacted BPPE and ordered a copy of their report. I still have the copy. I had lived and worked in Santa Barbara. I imagined that it was like the 1969 oil spill all over again and Santa Barbara was going to get oil out.

I experienced my own problems with the parent company. In September of 2005, CEC announced that they were changing our employment status and introducing a different way to calculate hours worked. (and by different, I mean illegal) From the beginning, I questioned the legality of the new arrangement. I began kindly. I continued cordially. Eventually, I went to the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) and provided the legal opinions to support my argument. It still took CEC months to change their employment rules to reflect the law.

While I thought that I was saving the company from another embarrassing lawsuit, I heard that it was not perceived that way. I continually faced roadblocks while working at Brooks. It was the paradox. While the photography industry and photography education community began accepting me, the parent company continually rejected me.

Impact Teen Drivers met on Monday, April 23, 2012 in Sacramento, California to honor families who have been affected by distracted driving. National and state leaders gathered at the West Side of the Capitol to strategize and share personal stories. (bryan farley)

Because I had worked for Walter Capps, I had connections to State Superintendent Jack O’Connell. I contacted him. (The world is small… we later knew some of the same people through Impact Teen Drivers.) I also met with other people who I thought could help. I tried to enlist journalists, but I never knew how to support the college while educating the public. I felt as if I were a whistleblower who did not know how to whistle. I still don’t know.

I could list more problems where the company violated our trust, but nobody seems interested, and it really is not that important to the story. By now, there have been enough stories about for-profit education companies. Someone found the information. I don’t know how.

Lastly, when it was time for me to leave my job, CEC encouraged me to sign exit paperwork that would limit my ability to speak publicly. I refused to sign. It wasn’t worth the money. They weren’t going to buy my silence, even though I remained quiet. As far as I know, I am the only one who refused to sign. I don’t know how regulators and journalists received most of their information. A few years ago, I thought that someone was trying to contact me. I never solved the puzzle. I might have been a little paranoid.

The Warning

I think it was Mark Twain or Paul Strand who said, “An Instagram filter does not a quality photograph make.” (or maybe that is a new Farleyism)

You might think I am burying the lede by discussing CEC’s problems in the middle, but CEC is not the main point of the story. Granted, CEC was, at best, a bad company. CEC was not “built to last,” and their problems interfered with their ability to advocate for the importance of commercial visual art. But we can’t blame the decline of quality imagery on the for-profit education sector.

We are losing a language. “Everyone is talking and no one says a word.” And nobody seems to care.

When I started working at Brooks, the photography world was transitioning from film to digital cameras. Many of us started to imagine a world that would emphasize quality photography. Brooks was positioned to participate in this new era. Instead, something quite different has happened. The business world built a different model. The education community followed.

I once called this new model the “flickrization” of photography (or something like that). We could now call it the YouTube effect. It is the belief that you can learn everything by watching YouTube videos. That is like us old folks saying, “libraries have lots of books. you don’t need teachers, just drop your kid at the library. you can find everything in books.” Well, sorta. If you happen to find the right books and someone can explain the relevance of Henri Cartier-Bresson and ….

When I was a recruiter, I saw how other colleges and universities recruited. College marketing and recruiting is big business. Most colleges produced glossy publications. Yet, universities tried to save money by not hiring professional full-time photographers. Poor imagery often undermines recruiting, but nobody really cares. Students at Brooks could have created better college marketing materials than those I saw ten years ago. There is a ripple effect when colleges will not hire full-time photographers. Students learn what is valued.

It is worse in school districts. Since I have left Brooks, I have worked for several districts. My children have attended two. The imagery on many official public school district websites does not meet the standards of a proficient high school photography student. You can’t blame this on CEC. I have taught photography at three different high schools the last three years. If my high school students submitted work that appears on most school district websites, I would return the imagery and make the students start over. Educators emphasize the importance of multiple intelligences. (With a nod to Richard Pryor), Multiple Intelligences was introduced by a Harvard professor, so it must be true. The education field values different learning styles, but these differences are not reflected in the official communications. These differences are not reflected in the hiring practices, and there are multiple costs when we lose a language that can be translated so easily.

Strange days indeed…

NOTE: on Labor Day, I added a Notes to a Blog on my older blog