By Mark McNease
One of the things being editor of lgbtSr has taught me is to stay on the lookout. I’m always scanning the news very early in the morning, and my “pay attention” gene seems to have multiplied exponentially the past year. I pay attention to the headlines, attention to what interests me and what I think will interest readers, and I pay attention to others: authors, poets, educators, photographers.
I happened upon Rick Motzkus’s photography in a roundabout way, through another photographer’s images we used as part of an interview. It gets to the serendipitous nature of life and the pleasures of not knowing what we might discover each day. Rick’s photography was one of those pleasures. I was immediately struck by Rick’s series of aging LGBT faces and people and knew this was someone I wanted to introduce to the site’s readers, and to meet myself. Rick is a clear example of who we are here, continuing to live, declining to be silent or to fade, and following our passions.
MM: Could you tell us the basics first: where you live, how you got there, a bit about you and your partner Joe?
RM: I was born 57 years ago inOmaha,Nebraska, but I’ve lived in SouthernCaliforniamost of my life. I met my husband, Joe, 36 years ago right after I turned 21. We met at a local disco, Ripples, right before last call, ended up going to coffee afterwards until4:30in the morning. By the time we left the coffee shop, we knew there was something special going on. We’ve lived inLong Beachfor the last 26 years, and we have the most wonderful kids: Buddy and Rosie, two golden retrievers.
In 2006, on our 30th anniversary, we went through a commitment ceremony. Going into it, I thought it would just be a nice affirmation of our lives together. However, during the ceremony I found myself crying, Joe was crying, the minister was crying with us, and I realized this was the happiest day of my life. It was incredible to be in front of family and friends and celebrating our love together. During the window period before Prop. 8 passed in November 2008, we joined the other 18,000 couples who got legally married. So many people had fought so hard for gays to marry that we felt we didn’t have a choice but to support our community in any way we could.
MM: You mention on your website that you initially took up photography as therapy. Would you mind speaking about that?
RM: Some time ago I went through a traumatic experience which left me with post traumatic stress disorder, and over the next several years I disappeared into a very dark place. During this time I found that one of the few ways I was able to connect with the world was through a camera and taking photos. The way I describe it is my world had turned black and white and photography helped to bring color back into my life.
When the darkness started to lift, I needed something simple to focus on, so taking pictures became an important part of my healing. When I took my first black-and-white photo class; it was a form of art therapy. It allowed me to work at my own pace. This is true even today; I express myself best through my images. I find that when I’m behind the camera, I’m calmer, I go to a more peaceful place, and I’m more in control.
MM: I found your photography in a roundabout way and was immediately struck by your images of older LGBT people. What inspired that particular series?
RM: The gay community has always been focused on appearance and youth, and I’d heard from many other senior friends how invisible and irrelevant they feel within our community. I know that in the last couple years I’ve been experiencing that also, and I’ve wondered how I fit in. We are the first generation of elder LGBTs , and there are no role models we have to look to for guidance on the aging process. Our generation of baby boomers has hit the senior years, and it’s an ever-growing population.
Since I’ve been shooting, I have fallen in love with the senior face. No longer flawless, our faces take on new wrinkles, spots and imperfections. Instead of seeing these as flaws, I find they just provide so much character and interest to someone’s appearance. The way I see it, when we become older and start to feel that invisibility, it’s easy for our self-esteem to start to erode, and we end up with a very poor concept of who we are anymore, and that affects our relationships with the rest of the community and the world in general.
I started this series because I wanted to explore how other people of my generation were handling this change. I also love working on this series because I love working with people who aren’t normally in front of the camera and leaving them afterwards feeling good about themselves. That’s got to be the biggest satisfaction I get from doing this.
MM: How do you find and approach your subjects? And do they sit for you, do you light them, how does that work?
RM: Some of my models are friends; some I have met at different social gatherings and approached them to see if they would be interested in sitting for me; I’m starting to go to 50+ social groups in order to look for people who would like to participate. If there is anyone living locally 50+ who would like to become part of this series, I’d love to meet with them and see what we come up with.
As far as the setup, while I like working in the studio with special studio lighting, I like the process even more when I meet my subjects in their own environments. I like to keep things as simple and unobtrusive as possible, and I only use available window lighting with perhaps the aid of a simple reflector. Being in their own environment I believe makes a person more at ease, and also it says something about who they are; and even though the surroundings rarely figure in the portrait, I feel the environment, and it also/ connects me to my subject.
MM: Are you primarily self-taught as a photographer? Have you taken classes?
RM: After my first class in b&w photography, I continued taking classes ranging from studio lighting to portraiture to location shooting to experimental imagery. They have an incredible curriculum at my local college, and there isn’t a class that hasn’t informed who I am as a photographer today.
MM: Do you carry a camera around and get photographs where you find them, or do you plan them out? What’s some insight into your process?
RM: I like to have my camera with me as I never know what I’m going to see. As a photographer, I’ve learned it’s important to take photos every day even when it doesn’t relate to anything specific. My blog contains all sorts of different kinds of images, some relating to particular projects, and some I just post because it’s something I found interesting at the moment. These random shots may not be of interest to anyone else, but they’re part of my growing process. However, there are many shots that have been planned out in advance and I need to look into props, models and locations. It’s so satisfying when you get an idea for an image, create it, and it turns out the way you wanted.
MM: What part does Joe play in your photography, other than as a subject?
RM: Joe has been my biggest supporter since I started photography, and he continues to encourage me to learn more, to experiment, to try new things. When I’m in doubt and in a dark place, I can let it all out with him and he helps me to work my way back into the light.
MM: One of the recurring themes of lgbtSr and what we’re doing is to follow our passions, at any age. You came to photography later in life and clearly have a gift for it. What could you say to others in the “older” audience about doing what you love?
RM: First, I appreciate your encouragement.
From my own experience, it’s so easy, when you get older, to let the world get smaller and smaller around you. Joy and happiness can disappear. Sometimes it’s difficult to find reasons to get up in the morning and join the human race. I’ve been there for my own reasons. But when you find that “thing,” the thing that makes your heart race a little faster when you think about it, the thing that you become passionate about, life takes on new meaning. As I describe it, color comes back in the world. It doesn’t matter what it is – photography, painting, writing, running, walking, dancing, singing -– doing something you love changes your life.
When I’m involved in doing something I love, I’m back in the present, not worrying about tomorrow or regretting yesterday. Hours can pass and it feels like minutes. I feel alive and I don’t notice my aches and pains. Being passionate makes me breathe, helps to heal the dark places in my soul. It saves my life. It can save yours too.
You can find Rick’s photography and contact information at: http://motzkuspov.blogspot.com/