My life changed (started) when I stumbled upon a film called One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. I was in high school coming home from a late night out when I first experienced it. Or so I thought was my first experience with it.
My ritual in those days was to try and sneak back in well after midnight without waking anyone up and then proceeding to lull myself to sleep with a movie. That night, I took my usual route of running around the back of the house and easing in through the sliding glass door of our family room. My bedroom was on that same floor just a few steps away. The rest of the house was asleep in their bedrooms on the floor above in our bi-level home in suburban Pennsylvania.
I hopped in bed and flipped on the TV. I was immediately greeted by a young Jack Nicholson being escorted into what appeared to be a mental institution. I was sure I had never seen this film before but something about it seemed familiar.
As the film progressed, I became more and more captivated by what I was experiencing. And it was just that: An Experience. It was an experience that I had never had watching a movie before. I’d seen lots of great movies that I really enjoyed but this was… different.
The ending of the film came and went and left me moved beyond words. I just sat there in the darkness stunned. I didn’t move, I couldn’t move. It was a good 5-10 minutes before I could process what I had just experienced. I couldn’t see it then, but I was changed forever. I’d never be the same after that. I was given the gift of perspective through the telling of a compelling and beautiful story by a masterful group of artists. I soon drifted off not knowing how much this gift would continue to give me.
When I awoke the next morning I went up to the breakfast table and asked my mother if she’d ever seen this film. She responded passionately:
Oh, Michael… I had first seen that movie when I was pregnant with you. I’ll never forget it. At the end we all just sat there in the theater stunned for a good five or ten minutes before any of could move.
So it would seem I had experienced that film before but couldn’t have been aware of it on any conscious level. But it was there. I got to experience it with my mom before I had yet to set a tiny foot in the outside world.
For me, the film is the beautiful story of how one human being inspires another to see and embrace their very best self. Their truest self. Their most powerful and limitless self. The self that we, ourselves, often have trouble being able to see. We see it in others, but sometimes when we look in the mirror or see ourselves on camera we only see what we feel is lacking or ‘imperfect’.
How we see ourselves is everything. How we see ourselves is how others will see us. The stories we tell ourselves in our day-to-day lives, eventually, become our life.
In my own life, I have had the privilege of many great teachers. Teachers who helped me see the very best of myself when I couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. Teachers that continually gave me the invaluable gift of perspective. Teachers who never gave up on me even though I was ready to give up on myself. Sometimes these teachers existed in the physical world but, equally, they came in the form of a movie, a play, photo, concert or experience. They are all, in a way, a great teachers. They are a reminder that:
There’s nothing more beautiful than human expression and nothing more powerful than human connection.
It’s why I do what I do. Why I spend most of my waking hours either in front of or behind a camera putting my time and energy into helping others see the very best in themselves. It’s been said that a camera doesn’t see you but sees into you. After having had the privilege myself of photographing well over 1000 remarkable human beings at this point, I can tell you it’s true. But daring to be seen for all that we are can be scary:
I have a terrible smile.
I don’t look good on camera.
I hate getting my photo taken.
I’m too old.
I’m too young.
I have a blemish.
And on and on (and on)...
We tend to talk to ourselves like shit. For real. We talk to others, usually, in a supportive “you can do it” tone. But when it comes to self-talk, negativity can reign. No matter how many selfies we seem to take, as soon as someone else is holding the camera we have to let go of control and that feeling of certainty. We feel anxious because we know if we’re going to be captured at our very best, we need help. We need to let go of control. We need someone that knows how to set us at ease and can create a safe space for play.
When we’re at play, we’re free from fear.
When we’re free from fear we feel empowered.
When we’re empowered we can connect with the others in a meaningful way.
When we’re fully connected, that’s when our truest and very best selves can shine through. Effortlessly. Beautifully.
It’s a lesson I get to reaffirm every day because of my chosen path. And not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for that privilege.
-Michael has photographed over 1300 extraordinary human beings (and counting)
-He holds an MFA in Acting from Rutgers University
-He’s walked barefoot on fire (twice)
-He’s flown a helicopter (once)
-Earned his 1st Degree Black Belt in Hapkido
-Loves taking self portraits (even though they're a pain)
-Has published a book of Polaroids
-Has visited over 12 different countries
-His Instagram feed is mainly French Bulldogs and Pugs
-He’s former US Navy Veteran and Rescue Swimmer