look for the light

I met Gar Travis in the spring of 2007, on the day I tore my abdominal wall by falling on my metal tankard out at Faire. 

It'd been a few hours since I fell, and the Faire was winding down for the evening. I was still under the delusion that I'd managed to go unscathed, apart from a very bad bruise and a blow to my ego for falling in front of half of the nobles in Court Glade. I'd taken enough painkillers and washed them down with enough beer to fell an ox, and that had kept me upright so far. But the painkillers were beginning to fade with the sun's light, so I thought I'd distract myself by taking shots of the drumming circle that had started.

The drummers looked great in the orange glow of the golden hour, and thanks to the Vicodin, I felt as orangey and warm as they looked. However, the shooting was not going well by any stretch of the imagination. I was futzing with my new camera. The buttons and dials were very possibly labeled in Sanskrit, and looking through the viewfinder made the orangey world spin in an unpleasant way. Painkillers, beer, and an astonishing lack of experience and skill with photography combined to make an utter mess. I bravely soldiered on, but I'm fairly sure I took a couple hundred shots of the orangey ground and a few hundred more that were out-of-focus people-shaped orangey blobs.

A great bear of a man sidled up to me, introduced himself as Gar, and gently asked how my shooting was going. I allowed that my grand total of fifteen minutes' experience using a camera was perhaps not my best beginning ever, and handed him my camera to show him what I'd done so far. That Gar did not collapse into peals of laughter upon seeing my first attempts is a testament to how gracious and kind he was. We chatted for a bit, and he showed me his camera and lens, and showed me how to use mine (I believe he set it to Dumbass Mode). He offered to let me use his telephoto lens, but I was so green, that I didn't even know how to get my kit lens off the body. He must have thought I was either high or as dumb as a sack of hair. As he gave me a crash course in photography for morons (which I surely was that day), the pain decided to come back, and it was bearing a grudge this time. 

I decided that I was going to need some beer to take the painkiller I had left, and abruptly tried to start walking away from Gar, across food court, to the nearest ale stand. Gar stopped me and asked if I was alright. Apparently my eyes glassing over and my dazed expression were his first hint that I was not exactly well. I argued that I was fine and just needed the magical elixir of beer, and I staggered across the ever-expanding and increasingly orangey food court, despite his protests that I should sit down. At the ale stand, I argued with the server about whether or not I needed beer or water, and lost. I took one Vicodin and began stumbling back to Gar, who had wisely taken my camera. The food court had mysteriously grown to the size of the Mojave desert, so I stopped and took a second and third Vicodin, just to be sure I made it back. 

By the time I got to Gar, I was convinced that I might possibly faint in front of my new friend, but was determined to stay upright nevertheless. He asked me again if I was alright, just as my body overruled my ego, and I crumpled rather unceremoniously to the ground.

Gar kept me company for an hour or so, until my best friend found me. Ever the gentleman, he decided to compliment my gray eyes. In my increasingly cantankerous state, I began to argue with him about my eye color. My eyes were blue; they had been blue all my life; all my ex-boyfriends and my ex-husband said they were blue; my mother said they were blue — therefore, I had blue eyes. Gar picked up his camera, and showed me this shot: 

Photo ©Gar Travis, 2007.

"Look at your eyes," he said. "They're gray. See how the light passes right through the irises, making them colorless? Only gray eyes do that. Ask your optometrist." 

I looked at the LCD on the back of his camera, amazed at what he'd seen in me, even through my drug-addled stupor. "How did you do that?" I asked him, waving my hand at his camera. "And I don't mean the fiddly knobs — how did you make this me?"

Gar smiled. "I just looked for the light," he said. "It's easy. That's all you have to do: look for the light."

In the years since, I figured Gar's advice was one of those Zen-like axioms like 'darkest dark, lightest light,' that you hear in studios. I kept it in the back of my mind while shooting, along with all the other axioms, but didn't think much of it. I eventually got better and took better shots, in no small part encouraged by Gar's kindness to a brand-new shooter. Over the years out at faire, we'd chat quietly in the afternoons whenever we got the chance.

Once, I asked Gar why he never shot me the way that most people did: focused on my chest to the exclusion of everything else in the shot. I was used to having people stop me a few dozen, if not a hundred times daily, to take a shot of my cleavage, but Gar never did. I teased him about how he must think I was too ugly to take shots of. (I am, if anything, the Queen of Self-Deprecation.)

Photo ©Gar Travis, 2009

"Well, it's vulgar, and I don't like that," he said. "It's also not you." He then shot my annoyed look, to teach me a lesson about asking dumb questions.

A couple years ago, I ran across Gar during workshops, and we sat down to chat. He didn't seem his usual self, and I asked what was wrong. 

"I just saw the oncologist yesterday," he said. "I haven't told hardly anyone. Please don't say anything." 

"I won't," I said. "Except that I'm so very sorry." I held out my hand, and he took it, and we sat there quietly for a long while. It was the last time we would have a conversation of any depth. 

This morning, I logged into Facebook to discover almost everyone I knew from Faire had changed their profile picture to one Gar had taken of them, and my heart sank. He died yesterday. I scrolled through dozens of photos he'd taken, and even more tributes to how much he'd meant to his friends. Suddenly, I realized what he'd meant back in 2007.

On his Pinterest page, Gar had written, "My friends are the lights in my life… thank you for illuminating my path."  You looked for the light in us all, Gar — and you found it again: 


And again: 


And countless times over the years you spent with us. They were far too few. 

You taught me more than you'll ever know about shooting, my friend. I can't ever thank you enough, and I miss the hell out of you already.