Happy Birthday, Mike!
My best friend of 50 years died last year. Rather than missing the people I love who have died, I choose to keep them alive by sharing stories of them with others. I wrote about some of my memories of Mike last year with brief accounts of a few adventures we’d shared through the years. To celebrate his first birthday away from this planet (AWP in text-acronym-vernacular — like AWK for “away from keyboard,” but a bit more permanent), I’m sharing some pictures Mike made along the way.
I learned early on he had a much better eye for framing images for the camera than I did. I might see something interesting and comment how it would make a great picture. Mike would nod, step closer or further away, just a step or two to the right or maybe the left, crouch down just a little, zoom in — and get a picture a thousand times better than what I had seen. Every damned time.
At first, it was frustrating. He had the eye to realize the vision I had in my mind. But we quickly learned we could work well together and started collaborating on little movies, first in high school and continuing through college. We didn’t end up becoming filmmakers. I went to work at the Brown Schools and Mike bounced out to California, back to the Houston real estate business, out to east Texas and finally landed in Dallas.
Photography became a part-time hobby for him. He still snagged some of the best candid shots of various misadventures, including the time my friends tricked me into sitting still for a group photo on my 30th birthday— and then hit me in the face with a pie.
Yeah, photo by MacNaughton.
When Sara and I got married, Mike served as one of my 2 Best Men.
We had an official wedding photographer, of course, who shot the standard set of wedding photos. She was thorough and competent…if rather uninspired.
Fortunately, with Mike on hand, we ended up with some great surprise shots. He also brought confetti, as modeled here by our newlyweds.
It was inevitable that Mike try his hand at photography as a business. His photos forever garnered praise and prompted inquiries as to whether he was a professional or not.
Could he…would he…take some photos for…?
He already had a lot of the equipment involved. He hung up his shingle as Shannon Michaels Studios (Shannon being his middle name).
To hone his skills and as a gift to Sara & me, he did a lovely set of photos of the two of us at McKinney Falls back in 1992.
Unbeknownest to us all at the time, it was our first family photos. Sara was pregnant. We found out a week later.
Mike put in a lot of time perfecting a professional approach to his photography. He hired on as one of those mall photographers, shooting lots of photos of babies, kids, and families. Not the most creative work but a lot of practice and a lot of exposure to a wide variety of human behaviors in front of and around cameras.
Like any professional photographer, he did his fair share of weddings. I was amused when he told me about one phrase he included in his standard wedding contract. “I will miss ‘the best shot of the day.’ ” The example he gave was one wedding where a couple of young boys, about 5 or so, were kneeling in full dress outside the bride’s dressing room, trying to look through the keyhole. “At least 3 people told me within 5 minutes I’d missed the best shot of the day.” He shrugged. “You always will, so I just wrote it into the contract.”
When Lucas was born, we got Mike to shoot a whole family set of photos, complete with 3 grandparents. Wanting to have photos of the various groupings of family — all starring Lucas, of course — made for a long photo session, of course. Especially for the star of the show, baby Lucas.
By we got to the final group, just me and Sara and Lucas, he had had it. He went from irritated to fussy to starting to pitch a fit.
Mike had a suggestion he’d picked up from his days as a all photographer to fix a fussy-baby photo shoot: hold the kid upside down a moment.
Worked like a charm!
This remains one of our all-time favorite family photos.
In the end, Mike’s photography business proved unsuccessful. I don’t know the details. I know my attempt at freelancing video in the 80s had fizzled, only ever paying for the equipment I bought. It’s not as easy as it seems.
Turns out we can’t always turn what we love and do well into a career after all. There’s a wonderful quote in the movie, “Hope Floats,” where Harry Connick, Jr.’s character explains how he gave up a high-powered career as an architect to return to his little home town to do remodeling carpentry work.
You’re talkin’ ’bout the American Dream.Hope Floats (1998)
You find something that you love, and then you twist it, and you torture it, try and find a way to make money at it. You spend a lifetime doing that. At the end, you can’t find a trace of what you started out lovin’.
I suspect that’s some of what happened with Mike and his photography. Trying to turn what he freely produced as beautiful art into a commercially successful photography business took away the joy. He continued to take stunning photos and branched out experimentally in printing photographs.
Me, my life will forever remain enriched by Mike’s photography. We have photos he took hanging in several rooms around our house. That photo of me & Sara at McKinney Falls (above) hangs directly over my desk here. I see it every day.
Whenever I look back at photos of various events, a bunch of those are invariably photos Mike took. It’s like an out-of-body memory bank I can visit from time-to-time.
Who else would have been there at the right place at the right time at our wedding reception to get this classic shot of the curious groom peeping down the not-quite-blushing bride’s bodice?
No one but Mike could take that photo. Thanks, my friend!