Sunday, September 10, 2017

RIP, dear Scott

We were never officially hang-out friends, due mostly to the fact that we never lived in the same city at the same time. He'd found me probably 10 years ago through this blog, when it -- and the all-topic, open-diary blog trend -- was enjoying its peak. I was living in Chicago and he was in Indianapolis. I was a regular marathon runner with a high-end personal trainer and a (desperate?) level of vanity that compelled me to post lots of shirtless pictures on here and on my blog. He was a budding photographer who had a growing portfolio of decorator interiors, event venues, commercial work, and head shots and editorial photos of both models and the everyday people he always saw the everyday beauty in. He wanted to expand his portfolio to include male figures, and he contacted me through my blog to invite me to Indianapolis for a shoot.

My first thought, of course, was no -- I wasn't driving six hours to have a complete stranger take shirtless pictures of me, no matter how flattering and ego-boosting the subtext was. But I looked through his portfolio and saw the casual, unassuming beauty and unaffected composition in both his commercial interior photography and his human portraits. And I read through his blog and admired the frank, self-effacing, dry-humored way he incorporated himself into his world. And I had a friend in Indy I'd wanted to visit anyway, so I agreed to make the trip to meet him.

He seemed very shy when he answered his door. It took him awhile to make level eye contact, but he got clearly more comfortable as he gave me a tour of his house, introduced me to his delightfully affectionate cats, and eventually took me upstairs to the sizable, airy studio on his top floor. I'd brought a ton of clothing options, he'd already set up a range of backgrounds and set concepts, and we got to work. He was patient and clearly knowledgeable about his cameras and his lighting equipment, and he took lots of "test" shots to capture me when I was relaxed and natural along with lots of carefully composed shots when I was posing as a model wannabe or a figure that was part of the story of his creative use of props and settings. It was an enjoyable day, he repeatedly invited me to come back to do more, the photographs he took were beautiful and thoughtful and always flattering ... and I felt like I'd made a new friend.

I traveled back two more times to pose for him, and we made time to have dinner and hang out both times. And as he gradually decided he wanted to move to Chicago, we spent more time together on the visits he made to see if the city was a good fit for him. And when I became single five years ago, he was the first person to stay in the guest room of my new apartment.

He didn't end up moving to Chicago until after I'd moved home to Iowa, but he extended to me an open invitation to come back and pose for a conceptual series of gritty, vérité, deeply urban photographs he called Drifters. I never made it back to pose for that series, and our communication slowly reduced itself from emails to texts to likes on each other's Facebook posts. The last time I talked to him was in April when I asked if he could find a high-definition file of a headshot he'd taken for me that I could use in the program for a show I was in. He said he'd have to dig through a few archive hard drives and it might take a bit, but he found it and sent it to me the next day. I gratefully thanked him, he invited me to come back for a visit ... and we went back to communicating through the austerity of Facebook likes and hearts.

Scott Barnes died last night, very suddenly. Three days shy of his birthday. He was enjoying a night with friends -- and he very carefully cultivated his friends, so he was always surrounded by decent, loving people -- when he abruptly collapsed and died. The details I know are only speculation, so I choose to focus on the fact that by all accounts it was quick and he didn't suffer. But he's left a world of friends and people he photographed in shock and mourning.

I know pictures exist of the two of us together, but I can't for the life of me find them on Facebook or my hard drive. So I'm including here a photograph of him smiling happily as his new city stands majestically against a brightly setting sun behind him, the headshot he took of me that I LOVE because I think it makes me look serious and thoughtful and handsome without looking like I'm trying desperately to be handsome, and one of a series of running-related photos he took of me where I'm lacing my shoes. He and I both loved it for its composition with the bright palette and the precise angles providing visual balance to my draping shirt and human shape ... and for the cat who wandered in and sat directly under my butt right before he took the picture. He and I have since then always referred to this photo as proof of my magical ability to poop cats.
I didn't know him to say anything as racy as "pooping cats" ever. So it was kind of a gift that we had this odd little inside joke between us. Scott was a quiet, gentle soul. He was unfailingly loyal to his friends. He seemed to be genuinely full of wonder at the world and people and life around him. He captured so much of it so beautifully, and he was both proud of and humble about his work.

Scott Barnes was a dear, sweet man. I'm truly sorry our friendship had become so casual, but I'm grateful that we'd shared it. His life was too short. But I urge all of us to use it as an inspiration to treasure all the friendships we have while we have them ... and to take the time to tell our friends and loved ones how much we love them.

You were loved, Scott. By so many people. And we already miss you greatly.

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