We were totally thrilled to schedule a private Smooch! shoot with the internationally-known Playing for Change (PFC) band while they were here in Minneapolis last month. Their musical vision: to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world — a mission The Smooch! Project whole-heartily shares. PFC has developed a huge international following for good reason: A beautiful message beautifully presented. They have been a role model for us for several years. We want The Smooch! Project to be like them when we grow up! How awesome it was to meet and spend some time with these inspiring people.
Above, PFC band member Peter Bunetta is being smooched by PFC roadie / photographer Lindsay Fishman. More PFC archive pics from this shoot can be seen in The Smooch! Project Archive. Check them out here.
During the shoot, several PFC band members came forward to participate but had no handy partners to smooch. No problem! Trusty members of The Smooch! Project Dream Team (our awesome team of dedicated volunteers) were sooo happy to step up to the challenge! The result: Within the Smooch! archive, you’ll see Ilon Ba (PFC electric guitar) smooching Dreamer Patricia Danielson. You’ll also find Grampa Elliot (PFC vocals / harmonica) getting a smooch from Dreamer Louisa Hext. The Smooch! / PFC archive collection is completed by a photo of Clarence Bekker (PFC vocals / acoustic guitar) being smooched by his PFC roadie / sound tech friend, Melissa Britton. As is usually the case, everybody left their Smooch! shoot smiling. Later that evening, The Smooch! team all sat down to a wonderful concert by this amazing group of talented performers. It was quite an amazing day for The Smooch! Project.
PFC had so much fun, they decided to write about us on the PFC blog,followed by a mention on the PFC Facebook page. That was sooo sah-weet of them! Their doing so introduced The Smooch! Project to more than 170,000 PFC followers from all over the world. We are so grateful to this remarkable group of people for their love and support. Perhaps someday The Smooch! Project will be in a position to return such a great favor. Until then, we can only offer our simple, heartfelt thanks to this wonderful organization. This, plus a great big shout-out: PFC ROCKS!
Which now provides a great segue to our next story . . . .
Mucho thanks to all our Smoochy supporters of 2010
Where do we begin? So many people contributed time, energy, expertise (and — Wow! — sometimes even money!) toward our effort to collect 10,000 images from around the world. Last August, we tallied up all the Smooch! Project Heroes, those open-hearted people who have volunteered over the last four years in support of this effort. All told, the Heroes list exceeded 110 people! Amazing. Even now, the Heroes list continues to grow. We love our Smooch! Project Heroes!
From the Heroes group rise The Smooch! Project Dream Team: Those lovely souls who stepped up once to volunteer and then decided to stick around for awhile. The Dreamers share the vision of collecting 10,000 photographs from around the world. Dreamers form the inner circle of support for this entire effort. Without them, The Smooch! Project could grow only slowly. In 2010, fourteen Dreamers contributed a considerable amount of time and energy toward this effort. The amazing growth of The Smooch! Project is a direct result of the effort of these individuals. Amazingly, almost all of the 2010 Dreamers have once again committed to working on this project for yet another year. These people are a blessing for The Smooch! Project and we are lucky, lucky, lucky to have their support. Thanks so much, Dreamers! A great big smooch to each and every one of you.
Finally, there are the 1,600+ people on the Smooch! email list plus our 260+ Smooch! Facebook Fans. Yup, our group of smoochy supporters is growing and it’s all because of people like YOU. A great big, heart-felt thank you to each and every one of you for your ongoing interest, help and support. We very much appreciate having you along for this exciting ride. Hold on to your seats! 2011 holds amazing promise for The Smooch! Project.
A great and happy new year to all!
Scott Nichols loves art, especially photography. At least, that’s what I recall him telling me almost four years ago when he called me to talk about The Smooch! Project. Scott is also the News Editor for the Eastside Review, aweekly community newspaper covering a Saint Paul, Minnesota neighborhood. At the time, I was living in the downtown neighborhood called Lowertown, which was included in Scott’s coverage area. He had heard of our project and wanted to do a story. It ended up becoming much more than that.
The Fall 2006 St. Paul Art Crawl was coming up and The Smooch! Project was going to be a part of it. Scott was planning to include the upcoming shoot in his next issue. Hooray, I remember thinking. That would be cool. Then he also proposed what I thought was a brilliant idea (IMHO): Why not invite Eastside Review readers to attend the shoot and feature their Smooch! Archive photos and personal stories in later issues of the paper. Wow. Didn’t I say BRILLIANT? Needless to say, I was totally thrilled.
Over the next three months — 9 issues in all – photos and stories about The Smooch! Project appeared within the pages of Scott’s newspaper. For a project just completing its first year of growth, this coverage was a tremendous boost and very much appreciated. Scott and I occasionally kept in touch for another year but this fell away when I moved to Minneapolis, outside of his newspaper’s coverage area. The Smooch! Project continued to grow.
Now I am working my way back through the collected archive, as I gather and prepare the images to upload onto The Smooch! Project website. Last week, as I was completing more archive photos gathered in 2008, I came across this one:
I had set up a Smooch! shoot at the 2008 Stone Arch Bridge Festival of the Arts, always held during Father’s Day weekend in the Minneapolis. Among the many people I met and photographed during that two-day event, one of them stood out. Here is an image of Scott Nichols, being smooched by his lovely wife, Amy. This was the first time I had ever met this man and to also meet his beautiful family was a real bonus. They were out on a weekend family outing and had no idea that they were going to stumble over The Smooch! Project that day. Now that the project was no longer a subject for his newspaper, Scott was free to become part of a project he had once only written about.
The image, Amy luvs Scott, has been uploaded to the website and is now part of The Smooch! Project Archive online, where it belongs. I was really happy to finally meet him and glad that he found the opportunity to become part of the project. His coverage of this heart-lifting effort to collect 10,000 images of people showing affection to someone they love was an important part of our early years. I have not forgotten and to this day, I remain very grateful for his interest and support.
There is still much more work to be done to complete the current archive. At the moment, I have completed my work on only one of the two days from that shoot but I hope to complete all of the Stone Arch Bridge Festival images soon. My original goal was to finish our work on the images already collected here in Minnesota BEFORE we headed out on our first Smooch! Project road trip. Not gonna happen. We’re about 75 percent there: currently 740 of almost 1,100 images are now online. But — exciting news: We are leaving for . . . .
In less than a week, we will be embarking on the very first (and very exciting, of course!) Smooch! Project road trip. We’ve selected Detroit for several reasons, the primary one being that we consider this city to be ground zero for the financial challenges we have all be facing here in the United States. Hopelessness and senseless violence is a daily occurrence there. We think The Smooch! Project can help. We’ll only be within the city for a couple of days but we plan to connect with as many people on the ground as we can to prepare for a later return trip to begin a larger, more focused effort. We’ll be holding at least one shoot to collect a few representative images as well and come back home. Then we’ll have everything we need to write a rock-solid grant proposal. We believe the transformative imagery of The Smooch! Project has the power to heal a community. If our work there can break the cycle and stop even one violent episode, it will be entirely worth the effort. If you’re not on our mailing list to get the updates on our progress, you should be! It’s easy to do. The signup form is in the right hand column of this blog.
More stories to come . . .
Almost four years ago, a terrible thing happened. A child died a month after her Smooch! shoot with her family. Her death was painful and unnecessary, the sad result of extremely poor decisions made by the two adults entrusted with her care. Both of these people are now in prison. They are going to be there a very long time. One of them has since become my friend. With her knowledge and permission, I’ve decided to write this story. My relationship to Julie is an important one to share because it illustrates a vital lesson offered by The Smooch! Project.
This image is called Julie luvs Cadence. (No, Cadence is not the child who died.) I refer to this image as ‘my mermaid photo.’ This was a very early Smooch! shoot which was set up outside, something I no longer do now that I use studio lights. As I was preparing to take this photo, an updraft gently moved through the set. It lifted Julie’s and Cadence’s hair and made this photo appear as if they were underwater. I clearly remember snapping the shutter, fervently hoping I had captured that instant. Later, when I was home reviewing all the pics I had collected that day, I came upon it again. This photo hit my heart so powerfully that I literally burst into tears. I was amazed and grateful that I had somehow managed to capture such a beautiful image. From that moment forward, I made a personal goal regarding all my future shoots. If I could manage to capture even one photo as beautiful as this during each Smooch! shoot, collecting that single image would make the shoot worth the entire effort, even if all the other photographs were terrible or even accidentally destroyed. Even after 80+ Smooch! shoots, I still wait patiently at every shoot, to see and capture the single photo that — if all else failed — would make the day’s effort worthwhile. So far, I have never been disappointed.
This image has been hidden from public view since 2006. I removed all photographs of this family from my website because of the controversy surrounding the death of 12-year-old Jordan. Understandably, there was a lot of public anger regarding this tragedy and The Smooch! Project was accidentally caught up in it. (For more specific info, read this story about a Hero who helped me get through it.) I did this so the media could not use these images to fan the flames of outrage already swirling throughout the community. This family was going through enough as it was. But it also meant that, in addition to mourning the loss of Jordan, I also mourned the loss of sharing this photograph with a public audience.
At the time, The Smooch! Project was also pulled from an art show because of the controversy. Not a very big deal to me. Frankly, my grief over Jordan’s death was far more keen. Opportunities to exhibit work come and go and I knew there would be many others in the future. The controversy would eventually disappear and I could go on with my work. My life returned to normal. Imagine my surprise to receive a letter from Julie six months later, offering an apology to me for her role in the loss of that exhibition.
I had read the accounts of the trial, which described Julie’s grief-filled remorse over her role in Jordan’s death. She publicly accepted her responsibility and had received a lengthy sentence. She had also given up custody of her three children, including little Cadence. Now she had personally apologized to me. I felt a strong need to talk with her. Our lives had been briefly tangled together in such a poignant way. I wrote back to her to say if she wanted me to visit, she need only ask. I registered with the prison, which ran a background check, and was added to the approved visitor list. I waited for Julie’s reply, which arrived three months later. She wrote she didn’t know if I still wanted to come but I could if I wished. “I’m here,” she wrote, “and I’ll be here for some years to come.” I visited her for the first time in August 2009.
Yes, it was scary, going there. And, yes, it was awkward and uncomfortable at first. But not any longer. Julie and I have developed an ease between us during our meetings, enough so for me to ask her permission to publish the photo above once again. It’s now back in the online archive, where it belongs. Julie also gave me permission to write and publicly speak about our shared history and our growing friendship. Because it is important. Because it illustrates something powerful. Because it is something I want everyone who loves The Smooch! Project to truly understand.
Here is why I wanted to meet Julie, what I said to her during our first meeting, and now want to say to you as well. This is the point of this entirely far-too-long blog entry: We ALL make mistakes. It’s part of being human. Personally, I can recall several things I have done over my 50+ years that I deeply regret. Some of them can still cause me deep shame. I wish I could do them over, but none of us have that option. I sincerely hope that I never someday find myself in a position where I cause the death of a child, either through willful neglect, or poor decision-making, or even by accident. So far, I’ve been spared that pain.
Julie knows she did a terribly stupid thing. I do not feel she is an evil person. I believe she sincerely regrets her role in that tragedy. She was convicted of murder, lost all rights to her three children, and will now spend 20+ years in prison because of it. When she regains her freedom, she’ll still be carrying all this with her for the rest of her life. Just like you and I carry our past — good and bad –with us. This is part of what being human means.
All affectionately-inclined people are welcome to participate in The Smooch! Project. Because I have made both good and bad decisions in my own life, this tells me that the archive contains images of sinners as well as saints. Because of my own personal experience, I also know that there is at least a little part of good as well as the despicable in each and every one of us. Julie is now my friend. Her photo belongs within The Smooch! Project Archive for the same reason as every other photo there: Because she is capable of love and decided to demonstrate that with daughter Cadence. The images in The Smooch! Project Archive are designed to help us focus on our human similarities, not our differences. I am very happy to have Julie luvs Cadence back in the archive where it belongs. You can see it here. Happy Mother’s Day, Julie. Happy Mother’s Day to every mom out there in the world!
Some days it can seem like accomplishing even the smallest thing takes a huge amount of effort. Then I consider the self-assigned task I have placed before me: Collect 10,000 images of the affectionately-inclined from around the world. Whew. That’s a bit of a mind bender. Especially when the effort also includes editing 1,000+ archive images gathered over the past four years and preparing them for upload to the archive on The Smooch! Project website. It can sometimes feel like a slow, slogging march toward a future that seems so far away.
But I know we are making progress. We’ve got a good team of volunteers working on the task. As I’ve told several people over the last few months, I feel like we’ve been pushing a boulder uphill for the last four years and I am getting a strong sense that we are very near the summit. I can’t see it clearly, of course, because I am still behind the boulder pushing. But the light around the edges seems to be getting brighter. More and more people are stepping up and adding their strength to the task. Someday soon, we’ll reach the top and that boulder will begin to quickly roll down the other side of the mountain. Then our task will be to keep up with the darn thing as it builds speed and momentum. Then, of course, we’ll have a whole ‘nuther set of challenges!
In the meantime, we continue our effort to complete the current collection of archive images and get them online for everyone who is so patiently waiting to see them. Progress is being made. Here’s an example:
This is my friend Ya Landa, being smooched by her youngest son, Dale. This photo was collected during Smooch! Shoot #5, in May 2006. You can see the image still needs editing. For example, this shoot is where I realized that my backdrop needed a light-proof liner. We had set up the backdrop against a picket fence. See the sunlight leaking through, outlining the wooden slats? Sigh. So much to learn! But that was part of the process. The Smooch! Project grew up here in the Twin Cities and after four years of mistakes, we think we know what we are doing. Most of the time.
This photograph is now being edited in preparation for its final upload to The Smooch! Project website. I’ve included it here not only to demonstrate that we are working our way through the historical photos in the archive, but to highlight the contribution made to The Smooch! Project made by Ya Landa. Four years ago, I asked for her help. I had just begun collecting images for this brand new art project and I was concerned that all the people I had photographed to date were all white like me. Hardly representative of the community I wanted to include in the project. I spoke with Ya Landa about it and, within ten seconds flat, I got a personal invitation to attend her family’s BBQ coming up the next weekend. She and her beautiful relatives welcomed me, fed me, and allowed me to take their photographs that day. They did not turn out as well as I would have liked but that was entirely the fault of the photographer, certainly not the subjects.
Over the last four years, there have been many people who have helped and nurtured The Smooch! Project effort.Ya Landa was one of the first to do so. For her support, I am sincerely grateful. It is people like her who have greatly contributed to the making of The Smooch! Project. I no longer regard this project as a personal effort. To me, The Smooch! Project has truly become a community art project. (Frankly, I think it always was but it just took me awhile to understand this. Guess I’m a bit slow sometimes.) For this, we all have Ya Landa to thank. Just wanted to be sure you knew.
January 2010 was tough. Really tough. Harder even than December, when I was part of a support team helping a friend who was dying. Renie was gone at the end of December. No more hanging out, reading together. No more flashes of happiness amidst the pain. Just the dreary aftermath following a person’s death: the photo display prep, the memorial gathering, the sadness mixed with laughter. For me, January was a time of quiet and recovery, my work on The Smooch! Project on a slow idle. But all things pass. My passion for the project has returned and we’re getting back up to speed once again. We’re back to working on the task of preparing all 1,000+ archive images for display on the project website. The image below is a good example:
Cheryl luvs Patrick is an excellent sample image from the early years of The Smooch! Project. This photo was collected during the May Day Celebration at Powderhorn Park on May 7, 2006. The project was just two months old and still evolving. We were shooting outdoors, using natural light. I remember the day as partly cloudy and the brilliant summer sun was wreaking havoc on the photo exposures. I am still sorting through the 470 images collected that day of sunburned, happy people. Reviewing all these photos has been pretty hilarious, as I can literally see how little art direction I was giving to participants. Frankly, I didn’t know what I was yet looking for. As a result, my direction to each couple was simply, “OK, now smooch!” Which everyone quite willingly did, of course, but it often turned into a smooching, laughing bedlam of activity. Photographs like this lovely example were captured more by accident than by design. My luck at snapping photos like this were the encouragement that led me onward. Reviewing them later helped me refine the vision of The Smooch! Project.
This was Smooch! shoot #3. As of December 2009, there have been more than 80 shoots, each one a new location and new lighting. Our current task is to take all the archive images collected over this three year period and do our best to make them seamlessly appear as if they were all shot at the time. A tall order! But we’re giving it our best. Stay tuned!
On the advice of a very dear friend (who was also going to be there), I signed up for a Speaker Expo event — which could be best described as speaker speed dating. There were dozens of speakers present, each of us prepared to give a 15-minute sample of our best effort to the dozens of other attendees whose job it was to find new speakers for their organizations over the coming year. I was not as well prepared as I had wished to be, largely due to the fact that I was still recovering from a bout of food poisoning a few days earlier. But I did my best and, in the end, The Smooch! Project itself saved the day, as I had hoped. At the end of my presentation, I was amazed to find myself on the receiving end of a standing ovation. I was so surprised, all I could do was laugh. Two experienced speakers attended as well and even THEY were standing. How heartening for a newbie presenter like me! I still think of it with amazement. The day after the event, I emailed each of these experienced pros. I had been trying to tell my friends about the wonderful thing that had happened and when I got to the part where these two stood up, I didn’t really know why they decided to do so. Why did you do that, I asked. Within ten minutes of my sending each email, the speaker called me. They each had been blown away by the power of the images and the sincere message behind the effort. These two are now my mentors and friends. They love The Smooch! Project and have offered to help me get my presentation act together. What an amazing project. And what a lucky photographer I am!
Listen: Got any ideas on where a presentation about The Smooch! Project might be welcome? If so, just let me know. I’m told I’m pretty good. laugh.
Smooches for Smooch! Great, inspiring work!!