In memory of my photography mentor, Jerry Schrader
In the world of yoga we call the passing of a guru her mahasamadhi, the intentional leaving of the physical body for enlightenment. Last month (September 13, 2014) I lost one of my dearest gurus, who similarly left his body without any apparent struggle, in the comfort of his bed. He wouldn't have called himself a yogi, he identified more with the Marlboro Man, who he physically resembled. He didn't smoke cigarettes, but he had a deep voice and was deeply identified with his own masculinity, and I could imagine him on a billboard in the 70's, riding a shadowy horse into a manly sunset.
Jerry Schrader was my photography mentor. When I decided to try making money photographing weddings just after year 2000, I reached out to a handful of wedding photographers in Massachusetts seeking work as an assistant, to learn the trade. Jerry was the only one to bother answering, and he told me that his wife Deborah was his assistant, but if I could teach him Photoshop he would teach me about the business. Through the years I ended up building him a website and getting him a little green medicine sometimes, and he ended up teaching me about life, and how to be a photographer.
One of the most memorable times Jerry and I had together was on a trip to NYC in 2003 to be courted by a Professional photo lab owned by a Russian businessman. Jerry was very charming on the phone, and was very proud of his smooth voice perfect for radio commercials. Whatever he had told the Russian had the guy paying our expenses to NYC and going out of his way to please us once we got there. After exploring NYC and then seeing the photo lab, we were treaded to a lavish buffet at a private table in a Russian night club. Being vegan, I did not have very much of the food but enjoyed the complimentary vodka drinks very much. The cabaret dancing girls were not so bad, either.
The photos in this post are mainly from that trip, taken with my first digital camera, a point and shoot that might be better described as a press and pray. I had no premonition that I would someday live in this crazy city.
Being a Jivamukti Yoga teacher, I have come to appreciate my lineage. There is something good and true about having an accomplished mentor. My yoga teachers, Sharon Gannon & David Life, learned asana from Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, whose teacher was Krishnamacharya. Yoga in the west was shaped by these teachers.
Jerry learned some things from a man named Art who owned a photo studio somewhere on the Massachusetts shoreline until he passed away. But mostly he followed his inner guru. He claimed to have come up with a system similar to Ansel Adam's zone system on his own. He worked at Northeastern University as their photographer before going on his own as a wedding photographer. It was there that he refined his talents and used the scientific method to solve various photographic challenges.
Jerry gave me the recipe for being a wedding photographer. He gave me the ingredients to be successful. He taught me how to look at the world a little differently. He was a story teller who told the same stories over and over. That is how one remembers, and how another learns. He loved himself, but in that love there was a love of me. He wanted me to know who he was, how he came to be. In that knowing I learned more about who I was, and how I came to be.
Jerry loved women, his wife most of all, and was faithful to her. But he loved to photograph women. He loved to narrate the stories of the women he had photographed through the years to me as he showed me the photos he made. It was from listening to him talk about the way light fell on women that I learned to see light in a different way. I love women, and am apparently biologically wired to notice them more than nearly anything else around me, so this method of transmission worked well for me.
One time Jerry and I met along the Deerfield River to go prospecting for gold. He had purchased a metal detector, and he also had some kind of bucket to sift through the sediment. We didn't find anything at all worth keeping, but it was one of those days where just being together out in nature was pretty great. He loved to talk about fishing; I was a vegan. He would tease me about my choices. He thought my activism and hope for humanity was just the folly of youth.
His favorite story was about a car he had built with his son, aptly named Sunshine. Some days he would wax poetic about that car for hours on end. He said the engine was so souped up that one time it cracked the frame. I am only interested in cars for utilitarian purposes, so much of his revelry was lost on me, but I enjoyed his passion and his soothing voice . Plus he loved to help me do little maintenance tasks on the cars I drove, greasing door hinges and checking tires and so on.
A few years ago Jerry moved to Floyd, Virginia to retire. He got a really sweet place on top of a hill with his wife, and would send me photos of the sunrises and sunsets. He loved to garden, and he would send me pictures of his harvests. I got to visit him a couple of times there. The last time was in 2011, for the Floyd Fest, which was the summer after my Jivamukti Yoga teacher training. I went with my friend Katie who I had met at the teacher training. Jerry helped me fix an issue with Katie's convertible, and gave me some dried shitake mushrooms he had grown.
Since he passed, I have been thinking a lot about him. I often hear his voice in my head. It feels strange that I can not call him up or send him an email. I have not had very many close people in my life pass on. As I get on in my years I am sure it will happen more often, and then some day it will be my turn. I carry him with me and his influence is in all of my photographs. Jerry Schrader I miss you. I will carry you forward in my heart.