Creating a body of work outside of my comfort zone

Creating a body of work outside of my comfort zone

If you are new here, let me catch you up… I’m almost completely blind (yes, really), and a guide dog user. For ages I worked in the videogames industry creating games for Atari, Accolade and Mattel Toys, until a career-ending car accident left me with 5% low functioning vision in one eye. I can see highlight and shadow but lose all perception of detail at about one inch from my face. I live my life and create my photographic images using blurry, colored shapes.

I began my interest in photography shooting and developing black and white film in 1986.  Since that time, I have never created a body of work that featured me as an integral component, and never intended to. I have always felt more comfortable being the guy on the other side of the camera. In the last year, I have dipped my toe into the self-portrait game – mostly to update my profile pictures or in the case of my recent Bird Box article, create an appropriate feature image for a story.

Last October, I got my guide dog Fauna, a wonderful black lab who is always happy to do her job and help me navigate the world. She came from Guide Dogs for the Blind, a California based non-profit organization that trains, provides and supports guide dogs for those who need them. They are 100% donation driven and as a client I can say they are a truly amazing organization. Before I got Fauna, I had read many of the seemingly fantastical stories floating around the internet about people bringing all sorts of odd creatures onto planes claiming they are emotional support service animals. Customers bringing emotional support peacocks and squirrels onto planes recently forced Delta Airlines to updating and re-think their service animal guidelines – limiting these to dogs and cats. The story of a Florida gentleman with a 5-foot “registered emotional support animal” service alligator named Wally has also made the headlines in recent weeks.

The problem with the current state of service animals is not the fault of the people bringing these animals onto the planes and expecting the airlines to abide by some ADA rule that does not clearly define what can and cannot be a service animal. No matter what, people are going to do silly things – you can’t stop that. The problem lies when a medical professional signs fictitious paperwork allowing animals like Wally gator into the role of a service animal. To make matters worse, guests bringing all manner of untrained creatures into restaurants and hotels claiming they are for emotional support are the primary reason service animals have a bad name.

It is with this in mind that I began creating a body of work called Fauna’s Travels featuring my guide dog. The aim for this collection of images is to promote legitimate service animal use in the travel and hospitality industry. As a guide dog, Fauna has received countless hours of training and is well suited for her role as a service animal ambassador. She has been life-changing for me, giving me more independence and confidence in navigating my world. It is important for me to show how a well-trained and well-mannered service animal can not only be an amazing asset to the handler, but also not cause havoc in the public places they frequent.    

Where this project shattered my comfort zone is with the realization that Fauna and I are a team, and compositionally it made sense for me to be in some of the images with her. I, like many others hate photos of myself and taking and choosing the images for this collection has been difficult for me. The images are all shot with a remote and self-timer option on my camera, but the true challenge in this type of project becomes crystal clear when adding a wonderful but bouncy lab into the mix.

The body of work is ever-evolving, and some of the images show Fauna and I checking into a hotel, waiting for a train, riding in a car and other travel-related activities. The creation of this project has been an eye-opening experience for me. I have heard so many stories from those working in the industry (some pretty horrible) about unruly service animals in hotels and on planes. The more shoots I do for this project, the more I get the feeling there is a true desire for change in the regulations concerning the classification and use of legitimate service animals.

As I type this, I am preparing for the debut opening of the Fauna’s Travels exhibition on March 1, 2019 at Access Gallery in the Santa Fe art district in Denver (909 Santa Fe). Please stop by on Friday March 1st and say hi, Fauna and I will be there for the opening.

Debating the nuances of service animal legislation and use is beyond the scope of this blog, for further reading I suggest heading to and having a look at the Frequently Asked Questions section. The ADA site clearly defines in easily understandable language, the legislation surrounding the use of service animals. I think this should be general knowledge, as there is a ton of misinformation being spread by illegitimate service animal users. I found it very interesting that service dogs in training do not have the same rights and privileges as a fully trained service dog. Reading this FAQ also reinforced my knowledge on the difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal – they do not share the same rights of use in public spaces. This is interesting information and well worth the quick read.

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