Years ago when Michael Blanchard landed at Martha’s Vineyard, he had no idea that he was embarking on a journey of loss, recovery, and self-actualization, along with all of that also came a new career as a Photographer and a writer. The end result is pure visual magic for the world.
His breakout book ‘Through A Sober Lens: A Photographer’s Journey’ took our breath away with its incredible depth, stunning visuals, and a perspective that will make you feel and think as you go on this epic adventure with Blanchard. Recently we talked with him about his life, his work, and what’s next for this talented writer and photographer.
There is a certain kind of magic that happens between you, your camera, and nature, making your photographs extremely compelling, and dare I say iconic. When did you realize you had a special connection you had with nature. Is it something you cultivate, or something that exists on its own?
It is so important for people with no connection, to understand anything is possible. I had no connection with nature or spirituality (which I consider to be somewhat the same) while I was in the depths of addiction. It took 2 years after I became sober at the age of 54, before I discovered photography by total accident. I had no goal to be a photographer, no plan, no action steps, no nothing! I started out with sunrises and sunsets. I had no idea I would find connection. I remember one day I arrived at a beach 5 AM in the dark and sat and closed my eyes and felt immense energy. There was no one else around. I felt a spiritual connection for the first time in years. I realized I would never be alone. I knew in that moment photography would be the means, but not the end. I learned if I sought connection, the photographs would take care of themselves. If I sought photographs to serve ego or show people how good I was, the energy would turn off and I would flounder. As I edited photos back in the studio I would see myself in the images – feelings, thoughts, emotions, etc. The process was unknowingly serving as therapy allowing me to “see” things too deep to access any other way. No need to cultivate. It quickly set me free.
Creativity can be a way for people to find hope and a connection with something greater than themselves. From the outside your work embodies this connection. Is that true or is something else at work?
As I related in the previous question the process is about connection. I was on Facebook a few hours ago and saw a post from a fellow photographer who expressed his frustration that he couldn’t travel to take pictures because of COVID. He was going stir crazy trying to find new and creative photos on Martha’s Vineyard.
That has never happened to me. I will repeat I don’t go out seeking photos; I go out seeking connection and the photos take care of themselves. Even if I come away with “bland” photographs, I feel reenergized and at peace. It’s kind of like “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work”!
The stories in “Through A Sober Lens: A Photographer’s Journey” is not only about your connection with nature, but also includes your connection with people. What was it like for you to include this part of your life in your creative and public life?
I was talking to a fifth Grade class about me story of recovery from alcoholism using photography. One of the kids asked” what was it like when you told everyone you were an alcoholic”? I told him it felt like the weight of the world was taken off my shoulders in no longer having to hide who I was.
Interacting with people has been my redemption, whether it’s fifth graders or people who I have met out taking pictures. “Through A Sober Lens” would never have been written if I didn’t bump into people. It is not enough for me to just take pictures. I need to express myself and, in the process, hopefully help others. I am still afflicted with the disease of addiction. The medicine I take is helping others as bad off as I used to be, through the telling of stories with my photographs. It was uncomfortable in the beginning. Coming out of the closet is never easy publicly. But I could see people looked at as someone who was authentic, and I could see I was making a difference.
We are fans of your work so we have to ask – is there another book or project in the works you can tell us about?
I have a burning desire that was placed in my heart to hit the road. I am contemplating a 1 month road trip with my dog in my Jeep heading West this winter and the next book is going to come from that journey. I don’t know how, what or why but I know that’s what I am supposed to do. It will likely include stories of people I meet along the way; photographs of this country; realizations and changes that happen to me; with a consistent desire to help others suffering from depression or addiction. Stay tuned.
You can find ‘Through A Sober Lens: A Photographer’s Journey’ by Michael Blanchard on Amazon.