"Every person - every place is a map to somewhere else." - Michael Nye
Alejandro went hungry as a child and describes hunger as a "lion in your stomach that wants to be fed." Christine became a mother at 15 and expresses her hopes to "build a home across the street from my parents." Taylor reflects on her brother who lives with mental illness: "The great thing about him is he is always creative," and, "Unfair things that people shouldn't say are 'crazy' and 'are you retarded?'"
What these individuals have in common is that they are all subjects of the soft lens of photographer and audio documentarian Michael Nye, who has been traveling the world for 30 years to capture unique stories, images, and voices. "Each face invites you to listen," he writes. "Stories are often found resting on the edges of surprise and revelation. Everyone knows something important and valuable, a precious wisdom born from experience."
Michael's work focuses on remembering and holding on to voice and story and image and presence. One person at a time. "What is forgotten is lost." He can spend up to four days with a subject. He will then, for the purposes of his exhibits, distill everything down to one image accompanied by a five-minute sound clip. "It's a slowly revealing process, like unwinding a ball of string.... It's not about those people, but about humanity."
Wherever he travels, Michael carries an antique 8x10 camera and a voice recorder. He has been aptly described by National Public Radio as "part reporter and part anthropologist" too. His projects have taken him to Iraq during the first Gulf War, refugee camps in Palestine, as well as Siberia, China, Morocco, and Mexico. His documentaries, photography and audio exhibitions, "Children of Children -- Teenage Pregnancy," "Fine Line -- Mental Health/Mental Illness," and "About Hunger & Resilience" have traveled to more than 150 cities across the United States.
His newest exhibit is called "My Heart Is Not Blind -- About Blindness and Perception," based on seven years of listening to men and women who are blind and visually impaired. Michael explores how perception and adaptation are deeper than we can imagine, and much more mysterious. "How does anyone, blind or sighted understand the world outside themselves? These conversations focus on the deep and shifting pools of perception and the mystery of transformation. Our other senses, separate from sight, have their own wisdom." In 2019, he published a book by the same name, My Heart Is Not Blind - About Blindness & Perception, and in 2023, launched a podcast with 47 episodes devoted to the subject (Season 1). Season 2 of his podcast (forthcoming) will focus on Hunger & Resilience.
Michael has received numerous awards, including the Mid-America National Endowment for the Arts grant in photography and two Kronkosky Charitable Foundation grants. He has also received the San Antonio Arts & Letters Award and the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind. He has participated in two Arts America tours in the Middle East and Asia. His work has been featured on NPR's All Things Considered.
Michael is currently working on a series of essays/photographs relating to the nature and complexity of photography and aesthetics. Michael writes: "Photography is not just about Photographs, they are also about what is imagined or remembered inside and outside the borders of the photograph at that moment in time. Mood rearranges understanding. Care attaches weight and gravity. Experience wraps its arms around a moment. Perception rises like bread and is rarely limited to what is directly in front of us. Photographs specialize in time travel moving from now to then. The language of 'looking' goes deeper than surfaces."
Before full-time photography, Michael practiced law in the appeals court for ten years. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his wife, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye.
There are many things I feel passionate about. Reading relationships working on projects writing remembering - daydreaming and the slow colored light drifting in late evenings. Many of my photographic project are conceptual. I started with an idea or a place. As a photographer you wonder what photographs might surface from an idea? Like running water tumbling down roof tops, hills, sloping valleys and finally into streams and beyond into the wide world of the wet ocean. Where will a simple idea tumble and rest? What will I learn, what will I experience and what photographs will appear?
One of many pivotal turning points was moving from a practicing Attorney to working as a photographer/audio documentarian. I wrote in one of my essays:"When I was a practicing attorney and had a jury trial approaching, I would walk the downtown streets of San Antonio rehearsing my Voir Dire examination. (General statement of facts and selection of a jury.) I remember wanting to be somewhere else. Inside, I felt water boiling on the stove. I watched the light moving on buildings, suitcases lined on curbs, mothers standing in line. Every street corner was a black and white photograph." I felt a hunger and a fever to make a change.
I worked on "About Hunger & Resilience" Project. I collaborated with the San Antonio Food Bank. It was a documentary project with audio narratives/voices and photographic portraits about the experience of hunger in America. I spent for 4 years traveling around the country interviewing families, men and women who have experienced or experiencing hunger. It was beyond humbling. It was a project about our shared humanity and shared fragility. Throughout that period, I met hundreds of individuals - strangers church groups truck drivers - homeless individuals - food banks- children - organizations - that gave to others with enormous compassion and kindness. It was extremely uplifting and inspiring to witness so much outpouring of kindness.
When I think of "Bucket List" I don't think of travel but rather working on projects and learning from places, people and ideas. My current projects are:1.Podcast My Heart is Not Blind About Blindness & Perception: michaelnye.org/podcast2.Essay project. I'm finishing up writing a series of 26 Essays relating to: "Thinking About the Experience of Seeing" and the "Nature of Photography & Aesthetics".
"Every person - every place is a map to somewhere else."