November 30, 2007

Kernels of Debra

I did not know Deb as well as many of you out there reading and posting, but our lives were entwined in random ways, in particular this last year oddly enough. Away from the stunningly beautiful photographs of her and by her, and thoughts of her and her huge extended family and the pain, I'm left with a few kernels of Deb that shine brightly in my consciousness and that I am holding in my heart:


I happened to get an email from Deb one day when I was online looking at curtains on ebay. I'd found these hot pink velvet curtains that looked amazing and I was trying to get up the nerve to bid on them. My background is very New York Too Cool Black And Grey. I have overcome my upbringing enough to embrace green and yellow and orange, but hot pink velvet curtains are -- or were -- still a leap. So I emailed Deb back and told her about the curtains and asked if she thought I should buy them and did she think they would look good with my mustard-yellow living room.

Her reply: "OF COURSE!"

So I got the curtains and Deb was right (of course). They are magnificently wonderful to have and I will always thank Deb for encouraging Hot Pink in my life.


I keep thinking back to a group email Deb sent out a few years ago that began, "Come on people!!!!!! Together we can move mountains!!!!!!!!!"

Turns out that she was writing to a bunch of other parents from the preschool that Frankie Ray and my son, Huck, both attended. The goal of the email was to get everyone to pitch in on a goodbye gift for two of the teachers. No matter that task was a bit ordinary or mundane -- it is true!!!!! Together we can move mountains!!!!!!! and every moment is an opportunity to remind each other.

I don't think I ever got an email from Debra that didn't have a good number of exclamation marks. Obviously, her uninhibited use of the "!" was not the only way Debra expressed and spread excitement and enthusiasm, but it is one that I keep thinking about. With love.

-Amy Shelf

Me and Youlogy

This is the text of what I more or less read at Debra's San Francisco memorial:

I have known Debra for thirteen years and watched her grow from an enthusiastic photo assistant to a very accomplished photographer whose work surpasses every one's I know.
Her aesthetic was flawless, every photograph is filled with emotion and heart, meticulously composed and simply... beautiful.

We became friends right away and later we became traveling companions, taking trips to Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, London and Edinburgh, we double-teamed art directors with our portfolios, we went on photo expeditions carrying 10 cameras and sometimes we just relaxed, gossiped about our peers and significant others and enjoyed our freelance lifestyle. She was my BFF.

Going anywhere with Debra was like having a personal guide to a rich, undiscovered world where everyone was a kind, friendly and fascinating character who needed to be interviewed. Her heart and mind were open to every person she encountered. In DebraLand there were no bums, no crooks, and no evil. I learned from being with her that every person was good and had a good story. Of course my stories would sometimes have to wait while she learned all about the children of the cab driver taking us from Time’s offices to Newsweek’s.

Her openness extended to restaurant meals too—every item on the menu was to be considered, many questions were asked of the server so as to be fully informed about each dish and eventually a choice was derived from items from Dish A being combined with items from Dishes B and C and probably D. Bread always required butter and butter always required salt.
And then there’s coffee—there was always a new concoction she was hooked on: somethin’ somethin’ with a shot of espresso and half soy milk and half something chai or skim…And the best time for her to order one was at an airport as soon as the boarding announcement was made. Debra would jump up and run off for coffee—making it back to the jetway with only seconds to spare.

All of you know Debra’s relationship with time was a callous flirtation. Although I would say she was always on time for work, I think she was late for most everything else—which was fine when YOU were the reason she was late meeting someone else. The beauty is that when you had her attention, you had all her attention, and being in her sphere is the only place you wanted to be.

These are true statements about Debra McClinton:

She smoked
She drank
She dressed funny
She dressed great
She laughed
She knew too many people
She was interested in everyone’s story
She asked too many questions
She listened too hard
She cared too much
She was always late
Her voicemail was always full
She drank chai tea with soy milk and a shot of espresso
She wore boots
She loved boots
She had big blue eyes the color of windex
She smoked in non-smoking hotel rooms
She was open to everybody
Everybody loved her

I will miss Debra very much, I am overwhelmed by how much her death hurts, I will think of her always, I will remember her openness, her beauty, her loyalty, her friendship, her incredible talent.

Some times, I think, I will forget that she’s gone and I will wait for her—because I know she’s just always late.

-Bart Nagel

November 29, 2007

Steph Rausser's TRIBUTE to Deb

One of the most lovely women I have ever met.
One of my favorite people in the entire world.

I met Deb sometime in the early 90's and she was my camera assistant for several years. She was one of the most upbeat women I had ever met. She was interested in everyone and everything. She was gorgeous beyond belief and a treat to both look at and stare at. To stop my staring I started to photographing her and I am happy to say I now have quite a few photographs of her I now look at often and with a smile.
When we worked together she always showed up with a great attitude and a big smile. Back then she had hair down to her bum, all one length, and parted down the middle. She loved her North Face Puffy Jacket and always carried her Betsey Johnson leopard print bag which she could never find what she needed in. She could talk alot and she could make friends with everyone & everyone wanted to make friends with her. She was great to work with because she was so curious and interested.
I can describe it in no other way other than: everyone had a crush on Deb: boys, girls, husbands, babies, men, boyfriends, women, parents, clients, bell boys, concierges, taxi drivers, everyone.
After we stopped working together we became better friends and started to help eachother out in the world of freelance photography - talking about the business, the pressures, how to go about things - and it was at this time that I really got what a brilliant photographer she was and how much she loved to take photos. I am sure there are a lot of people in this room who had the opportunity to be photographed by Deb and know how happy she was and how alive she became when taking photographs.
Around this same time we also had our daughters, frankie and cleo, who are now both 6 years old, and this gave us something additional in common, more to share, and more to talk about. Deb's two favorite things were taking photos and being Frankie's mom. She loved Frankie and was so amazingly good to her.
We would get together and let the girls play and we would talk and talk for hours. Sometimes we would talk about photo editors and agents and sometimes we would just talk about how was it that we ended up driving station wagons. When we were at my house I would try to get them to spend the night and stay a bit longer because I always wanted a little bit more of Deb; I always wanted longer visits, more phone calls and more of deb's stories.
And what I would give for them now.
Deb was the kind of person where although you may not have seen her in a few months you would within minutes of seeing her feel like she was your closest friend in the entire world. She had such a warm and friendly way of being.
Getting Deb to show up to things was not always easy; getting Deb to show up to things on time was close to impossible. But when she did show up it was so exciting. I can hear myself saying "Deb's here and Frankie's with her" and my being so happy. Within the shortest amount of time you knew almost everything that was happening in her life and she wanted to know everything that was happening in yours. She was an amazing listener and she wore her heart on her sleeve like no one else I know.

I will never be able to understand what happened in the last nine to twelve months of Deb's life. When I would talk to her or see her during this time, especially in the last three months, I wanted to say "what did you do with deb," "where did she go," but I did not know how exactly. I was at a loss to know what to do with the information that did not coincide with who I experienced and perceived Deb was and had been for all the time I had known her. I always believed and thought she would pull through this rough time. How could she not - she was the most upbeat and positive woman I had ever met?

What I am left with:
DEBRA McCLINTON was one of the most lovely women I have ever met & DEBRA McCLINTON was one of my favorite people in the entire world.
And she always will be.

That was the gist of my tribute (part written, part memory, and part added) for Deb at her memorial last Friday.
Last week was the roughest and saddest week of my life as I am sure it was for many of you who frequent Deb's blog.
There were so many times last week where I would be doing something, anything, and I would start thinking about Deb. Then Frankie. Then Deb and Frankie. I was pushing my daughter in a grocery cart at Whole Foods buying brussel sprouts and all I could think was "how is it possible that Deb wanted to leave the world in which she could do the same with Frankie?" She loved doing that kind of thing. She loved Frankie so much. I thought the same thing when I was broiling the brussel sprouts on Thanksgiving day (Deb would have loved that too) while listening to NPR talk about the day's events all the while wondering how Deb's passing was not being discussed on NPR. It felt that big and that newsworthy. It felt huge and as the woman spoke about the death toll in Iraq all I could think about was Deb and how painful and magnanimous her no longer walking this earth felt. All that mattered to me and so many people I know is that fact.
I am still sorting out for myself how it could possibly have happened and I have had flickers of understanding that I may never fully know, which is both hard and liberating at the same time.
I did a job yesterday in the hopes that going on location and preoccupying my mind with a shoot would help my grieving Deb. In theory it sounded good, but in reality it didn't work so well. It ended up being the kind of job Deb would have loved. "Woman leaves Hollywood for Sonoma County to start a goat milk ice creamery, get married, buy a house overlooking the valley, and have a baby...."
The woman was lovely (Deb would have talked with her for hours and the woman would have had a huge crush on deb), Deb would have loved the beautiful day (68 degrees and sunny), the amazing location, the playful goats, and the delicious ice cream. Deb would have never wanted to leave.
I thought of Deb every 5 to 10 minutes of the shoot yesterday and I have a feeling I will be thinking of Deb everyday for the rest of my life.

Did Debra know?...

(above: the winning images published in SPD PUB 42)

Just yesterday, as I was opening the blog for Debra McClinton sent to me by Kristen Walsh, my Associate Photo Editor (who happened to be in San Francisco and was able to attend her memorial), the Society of Publication Designers Annual Book was delivered to me by the mailroom. Published inside, is a photo spread by Debra McClinton, shot for BRIDES magazine. Once again, Debra had won us a photography award. I began to wonder: "Did Debra know how much we all adored her? Did she know how her images for BRIDES where the epitomy of style, romance, and beauty? That her pictures drove the visual identity of the redesigned magazine? That my whole staff has her photo promo cards hung at their desks as inspiration? That MIllie Bratten, our Editor-in-Chief has one of her images proudly framed and displayed in her office? Did Debra know how much she personally touched all of our hearts? That, if we could, we would've chosen her to shoot EVERY fashion story?" I wonder... and I SO hope she did.

I personally, along with everyone who worked with Debra at BRIDES magazine, will miss her infectious smile, her sparkling blue eyes, her immense enthusiasm for every story she shot for us, the fun conference calls we had with her from NYC, her cute blonde pigtails and her sense of style (those hot pink suede boots, that she insisted on wearing on the beach in mexico while shooting a cover for our special issue!)... The list could go on for pages.

Debra made her mark on all of our hearts and there she will stay—forever.

Love always,
Gretchen Smelter
and all the girls from Art, Photo, and Fashion at BRIDES magazine NYC, NY

I miss Debra McClinton.

Photo taken the day I met Debra - after a late night
group swim at Stephanie and Lawrence's wedding.

I miss Debra McClinton.

My shock that turned to numbness that turned to anger that turned to sadness has now settled into a feeling of warm love.
The same warm love I felt the first time I met Debra McClinton. And the same warm love I felt every time I saw Debra in the following years to come. I always looked forward to any event or gathering I knew Debra would be at. I was sure to get a genuine smile and big hug. She was always looking beautiful. Catching up was oh so fun and laughs were guaranteed.

The circumstances of her departure will haunt me the rest of my life - but so too will the bright light of Debra's warm and wonderful spirit.

I love you and will miss you so very much.

Gordon Studer

November 28, 2007

November 27, 2007

I wish I had known about Debra's mental state when thinking her writing to me late one night at the end of September about getting together was regarding her work instead of, perhaps, her pain.  I wrote her to say "Yes - let's see each other!" and I never heard back.  I called again and never heard back.  I would have done anything in any moment to have helped her - in any way. Had I known she was in trouble, it would have been my priority. 

My heartfelt regret is that I wish I had known how close to the edge she was, but all I have ever really known about Debra was the sunshine, joy, kind soul, intense learner; her whole-hearted appreciation and respect for the advice she sought from me, what an awesome, natural babe she was.

Always remembered and never forgotten,

With love from Deb Ayerst

What would Debra do?

After the memorial service, which was beautiful and emotional and funny and crushingly sad and all the things you would expect, Debra and Tony’s friend John stood on a chair and said that a few years ago they had started a day-after-Thanksgiving tradition of jumping in the freezing cold water of Ocean Beach, just below the Cliff House where we all were gathered. He was going in, he said. So we all traipsed down the hill and about 20 brave and desperate people stripped down and ran in.

I was going to keep my underwear on but I thought, is that what Debra would do? no way.

The tide was far out, quite a long way to run naked in the chilly wind with tourists staring, but the sun was setting and the water wasn’t that cold. It felt good to dive through the black waves, to feel the icy burn all through me, and hear the shrieks and shouts of the others splashing nearby.

Bart took video of it, but as no one signed a model release — including me — I ain’t posting that.

Slideshow from memorial

Here is the slideshow Bart put together for the memorial held at the Cliff House on Friday, November 23, from photos of his and those given to us by Stephanie, Victoria, Alex, Tony, Marin, and others. The song is "Fidelity" by Regina Spektor, it is from a mix CD Marin made for her.


From the Asheville Citizen-Times:

Debra Lee McClinton

San Francisco - Debra Lee McClinton, 39, died in San Francisco on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2007. She is remembered for her many gifts, both professional and personal. When Debra talked to or photographed you, you felt like you were the only person in the room. Her eyes were an uncanny blue, and her smile was huge and uninhibited. She found beauty in the most unexpected places. Her adventurous soul, creative energy and unconditional compassion will be sorely missed.

Born on July 25, 1968, in Buffalo, N.Y., Debra spent her early years in New York, and moved with her family to Asheville, N.C., at the age of eight. She graduated from Reynolds High School in 1987, from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1991, with a degree in international studies, then studied fine art photography at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif.

She moved to San Francisco in 1993, where she began a successful career under the name Debra McClinton Photographs. Her diverse body of work encompasses exquisite fine art, as well as lifestyle and documentary photography. Well known in the Bay Area and throughout the United States, she has received national and international recognition: her work has been showcased in many publications including Newsweek, Wired, People Magazine, Time, Money, Fortune, Country Living, RealSimple and Brides, to name just a few, and in numerous shows in San Francisco.

Debra was a graceful and kind mother, and a dear friend to countless people. Her heart was open to everyone she encountered. It is no exaggeration to say she was loved by all who had the good fortune to know her.

In San Francisco, she is survived by her daughter, Frankie Ray Hollifield, by Frankie's father, Tony Hollifield, and by her many loving friends [added]; in Asheville, by her parents, Raymond and Sue McClinton, her brother and sisterin-law, Danny and Nancy McClinton, and her nieces, Miah, Ruby, Ava and Josephine McClinton; in Buffalo, by her grandmother, Ilene Hein, uncle, William S. Hein, and aunt, Bonnie Hein Morton; in Jackson, Miss., by her grandfather, Raymond McClinton; in Edwardsville, Ill., by her aunt, Rowena McClinton; and in Tulsa, Okla, by James Barry and family. Her sister, Kimberly Heather McClinton, predeceased her in 2003.

A memorial service will be held in Asheville at the Arboretum at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials may be made to Helpmate, P.O. Box 2263, Asheville, NC 28802.