February 17, 2008

My friendship with Deb

I have been struggling with my thoughts about Deb for a few months now. The fact of her loss fluctuates between seeming real and totally confusing because of my lack of knowledge about what happened. And then as I have been far away for 8+ years, sometimes it seems very unreal and impossible. I heard the news about Deb @ 3 weeks late, so I was unable to attend the memorial, which I heard was wonderful. Not having that sense of coming together with others who love her, which lends to a semblance of closure, has left me floundering a bit with putting it all together in my head.

My time with Debra living in the same city was short - only @ 2 years. I had the fortune to meet her in 1997 when we both were working for Stephanie in Berkeley. I was in graduate school for art photography and was not a very good assistant, and Debra really helped to coach me thru some tough days. She and I were instantly drawn to one and other, each one of us more curious about the other. We bonded away from work days over long chats and looking at pictures/artwork. We had a similar sensibility and were drawn to similar things. I was also drawn to her work, in part, because of her exquisite technical skills and I think she was drawn to my work, in part, because of the conceptual investment it had (allowed by time in graduate school). Together we were excited by the idea of having a collaborative photography exhibition, one day. Even after moving to LA from SF, I believed there would be a time when that show would happen. I would be honored to share the walls of a gallery with Debra. I looked forward to making it happen....

Debra was the only person who ever officially photographed me and I am thankful that I was able to be a part of her creative process and see her magic at work. The images she made of me are incredible. As someone who is more comfortable behind the lens, I remember feeling at ease with Debra- I felt lucky she was looking at me. I trusted (and still do) her vision more than most. One of the pictures we did was in Golden Gate park and in between shots she let me wear that black north face jacket and her bathrobe to cover my freezing toosh! After we were done we went to Cliff House for tea and talked and talked. I will never forget that day because I felt like our connection grew deeper. The strangest thing for me is after learning she was gone I madly searched for pictures of her. I had her pictures of me, but I wracked my brain to think of where a picture OF her could be. I am a photographer and I have pictures of all those I love, but I was at a loss for where an image of her was. Feeling distraught and frenzied, I plowed thru the boxes and envelopes only to come up with one image of her from Stephanie's wedding. One picture only. But I am so thankful I have that one.

My friendship with Deb was one that did not require a lot of upkeep and consistency. When we would see each other it was as if no time had passed and we'd dive into the topics, big and small, instantly. I know she was this way with many friends she loved. After I left SF we fell out of regular touch, but she remained in my mind one of my most dear friends and inspirations. Someone I always wished and believed I would have more time with. The last time we saw each other we had a visit at her house and it was a few weeks after her sister passed away. That was the only time I met Frankie Ray. We sat there for hours catching up on everything, as it had been a few years since we had seen each other. I remember leaving that afternoon and wishing so much that I could stay and just spend more time. And I thought that for sure I'd see her again sooner than later, now that we had reconnected. Then time just flew by.

I want to share two stories with you guys- because for me they were so bizarre, and leading up to the day I found out she was gone.

Last May I was home late at night- distracted by matters of the heart. I flipped on the TV to HBO and a show about LOVE came on and of course I was sucked in. As I watched and listened to interviews about desire and love, a beautiful black and white image emerged on the screen- and suddenly I was struck in my tracks because this beautiful image was of me. An image Debra had taken of me. I was floored and freaked out - wondering what are the odds that I'd be up late watching a weird love show only to see Debra's image of me on TV.... The image is on the cover of a book, so I knew it was out there in the world, but to see it on TV was too much. I had not been in touch with her for probably @ 2 years (I think) at this point and instantly emailed her and in the mail I said - 'maybe this coincidence happened at the very least to put us back in touch.' The next day we spoke briefly and then had a series of emails where she filled me in on some major changes she was going though. She said she had taken a sabbatical from work and life sort of, but that she was really happy. I was startled by some of the changes she mentioned, and her being happy about them was a little unexpected, but I was pleased to hear it. I wanted to talk more, to hear about it all. To no avail. I tried to see her in September when i was in SF for a concert, and she only sent me back a short (non Debra-like in tone) email saying she could not. I didn't think much of it. I next emailed her about another visit on November 26th, and was not surprised, but was disappointed I never heard back from her at all. I had no idea-- she was gone already. The next strange thing happened December 5th. I had a meeting with a photography consultant and in the meeting some advice that Debra had given me came up and I asked the woman if she knew her (she did not). I showed her the book cover with that same Debra image on it and was going on and on about who Deb was and her work and the coincidence of seeing that picture on TV etc. etc. Literally an hour and a half later, after that meeting, I got the phone call from a friend in SF who had just heard about Debra. The wind was knocked out of me. I had just been talking about how we had gotten back in touch. A week prior I had emailed her hoping to see her on Dec 1st..... how could this be that she was gone?

Thank you so much for letting me get all this out. I am sorry for the long windedness. Debra has held a very special place in my heart since we met years ago. Her photography and vision are profoundly inspirational to me. The legacy she left us with in her photographs has to be cherished and protected. As a human being, she touched with such grace, so many people. Deb's generosity, compassion and authenticity are unlike most. She left her mark on us in our hearts and in pictures. Hopefully that mark will continue to inspire each of us. To be more open, to listen better, to wonder more, to really try to see. Somehow I don't worry about her now. I believe she is OK and onto the next adventure- she transcended to another level. It was just a little too soon for all of us still here. The loss for us is enormous. But let's allow our memories and love for her, the funny tales, visions of her smile and boots and her spirit, to be a guiding light.

Wishes of peace and healing to Deb's family who I did not have the chance to meet, and to all her other friends who love her dearly.

All my best,

Lacey Terrell

1 comment:

thinsf said...

I have been so touched and moved by Debra's story and the apparent love from all of her friends. My longtime friend Dan Arsenault told me about Debra a few months ago. She use to assist him when he had shoots in SF before she cultivated her own clientele. He would stay at her place and he told me how wonderful she was. I'm sorry I never got the chance to meet her.
I hope that you will all find some peace with her memory. The website is absolutely beautiful and moving.

Tom Haughom
Print Producer/Art Buyer
Grey SF