No Two Artistic Journeys are the Same...or, Doing It My Way by Miachelle DePiano

 (C)2018, Miachelle D Photography, “Self-Portrait” Mask by Mindy Timm, Scissored Vixen

(C)2018, Miachelle D Photography, “Self-Portrait” Mask by Mindy Timm, Scissored Vixen

From the time I was a child, I wanted to be an artist. My earliest memories include watching my mother draw. She was phenomenal, whether my opinion is biased or not. Her specialties were pen and ink and pastels. I wanted to be. Just. Like. Her.

So I drew. I colored. I drew some more. As I watched her taken on freelance commercial art projects, or create amazing Native American portraits in pen and ink, I sat near her, drawing, doing my childish best to emulate her.

Fast forward to high school, I was a drawing fiend. Pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, pastel, it didn’t matter. I loved all media. My high school art teacher, whom we’ll call Mr. Rochester for the sake of privacy, was my mentor. There was a small group of super talented artists during my high school years, and it was my one solace as a loner that I was included in that group. I took art all four years, and spent many class periods hanging out in Mr. Rochester’s room when I’d completed work in my other classes, creating something new. I was also on the newspaper and yearbook staffs, and learned film photography, developing, printing, and manual layout methods.

Up until my junior year, I was going to be a commercial artist, just like my mom in my early childhood years. By the time my junior year rolled around, I was disillusioned and disheartened, as are many teens at that age. I began to believe that few people really appreciated what energy and skill it took to make a piece of art, and in my immature search for validation thought I was a failure. I’d also been picked on severely, and resented, no, loathed my social situation. All I wanted was to escape. I’d lost my passion for the idea of being a commercial artist. I didn’t want someone telling what to draw, how to draw it, and giving me creative and time limitations. I didn’t want someone else controlling my ONE FREEDOM from teenage hell.

I had pretty good grades, but not scholarship good. My parents were blue collar workers, and there was no college fund. What’s a skinny, pimply-faced, angry teenager to do?

I joined the Army my senior year, a month after I turned 17. I signed up Delayed Entry Program (DEP) in September of ‘87. I drank a crap ton of water to pass the minimum weight requirement, went to the MEP station, took my physical, signed the contract, and set a departure date for two days after high school graduation. Yeah, I wanted out badly.

I hardly missed a day school. I was THAT geek you hated. I missed one day of school at the very beginning of my freshman year because of mono, and I missed one day my senior year because of going to the MEP station. Mr. Rochester knew something was up when I was absent. I came in the next day, and he asked where I was. Nervously, but excited, I told him what I did.

He was crestfallen.

“What a goddamned waste,” he said, staring me in the eyes. I felt like he sucker-punched me.

“I was going to help you do your portfolio to get into art school. What a waste.”

The rest of the year, Mr. Rochester was harsh in his grading of my projects, and was no longer the friendly, caring mentor I’d looked up to. I felt like I’d lost one of my few friends. But my path was chosen, and I was determined to go.

And go I did.

The Army was nothing like art class. I had one final last experience in the Army relating to my drawing that soured me, and from there my artistic endeavors were on delay for many years. I became what the Army molded me to be. I did what I was told, I was where I was told to be, and when to be there. I learned a lot, traveled a lot, met a lot of people from all walks of life, and I had a career that few can understand.

However, the seed of the artist was still there, and it came out in little ways. I dabbled in various crafts: cross-stitch, needlepoint, crocheting, and eventually jewelry. Jewelry became more than just a bit of dabbling, and I eventually started a jewelry business that lasted five years. Jewelry was also the catalyst that brought me full circle to photography. Because I couldn’t afford a professional photographer every time I created something new, I learned to shoot my jewelry myself for my website, MySpace, and Facebook. The high school seeds of photography were reborn.

During the time of my jewelry business, I went back home, taking my very young daughter with me. We went to my high school so I could show her where I went to school. We stopped by to see Mr. Rochester. He was stiff and cordial, and didn’t seem to care about how my life turned out. Perhaps that’s how some teachers are and it wasn’t anything personal at all. Perhaps he was still carrying the grudge that one of his star pupils didn’t fulfill his intended destiny. I was somewhat saddened, but realized I couldn’t fix it.

Fast forward to today. I’ve had my photography business six years. It’s evolved. I spent much time competing as a commercial photographer, having both good and bad projects. I enjoyed many of my experiences, but just like the teenage me, I resented being told how to shoot a project. I needed to make a change for the satisfaction of my artistic soul; otherwise, I was going to quit shooting altogether.

Today I shoot for me. I shoot what excites me, what fulfills me. It may never make me artistically famous or a millionaire. What I do know is that my journey to this point has had many twists and turns, but ultimately, here I am, doing it MY way.

I think about Mr. Rochester. I’m sorry I disappointed him then, but I still hope if he saw me now, he’d be proud. I would also hope that he’d realize that no two artistic journeys are the same, and sometimes the longer, more wayward path has the biggest impact.

Your artistic path won’t be like mine. Your choices won’t be like mine. No matter how you get THERE, just realize that eventually you will get THERE, wherever THERE is. It may sound like mumbo jumbo, kumbaya, touchy feely crap, but every step of your journey will lead you to where you need to be. And no one has that map for THERE but you.

Why "Duende?" by Miachelle DePiano

 "Looking Within" (C) 2018, Miachelle DePiano

"Looking Within" (C) 2018, Miachelle DePiano

Last year was a year full of contradiction in my photography business. It was the best year I’d ever had, making five figures quite nicely. When I wasn’t working my full time job as a technical writer, I was darting off to a magazine assignment, some event to shoot, or shooting head shots and marketing shots for clients. Years of hard work finally seemed to be paying off.

Conversely, I hit burn out, and I was physically hurting more than I’d ever hurt before. My neck and shoulder were in severe pain and losing range of motion, and shooting events became more unbearable than I could stand. Mentally, I began to dread shooting portraits and head shots. The litany of “Can you smooth my skin more? Can you…” began to wear on me. Social media’s amplification of falsifying one’s imagery to meet some insane expectation of acceptable beauty took its toll on my love of photographing people.

At the beginning of this year, I took a break from it all. I was afraid that I’d begun to hate what I so dearly loved, and before I reached that final breaking point, I wanted to pause and breathe and reflect and heal.

Today, I’m still in the healing phase. I’ve been through many different diagnoses and treatments: MRIs, x-rays, physical therapy, chiro, acupuncture and gua sha, and soon myotherapy. Stress is the culprit, and now it’s a matter of rehabilitating my muscles and getting them to loosen up. I’m also working on eliminating the stress.

Part of eliminating that stress is changing my photography. I no longer shoot events, I no longer work for the local magazines, and portraiture is on the backburner. Instead, I’m learning to play again, and allowing myself to be creative when I am ready. The result can be seen in the Duende gallery on my website.

What is duende, some of you might ask. Duende is a word I recently learned about, thanks to Anthony Bourdain. I’ll explain.

I’d never watched Parts Unknown until Bourdain’s sudden, tragic passing. I’m now hooked on his show. Not because of the food; sadly if he met me, by his own declarations we wouldn’t be friends simply because I do not have the all-embracing, voracious palate he seemed to have. What I am hooked on is his storytelling. No matter where he went, he wanted to find the root of a person’s story, he wanted to connect, and he wanted to draw you in. As a photographer and writer, I connect deeply with this aspect of Bourdain. I also find myself wondering how Bourdain felt after completing the filming of each episode, especially in locations where people struggle so hard to survive and have had life events you and I will probably never experience. I imagine at times it was overwhelming for him. Minus having to partake of certain foods, I wish I could take over where Bourdain left off. I feel as if his job isn’t finished and someone needs to continue where he left off.(CNN, please note, if you want to hand me that baton, let’s talk.)

It was the Season 2/Episode 2 on Spain in which I learned about duende. Duende is defined in English as a quality of passion and inspiration. Other explanations are that it originates from Portuguese folklore and is a brownie or a sprite; that it is a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity and is connected with flamenco, as seen in the Spanish episode. There are other definitions and online discussions about duende, but duende appears to be evolving to association with all artistic expressions. I’ve also read online that duende is one of the hardest words to translate into English.

As I continue to think about duende, I realized that the intent of duende is what I’ve redirected my photographic efforts to. Ultimately, I had to admit that I needed to spend more time in a creative space with my photography in order to maintain my love of photography. I had turned a love into a business, and a business into a chore. Now my focus is shooting what I have the desire to shoot, what fascinates me, what I experience, and how I see the world in my eyes, instead of worrying about how the world sees my work. When I upload images to the Duende category on my website, that’s my way of telling you that when I took those images, I achieved a level of euphoria.

To sum up this long-winded blog post, what I want you to see in my work is a return to joy when I shoot. If I photographed a place, a person, an object, I want you to know I was excited to shoot it. And if I was excited to shoot it, my hope is that you’ll be excited to view it, and want to view it on a daily basis in your personal, private space.

Unapologetically Me: Jenny Kuller, the Queen of Vintage by Miachelle DePiano

 (C) 2017, Miachelle D Photography, LLC

(C) 2017, Miachelle D Photography, LLC

Many people dress up in pinup or rockabilly style, but it’s usually on the weekends, or on a night out on the town. Not Jenny Kuller. As I’ve gotten to know her over the last couple of years, I’ve come to realize this is who she is every day, whether at home or out somewhere in Phoenix, and she is very unapologetic about it. This story is more than just about Kuller’s love for a vintage lifestyle. It’s about her life journey, which has been filled with challenges. Thanks to perseverance, help from Fresh Start, and therapy, she finally has learned to embrace who she is.

Kuller is the owner of Redhead Sadie Vintage, a vintage clothing company specializing in clothing from the 1960s and prior. Her career in selling vintage clothing began in 1995 and transitioned to an eBay storefront on May 18, 1999. She still has her eBay store with over 6500 satisfied customers, and recently added an Etsy store. She travels to different trunk shows and specialty markets with her collection, both locally and in other states. She’s been featured in Vintage Style magazine for her vintage lifestyle, and her house will be featured in Flea Market Décor, due out May 30, 2017.

“My house is all vintage,” she says. “I live it. It looks right, feels right, it fits me.”

Born in Portland, Oregon, Kuller’s love for vintage fashion began as a young child. Her most valued vintage possession is an original Bakelite cherry necklace, estimated to be from the 1930s.

“I always loved the 40s and 50s,” she says. “I would dress up to watch Happy Days.”

In 1987, Kuller moved to Arizona due to her stepfather taking a job with KJZZ. Kuller’s teenage years were fraught with obstacles. She had undiagnosed ADHD, and learning was difficult in a day when educational resources weren’t as equipped to help children with ADHD. She also had a very difficult relationship with her stepfather; she describes the situation quite simply, which is more telling than if she went into detail.

“He was not kind to me.”

Mother of LeCresia, 29, and Zefram, 17, Kuller’s challenging journey began early when she gave birth to LeCresia as she was graduating from high school. From 1988-1994, Kuller worked a variety of minimum wage jobs to support her small family. One of those jobs was working at a record store.

“It was a great job, and the movie Empire Records has always rung true for me,” Kuller says. “Crazy cool people work at record stores!”

Other jobs included babysitting and call center jobs. In 1994, Kuller was formally diagnosed with ADHD and began treatment. Simultaneously, Kuller started her vintage retail career with a boyfriend in 1994 as they bought old furniture, upcycled it, and resold it locally. Ultimately they had an antique booth in Mesa, which she kept after they broke up.

In 1997, Kuller got married to her husband, Dan. Kuller opened her eBay store on May 18, 1999, back when eBay was still a novelty.

“I got really good at eBay because my marriage was really bad,” Kuller recalls.

When Zefram was born in 2000, Kuller suffered deeply from postpartum depression (PPD). She realized she couldn’t do both the eBay store and the antique booth, she closed down the booth. Kuller experienced difficulties in her marriage as a result of her depression, and they divorced in 2005. Kuller looks back and acknowledges she needed more than her husband could give her.

“I was way too needy in retrospect,” she recalls. “I wanted to be rescued. It wasn’t all bad, it was mostly that he ignored the fact that I needed his validation. After Zefram was born, I was a mess with PPD.”

In 2005, Kuller entered an intense relationship that eventually would become an extremely important pivotal point in her life. LeCresia had moved out by then, and Kuller was taking care of Zefram, who is diagnosed with ADHD and Asperberger’s. Meanwhile, Kuller still focused on her eBay store.

Kuller was hired in 2007 by Heidi Owens to run her vintage clothing store, the Hollywood Regency, which was located next to the Melrose Pharmacy in the Melrose District. She credits her time with Owens at the Hollywood Regency for giving her an education in brick and mortar retail, and considers Owens both a sister and mentor.

“Heidi essentially said ‘Here are the keys, run the shop’,” Kuller says. “I couldn’t ask for a better education, in many things.”

In 2010, Kuller’s life went through major upheavals. Kuller came home one day to find her boyfriend cheating on her. Additionally that year, Owens passed away from cancer, and Kuller’s time at the Hollywood Regency came to an end.

Realizing she was in an emotional downward spiral, Kuller began Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and credits this therapy with changing her life.

According to the Linehan Institute, DBT is a cognitive behavioral treatment developed to treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It’s also used to treat other disorders including substance dependence, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders.

“Dialectical behavior therapy teaches you to take responsibility for your emotions, and self-acceptance,” she explains. “It teaches mindfulness, in honoring the sacredness within. That’s the hard part, being responsible for your own shit.”

In addition to beginning DBT, Kuller also entered the Fresh Start Women’s Foundation program in 2010, and credits Fresh Start with aiding her in her transformation and self-development.

“They offer so many good programs to help women figure out what they want to do,” Kuller says. “The self-esteem and personal development workshops are beneficial. They don’t hold your hand but they help you. There is a huge personal responsibility aspect. You will do your part.”

Seven years later, Kuller has fire within, and places priority on her personal growth and evolution.

“I’m keeping going,” Kuller says. “The quickest way through hell is to keep going.”