Thursday, May 16, 2013

Saying Goodbye to John Hubbard

I had an idea for a project way back in 2007. I was approaching my final year of the MFA program at Kendall College of Art and Design, and I had an idea that was going to require effort beyond anything I had ever applied to a photography project.

I was going to fake images of a presidential campaign. Make it fit within the context of the real campaign, and try to make the whole thing look as real as possible.

I began with fake names, fake political parties, fictional stories about these characters who, as third party candidates, stood no chance at winning anything other than a few fringe supporters.

The first person I contacted was Gary Morrison. I found him through the networking settings on MySpace (area: theater, location: Grand Rapids, age: 50+) and emailed him about the project. We exchanged numbers, and it took one phone call for him to say, "I'm interested. I'll do it." At our first meeting, where I posed him in front of an American flag, I asked him why he was willing to help me out. "You've got an interesting project, and it sounds like you need someone to commit to it."

That's the kind of guy I discovered Gary was. He was dedicated. He became John Hubbard throughout 2008, meeting folks, handing out buttons, doing photo shoots, and giving speeches. Gary became a quasi-celebrity during that time in Grand Rapids, recognizable due to his physique (he was a world-record-holding bodybuilder at 65), high-ish pitched New Hampshire accent, and his proclivity to play darts with his wife at Founders on a regular basis.

After I moved to Oregon, Hubbard, of course, lived on in the work from Nobody Wins. I reconnected with Gary in early 2012 after the three year anniversary of the exhibition. Later that year, I found out Gary had cancer and I wrote to wish him the best. He wrote back, saying that it looked like I had staked out a good path in life. He had recently lost a friend who also had an MFA in photography. "It is a reminder to me," Gary wrote, "that for the most part we are in charge of our own destinies. Stay in charge." 

Gary lost his battle with lung cancer on Monday. He is part of the reason I am where I am, doing what I love to do. His dedication to my project helped me see it through to the end, and Gary was as determined with my work as he was with his own. 

Unlike John Hubbard, Gary was — and still is — very real to me when I look at his images and think about the time we spent together. He came to my going away party in Grand Rapids before I moved far away. He kept in touch. He continued to relish the thought that he had run for president, and when a friend asked him for one of his Hubbard lawn signs, he refused to give it up, keeping it at his home because "I consider it a national treasure."

The real treasure, for me, was being able to work with a guy like Gary. And everyone who got to know him through the Hubbard campaign will agree with me when I say he'll be dearly missed. 

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