The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Megan Blackburn finds photographic calling

 

April 13, 2017

Diana Zimmerman

Wahkiakum resident Megan Blackburn stands with some of her work at the current Redmen Hall exhibit showcasing three local photographers.

When Megan Blackburn makes a decision, she makes a decision.

There is no second guessing, there is only action. It was a series of those decisions that brought her to Wahkiakum County four years ago, where she met her love, where she bore a child named Birdie, and where she rediscovered her love for photography.

Blackburn, whose parents were in the Air Force, was born in Japan and lived on bases all over the world and in the U.S. When she was 21 or 22, she moved to New York City.

"I was in the music business," Blackburn said. "I booked for a rock club. I managed bands, managed tours. I worked in a high end deli for Eli Zabar and made $10 cappuccinos and $18 sandwiches for Sigourney Weaver and Harvey Keitel. Art Garfunkel and his wife would come in. It was cool, it was interesting."

She ran a coffee shop for a while, then a bakery. She also worked at the Strand, which she described as the oldest and second largest independent bookstore in the world. While there she came across a book on rock climbing. It made an impression.

Indoor climbing became a hobby and she worked for a couple years at an outdoor sporting goods supply place. She accumulated some gear while working there, and would occasionally wear or carry something while traveling across the city.

"A lot of people on the subway asked me if I was going camping," Blackburn laughed. "I was just going to work or somewhere. I had rock climbed in New York indoors-they call it 'pulling on plastic.' Work sponsored an event in New Hampshire and I got to climb outdoors for the first time. I had such a blast. I decided to rock climb."

Just like that.

"In the rock climbing community," she said, "if you live on the road out of your car and just climb you are called a dirtbag. It's a good thing, not a bad thing."

Just like that, Blackburn became a dirtbag.

She made a loop around North America, traveling to different rock climbing spots in the US and Canada. She worked in a coffee shop in New Hampshire and climbed. She worked at another coffee shop in Kentucky owned by rock climbers.

"I was so into it," Blackburn said. "I had great climbing partners, people that had been doing it for years. It's really, really hard. The risk and the rush is just part of it. I think everyone that climbs does it for a different reason. It was very meditative for me.

"But I also tried stuff that was way over my head," she added. "I've had staples in the back of my head from hitting the rocks. I tore ligaments in my ankle that still haven't fully healed. I've nearly lost friends to climbing accidents and I lost a friend to rock fall. There are

some things that you just can't avoid. I still love it, but looking back, it's terrifying."

The torn ligaments in her ankle signaled an end to that particular chapter. It happened in Squamish, British Columbia. She drove herself to a friend's house and landed on a friend's couch to recuperate. When she was finally able to get around well enough with a cane, she started to feel restless again, purposeless.

She remembered a friend who had tried WWOOFing for a time. WWOOF or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an organization that pairs farmers with people who are willing to work for room and board and learn about organic farming, usually for a short time. A lot of people WWOOF as a way to travel cheaply.

Blackburn signed up and found two farms looking for people to bottle feed baby goats. She sent emails. Then she found another opportunity that intrigued her.

"I found a completely random one that said 'off grid homestead'," Blackburn said. "It just sounded neat and there was a phone number. It was nine in the morning on a Friday. I was sitting in a Starbucks and decided to call. Erik (Friend) answered his phone. He sounded completely awake. Knowing him now, it's incredible he answered an out of state phone at 9 in the morning."

"I'm not doing anything," she told him. "I could just drive down."

He told her he was going to the Farmer's Market at 3 p.m.

"Ok. I can be there before then," she replied.

"I'm really off grid," he told her. "I don't have facilities set up for you."

"I said, 'I live out of my van. I carry a shovel around. Those are my facilities,'" Blackburn laughed. "Everything he shot down, I came back at with an answer. 'That sounds like an upgrade to what I have to deal with now!'"

The drive to Friend's house is a steep uphill climb. And when it's wet, it's muddy. It was a beautiful August day, but Blackburn still couldn't get her two wheel drive van up to his house. So she walked up. He must have heard her, because he started walking down the hill.

"Who is this guy?" Blackburn smiled, remembering. "He was younger than I thought he was going to be. We're the same age. I had imagined some old weirdo in the woods."

"I was kind of up for anything," she said, ever brave. "We hit it off as kindred spirits right away. He gave me a tour. I thought it was great. Then we went to the farmer's market and I thought, I love this place! Even the drive out here on SR 4 when it opens up at Mill Creek. I fell in love with the place first, and after spending a few months out in the trees in a hammock, well, we were kind of slow to hit it off, but when we did, we were inseparable."

Amazing really, for a woman from NYC to meet a man who grew up in Los Angeles on an off grid homestead in Wahkiakum County.

"How cool would it be to have kids here, we thought," she added. "Then bam, Birdie."

Blackburn has been here for nearly four years. Birdie is almost two.

Recently, she picked up a camera again.

"When I was a kid I really liked Polaroids," Blackburn said. "I think my grandma had a Polaroid camera. I would take lots of pictures and use up all her film. When I got older I discovered different kinds of film cameras. Different sized Polarioids, a holga style. A Pentax K1000 was my first 35 mm camera. I would take a million pictures and then only like one or two of them. For some reason when I was younger it seemed like it was a lot cheaper to just print everything. Then I went through a phase where I just had negatives made. But then I had books and books of negatives and never made prints."

"Then I stopped because it just became too expensive."

When Birdie came along, Blackburn had a new reason to take pictures, and a nice smart phone to do it with. One day Friend showed her the SLR he had. It just needed a battery. She ordered a battery and fell in love with the camera and taking pictures again.

She took one photography class in high school, but all she really remembers is the smell of chemicals in the dark room and the enlarger.

"My goal was always to zoom in as far as I could on some photo," she said. "I really like the depth. I really like old classic paintings where the background is kind of spotted, but the subject or the focus is crisp, so there is no question where your eyes go. I like being able to shoot in low light without a flash and slow shutter speed, and a low F stop."

She doesn't mess with the photos after that, unless it's to shift the contrast a little.

"If the camera didn't catch it the way I saw it with my eyes," Blackburn said. "I'm always trying to make things look the way I saw it. I guess being able to translate from the way you see it with your mind's eye. That's what I want people to see."

So far, all her pictures have been taken at home, or at her parent's house. When Birdie came along, they didn't want to miss out. They've found a home here too.

Birdie doesn't pose. She also won't look at Blackburn, preferring to gaze off somewhere else. And because Friend is in several bands, Blackburn has also started taking pictures at his shows.

Megan Blackburn

Megan Blackburn's daughter, Birdie, is a favorite subject for photos. Here she plays in the family's off-grid home.

"I just want to challenge myself to see if I can get something awesome," Blackburn said. "I'm nervous for feedback, but I'm hopeful for it too. I don't share stuff unless I think it's pretty cool to look at."

"It's strange," Blackburn said. "Through everything I've had a yearning to be stationary and be from somewhere and have a history somewhere. I love where I am right now, and I wouldn't be here if I hadn't done all that crazy stuff. Now being here, I just want to stay. I love the purple flowers that are coming up at our place. More come up every year, and I like imagining what will be there next year or 10 years from now."

"Erik said something really funny this morning," Blackburn added. "I'm really glad you found me, here."

Blackburn, Teddy Townsend, and Laurie Michaels' photographs are currently on exhibit at Redmen Hall in Skamokawa.

 

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