Last Friday I had some open studio time so I sent a shout out to an ever growing Facebook forum I am on saying I needed models for headshots. I received two responses. I’m going to tell you about one of them.
His name is Stephen Rudge. When he first arrived he was a little timid and quiet, super polite, but not outwardly conversational by any means. You could tell he had a disability with his right arm, but until he brought it up, I wasn’t going to say anything about it.
After my first drop in left, Stephen got a little more chatty, like a lot more chatty, this kid likes to talk. I was trying to keep it light and friendly, you know the basic, “Are you from Nashville?” (which he is), “what do you do for work?” (he works part time at the YMCA), is your family here? (Yes, Dad is a Doctor, Mom is a stay at home mom, and he has 2 older sisters), “where did you go to college?” (Trevecca studying mass media with a concentration on audio. He wanted to be the guy that recreated sound effects for movies… insert the sound of the coconuts from Monty Python). And then we began talking about photography.
Stephen started taking photos three years ago when he got his first iPhone and one of the first apps he downloaded was Instagram. He started taking a lot of pictures and posting them. Stephen was going to a game night (he can tell you all about the game Quelf.. sounded interesting and he gets super excited about it) and met Stuart Deming, a photographer who specializes in skyline photography. After a a few game nights, the two started hanging out, grabbing a beer or heading out on photo excursions. Stewart would take a shot of the skyline, and then Stephen would step in and take the same shot (he basically stole Stewart’s shots… his quote, not mine!). He also had a Nikon D5100 with a kit lens from his days at Trevecca, so he started shooting with that as well as his phone.
As Stephen began to speak about his Nikon D5100, he mentioned that he had a disability and that he didn’t have any muscle control in his right arm or hand. Ok, I’m a photographer… I know how much I use both of my arms and hands and how I feel like I could use one or two more arms myself, how was this guy shooting with only one arm?! I was prepared to be amazed, and I was.
When Stephen was born on February 25, 1991, he was a healthy baby boy. It wasn’t until 3 weeks later that they discovered he had contracted Spinal Meningitis from the hospital. This caused nerve damage on the left side of his brain, which told his right side of his body what to do. He went through physical therapy as a child and adolescent, but still has no grip strength in his right hand. When he is really tired he has a slight limp and his right leg is 1/2” shorter than his left as well as his right shoe is 1/2 a size smaller than his left (which they never asked a store to correct because they didn’t want the next person to have mismatching shoes). School was a little rough for him. He was always the last to be picked at sports, has never had a girlfriend or a date, and has never been kissed. He made up for what he couldn’t do with his arm by what he could do with his outgoing extrovert personality (yea… I’m convinced he was totally faking it earlier!). His Dad even says “He can make a brick wall laugh.”
As Stephen talked about his arm, I asked him how he held a camera and how he was able to take photos with just one hand. He put his camera strap around his neck and held up the body of the camera with his left hand. He then cupped the camera with his left hand, holding the lens between his thumb and index finger while pushing the shutter button with his middle finger. I was beyond impressed and he was more than willing to let me take a few shots as he proudly held his camera and continued talking.
He has a tattoo on his left wrist that says “Doulos” which translates to “servant”. Stephen believes he is a servant of Christ. He wants everything he does to be in honor of God. He talked about how he would like to start a ministry that helps inform people who want to donate to a cause or a mission but are a little skeptical because they don't know exactly where their money is being spent. His ministry would travel along with missionaries and document what is being done. He would then present these videos to people who are wanting to donate as well as provide a video to people who have donated so they could see how they contributed to changing the lives of others.
We finished up his portraits, and he offered to help me load up my car. Disability or not, it didn’t hinder this kid from assisting me and lugging my camera gear down a flight of stairs and helping me pack my car. He was more than eager to help and to learn. After my car was packed, we ended up heading over the Clawson’s for a BLT and a beer. In between sandwich bites and swigs of good local brew, he continued to tell me about his life, his disability and his plans for his future. When I asked him what his 5 year plan was, he said "be a wedding photographer." He then corrected himself and said he wants to do wedding photography, but ultimately he wants to travel, shoot landscapes, and have his ministry full blast.
Good Luck on pursuing your passion Stephen, and thank you for showing up.