I recently shared the story of Humanitou in PechaKucha style at the annual MACnificent fundraiser for the Manitou Art Center. I was one of 10 presenters sharing stories of humanness, creativity, community.
PechaKucha is a 20 x 20 presentation format. It uses 20 images that show for 20 seconds each. The images and the clock are on autopilot once the presenter begins. Efficiency, focus and timing are essential in the PechaKucha method of storytelling.
As an introvert who has occasionally fantasized about leaving society behind for a solitary existence, I instead have used Humanitou to connect one-on-one through conversations with artists, yogis and others in the Pikes Peak Region. And to connect one by one the threads of commonness in our community.
With each conversation, I make photographic portraits of the person who has agreed to sit down for an hour and share stories and insights on matters of love and loss, aging and death, creativity and spirituality, politics and culture, and other topics.
The video here, captured and edited by Justin Kovach of Smokebrush Foundation, highlights this story. The transcript (more or less) is below, if you prefer reading to watching and listening.
Humanitou PechaKucha Transcript
My wife, our two sons, and I moved to Manitou Springs the day after Christmas three years ago. In a cold downpour, we loaded a 20-foot U-haul truck, hooked up our old VW bus behind it, and we headed West.
For the next 18 months, my wife, Becca, and I mostly worked from home. I’d frequently travel to my corporate offices in Denver and Germany. But our family largely stayed to itself.
In fact, Becca and I had had a running half-joke for many years that there might come a day I would pack up and head to a remote monastery or a cave with the intention of escaping.
But my curiosity about this town and, especially, its people got to me first. It coincided with an early 40s bout of: What am I doing with my life? And I started a website called Humanitou last May.
I started with Humanitou by asking artists — and later others who don’t necessarily identify as artists — to sit down with me for an hour, to answer my curiosities and then to let me make portraits and other photographs of them.
I had some fears: Will anyone be willing to talk with me? … and … Will anyone care about this work? But Humanitou was accepted. One conversation led to another to another and onward.
Now, close to 50 people connected to Manitou Springs — some of them connected to the Manitou Art Center — have talked with me for the site. We usually do it in their personal space of home or studio.
When that hour comes, it’s often the first time she or he has met me in person. We sit down, they usually look to me to get things going. Then we’re off … head-first into the deep end.
There is no chit-chat about the weather in these conversations. I practically ask for the meaning of life straight out the gate. In fact, I asked artist Laurel Astor: How do you define the soul?
She so easily offered this response, “I think it’s the true essence of who we are. I think, if we’re in touch with it, it has guidance.
“I think it’s the best part of us.The body is just our costume we carry around to hold in our soul. And I think our soul always wants to grow, always wants to create.”
Not one of these incredible human beings you see on the screen tonight or can read about on the Humanitou website has shied away from those soulful kinds of questions.
They take them head-on, open their hearts and share.
Peggy Dlugos had followed Humanitou from the beginning, but wasn’t ready to talk. She had something more difficult to share. One day, about eight months later, I received an email from her: I’m ready.
After she shared her story with me — one of resilience and how creativity plays a role in that — she emailed again to say:
“Your questions helped to clarify a lot of ideas I have been struggling with lately. Talking with you also made me more aware than ever how lucky I am to have a husband and children who support what I do and have been by my side throughout all of my struggles.”
That email was a heartfelt reminder of the value of truly listening to one another, of having face-to-face conversations. It also highlights for me a sense of value and responsibility in my work, and how at the heart of Humanitou is connection and humanness.
In that humanness, I learn not only about others’ personal struggles, and their lives and processes as artists. I learn and share forward their tremendous insights on love and loss, aging and consequences, politics and culture.
I hear perspectives on spirituality and faith, passion and inspiration.
In the essence of all these conversations, I learn about humanity and connection. The very things I once thought I wanted to withdraw from. Humanitou now is my greatest vehicle for connection.
The more I felt this connection to Manitou and to others, the less I wanted to leave it for offices up the Interstate and across the ocean for my externally focused career.
The more purpose I felt in Humanitou and in my place in this community, the less I wanted to be called away. These conversations feel like something that helps me to answer that question of: What am I doing with my life?
So, this past December I stepped away from my career in marketing. I said “no more” to the business class flights to Germany that made me feel special and fancy and, for the only time in my life gave me sufficient leg and shoulder room on an airplane. All to focus on these matter of greater personal and community purpose.
It’s in this community that I, a quiet introvert who long doubted his creative worth, am re-emerging as an artist. My creative energies have flooded back after a nearly 10-year hiatus from writing poetry and making photography, and just all-around personal creativity.
And great things are happening. While I feel this Humanitou conversations project and the website have been successful from the start as a way to share creativity and connection, this ongoing project continues to gain support.
This project and website are 16 months in at this point. I am continuing to develop what it all means for me and as a platform of possibilities in Manitou Springs.
But this much I have figured out: Humanitou is about community. It’s about stories of humanness and creativity. Humanitou is about connection.