As The Memorial Lights emerge from the well traveled cardboard box where they have been solemnly stored since the Nashville AMTC in September of 2014, I sometimes wonder why I keep doing this and what does it mean, as the installation has continued to grow in size and strength. To be honest, I have not had as much time this past year to think about the lights and their message, as my travels have indeed proven that the earth IS in fact round. But on the evening of June 26th as the sun set, after a thunderstorm had rolled through Littleton CO, and those little electronic tea lights were again placed in the hands of family members and dedicated volunteers, it quickly reminded me why I keep doing this. And why I strive to make it a little more special with each appearance.
The Air Medical Memorial site, with its sunrise ceremony and the group of dedicated volunteers involved, have always had a very organic nature to it. In the absence of future bricks and mortar, other elements are in place to quietly recognize our fallen members of the US and International air medical community. This year I again asked my good friend and faithful member of the air medical community Greg Hildenbrand, to lend us his talents and perform his original score of Never Forget on site as he did in Nashville. Shortly after Greg agreed to play, I came across an expression that seems to ring true, (author unknown) and I shared it with him. "Art is how we decorate space, Music is how we decorate time." Thank you so very, very much Greg for all that you do, your heartfelt performance was once again essential to the Lights.
The AMM site and ceremonies are a unique mix of technology, tradition, and nature. During the Memorial Lights appearance, there is the gentle moan of cars on the freeway near the site, as the single aircraft from Flight For Life Colorado** lands and powers down, all are then mixed in with the strength of the hills to the west, the silent sunset and emerging stars in the sky. The next morning, the rising sun, emerging cloud formations, the sound of Steve and Kevin Sweeney, (founders of the Air Medical Memorial and Ceremony), important volunteer Christina quietly setting chairs out at 4am, the dew on the grass of the landing zones, the Honor Guard rehearsing, the wildflowers near the flagpole area and the chirps of birds...all add to my experience when I then later carefully photograph the ceremony.
Why do I continue to do this? I was told by a close friend in this community, I could be one of the ones with the least amount to give, that gives so much to this industry. I have often thought about that immense compliment, and sometimes I admit I’m blindly lead by both economically unfeasible artistic aspirations (like I photograph at Burning Man; and now have just confirmed; I will be doing again this year...), as well as always searching for a unique way to highlight the American and other international commercial support of my professional photography services back to the air-medical industry.
Though I may not own an air-medical program or be a corporate leader in this community, I feel a deep responsibility that I have my own tremendous amount of artistic expression to give, that perhaps others may not have (or know they have…) and I am simply utilizing my vision as an artist to assist in helping others in crafting a solemn, but powerful message of remembrance, family support, and safety.
For those who not have taken in the Air Medical Memorial ceremony, the past few years have seen its schedule combined to initiate a "Weekend of Tribute" in Colorado, that the National Emergency Medical Services Memorial Service (NEMS-MS) begins its three days of recognition. Once the AMM is complete on Friday morning, and we all have enjoyed breakfast and an essential afternoon nap, many of us travel south to Colorado Springs to greet the riders of the NEMS-MS Bike Ride that night. This event embraces the families of lost American EMS personnel, both Ground and Air, assisting them in a special way to note their loss, both in a casual family themed setting and a very formal service on the Saturday night. This year I had the honor and privilege to be a designated photographer of the three day event, and those public images will be shared soon. The extended timeline also allows me to meet and greet some family members, listening to their stories, and even asking their own thoughts about the Memorial Lights. Interestingly, most families insist that their loved ones' light remain in the box, as early on I personally believed many would want to take them home…
The NEMS-MS also entrusted me with capturing the very private family moments of receipt of a rose, medal, flag and a whispered thank you from a very special EMS honor guard; noting those images will only be shared with the family. The NEMS-MS is moving to DC next year, and initiating the National Parks process of creating a future monument in the US Capital. I hope I can continue to assist them, (even as a Canadian... #the1000milerule) with my vision in the future.
**Sadly I must note, that as I was finishing up this blog piece to be posted, tragedy struck Flight for Life CO on July 3rd. One of their aircraft suddenly crashed immediately after take-off, the Pilot was killed, and one of the two crew seriously injured. Of course the NTSB is now investigating, but again the air-medical community is heartbroken. This also then places David, one of my Colorado friends in this community, in the position of adding one of his colleagues names to a Memorial Light. Just as I know Alex and Temple, who originally assisted me three years ago...also had to do. Something I also personally fear I may be faced to do, the next time that I open that old cardboard box to set out the lights.