RIP Erica Hinson Denny ("Artfisch")

Posted on: Thu, 11/25/2010 - 00:39 By: Tom Swiss
photo by Jeff Dicken

It's a common trope in fiction that "primitive" people believe that photographs will steal your soul. I don't know if anyone actually ever believed that, or if it's just some writer's plot device that went viral. Crazy Horse never let anyone take his photo, but it seems to me that might be more because he didn't like the way white photographers portrayed his people than out of any fear of soul-stealing.

I don't believe that the camera can steal your soul, of course; as the son of a shutterbug, I wasn't allowed to develop any camera shyness. (My dad joined the Air Force with the intention of getting trained in photography -- of course, they made him an AP instead and sent him over the Vietnam to walk patrol around an airbase. Never believe military recruiters, kids!) But I believe that a good photographer, rather than stealing it, can show a person sides of their own soul that they didn't know were there. A good photographer, in other words, can be a spiritual guide -- a shaman of sorts.

Baltimore has lost a shaman.

I first met Erica Hinson Denny about a year ago, at the Metro Gallery on a "No Rule" dance party night. She was running around taking photos, and for the early part of the night I was (as I sometimes am) the only one out of the floor dancing -- so we both stood out from the crowd.

Over the next few months she became a familiar face in the Baltimore art scene, with her distinctive photos showing up in my friends' Facebook feeds and in the virtual pages of B'more best web magazine, What Weekly. With her third-eye camera, she brought a transformitive view to the events she attended.

As you can see from her Flickr feed, photography was not the only medium in which she worked; but since that's the context in which I most often saw her -- and in which she captured me a couple of times -- I'll always think of that as her art.

I last saw her in action at the Samhain Ball, taking photos of Baltimore's Most Interesting People out in the alley in back of Load of Fun until the cops shut us down.

Monday I learned that she was on life support after suffering a serious asthma attack; I'm not sure exactly when that occurred. She passed on yesterday, leaving behind her husband Josh, her kids Japeth, Louisa, Yael, Rowan, and Hattie, and a whole community that will miss her presence and light.

It's a funny thing about these lives of ours: we leave behind little objects, bits of detritus that take on odd sentimental meaning. At some point after we'd run into each other several times, Erica saw this silly Garbage Pail Kids sticker and gave it to me. She didn't know that I'd spent time in Osaka -- and played music at a couple of open mics there -- so that the "Osaka Popstar" banner in the background sort of fit. I stuck it in the band of my fedora as a impromptu bit of ornamentation, and we both got a laugh out of it.

Now, it becomes...what? Almost a talisman of sorts, something invested with a bit of the mana of a departed shaman.