Matt Raynor: A Creative Journey
Creative reinvention found by the ocean
Storyteller: Matt Raynor, USA
What first cultivated your passion for photography?
Taking photos is something that has been a passion since I was young. It's been an unexpected source of purpose and healing since I was injured.
It all started in Miss Ackerson's class. As I learned to use a camera, I was quickly addicted to getting the next best image and adding the new shots to Miss A's worn Manilla portfolio. Being outside and free was a relief from the anxiety of high school. I quickly became familiar with the equipment and techniques. But, being a teenager, my interests started to roam.
Toward the tail end of the semester, I began to frequent the surf line up. This ignited a long career as a permanently salty & irresponsible pupil. I became quite the expert at sneaking in and out of the windows. Eventually, I would expand my venture to multiple classrooms and even a forbidden court room. Regardless of my attention span, the seed had been sown.
I would pick up the camera and put it down a few times before I found myself at art shows all over the East Coast. My artwork consists of images I took during my time offshore as a commercial fisherman, my frequent travels overseas, and eventually aerial photography. This being one of very few passions to survive the injury. Life without passion, is a life not worth living.
What inspires you creatively?
My creative process starts with Google Maps. I would scout areas that I think will provide beautiful landscape photography. Then I found a friend to go out and adventure with. Before my injury, I had a Nikon D 7100 that I would bring out on the weeklong commercial fishing trips. During one trip, I found myself in the remnants of a hurricane - the waves whipped up and were easily 16 feet. We were caught in the weather, but luckily for us it was on our stern. This created a much smoother steam down to Beaufort North Carolina. Later I would create an accessible system using a drone to capture wonderful aerial photos.
Tell us about your accident, how has this changed your life?
My accident was a total surprise. I was diving into the water with my very close friend and fellow artist Jerome Lucani, and on the fifth or sixth dive I dove down too shallow and hit my head.
It was a cold and windy April day; we were down at the bay and the azure waters cast a spell I couldn't resist. I have just completed the best fishing trip of my life; we caught 65,000 pounds of squid. I had to ice and stack the 85lb fish boxes six high. My body was screaming at me with tendinitis, the cold water helped to soothe the pain. As I stared through the beautiful water, my lungs shut down, time slowed, and I analyzed my life.
I found that moment interesting, I felt as if I was in a waiting room. After the near-death experience, I felt as if my time on earth was extra. It helped me adjust to my newfound situation. But the grief of burying my life was unavoidably tragic. I was an extremely active person who didn't like to sit still. Dealing with the injury was tough, but it also brought valuable lessons about acceptance and understanding the decisions that people make.
Why is the ocean so special to you?
The ocean is my higher power. It has always been my source of relaxation, beauty, happiness, and fulfillment. This fascination started when I was a boy. I was followed by a cloud of anxiety. My parents would take me to the beach, and I'd finally be able to calm down. Around age 11 I began to surf and would grow to always be around the ocean. Winter or summer, rain or snow, I was always at the beach. If I wasn't surfing, I would spearfish, and if I wasn't spearfishing, I would catch clams.
I enjoyed bringing friends out on my boat to go wakeboarding and exploring different islands in the bay. I was completely enamored with the magic of the water, and when my best friend finally brought me out on his father's commercial fishing boat, I decided that right then and there that I wanted to be a commercial fisherman forever. A humble wish, but one I could actually make a reality.
What was your journey of recovery like?
My recovery was a long emotional journey. Physically, I recovered as much as I could within eight months. I am paralyzed from the collarbone down. I have no sensation below that. I have no hand movement and my triceps don't work. This makes it so I can’t use a manual wheelchair. I have some feeling in my arms, but I can't feel temperature with my right hand which has an impact on my work. Along with my photography, and creating big abstract epoxy art pieces, I also enjoy making huge candles. Because of this, about once a year I burn my right hand without knowing.
After being in physical therapy in New York City at Mount Sinai, a friend linked me up with the people running the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which oversees physical therapy for spinal cord injuries in the city. This was the first time I was able to fly after my injury. I was in the city for three months. It was a wonderful time as I was able to take the bus and subway by myself, enabling me with freedom to do as I pleased. Atlanta is a model city for disabled people. The Shepherd Center is one of the best spinal centers in the country. It's like Disneyland for paralyzed people.
What is your relationship with Craig & Peter, who helped make your photo book?
Well, Craig is an extremely intelligent, interesting person who also suffered the hardship of disability. While we had been friends before I was injured, after my incident we could relate on a fundamental level that I cannot with many others. I don't know Peter that well, but I am fairly certain that both him and Craig are actually international spies. They are too cool to be regular people.
Life can throw us many challenges, but the compassion and kindness of special people brighten our world. Just as light sustains life, I'm deeply grateful for friends like them who bring light into my life.
What are some of your biggest takeaways after the experience?
I have a few lives changing discoveries that I would love to share with other people in my situation. These accessible tools have allowed me to overcome my inability to use my hands. Eventually, I would like to start a charity that donates a starter kit for newly injured people. I want to give back as people have been very generous to me. I find that happiness reflects the relationships around us - regardless of wealth and prestige.