Monday, March 17, 2014

Meet Brent Johnson/ Adventurous Photographer Despite Only One Arm

A friend of mine posted some beautiful photos on her facebook page of Zion National Park and, upon following the link, I became acquainted with Brent Johnson Photography. It wasn't until I had looked through several albums that I realized Brent's missing an arm. Of course this intrigued me, so I asked Brent if I could do a blog post about him. After all, my blog is about dealing with disabilities and, from what I can see through pictures, this guy "deals" with a "disability" very well! 

Here are the questions I asked Brent, along with his answers. Prepare to be amazed. :)

Were you born without an arm or did you lose it later in life? I was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at Fort Carson Army Base. I was born without my left forearm. My arm did not develop from just below my elbow.  I still have full use of my elbow. I had to basically teach myself everything, because nobody knew how to teach me.

Did your parents/ family push you to do things or were they over-protective of you? My parents are the reason I am who I am today. They didn’t treat me any differently. They let me fail and make mistakes. They encouraged me, but didn’t do things for me. If I wanted to do anything, I had to figure it out myself.

How does driving a car work for you? When I was 14 years old, my dad began teaching me to drive. At 15, he told me if I wanted a driver’s license, I must learn to drive a stick shift first. I drove my first car, a 1959, 2 wheel drive Chevy pick-up, all through high school. I also drove a Yamaha TT600 Enduro motorcycle.

Was it harder to get a driver’s license having only one hand? When I got my license, it was an easy test. I drove around town, stopped for a soda, drove back to the DMV and told the employee I wanted a motorcycle license.  He said, “Can you ride a bike?” and laughed. Then he said, “Smile. Here’s your temporary. Your permit will be here in a couple of weeks.”

How do you handle shaking hands? I shake right hands. Most people do. I have never had to worry about that.

Have you ever dreamed that you had two hands? I have wondered what it would be like, but it’s never stopped me from doing anything, so I don’t worry about it.

How do you tie your shoes? The same way everyone else does, but it took me longer to learn. I was 9 years old, but I was so excited about it that I can still remember where it happened.

Have you always had a passion for photography?  I have always loved photography. My parents gave me a Canon T70 when I was in high school, but while I was working as a tour guide on the Colorado River, I took my camera on a trip and someone stole it.  I couldn’t afford to replace it, so I had to resort to point and shoot cameras, but I never let my passion go. I went to Montana to work with my friend, Greg Olmstead. He and his dad, Dave, were into photography and they would take me to Yellowstone National Park a lot. Dave had three different cameras and he would let me use one. They could see I loved taking pictures, so Greg and Dave bought me a Nikon camera with kit lens 18-55 mm, and a 55-300 mm lens for Christmas in 2011. The rest is history. My photography has exploded since then. Now I’m opening my own business. You can find me at...


In regards to your photography, did you have to adapt your equipment in any way or have you developed a technique that helps you?  I did not adapt my camera or equipment.  I use the camera lenses just like anyone else.  I have added an 85 mm for portraits and a sigma 150-500 mm for birding and wildlife, and am able to hand hold these without any trouble.

There’s a picture of you rowing a boat with gloves on. Can you explain how you do this? I love rafting and I wanted to row my own boat, just like everyone else.  I couldn’t hold an oar in my left arm, so I started experimenting. My first attempt was bolting a water ski glove to the oar. It worked great.  I could strap my arm in and pull/push just like everyone else. The only drawback was the glove would start wearing out and tear apart. Then I got an idea to use a strap. I took a yellow strap, cut it about 12 inches long and had it sewn together. I put a Velcro tab on both ends and one in the middle, then I took another piece of yellow strap, made a circle to fit my arm, and had it sewn to the top/middle of one end of the strap. I fastened the strap around the oar and took 3 hose clamps, one on each end and one in the middle, to secure it. This allows me to slide my arm in and out and row through the roughest of rapids, without worrying about losing my oar. It works just like a hand.  I have always had the mindset, “If there is a will, there is a way.” I just do things a little bit different than other people. That’s all.

What is one quality of yourself that you are proud of? I have a “to hell with everyone who looks at me as handicapped” attitude. I can do anything that anyone else can and I’ll probably do it better! My attitude started in 3rd grade, when I heard a coach trying to talk my parents out of letting me play basketball.  I later made the all-star team and played as starting point guard in high school. If there is something I want to do, I will figure out a way to do it. I’m not handicapped. Society puts that logo on individuals.  I tell people all the time, “The only handicap is your mind. If you think you can’t do it, you’re handicapping yourself."

Do you have a bucket list? If so, what are your top 3 things? I would love to go to Alaska and take pictures of wildlife there. That would be my ultimate dream! I want to visit Costa Rica and go fishing for Marlin and explore the tropics while taking pictures. I would like to go to the Daytona 500 in Daytona, Florida sometime. It’s nice to have dreams, but I can’t afford any of these things right now. It’s hard to get a good paying job missing an arm.

What is one thing about you that you wish everybody knew? I’m no different than anyone else. I’m not handicapped. I’m a normal human being and I don’t want to be treated any differently.

Thank you Brent, for allowing me and my readers to learn more about you. Not only are you talented, but your words, attitude, and photographs are encouraging and inspirational!

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