Rebel rebel: Hank Meals shares 55 year retrospective through the camera lens
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Dreams, Themes, Memes and Caffeine: Photography as Folk Art
WHERE: Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad Street, Nevada City
WHEN: Thursday, March 14, Doors at 6:30 p.m., presentation at 7:30 p.m.
TICKETS: $20 (cash only) at door, or online at: https://bit.ly/2VjqMnZ
Over the past 55 years, Hank Meals has remained an active participant with camera in hand documenting the people, places and home-brewed culture of a community he adores and feels a deep connection to.
The Nevada County photographer, author, hiking guide, archaeologist, historian, folk artist and rebel will share his images and stories of a lifetime during a special show full of humor and wit.
“Dreams, Themes, Memes and Caffeine: Photography as Folk Art” will run at 7:30 p.m. March 14 at the historic Nevada Theatre in downtown Nevada City.
“Hank Meals has been the steadiest, longest, hands and feet-on student and admirer of the northern Sierra / Yuba River watersheds’ ridges and canyons and forests in many centuries,” said Gary Snyder, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and friend. “A living scholar-worker-poet of overview and underbrush, he’s creating a new way of getting to know nature from inside,”
The event is both a 55-year retrospective of the historically creative climate of the local neighborhood as it is an auto-ethnography, says Meals.
“I’m hoping it comes off as sort of a gathering around a campfire where I’m telling stories using photographs as artifacts,” said Meals. “Stories, together with gifting, was the original social media. We can only offer what we have and I have been fortunate to be touched by so many outstanding people and places. Luckily, I had my camera along for much of it.”
A Creative Life
The storytelling begins with Meals’ first introduction to photography of the 1960s while living and studying in San Francisco.
“I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to excellent photographers in San Francisco, where the photography scene was vibrant, and the light was perfect. We were constantly exposed to new ideas interpreted by dancers, poets, athletes, actors, musician, sculptors, painters and writers.”
At the time, Meals worked primarily as a photojournalist and documentarian, but was always drawn to art and discovery.
“For me, photography is more about movement and process than ‘capturing.’ It’s fluid and more easily compared to making music, cooking and storytelling,” said Meals.
Enormous social changes were taking place and influencing Meals’ views of the world. Civil rights, the anti-war movement, new spiritual expressions, sexual politics, art innovations, environmentalism, and the back-to-the-land phenomenon.
Meals’ visual storytelling spans more than five decades of time in Nevada County. He weaves his personal stories through a still life journey that includes his days living on the San Juan Ridge and the banks of the Yuba River in the 1960s and 1970s and his artistic and theatrical years of the 1980s.
Locally, Meals has deep ties to a vibrant art scene, still thriving. In the 1980s, he was part of collaborative risk-taking theatrical project called The Nevada County Department of Social Science. The group spanned seven years and spawned the first recycle fashion show, Haute Trash.
“Working with Hank was play,” said local actor and playwright John Deaderick. “It was liberating and brought out improvisational gifts in me I never knew were there. It was an exhilarating time when art was alive on the streets. I’ve done a lot of performances since that time, but I’ve never had so much fun,”
Nancy Denning remembered that time well.
“Hank made Social Science a huge community affair. If you were interested, you were welcome to join in. His sense of humor and laugh are legendary,” said Denning.
An Active Participant of Place
Over the past five decades Meals has learned a lot and worked hard to be part of his community. He has shared his knowledge, time and energy to support causes that he believes in — FREED, South Yuba River Citizens League, North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center, KVMR, Independence Trail, Bear Yuba Land Trust, Yuba Watershed Institute and the Inimin Forest, state parks and more.
“There’s nothing remarkable about pitching in because community is participatory by definition. In the course of volunteering I’ve made new friends and become more tolerant of conflicting perspectives. I’m proud to live in such a dynamic community,” said Meals.
The “Dreams” program shows images from his 12 years as an archaeologist for the Tahoe National Forest and his later writing life chronicling the trails and history of the Yuba Watershed. Meals is the author of several books including “Yuba Trails” 1 & 2, and “The River.” Meals has been leading guided hikes and sharing his knowledge of local history with local nonprofits for nearly 30 years.
“Hank adds an incredible amount of depth to hikes in the Yuba, Bear, and American River watersheds,” said Joy Waite of the Sierra Nevada Group of the Sierra Club. “He knows so much history about the people inhabiting the watershed before the miners came,”
Long-time family friend and former executive director of the South Yuba River Citizens League, Caleb Dardick, remembers a childhood growing up next door to Meals on the San Juan Ridge. He was the neighbor with a camera at every celebration.
“When I look at Hank’s stereotype-defying images of the old-timers and hippies, miners and artists, elders and kids that make up our community, I am re-energized by where we’ve been and inspired to ask, ‘what’s next?’” said Dardick. “Hank is a master storyteller with an uncanny ability to reveal the history, anthropology, archaeology, politics, art and culture of this place we call home with just the right mixture of deep insight, wry humor and joy.”
Meals continues to take his camera along into the wild and continually shares his writing and photo galleries on his blog, Yuba Trails and Tales. This year, at age 80, he is leading a year-long monthly series of guided hikes for Hiking For Good, examining the cultural landscapes within our watersheds. His camera is always in his pack, while his companions reach for their phones in this new era of visual storytelling.
“Today, everyone has a camera on their phone. It’s the language of everyman or ‘folk.’ It’s a new day with a new way of presenting and sharing,” said Meals.
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