"Flair is what marks the difference between artistry and mere competence."
- William T. Riker
There are many definitions of art.
To some, it is a painting hanging on a gallery wall. To others, it's a poem. Perhaps it's the film of a favorite director, or the story of a beloved author. Similarly, there are many definitions of artist. A painter. A writer. A musician. Each one explores their respective outlet for numerous reasons, and each hopes that, in the end, they'll have brought some semblance of enjoyment to those who experience it.
Now, while I by no means fancy myself an artist, I do see myself as a creative person. I enjoy writing and, in more recent years, I've taken to the field of photography. However, while most shutterbugs look to sunsets, landscapes and changing seasons for their inspiration, my subjects range from Starships to Vulcans — and even the occasional Starfleet officer.
If you haven't guessed it by now, I'm a toy photographer — one who puts a pretty big emphasis on the world of Star Trek. Since looking through the lens as it were, I've been privileged enough to work alongside the likes of Diamond Select Toys, McFarlane Toys, QMx and even CBS to bring Gene Roddenberry's wagon train to the stars to life in pictorial form.
Why do I do it, you ask? It's not for popularity or prominence. Nor is it for riches or recognition. Rather, I look to the many mysteries of the final frontier simply as a means to escape my pain.
I was born prematurely in the Fall of 1985. As such, the gnawing pain of cerebral palsy and the uncertainty of partial blindness have been my constant companions throughout the last 34 years. Mobility is very difficult, and I can oftentimes find myself racked with weeks worth of excruciating pain from something as simple as dancing around with my six year old daughter.
As one can imagine, I've spent a fair bit of time within the depths of despair as a result of this rather unique situation. In fact, feelings of worthlessness aren't afraid to beam down and spend time with me more often than I would like.
Where is Geordi La Forge when you need him, right? Yet, while this situation can be less than ideal, it is my time behind the lens that really allows me to cope.
Growing up, I developed an interest in pop culture. And Star Trek always held a special place in my heart. Not only did it feature a diverse crew of friends hurtling through space seeking out new life and new civilizations, but Starfleet was never above including disabled individuals on their galaxy spanning adventures.
Geordi. Nog. Pike. Picard. They all dealt with disability, pain, or trauma — sometimes all three — ranging from blindness to artificial parts. And yet, they all enjoyed inclusion and acceptance amongst their peers, which really struck a chord with me as I grew up. What a difference from the world I lived in! A world where you were made fun of in gym class for limping, where 'friends' stopped inviting you to parties because you just too sore to dance, or where you were beat up for wearing a leg brace. These were never problems faced by the crew of the Enterprise — and, it was a world I longed to be a part of.
As I mentioned, I eventually got into toy photography. And, it was the adventures of the Starship Enterprise that would inspire my work most of all.
At first, I was quite apprehensive to take up the hobby. After all, bad eyesight and shaky hands don't exactly bode well for someone looking to express themselves through photos. However, thanks to the unending love and support from a truly wonderful wife, I decided to push forward.
Sure, most of the initial images were terribly out of focus, and those that weren't ended up as little more than plain old glamor shots against a simple white background. But, I persevered. Eventually, my photos began to improve, and I began experimenting the more comfortable I became. Granted, I don't have a fancy camera. Nor do I have any portable lighting, or state of the art photo software. What I do have though is a three-year-old cellphone, a six-year-old tablet, and the love of a franchise that forever reminds me we can do anything we put our minds to — with or without personal defects.
As I plan, prepare backdrops and sketch out ideas, I find myself distracted. Not from family, friends, or life. No, but distracted from the constant aches and pains that have plagued me these last 34 years. Yes, they are still there, but as I snapshot Kirk exploring a strange new world, they're just not as prevalent.
When I photograph, I don't think about the dull ache in my knee, or the sharp pains in my feet. Instead, those issues seem lightyears away as I instead focus on what new and exciting adventure I can send Picard, Kirk or Spock on next. At the same time, the feelings of worthlessness seem to disappear with the completion of each new project. Yes it's a hobby, but it's also an escape. A distraction that puts me right in the midst of one of the grandest adventures the galaxy has ever known.
No, I don't fancy myself an artist. Nor do I do this for popularity or prominence. Rather, I snap these pictures simply as a means to trek through the pain. That said, like any good artist, I do hope those who experience my work walk away with a semblance of joy. Because, after all, isn't that really what matters most?
Never be afraid to follow your passions. Most importantly, never allow disabilities to hold you back. Who knows? With a little inspiration, you too may soon find yourself taking to the stars!
John DeQuadros is a writer and toy photographer based in Ontario, Canada. You can find a portfolio of his work on Instagram & Twitter right now @RipRocketPix