Published April 2017 in the Community NewsFlash, Corinth, Mississippi (Jerry Porter, editor)
Local Photographer Explains the Simple Importance of Lighting
If you sit down with local photographer Cheryl Meints, she will tell you straight away that she is not a professionally trained photographer. She asserts that she hardly knows the lingo, that she doesn’t care anything about expensive lenses, and she never bothered with the type of professional editing software that so many are using now to go back, airbrush, and doctor the light. If you then see Meints’ body of impressive photographic work, you are going to decide one of two things: either she is entirely too humble about her expertise...or she speaks a truth reflected in photos that are at once simple, striking, and clear. You see the work of someone who didn’t learn from a school, but from a burning inner passion, a strong perseverance through experience, and an ingenuity to create works of art with the simplest of tools.
Mastery, after all, isn’t about having great tools in your hands--it is about having the tools within yourself to create greatness from whatever circumstances you are handed. It was with a homemade light tent designed by her husband Don and built from materials from Lowe’s that Meints honed her craft--well, that, and a tenacity to document through the lens that would earn her the nickname “Grandma Flash” among her grandkids. And, it was with nothing more than a three mega-pixel camera that Meints captured the first floral photos that would begin to garner her local renown--photos that remain bold in their simplicity, portraying an honest beauty that defies any need for photo-shop skills.
When you’ve trained yourself to find and hold the simple, beautiful truths...any attempt to change them is at best unnecessary, and at worst a lie.
Meints credits her hours working in the lighting tent she and her husband built as the key to her success: “I must have made tens of thousands of photos in that light tent. If there was anything I learned about photography, it was lighting. Lighting is everything. I don’t know about all this other stuff they talk about, but--by George--I can take a photo.”
And, by George, she can. Textures come alive. Narcissus blooms beam so bright you can smell them. Coyotes stand on a ridge, and you can almost see the cold wind rolling across their fur. The truth becomes obvious--what Meints has are the true foundations of the artist: the ability to see beauty, the desire to share it, the tenacity to keep pushing the button until that perfect moment comes, and, of course, an eye trained to find the right light.
Meints was born, raised, and married in Nebraska. With her son and daughter already grown, she and her husband Don first came to Corinth in 2005 as the last of a series of job-related moves. Meints describes those moves as spiritually draining, having a toll that left her first Mississippi winter feeling especially cold. The seasons were changing, though, and regular trips to the Corinth Public Library were going to have an effect that Meints could not have predicted:
“In March, things started blooming.”
Meints began taking photos of the blossoming trees outside the library. Moved by the beauty of these, she wanted to share them.
“I had just gotten some 4x6es developed. I gave Ann Coker [the librarian at the time] some of them and told her to maybe put them in the breakroom,” but Coker saw the value of those photos as something far greater than breakroom decorations.
“I do believe in God’s intervention--in God’s providence,” Meints says. Something that Coker believed in was the power of Meints’ photos--she had them displayed not in the breakroom, but as a full exhibition in the library. This exhibition gave way to more exhibitions. Talks and presentations with church and civic groups followed. That first exhibition was “all it took,” Meints relates. “The Lord will provide.”
Cheryl Meints became The Flower Lady.
A question many began asking The Flower Lady, who was still giving away her prints for free, was “How come you don’t charge for your photographs?” Meints explains: “I’ve never gone after photography as a career or moneymaker...I see it as a calling. I feel I have been given gifts, and it’s a duty to share it with people...I like to document life. I never realized it until moving here--and with the grandkids--but this is what I have been doing over the years--for all my life.”
In 2010, the Meintses began their website ( www.corinthrose.com ) to document the photography of Cheryl and also Don, whom Cheryl credits as an apt photographer himself, though maybe not as prolific: “It was also in 2010 that Don suggested to Cheryl a trip they should take: Alaska. All they would need was the Ford pick-up and a couple of tents. Cheryl agreed, but not without qualification--“Every two or three days I have to be able to take a bath.”
The results of that trip are recorded on the Meints’ website, as are the results of the many such adventures they have taken since. Though a bout of pneumonia left the kids insisting that the tents had to go, the Meintses’ adventurous spirit hasn’t left them--it just sleeps in a camper trailer nowadays. Cheryl treasures the trips, which are a true cooperative effort between Don and her: he does the research and planning, and she does the documentation. Together, they do the living, though they plan a little more lightly than they used to: “If there’s anything we were taught from the Alaska trip, it is that you cannot schedule every day. You cannot plan life.” Adventures are not adventures without some changes and set-backs. Cheryl is quick to point out that the beauty of these adventures is that not every moment was beautiful. Those moments that seemed the longest at the time inevitably became some of the most treasured.
It’s about contrast and balance--some photographic lingo that Meints well knows. That all important eye for recognizing the right light doesn’t come to those who haven’t lived through some darkness. You don’t sharpen any tool without friction. Meints credits some of her darkest experiences with helping to shape the very talents that define her life and that she considers both a duty and a joy to share with others. She credits her family, her spirituality, and her craft for the happiness she has today, and she credits the negative experiences of her life with being able to truly value this happiness. When asked if there were any words that best summed up her life, she offered these: " In Christ alone my Hope is found. He is my Light...my Strength...my Song."
Behind a camera or not, it remains true: It’s all about the lighting.