It was 1986 and I was doing a lot of work for Discover Magazine. Most of the stories I was assigned to were medical and science related. This particular story was going to be a difficult one to photograph. The background was that some cancer patients with stage 4 and no hope were recommended that as a last resort they visit a medicine man who seemed to have certain miracles and while not condoned by modern science there seemed to be a high success rate. The photography issues were complicated. The patients would not be photographed and the Native American Medicine Man believed that photography would steal his soul. So essentially I accepted a photography assignment where photos would not be allowed.
I arrived in Minnesota and met the medicine man whose very first words to me were something to the effect of you don’t believe in this do you. I blurted something like it is not up to me to believe or not only to document. He reached into a fire and grabbed a burning coal and I could smell his skin shoulder. He put it down and asked me where pain is felt. Before I could answer he said pain is in the brain and if you can control the pathways you can eliminate pain. Interesting I thought and it kind of made sense. I meet the patient who was a prominent CEO. No pictures were allowed but I witnessed the routine. The man was required on the first day to scream at the top of his lungs that he can beat cancer and that he will be OK. The man asked how long this would go on and was told that it would go on until complete which was almost 12 hours. Similar treatment occurred on day two and day three and on day four he was to strip naked and lay in buffalo dung and was hit with reeds. He headed home in about 10 days and miraculously his cancer was significantly reduced.
I asked about the meaning of each of the treatments. The first part about screaming was taking control of the mind and help it to eliminate or reduce the cancer cells. When I asked about the buffalo dung I assumed it was something along the same lines but received a very different answer. Wealthy white guy who thinks he can buy everything needs to lay down in buffalo dung and be whipped plain and simple. Hearing this broke the ice and it was at that point that I began to feel a special connection.
I asked how I could learn some of this and was asked if I believe that the grass grows continuously and I replied yes. I was instructed to lay down and watch it grow. When I could say I saw it grow I would begin to understand. I learned a lot but never made any images until the end and when he witnessed my own dedication I was invited to capture not steal his essence. I guess this was one of my first experiences photographing energy.
Photography was never easy but it is exceptionally rewarding and continues to be to this day.