The story behind Steely Joe Studio proves that real life is sometimes better than a movie script. It started with a love of science and all things natural. When I was five my mom gave me a book that had all kinds of pages in which to describe myself. On the page that asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wrote two things: scientist and artist. All these years later, here I am a PhD student in geology and a Photographer! I earned a bachelors degree in Earth Science and a Masters in Geology from the University of Arkansas. My excitement at seeing so many new and wonderful places turned me into quite the shutterbug (I have been known to take more photos in one day as many of my classmates would take in a week). That lead to doing portrait and event photography mostly as favors for friends. I used all these projects to experiment, learn and push myself to try new things with my photography. I consider it an honor and a priveledge to photograph the milestone moments in people’s lives.
There is a whole other element to the story that has thus far been left out and explains the name of my studio. In December of 2003, one week before the end of my second to last semester of graduate school, I was hit by a drunk driver while unloading the back of my pickup. I was crushed between my vehicle and his. My left leg was nearly severed in the accident, and during the first of the six surgeries to follow, a steel rod that runs the length of my lower leg was bolted to what was left of the bone. After long weeks in the hospital and later the rehab center (where I learned to get around in a wheelchair), I got an infection in my leg and was taken to a wound care specialty center. There I met a very cute computer tech that ran the hyperbaric machine (a pressurized glass tube I had to lay in for two hours a day). I was in a lot of pain, and to take my mind off it, the tech would sit and talk to me the whole time I was in. When I was finally discharged from the wound care center, he asked me out. This was early spring, and it wasn’t long before he proposed. I had always wanted a summer wedding, so we set a date for the tail end of that summer. Now I set myself two new goals: to walk down the aisle unaided by chair, walker or cane and then to finish the field work for my thesis that winter. And I did it! I was walking months before the doctors thought I would.
Because I needed to stay close to the doctors that were overseeing my recovery, I needed to stay in Northwest Arkansas. So I took a part-time job teaching geology at the community college and opened my photography studio. I now walk very well and am more than capable of shooting an all-day wedding or chasing toddlers around for a photo shoot. So now I am a scientist and an artist – just like I said when I was five! Funny how things work out…
While I was learning to walk, my sister loved to tease me (which is a sign of affection in my silly family) when I would fall behind and say things like: come on Steely Joe – keep up! She thought it especially funny when we were playing with a metal detector one day and it beeped when it passed my leg. The nickname really annoyed me at first. It seemed to call attention to something awful. But when I was thinking up names for my studio, it seemed to fit very well. The name wasn’t just a reference to a horrible wound, it was also a reference to the traits the doctors had said made all the difference in my survival of what was very nearly a fatal accident: having nerves of steel, being tough as nails, and possessing steely and unshakable optimism.