He’s here, there and everywhere!!! Everybody knows him, and he remains active, upbeat and involved despite it all. It’s THE PICTURE MAN aka Michael Jennings; husband to Christina, son to Darin, Mike and Trevor; grandfather to Makayla and four others. I know you’re wondering what happened? What is this sudden malady that has tried to bring the Picture Man down? We’ll save that for later. First things first. Let’s talk about one of Lansing’s legends that had frequented the social and community scene since the mid 1970’s! Yep. He’s been around just that long and he’s STILL standing!
When he transferred from Ferris State University to MSU in 1970, he immediately immersed himself into the Spartan Nation, forming long-standing friendships that not only withstood the test of time but have endured to this day. When the MSU Black Alumni chartered its membership in the early 1980’s he was a part of that group.
Although he’s not identified on paper as a founding member, he is. The official “founders” were his friends then and they’re his friends now; filling in all the decades in between. Michael Jennings was their first official photographer. Perhaps he wasn’t recognized as a charter member because he took most of the pictures free of charge initially. But it was he who captured those youthful, founding moments. As a matter of fact, Jennings took lots and lots of pictures FOR FREE because he was falling blindly in love with his growing passion for photography which started with a 35-millimeter Pentax camera that his only brother, David, gave to him.
“I started out by trial and error,” he said. “Then I signed up for an intro class with Lansing Community College. That was alright, but I’m a hands-on learner and used that class as a springboard for further learning. So, I read articles, books and asked questions of photographers that crossed my path. I took lots of pictures, too. Lots and lots of them. Learning that way was expensive because I spent big money on film and kept on taking pictures that I critiqued closely.”
It wasn’t long before people started complimenting his work, which surprised him. Then they started asking to buy his pictures. He was amazed that someone wanted to buy his pictures! Of course, he initially thought all of them were good but after developing several rolls, totaling 75-100 pictures, he discovered that they all couldn’t be retained. It was a process for him to evolve to the point of throwing pictures away and there were many. “You think that’s good enough to buy??!!” Jennings asked in amazement. “This started happening a lot! People liked the pictures I took, and they wanted to spend money for them!”
Being the humble, people person that he is, Jennings shared the spotlight with his friends, many of whom he’s known since college, Theophilis Harvey, Sterling Armstrong and his wife, Becki. He knew the compliments were legitimate with their approval. Becki posted numerous photos on her infamous “Photo Wall” in the basement of their home, which is a local social hub. This further validated the quality of his work and served as an indirect marketing tool for Jennings’ work. Soon thereafter, he received requests for weddings, graduations, anniversaries.“I haven’t done it before, but I will,” he expressed boldly without reservation. “I didn’t think I was that good but I wanted to give it a try.”
Initially, he shot a few small church weddings and the pictures came out fine. He tried taking pictures in several other venues. They too were successful. Meanwhile, Jennings was developing a keener eye and getting better acquainted with camera settings and lighting. All the while building up his confidence, self-taught as he was.
Next, he anointed himself as the official photographer for his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. After being initiated in 1994, he soon realized that nobody in the brotherhood took pictures for their community and social events. He volunteered his services which were gladly accepted. Jennings became the Que’s photographer.
Where did the moniker, “The Picture Man” come from? After 2-3 years of being relatively successful at his craft, Jennings decided to expound upon the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” and enhanced it for business marketing purposes. That’s when he adopted the name and included the watermark, “preserve your 1000 words”. His business took a monumental turn of events when photography transitioned from film to digital. He said, “you never know the quality of your work until you overexpose film (too light) or underexpose (too dark).” When he taught himself digital photography, that eliminated potential problems with light exposure and business started booming. He upgraded to Nikon cameras/lens whose prices ranged in the arena of $1500 each.
“Another benefit of digital photography is that the picture can be viewed immediately and either saved or deleted. Digital pictures can be immediately downloaded to the computer. Mistakes are minimal as there is no film to develop,” he said. It took about “five years” to build his confidence, meanwhile realizing that as he grew older, taking pictures would be an excellent way to “remember the good times”. The “aura” of being a photographer was also enjoyable because it kept him in the center of every mix. In many ways, according to Jennings, “photography was intoxicating” on numerous fronts. “It’s not a good hobby if you have a jealous wife,” he added, “females flock to photographers…”But in 2012, as fate would have it, he had to start backing off from active photography and his dreams/passions of developing a retirement career in photography began to wane. A two-year battle of progressively losing his balance, falling and being unable to get up was forcing him to slow it down, substantially. Through mounting concerns, he began a battery of testing with Beal’s Institute. It was soon determined that his CPR range was in the 2000 range when it should have been only 200. A muscular biopsy revealed that he had developed a very rare, auto-immune disease called POLYMYOSITIS which is irreversible with no known cure.
He tried a year of physical therapy and an extensive, experimental IV infusion option that has lasted for seven years. It is now compromising his blood pressure, so the treatments have been discontinued. But he has not lost hope. His faith in God keeps him upbeat, encouraged and positive in the face of adversity. He has resolved himself to using the wheelchair that has now become his most faithful ally, aside from his loving wife Christina. Michael Jennings is eternally grateful for the many outpourings and expressions of friendship extended by the community. It means more than words can sufficiently express!
Let’s keep him lifted in prayer! Meanwhile…
“LONG LIVE MICHAEL JENNINGS! LONG LIVE THE PICTURE MAN! !!”