It has been a few weeks and I am still reeling. For almost as long as I’ve been involved in photographing models, Lee Baxley was always there when I needed to talk. Last month (December 2022), he passed away, leaving an enormous gap in the heart of humanity.
For most of the past decade, Lee and I had daily interactions, sharing whatever scuttlebutt was on our minds. While we rarely got to sit face-to-face, he was a very important part of my daily life. So much so that, after I learned about his first stroke, I continued to message him daily as if all was well. It was my duty as his friend to carry on, so I did.
When Lee recovered enough to reply, we had a bit of time where we would talk about things as usual. I knew he was struggling and, at times, I felt a bit guilty for bothering him. Continuing the messages, I kept it to small doses, things he could read without feeling it necessary to reply. I know how monotonous being bedridden can be and, sometimes, a small distraction from the ceiling tiles is a big help.
In hindsight, it was probably more for my own sanity than it was for Lee.
Lee Baxley was there in a way that no one else could be. There was no judgment, no scolding, and no shoulda-coulda-woulda with him. He was an open heart, open mind, and most importantly, an open ear. Lee knew exactly where I was mentally when I talked about giving up on photography. He walked that path with me and listened. Sometimes, they were words of encouragement. Sometimes, they were words of understanding. I do not recall a simple time that he said anything like, “You can’t quit.”
You see, sometimes, the people closest to you have an investment in your daily life that pushes boundaries too far. I know because I am guilty of it, too. Someone else’s decision does not align with your vision of who or what they are, so you try to correct them. Lee enjoyed my work and we even shared time with a couple of models once. But, Lee also knew it was my choice, not his or anyone else’s. He assumed that I had thought things through. He knew that talking it out would get me where I was supposed to be. Not where I wanted to be. Not where you wanted me to be. Where I was supposed to be.
Back in 2016, when I nearly kicked the bucket, Lee reached out to friends in the model and photography industry and asked them to do a “get well soon” video. He compiled these messages into a six minute presentation that starts with him apologizing for not getting it to me sooner. Classic Lee. Before I wrote this post, I watched it again, thankful that I can still hear his voice when I need it.
You were one of the good ones. Rest easy, Lee.