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/// Q&A Grand Love

Questions for Grand Rapids photographer Terry Johnston, and his fiancé, Michael Walsh


et’s get to the point: Your engagement. Give me details! TERRY: It was a surprise, so [Michael] knew nothing about it. I started planning it in October. I knew I had to do it at a Casey [Stratton] concert, so I of course asked Casey, and he – surprise! – kept it a secret, because all our friends have big mouths.

Are you going with a commitment ceremony, or are you going to make it legal? MICHAEL: A hybrid. TERRY: We could go to Iowa, we could go to Vermont, but the instant you come back to Michigan, it doesn’t mean anything. Just because you have that signed piece of paper, the hospitals don’t have to recognize it – it’s not legal. So we have a lawyer friend who will draw up our paperwork. Then, we’re going to have a small little ceremony, and a big bash.

Did sparks fly on your first date? TERRY: Pretty much. MICHAEL: It was kind of weird in the sense that this was the first time where something clicked immediately. Plus, we did background checks with our friends (laughs).

How about in terms of your families? Are they supportive toward your relationship? MICHAEL: There’s still work to be done, but they’re slowly opening their minds and asking how [Terry’s] doing. 10, 15 years ago, I don’t know how things would have gone. I think as long as their son’s happy, they’re happy. TERRY: I have a very liberal family, so they’re more concerned about stupid stuff than relationships. My brother and sister-in-law are Tea Partiers, so when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, I sent a text message to my brother going, “So, there’s going to be gay men in the shower with you now. How do you feel about that?” But they we’re totally cool with us [as a couple].

Is it discouraging that the people that help build up this city are also donating lots of money to Proposition 8? TERRY: Some of them are some of my really good clients. And I figure, well, give me some of that money, and then I give back to the community, so because of taking their money, I am able to give back. If you know you’re taking that negativity money in, at least give some of it away for good.

Terry, you’re very well known in town for not doing free work. Is your stance related to your “Exposed” piece? Yes, because everyone is always like, “It’s good for exposure,” but it’s funny because of the jobs that I’ve ever done back in the day for free or for exposure never has gotten me a solid client. And that happens because people know you work for free, and the instant you try to invoice them, they go with the next free person.

Do you think exposure is good to a point, or are you against it altogether? In the context that it’s used, then I’m against that. My problem is the artists that have websites business cards, that have income, and they claim none of it at the end of the year. When you start going after what paid professionals do, that’s where the line gets crossed.

Do you believe that you pay more for good art? Not really, because my inspiration – and a lot of my stuff – comes from street art. Graffiti, that kind of stuff. What I do firmly believe in, that it’s not really the more you pay for art, the better it is, the more the artist understands the process, the better they are.

Do you think a lot of people pay for a name? Yes, and it all depends because there are some people that the name – even though it’s a high name – their art is fantastic. But you’re paying for why they did the art, not just the art itself. n



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