DENVER, CO – The photographic print auction to benefit photojournalist Steven R. Nickerson’s Medical Fund was held in Denver last week at the historic Oxford Hotel, and more than 400 people showed up to bid on hundreds of signed and framed prints donated by photographers and artists from around the world.
“We raised more than fifty thousand dollars, we still have about another fifteen thousand dollars in prints to be picked up, and the donations continue to arrive. So I imagine the total amount we raised will go higher,” one of the auction’s organizers, photojournalist Dennis Schroeder of the Rocky Mountain News, said yesterday.
“The night was incredible. The quality of work was incredible. And Steve was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, friendship, and love. We could not have done this without you,” Schroeder wrote this week in a message to the donating photographers. “Thanks, from the bottom of my heart.”
“Steve looked like a kid in a candy store and Eugene Richards was great. (Richards gave a presentation of his work before the auction.) It was overwhelming. The volunteers hung the show between 9 in the morning and 5 that night, and took everything down by 11 p.m. Although we raised a big chunk of our goal we still have a lot more to raise. We’re planning an online auction that will begin in about two months to continue the effort,” Schroeder concluded.
Nickerson, 48, is a Rocky Mountain News photographer suffering from systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), a rare disorder than can only be treated, not cured – and he needs an incredibly expensive set of treatments to fend off the effects of the disease. His friends in Denver and around the world organized the print auction as a way of doing what they could to help out one of their very own.
It seems that the idea for a print auction was born by Nickerson’s longtime friend Jeanette Chapnick, widow of the late Howard Chapnick, founder of Black Star and author of Truth Needs No Ally. After hearing from Steve about his medical problems, and about how Aetna insurance bailed out on paying for the series of expensive treatments after the first two rounds, Nickerson says Chapnick “listened, and thought, and then later wrote back that she had enlisted the services of all those she knew.”
One of those she knew was John G. Morris, now living in Paris, who spread the message to his own address book before sending a print (one of his Life magazine pictures of a German soldier at the end of World War II). About that same time in Denver some of Nickerson’s coworkers and friends picked up the print auction idea and ran with it. News photographers Schroeder and Ellen Jaskol, along with Denver Post photographer Steve Dykes, and Kim Nguyen of the Associated Press, and others worked behind the scenes and kept the ball rolling. A story about Nickerson, Steven R. Nickerson: As Rare As Hen’s Teeth, spread the word via the Internet and helped to put out a global call for print donations. Then the photojournalism community responded wholeheartedly and within a few days signed prints started to pour in from around the world.
Nickerson says, “And the rest was an avalanche! There were 300 pictures on Monday, the week of the auction, and that grew to more than 425 prints by Thursday morning. Thank you, delay-minded photojournalists! There were folks arriving the afternoon of the hanging with their prints. Everyone had a task, and music of all varieties blared, and laughter was the common denominator. My job was to deliver my son, Alex, who had just flown in from college in Boston the evening prior, and then to step back. I was not allowed to hang pictures. Dennis was in charge now. He had already made me promise to live until the auction.”
Richards, who was scheduled to give a one-hour presentation of his work before the auction, called Nickerson’s cell phone early Thursday morning from on the road. “He’d made it out of North Dakota, where he was finishing an assignment for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, but had been diverted to Nebraska because of the weather. He didn’t know when he would arrive in Denver,” Nickerson said. “But all I heard was ‘Sorry about missing our time for tea and catching up.’ Then later in the afternoon someone hollered, ‘Gene is here’ and I looked for my friend … he was starring at the walls of images, and we hugged.”
Nickerson was also surprised by the unannounced appearance of his old friend Eric Seals, a staff photojournalist at the Detroit Free Press who met Nickerson in 1988 when he joined the photography staff where Nickerson was already working. Nickerson wears a Saddam Hussein comic wristwatch that Seals brought back “from one of his many adventures in Iraq,” Nickerson says.
By auction time that evening the volunteers, who had been working all day, had more than 300 images on display and the bidding tables were set up and covered with white tablecloths. Food and drink greeted those who arrived early to hear Richards. Nickerson says he introduced the presentation by his friend, “And from then on it was a sea of confusion in this skull. It seemed like the night lasted twenty minutes – but ask others what it was all about, ‘cause I am still sorting it for myself.”
Throughout the evening several people came out of the crowd to introduce themselves to Nickerson. Some of them have Scleroderma too, or have a family member who suffers from it. Nickerson said he was glad to have been able to bring Scleroderma “out front, and give it some needed recognition.” Representatives from the Scleroderma Foundation manned an information table at the auction to inform people about the disease.
Four days after the special evening Nickerson told News Photographer, “I made it to my own auction – with great trepidation, I assure you. Please know that all my wishes came true.”
Those still wishing to help can do so by making a donation or by donating a signed print for the upcoming online auction to benefit the Steven R. Nickerson Medical Fund. For more information contact Dennis Schroeder at [email protected] or Ellen Jaskol at [email protected].
To ship a print to Schroeder, please address it to:
The Rocky Mountain News
100 Gene Amole Way
Denver, CO, USA, 80204