I met Kenton Nelson during one of his mosaic installations in Old Town Pasadena, California roughly about five years ago. They were up on the roof of one of the adjacent buildings where I used to live and I was mesmerized watching them work on the beautiful mosaic piece.
I stood in the alley way in awe and an older gentleman came from behind me and stood next to me. I looked at him and said "That's pretty cool, isn't it?". He nodded. I then said "Man it would be so awesome to go up there to photograph them". He said "What would you use that for?". "Oh it's for my personal use, I might just shoot it on my Iphone..." He then turned to me and said "You should then". In the back of my mind, I was thinking that I shouldn't be up there, considering OSHA requirements and all, and I asked him if that's going to be ok for me to go up the vertical ladder to the roof of the building which I don't have permission to. Then the man said "It's alright, I own the building". I had to do a double take when I heard that and while I still couldn't believe him, I said thank you, and I proceeded to climb up the ladder to go up and meet them.
Kenton and his cohorts initially looked at me in confusion but I introduced myself and told them that I lived right across of the building and thought it would be cool to take some pictures of them. They were very kind and courteous, a feeling that was quite foreign to me at that point. So I started taking some pictures and I would send them anything that I thought was kind of ok later in the day. An hour later, they are breaking for lunch and immediately invited me to have lunch with them. I felt badly for intruding so I politely refused, but they were so kind and persistent that I decided to go with them. At the lunch table at a nearby pizza place, I heard their stories, and got a feel of who they were. They were kind, funny, and very open. I became friends with them in no time.
Fast forward a couple of years, we had kept in touch, and in one of the gatherings that I was invited to, I expressed the notion of the positivity that is lacking in today's world, especially the internet. Kenton was in accord with me at that point, and I mentioned about the Autism story that I just finished a couple of months back. I texted him the link and I didn't hear from him for a couple of days.
Then I received an invite to meet Kenton and a young designer, Grant Wenzlau. We all shared the same mindset and we were talking about this during lunch. Kenton then asked me to do a documentary on him. By that time, I was already a fan of his work, but more importantly, how amazing he was a person. A person of incredible moral character, and one who exudes wisdom.
I started shooting the documentary, and after the first couple of days I realized that it was rather impossible for me to get a feel of how he paints, especially how his brushes move around the canvas to get the perfect shading that he wants. So I went outside, and started googling about shooting video with my camera.
There is a lot of depth in Kenton's words and experiences. And from it, I learned so many different things: The value of doing good work, the persistence and working not for the money. Doing what you love, doing what matters to you, humility vs. confidence, among other things. Talking to him answered some of my own questions about my work and what I wanted to do and it felt like a breeze of fresh air, something that I wasn't really familiar with.
I consider him as a good friend, and mentor. Not by design, but through coincidence. Life is funny sometimes, isn't it? We meet great people all the time, if we only take the chance to open up that line of conversation and being your best self.