Josh Denny: The Support

by Philip Laubner

Photo and story by Philip Laubner

“Her question was, ‘Where’d you get the money for this?’ My answer was, ‘Don’t you worry about it,’” recalled Josh Denny.

The question, or some form of it, always came after Josh bought something that his wife, photographer Erica Hinson Denny, needed for her art. Josh didn’t buy photography equipment for Erica on a whim. Erica would talk about something she was interested in, or needed, and he, the supportive husband, would listen and provide for her. Josh saw beyond the temporary set back or the occasional twelve month finance plan to buy what Erica needed. He smiled and said: “You could say that finances weren’t our strong suit.” But he went on to add, “A happy wife is a happy life.”

Photo and story by Philip Laubner

Erica Hinson Denny died on November 24th, 2010. I say died because it’s what Josh says. “People think it’s harsh that I say ‘she died’, they say I should say ‘passed away’, or ‘passed on,’ but I think it’s more accurate. Her body died, but for me she hasn’t passed, she’s here.”

The house that Erica and Josh built together is an orderly but creative environment, a charming mix of domesticity and Josh and Erica’s own off-beat humor. On the kitchen wall there’s a decal illustration of a cartoon character with a bloody chain saw. I asked Josh about it. “That is actually a Blik wall decal. There are several of them all over the house. Erica always liked them.” It may seem weird, but the chain-saw wielding Sad Psycho is actually cute, it’s love with an edge. Walking through the house is a like being in an art installation. Erica’s photos are in hand-picked antique frames. “Basically everything in the house is where she wanted it and I’m the one that put it there.” The sliding glass doors of the dining room are covered with the window-marker drawings made by their children and friends, it’s a reminder of the nature and atmosphere of the home Josh and Erica created, a home that is inclusive and open to expression.

Photo and story by Philip Laubner

I asked Josh about the role he played in Erica’s artistic process. Josh down-plays his role. He claims that she came up with the ideas, and he would just help with the manual labor. But it was obvious throughout our interview that Josh was there for Erica in more ways than just the labor it took to matte photos on boards, or supply ink cartridges for her printer, or even dip into his savings and trade from his gun collection to buy her cameras and lenses. Yes, Josh was there for her in all these ways, but he was also there for her with mental and emotional support. “She’d see something I’d built and tell me I could do anything, I told her that she could do the same if she wanted to, that she could do anything she put her mind to.”

Photo and story by Philip Laubner

Since November Josh has continued to print and show Erica’s artwork every month at Gallery 788, in Baltimore. The fact that she continues to sell is a testament to her talent, her prolific output, and the devotion of a husband that continues to support her.

In addition to keeping Erica’s work on the wall of the gallery, Josh himself has begun taking photos. Josh’s friend Cyn Rudzis suggested that he try the 365 project on Flickr, a group that posts a picture a day for a year.

“I thought, ‘what the hell, it’s just one picture,’ how hard could it be?” As it turns out, the process has at times been very hard for Josh, both in terms of the logistics it takes to come up with a new picture every day while raising a family and also emotionally, as he’s navigating a year of ‘firsts’ without Erica. But he’s grateful he’s doing it. It’s a way for him to heal, a way for him to feel close to Erica, and also a way for him to carry on her tradition of photographing the family he loves.

Photo and story by Philip Laubner

Erica’s work will shown during a solo exhibition at Gallery 788 for the entire month of June. The opening reception is Thursday, June 2.

– Phil Laubner