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Meet Robert Flatt

Today we’d like to introduce you to Robert Flatt.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Robert. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I discovered I had Parkinson’s disease in 1999. I started my crazy passion to become a photographer when I retired in 2004. I enjoy using my camera and Photoshop to paint pictures of birds flying and bees buzzing and dragonflies basking in the sun. I turned 72 years old this year and I received the 2016 Nautilus gold award in the category of art/photography… This award means that I no longer have to pretend to be an engineer or businessman. I’m now a writer and an artist. Parkinson’s disease gave me the gift of time to make this happen — to learn photography at Rice University and to travel the world and my own backyard looking for beautiful things to photograph. I found them everywhere I went but had to have the time and take the time to look. The focus on beauty made me feel better and better able to cope with my Parkinson’s disease. I wanted to share that feeling so I have marketed my work in large-format prints (primarily on aluminum) and written and published three books – “West Boulevard Night-Herons” (Available at Blurb.com) and Rice’s Owls” (available at the Rice University Campus Store). Rice’s Owls won awards from “Indie Discovery”, “The International Book Competition and Anderbo Publishing. A third book “Healing Art – Don’t Let Anything Ruin Your Day” has been published by Bright Sky Press in April 2016 and is available from the publisher. My first book, “Rice’s Owls” won seven book publishing awards in the categories of photography and nature.

The latest and most prestigious award is for the best self-published photography book presented by IndieReader, an online magazine which promotes self-published books. The title of my latest book is “Healing Art – Don’t Let Anything Ruin Your Day”.   It won awards from Nautilus, Eric Hoffer and Living Now Book awards.  It is a pictorial story of my battle over the last 20 years with Parkinson’s disease by becoming a photographer. Each image tries to capture a moment of being intensely alive. It was published by Bright Sky Press in April 2016. It is available from Bright Sky Press. The message of the book The sub-title, “ Don’t Let Anything Ruin Your Day” is where we have the best chance of defeating a disease like Parkinson’s. We cannot change the fact that we have the disease, but we can by God not let it ruin today. Maybe tomorrow but not today. A person with PD can pick up the book from time to time to get inspired – both from the beauty of the photographs and by reading the stories, vignettes, battle plans and thoughts I have about coping with PD. If we can focus on an image of beauty today, we have not let our challenges define us and for another day we have been fully alive and open to the presence of joy. I believe that life is good, that beauty is all around us, though we have to look for it, that we need to live as much as possible in the present and that time is precious. Parkinson’s disease gave me the gift of time to learn to take photographs that hopefully will give you some peace, joy, love and laughter. So the book is full of the best pictures I have taken over the last ten years and the ways that I have tried to cope with my disease. 5. My take on life (read from the book).

Eventually, you will all have bodies like mine that do not work very well (from the disease of aging). You’ll no longer be able to do your current job, and this will give you a marvelous gift—the gift of time. You can squander this gift by sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, or you can try to find something interesting to do with whatever physical ability you have left. It’s never too late to change your major. One thing you will certainly have time for is to be happy, which is often called smelling the roses—though you may not be able to physically smell or even see or touch a real rose. Each of our lives is like a photograph, framed by the edges of our birth and death. Our lives do not express the full truth about humanity; they are but fragments of it. Likewise, the photographs I have shared with you here are very small fragments of the immeasurable beauty of our planet Earth. When we choose to focus on it, it can become “Healing Art.” Don’t let anything ruin your day. Life is good! STORIES Leaf A leaf falling from a tree in some ways mimics our lives on the planet Earth: 1st- Its time is very short lived. As Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Do what you want to do now. You’re not living in eternity. There’s only this moment, sparkling like a star in your hand, and melting like a snowflake.” 2nd – Its journey is not linear.

As the English say it encounters swings and roundabouts. The leaf swirls and spins and stops and accelerates as the force of gravity inexorably pulls it to the ground, just as we are pulled inexorably to our death. 3rd – It has no control over the beginning or the end of its journey. It just “is falling. It starts falling, it falls and then it stops falling. 4th – It is uniquely beautiful. We Are not always dealt aces and kings in the game of life. Sometimes are dealt twos and threes. But we still need to play the game. We might I get a full house of twos and threes or everyone else may fold. Or we may lose. But we need to play the game, the spice of life is in the playing. Running Water does not freeze. Parkinson’s disease makes you want to curl up into a ball and stop moving. If you don’t keep moving that is how they will find you to cart you off to the cemetery. Serendipity – I believe in serendipity. Much of life is spontaneous. That is why it is so much fun to be alive. you never know what will happen next, especially if you are a photographer. There is a picture in the book of a hawk sitting on a fallen tree in the morning after Hurricane Ike passed through Houston. he was water soaked and bedraggled. But as I walked up to take a photograph of him he scowled down at me with an intense gleam in his eye. He was intensely alive and was not going to let a photographer ruin his day.

Has it been a smooth road?
My Career This Nautilus award is a vindication of sorts of a lifetime pursuit of trying to become an English major. I have come out of the closet and admit that I love to tell stories and that telling stories is a worthwhile pursuit for one’s life. After my freshman year at Rice, I had to choose a major… As I looked back over my freshman year, I loved English, loved history, was ambivalent about math, and hated physics and chemistry. So I decided to major in English. That was not to be. The people I loved all assumed I would be an engineer. The problem is I have no, and I mean no, mechanical aptitude. My wife does all the household maintenance work I graduated in 1969, with a degree in Electrical Engineering and went on in 1970 to get my Masters in EE. During that five years, I took the minimum engineering courses I could take, and almost had a minor in philosophy. In 1973, I graduated from the Harvard Business School, I focused on marketing and operations and human behavior and no longer had to pretend that I was an engineer.

I had a very successful 31-year career in the oil service industry reaching the ranks of a vice president before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1999. But I never had a passion for business. In 1987 I began teaching operations management courses at Rice University, and I still teach there. I love teaching. I am very interested in change management and employee engagement. I went on disability retirement in 2004 and started taking photography courses at Rice University which is described in the bio on my website. Parkinson’s disease had given me the gift of time. I’ve never had a passion for anything like this in my life. I took all the courses offered at Rice University in photography in the Glasscock School of continuing education and then took Arts 205, the introductory undergraduate course in photography at Rice. There were 21 sophomores and freshmen and me in the class. We used a 4 x 5 view camera with no electronics, a glass plate on back with a black hood for focusing and a single piece of black and white film. Four of my pictures from the class are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. It was a scream!!!! And now I have become a vagabond photographer, writer and erstwhile philosopher. It’s never too late to change your major. Robert

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
From time to time, HAPS features the creative pursuits of those with Parkinson’s who produce art in mediums of painting, drawing, photography and sculpture as well as prose, poetry and songs. We include a statement about the creative process and how it is inspired by, impacts, or relates to living with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. This month we are delighted to feature Houston photographer Robert Flatt who has recently published a book that includes extraordinary images he has captured in photographs taken in corners of the world both near and far. Robert has recently received the prestigious honor of being chosen as the feature artist for the 2016-2017 Art Ability Exhibition at the Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital in Malvern, Pennsylvania, an exhibition of work by artists from 32 states and seven countries who are challenged with disabilities. His photography is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and has been on display in a variety of venues, including Rice University, where he is an Adjunct Professor at the Jones Graduate School of Business Administration. Parkinson’s Disease – Seeing the Familiar with New Eyes I have written and published a book about my 20-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, titled “Healing Art – Don’t Let Anything Ruin Your Day.”

The subtitle refers to how we have a chance to defeat debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s. We can’t change the fact that we have the disease, but we can, by God, not let it ruin our day today—maybe tomorrow, but not today. I believe that life is good, that beauty is all around us, though we have to look for it, that we need to live as much as possible in the present and that time is precious. Parkinson’s disease gave me the gift of time to learn to take photographs that hopefully will give you some peace, joy, love and laughter. So, the book is full of the best pictures I have taken over the last ten years combined with text about the ways that I have tried to cope with my disease. Despite the nature of our burdens, if we can focus on an image of beauty today, we have not let our challenges define us. And for another day, we have been fully alive and open to the presence of joy.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Houston is a great place to live and work.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Robert Flatt

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1 Comment

  1. Gus cassity

    September 25, 2019 at 5:30 am

    Robert
    Having worked closely with you for decades in your very successful professional oil field career, and admired and appreciated what you did, I can only say you are achieving great accomplishments with your new career in photography that eclipse anything you’ve done before. Given your success in the “oil patch” that is truly saying something. Your photographic work and the associated stories are both beautiful and inspiring. Good luck Robert, you’ve dealt with a terrible disease for years with great dignity and always took the optimistic path. You’re a good guy.
    Gus

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