Brian Nice of Putnam County Overcomes Traumatic Brain Injury with Photography
Nice work: A Garrison photographer uses his camera to help recover from a severe brain illness
In 2009, Garrison photographer Brian Nice — whose clients included Elle, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, L’Oréal, and Olay — began feeling extremely ill while working in Manhattan. Knowing that something just wasn’t right, he took a cab straight to the ER. “As I struggled to exit, the driver started honking at me to get out of the way,” he recalls. “And I thought, ‘Hey man, I’m dying here!’ ”
Doctors discovered that he had a condition called cavernous malformation: lesions in the brain that can — and in Nice’s case did — hemorrhage and cause significant neurological damage. They gave him a 50-50 chance of survival.
But Nice isn’t letting a little thing like a traumatic brain injury (TBI) keep him from doing what he loves: taking pictures. On September 29, he set out with several friends and assistants on a road trip that took him from Garrison to California. While on the journey — Nice calls it the “My Point of View Project” — he shot images of the American landscape, from the Valley’s wooded hills to Texas’s deserts. “One of my passions has always been photographing the landscape, which I still love despite my current limitations,” he explains. “I still connect to the world through my camera — I just have a different perspective. That’s the main objective [of the project]: to show people how I see now.”
In part thanks to support from his parents and his daughter Sam, Nice recuperated from surgery; he now attends physical therapy in the hopes of eventually making a full recovery. Though he was once in supreme physical shape — earning a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as part of his 1979 college cross-country team — he now uses a wheelchair, has limited muscle control and difficulty speaking. “I’m trapped in my body,” he says. “On the inside my voice sounds normal, but when I watch myself on camera I think, ‘Wow, that guy is pretty messed up.’ ”
The trip took Nice and his helpers through 20 states and countless small towns over the course of 29 days. They drove between three and six hours each day with Nice clicking away with a point-and-shoot camera. “There’s a lot of movement in these images — that’s from my arm, which constantly shakes,” he says. Ultimately, all the photos will be compiled into a coffee table book, and footage from the drive will be made into a documentary film (both of which are set to be released in the fall of 2014). Garrison, being both the start and the end point of the trip, will have a starring role in each enterprise.
Nice wants his story to help others who are dealing with physical disabilities. He says: “I hope my journey inspires other people, especially survivors of TBI, who are grappling with their own versions of a ‘new normal.’ [The project] validates that there are many ways of seeing and relating to life — none being better than another, just different.”