Original Interview Date: 4/04/16
Shaine Schroeder: First of all, Deb- I want to apologize for my appearance. I’m not stoned, I’ve got severe allergies.
Deb Eisenhauer: (Laughs) I didn’t think that at all. I have them, too.
SS: Ok. So, you and I have chatted a time or two in a public fashion, but never in depth. For those of us unfamiliar, including myself, can you tell us what it is you do? Who is Deb Eisenhauer?
DE: Well, for a career I’ve been a pharmacy technician for twenty years, and as a person, I love to take pictures of course. That’s my passion. And if I had thought about it more, I probably would have done that for a job. You know, I was busy raising kids.
SS: That’s a full time job, especially with a big family.
DE: Yes! I was fortunate enough to be home with my kids in Massachusetts, so I was out of the work force for a long time. And not until I moved here did I go back into it.
SS: So that’s another question I had- are you originally from the east coast?
DE: Born and raised. All of my kids were born there. And we came here to Sioux Falls in 1994 on an adventure. (Laughs)
SS: What was it that drew you to South Dakota?
DE: Well, we had a couple that we knew from Massachusetts that moved to California. He was a builder and the economy tanked and they heard about Sioux Falls in the 90s and then they moved here, and we were in touch with them a lot and we came out for a vacation one summer. There was so much work here, and my husband was in a family business back east, he was a plumber and still is. But he wanted to break away on his own, you know it’s not easy to work with your family…
SS: Certainly not. (Laughs)
DE: No, and it was hard for him to do that in the same state, so we thought we’d come out here where there was lots of work, and he did 99% new construction so he fell right into a rhythm. Honestly, I didn’t think we’d stay more than a few years, but twenty-two years later… It’s crazy how these things work out.
SS: I don’t attend nearly enough local events, but when I do, I always see you out and about. And there’s something to be said for that kind of unwavering support for everything local, whether it’s live music, an art opening, etc. What is it that keeps you out there attending these events and supporting your community?
DE: Well, I enjoy it very much. I think part of it is my kids include me. They ask if I’m going to go to First Friday, or do you want to do this? I’ll do anything that my kids want me to do. (Laughs). But truly, I enjoy it, I mean- what else is there? Am I going to sit home and flip through the TV or go out and see people? This town has so much to offer. What’s really different is- everything’s free here. Anywhere else- you pay. To do anything.
SS: Exactly. Even if the event is free, you pay for parking…
DE: Yes! Huge amounts to park, and to get in the gate…
SS: So, having said this, what would you say to individuals from other parts of town who don’t get downtown that often? How would you encourage them to leave their comfort zone and get the experience?
DE: I mean, you can just park anywhere and roam around for blocks and do tons of things. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t take advantage of that.
SS: Having had but a few chance encounters with you, I can safely say you are one of the nicest, laid-back individuals I’ve ever met.
DE: Well thank you so much! That’s nice to hear.
SS: Absolutely. So this begs the question, is this all a rouse? Are you just waiting to attack? Or is this the real deal?
DE: No, I’m truly blessed with a very laid back demeanor, thank goodness because my husband is like the complete opposite of me- I’m the voice of reason in my house. (Laughs)
SS: (Laughs) So where does that come from? And where can I get some?
DE: I don’t know I was just born that way. I can just go with it. I mean, if you’re ever lucky enough to see me get mad, you’ll be scared. (Laughs)
SS: A “don’t mistake my kindness for weakness” kind of thing?
SS: I’ve noticed some very striking nature photography on your social media feed. Has this always been a passion of yours, or was it a recent discovery?
DE: Always been a passion. Since I was a kid. I think maybe as a kid I was pretty shy, and to be behind the lens was more comfortable for me. And maybe even still. But I always took pictures. Always. My parents got an old camera that was handed down. They had it cleaned up and reconditioned for me and that’s when I started. But until my kids were grown and digital came, I don’t think I embraced it as much.
SS: Well that’s another question, do you embrace digital fully, is that your medium of choice?
DE: Yes! I took so many rolls of film that when I think about it, the amount of money I must have spent… Yeah, I’m all about digital. I think it’s fantastic. I mean, I can go out and in an hour take a hundred photos and not have to worry about it.
SS: Yes, indeed. But I do know quite a few photographers who still prefer the old way of doing things as there seems to be a sort of romanticism to it. And they often scoff at tools like Photoshop. I wouldn’t use the word manipulate, but enhance rather, when dealing with these programs. To me it’s mind blowing that these things exist.
DE: Yes, we didn’t have these things when I started. You could scan a photo and that was where it ended. It’s funny because I still have all of my old cameras, and my son had taken one and he loves the old film. Personally I’m kind of over it. (Laughs) But you never knew what you were going to get.
SS: It could be just a blur…
DE: Yeah, you didn’t know if your film was caught, and then you’d shoot for a week, then go to wind it, and you’d be like, what?!?...
SS: So what piques your interest for subject matter?
DE: Landscapes here. It’s night and day from where I came from. There it was so wooded and next to the ocean. When we built our house back in Massachusetts, we had to clear a spot. I mean it’s thick woods. And here it’s so open. I think I fought it for a while, I mean all of my family is back east. We have our immediate family here, but no relatives. I fought it a while though, I was like- Fall? This is Fall? I was so used to New England Fall. But now I think it’s one of the most beautiful places. It’s so peaceful. When I go visit home now, I can’t wait to come back because of the traffic, the rat race. It’s horrible.
SS: I agree. Living in metropolitan areas is a task. Even a night out is a chore. To find parking. Even if you just want a beer it takes ninety minutes to get noticed, then the night is over and you’ve spent every dollar you came with and you ask yourself what the hell just happened.
DE: I know, it’s funny. I really thought when we came it’d be five years and we’d go back because all the family was there and our roots. But I realized, I could never afford to go back. (Laughs)
SS: So what’s your photography process like? If you have a whole day to yourself, how do you take advantage of it?
My favorite thing to do is get in the car by myself and just drive. Some place I’ve never been. Pick a road I’ve never gone down. I can do that for hours. One of my favorite times to go out is after a snow storm. It’s easy because every road is straight here, you can figure it out. If I take a right eventually I’ll get to point B. But one day- I probably shouldn’t have been out there, but I have a four-wheel drive, but still I couldn’t turn. I ended up somewhere in Iowa, at least two hours from home. I’m just glad I had GPS because I really had no idea where I was. It’s fun though, I’ve gotten my best photos that way. Just exploring. That’s my favorite thing to do. There’s no excuse to ever be bored. It’s something I can do by myself, and I probably do that best by myself.
SS: It’s nice to have that. Photography seems to be a selfish endeavor, not to give it a negative connotation. We need those things in our life. To explore and record, to discover. We’re always connected to everyone constantly, so now it’s a welcome vacation.
DE: It is. It’s total enjoyment for me. And if I’m home I like to do still life collections. Walk around the yard and pick up flowers, bird nests, butterflies. Lay them on a board and photograph that. Even in the room we’re in, I could keep busy forever. I look at almost everything like it’s through a lens. When I drive home from work I’m looking around for photos.
SS: It’s childlike isn’t it? I think we all get to a point to varying degrees of being jaded by the everyday minutiae of bill paying and clock punching and deadlines and this and that. But I think once you get to a point where you can set aside all that garbage that bogs down the mind and feel free like a kid again, you’re able to tap into creativity, no matter what your age or circumstance.
DE: It’s an escape. I do it for me. I don’t really do it for anyone else. I’m very pleased if someone enjoys what they see though. I mean, I’m a pretty humble person I don’t put myself out there very much, but they had a call for artists at the hospital for a new wing they put in and I submitted a few photos. I didn’t tell anyone, not my husband, not my kids. Because inside I kept thinking, they don’t want my stuff. Little did I know, because they bought ten pieces!
SS: That’s great! Congratulations!
DE: So that’s a little side project I have now that I enjoy, get paid a little and also add to my lens collection.
SS: It is nice. Although not the initial motivation, it’s got to feel good when something like that happens.
DE: Yeah! But I usually fly under the radar and take a back seat.
SS: Yeah- you’ve got that air of mystery about you, whether you know it or not.
DE: I suppose. When I would come home from school and mom would ask how my day was, I’d say ‘good.’ My sister would go through her entire day. (Laughs).
SS: You’re not the Chatty Kathy type?
DE: Not too much. I’d rather observe.
SS: It’s my understanding that there’s a long running summer event that you and your family host. Can you tell us about that?
DE: The Most Extreme Challenge Cookout? (Laughs.) Yes, yes. This has got to be the ninth year, I think. It was something that my son and my husband came up with. And my husband ran with it because he’s a huge kid. He comes up with these obstacles, I mean- he starts working on it in January and the event is in August. He doesn’t talk much about it; nobody really knows what he’s up to. You should come out sometime. It’s just a fun, timed obstacle course with a barbecue and a keg of beer. And there’s prizes. First, second and third- usually third is the best prize. My daughter will usually make the trophies. My husband designs the t-shirts, and it’s funny how often I see kids around town wearing them.
SS: One of the employees here today is wearing them at the coffee shop!
DE: That’s so funny. I look at him wondering what he came up with this year and sometimes I’m like ‘really?!?’. (Laughs) But, they’re unique.
SS: And it’s all grass roots, I like that. Everyone has a hand in prepping for it. So is it a fundraising event?
DE: Yeah, we usually charge admission, and you get a shirt, beer and food for that and the proceeds, we’ll pick a charity to donate to. This past year it was JAM Art & Supplies, and the year before it was the pit bull rescue. Every year we do something different. And each year the crowd is bigger, and bigger.
SS: I’ve seen photos. They come out in droves.
DE: It’s a great time. And it’s always in August.
SS: Nice! So my next question, to switch gears a little is, how do you feel about the direction that Sioux Falls has taken in terms of culture? It feels like the city is in the beginning stages of an unprecedented growth spurt.
DE: That’s the truth. Since we arrived, I can’t believe the difference. I think it’s exciting, I love it. Bring it on! I love that we’re finally getting some really good concerts here. Growing up in Boston, that’s what we did. We saw The Rolling Stones for $6.50! But here, there is so much to do practically every weekend especially in the summer, I think it’s fantastic.
SS: It’s exciting. We’ve had articles in major publications proclaiming what we’ve known for years- this is a great place to live. That’s a big step.
DE: When I told people I was moving here they thought I was out of my mind. People think it’s cowboys.
SS: What can we do to perpetuate the acceptance of these events in downtown? Not they aren’t accepted, but to reach a broader audience?
DE: Just go out and meet people. Go to the events, it’s so much fun. I just love the youth in this town, they are so great. I mean, I’m older but my heart is so young. I don’t think you ever really change that much.
SS: You hit the nail on the head. That’s why you were one of the very first names to come up when I was brainstorming with my better half on who to interview. Your name was the first out of her mouth, and I agreed immediately. And I think that’s why you attract so many interesting people is because you’re like a grown up who never grew up. You can tell when someone is a like-minded person.
DE: Well- that girlfriend of yours is pretty special.
SS: She is. She’s a keeper.
DE: Yeah, she is.
SS: What’s your proudest achievement?
DE: This is so typical, but it’s the truth- being a mom and raising my kids is my proudest achievement. It makes me happy to see my kids thriving and independent and happy. That’s all I could want for them. I’m so proud of all of my kids.
SS: Is there anything you’d like us to know about? Where can we follow you? Is there a website or an upcoming event?
DE: Well, like I said I’m kind of under the radar. I probably should get a website, and maybe someday will do an art show. I’d have to be pushed to do so though…
SS: Can I push you? Because I’ve seen your work and it’s very good. And I don’t blow smoke. I would tell you to your face if I thought it was not good.
DE: Would you? I believe you would. I appreciate that. Honesty is number one in my book.
SS: And it’s very rare these days it seems like.
DE: Right. If you’re honest with me… A fake person, I don’t like that.
SS: So if you could leave us with some parting words of wisdom, what would they be?
DE: Go out and meet people. See where they’re from, like you’re doing- everybody has a story. I find people so interesting. Be kind. Everybody is going through their own struggle. You can turn the most miserable person around just by being kind. And you cannot judge a book by its cover.
SS: Well, Deb. I want to thank you very much for sitting down with me, this has been very enlightening. And it was fun!
DE: This wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. (Laughs.) It’s always nice seeing you.