By Adam Joseph | Photos by Rachael Short
Rachael Short’s small cottage is up a windy road a couple of miles south of Point Lobos. Without Short’s detailed directions, which note specific landmarks, it’s impossible to find. A sizeable black Lab mix, a rescue named Shadow, is first to greet visitors. Short follows in an electric wheelchair. She has some use of her arms and wrist movement but no hand or finger dexterity. The award-winning photographer is a born adventurer, a free spirit. The former Carmel High class president once ditched school to snap images of the sky before the clouds shifted. On a whim, she’d drive to San Francisco to check out a new exhibit at the de Young or attend a Kings of Leon show. Short surfed often and loved hiking the steep mountain behind her old Apple Pie Ridge home.
She’s also traveled to over a dozen countries. When she was 27 years old, she took a solo backpacking trip to Cuba, where she shot hundreds of images. That same year, she achieved a longtime dream: opening Gallery EXPOSED in downtown Carmel, using her own earnings. A year later, on Halloween night, Short was a passenger in a car wreck. She suffered a C5 vertebra fracture, rendering her quadriplegic. Notwithstanding her inability to walk, Short longed to snap photographs again on her vintage 4x5 and medium format cameras. She didn’t take any pictures in the first years following the accident but eventually accepted the iPhone as her camera. A combination of settings and specific apps enabled her to shoot precisely framed, naturally lit, richly textured black-and-white images that are uniquely Short. But the picture-taking process is still painstaking; she uses the sides and/or back of her wrists to grasp the phone and bring it up to her face, then presses the “shoot” button with her mouth, tongue, or chin.
Soon after picking up the iPhone, Short discovered that it’s possible to blend old-school developing with iPhone photography. Friend and neighbor Kim Weston—of the renowned photography family—creates digital negatives from Short’s iPhone photos. He then generates platinum prints from the digital negatives. “It made the transition to digital an easier pill to swallow,” says Short, “I can still make beautiful archival prints.” Wearing a face mask makes it even more challenging to take photographs. She produced enough material during 2020 for a 2021 calendar—an annual tradition and revenue source. “Ash and Succulent” looks down at the face of a succulent, home to a spiderweb blanketed in Dolan Fire, Carmel Fire, and River Fire ash. “Tranquility,” shot at the Carmelite Monastery, uses the building’s arches to frame a lonely bench below a window; the walls pop with textured fractals.
With calendar, print and original sales, and disability payments, Short struggles to break even, given ongoing medical costs, regular physical therapy sessions, additional care, and costs to keep the gallery open. She finds it perpetually daunting. But thus far, 2021 is off to a promising start. EXPOSED has kicked off its first gallery show in over a year with works by Tom O’Neal—known for a bevy of iconic photographs, including the album cover for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu. The show continues through May 2021. In past years, Short has also relied on the Relay for Rachael Fundraiser, which occurs during the weekend of the Big Sur Marathon in April. This year’s event, the Relay for Rachael Roadrunner Challenge, will task participants to run 100 miles in June.
Despite everything, Short is optimistic. She hopes that, with the biotechnology industry constantly making strides, she’ll be able to walk Shadow herself, one day. In the meantime, she looks forward to the day when she can shoot outdoors again mask free. For more information, visit rachaelshort.com or galleryexposed.com.