Leading up to our annual art exhibition Living Artistically with Parkinson’s we’re interviewing some of the artists – and members of our PD community – who have participated in the past. This month we’re talking to Travis Robinson. Travis has been living with Parkinson’s since 2013. An avid outdoorsman and climber, Travis’s photography often features images from his travels.
Hi Travis. Thank you for speaking with us today about your artwork and your life with PD. Let’s start out by telling your diagnosis story.
My first symptom was fatigue and a weakness and loss of strength in my right hand. I didn’t have a tremor at first. I’d had a rock climbing injury years earlier and I thought the hand issues might be related to that, so I went to see an orthopedic surgeon. He told me I had tennis elbow and that it would heal in a few months. Well, fast-forward SIX months…and I’d started having occasional tremors in my right hand. Then my girlfriend noticed during a climb that I was dragging my foot.
At this point I was pretty sure this was NOT tennis elbow, so I went back to the doctor. It took another 6 months to see a neurologist and in the meantime I’d developed a regular tremor. I went to the ER and a neurologist walking by gave me a “hallway diagnosis” of PD — he said I had “the look.” I was 34 at the time, and by the time I got my official diagnosis, I was 35.
You were young, active, and healthy. Were you shocked to hear the diagnosis?
I was already suspicious that I had PD. I’d been on the internet researching my symptoms. I read about a lot of other potential things, though – fortunately it was Parkinson’s and NOT a brain tumor or any other number of things I came across that can cause tremor and give you a much worse prognosis.
What has been important for you in your journey with PD?
Exercise is definitely something I rely on. My personal tip to those with PD for sticking with exercise is to find something with a cognitive component – something that you find mentally stimulating, as well as fun. If you can find something physical that is worth doing on its own – and exercise is merely a side effect of it – then you will stick to it.
I’m working on developing an exercise app called “Cognitive Trainer,” and it’s designed to add an element of challenge to your at-home exercise regime. It is hard to react to a self-created stimulus, so this app uses a built-in randomizer to present the user with exercise prompts, which helps to keep your routine challenging. The way it works is you input into the app some commands that you use in your exercise routine – for example cues for a punching bag workout if you’re boxing, or dance steps if you’re practicing tap dancing. You define the commands, their frequency, and the duration of the workout, and the app generates a sequence of cues for your workout. It’s in beta form now and will be widely available soon.
This will be your second year exhibiting in “Living Artistically with Parkinson’s.” Have you always been an artist?
I don’t really see myself as an artist. Its something that I enjoy, and that I do mostly to capture perspectives that I don’t think that most people will get a chance to have. My photography is like photojournalism – I’m seeking to inform my viewer of the things that I have seen and experienced.
Where do you find inspiration?
The outdoors. I’ve been rock climbing for 20 years. I taught climbing for a number of years – I’m an American Mountain Guides Association certified instructor.
I started shooting black and white film in 2001 and I did some medium- and large-format photography. I took my 4×5 camera up to Yosemite. I’m really interested in alternative light spectrum and I did an entire show in 2011 featuring ‘extended red’ photographs [photos that also capture part of the infra-red spectrum], all in National Parks and National Forests in California. There were photographs of Yosemite Falls, from Joshua Tree, and a couple of shots taken in the eastern Sierras.
One aspiration I have for my work is to have a photograph selected for Alpinist Magazine . Alpinist it is THE gold standard of outdoor photography – really high caliber stuff.
Any favorite outdoor spaces you’d like to share?
I think probably one of the most under-recognized National Parks is Joshua Tree. It is one of my all-time favorite parks. I’m out there 6-10 times a year, and have been going out there regularly for at least two decades.
How has PD impacted your work as an artist?
Well, it has definitely made the tri-pod a more valuable tool. It has also made getting out and about to shoot more difficult. It has put a severe kink in my finances, which affects my ability to purchase tools and materials like film and new camera lenses.
We look forward to seeing your latest work at Living Artistically in September. Before we let you go, have you got any more outdoor adventures planned?
I’m going to be hiking the John Muir Trail later this month. I’m going with three friends, and have been planning this for over a year. The idea started in June 2018, and I gave myself a year to prepare: to track the weather, arrange for resupplies along the trail, get the necessary permits, and get a DBS tune-up. I need material for Living Artistically and other upcoming art shows so I’ll be taking my camera and doing some experimenting.
We look forward to hearing more about that, and to seeing the photographs! Thank you for talking with us today, Travis.