Car accident sparks teacher's interest in photography


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Spending the morning hiking around the Amana Colonies, searching for the perfect scenes to freeze in time with his camera, David Heusinkveld finds beauty in nature: flowers on the Amana lily lake, a grasshopper framed by a leaf, ducks sitting lazily in the water.

"I'm just trying to increase the beauty in the world with pictures," the former special-education teacher said.

But photography didn't become a serious venture for Heusinkveld until tragedy ripped away the life he once had.

In 2003, he was riding in the car with 18-year-old son Jordan when another car hit them head on. Jordan was killed on impact, and David was within a minute of dying before his life was saved by a passerby.

"[The accident] changed everything," Heusinkveld said. "Everything was just totally different."

His left wrist is now immobile because the artery was severed during the accident, the bone protruded from his skin, and he nearly bled to death. His brain was also affected, causing behavioral changes, short-term memory problems, and a form of dementia.

Despite these challenges, Heusinkveld's mother, Joan Liffring-Zug Bourret, said she admires her son's transition into photography.

"I'm very proud of him for finding a new career when he couldn't teach anymore," Liffring-Zug Bourret said. "His photographs of nature have wonderful composition, and I think they're extraordinary."

Heusinkveld's photography is on display at the Kirkwood Community College's Nielsen Hall, and it will be the cover art for the upcoming book Perilous Moments, by Russell Noyes of Iowa City.

Photography became a way of coping for Heusinkveld. He started creating images more regularly after coming upon the Amana lily lake frozen in the winter. He said the foliage beneath the ice inspired him, and his photography ballooned from there, acting as a way of communicating with the memory of his son.

"I would maintain that all of my pictures are grief-driven," he said. "I think there's a kind of pain in this that I think makes a person much more sensitive."

An exhibition of Heusinkveld's and his mother's work was recently on display at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, titled Like Mother, Like Son.

Though the car accident sparked his photography, Heusinkveld had been interested in the art form for a long time, learning at the knee of his mother who is a well-known civil-rights photographer.

Cedar Rapids Museum of Art Curator Sean Ulmer said he was impressed with the level of accomplishment and sophistication in Heusinkveld's photographs.

"He has a very different way of looking at the world, and he sees things in the natural world around him that most of us just zoom right by," Ulmer said.

Carrying two cameras with him everywhere he goes, as well as a list of places he wants to photograph that day, has become a way of life for Heusinkveld.

"I have a lot of fun," he said. "If it's not fun, I'm not going to do it."

Despite the fact that his photographs come from a place of deep sadness, Heusinkveld said he doesn't ever take morose pictures. Instead, he said, he wants people to smile when they see his work.

"Without emotion, there are no good pictures," he said.

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