Shane Rocheleau ‘99

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    1999

    What was your major at St. Mikes and when did you graduate? I graduated from St. Mike’s in 1999 with a degree in english and psychology.

    Did you take part in any clubs or activities at St. Mikes that were important to you or shaped your experience there? I bowed out of Purple Knights hockey on the first day of my freshman year. I don’t remember exactly why I did this, but it occurs to me now it may have been a first step toward reinventing myself. The ceiling of my athletic dreams hung good and low at the casual fun of intramural sports. I loved them. I played goalie for a soccer team that lost the intramural championship game — as I remember it — seven out of my eight semesters. I also played indoor hockey and racquetball. I helplessly lost to Professor Dave Landers every time we met in the intramural racquetball playoffs (we used to play often, sometimes weekly, and I beat him exactly one time in my four years).

    I was a founding member of Men Against Sexual Harassment (M.A.S.H.), a group on campus dedicated to raising awareness — mostly in our male peers — about the broad impact of sexual harassment and other toxic expressions of masculinity on women, campus culture, and on those selfsame male peers. Shout out to the beloved Dave Landers for guiding this group through such strange and lovely waters. We’re all better people because of him. Incidentally, this experience served as a crucial introduction to many of the themes I now explore in my art.

    But spending time with my friends was my most important St. Mike’s extracurricular. I cherish my memories hanging out with those beautiful dudes. At a time when I began negotiating and expanding the boundaries of who I was and who I wanted to be, my friends showed me a kind of love I don’t think I knew existed: deep, unwavering acceptance. Within my circle of friends grew a safe place for me — for all of us — to wrestle authentically with identity. To this day, some of those friendships remain an anchor for my continued growth as a person, partner, father, and artist.

    What is your profession and why did you choose it? I think this depends on how one defines “profession.” On the one hand, I’ve worked at various social services jobs and as a professor of photography at several institutions. And that’s to name just a couple of the many “professions” I’ve worked at over the last 23 or so years. But if one defines profession not by salary but instead by time and focus spent, by passion, and by a feeling of inevitability and necessity, then I’m a photographic artist.

    I found art slowly. While at St. Mike’s, I discovered my love for writing. The compulsion to make probably began in earnest there. This blossoming love was nourished — likely unknowingly — by Professors Sharon Lamb, Nat Lewis, and by the late, sweet, wonderful Will Marquess. Sharon challenged, validated, and encouraged my critical thinking; Nat helped me discover and refine a knack for academic writing; and Will helped me to embrace and express my more poetic mind. I thank them all. After graduation, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I was 22 young years old and heading across the United States on a post-graduation cross-country trip with Mike Clarity ’99 and Corey McCullough ’99. I decided I’d write the great American road trip novel. I’m not sure I expected to succeed, but suffice to say, I wrote no such book!

    On the first morning of our 12,000-mile trip — after camping the night on the shore of Lake Erie — we awoke absolutely rearing for the road. Corey handed me his little Kodak Advantix camera on the Erie beach: “take a quick pic of me.” When I released the shutter, I discovered something; I just didn’t know what. In the weeks following, I photographed obsessively, often to the chagrin of my fellow travelers. Later in the trip, somewhere in Wyoming in July 1999 I realized what I had discovered on the shore of Lake Erie: I want to be a photographer. I chose photography because it felt — and continues to feel — right; further, (most importantly?), I trusted this deep, frightening, but abiding feeling. I have a deep compulsion to create, and photography is presently the medium best suited to express my confused, curious, meandering heart and mind. When I make a picture, I am discreetly organized, present, and whole.

    What activities, hobbies, volunteer work or passion project means the most to you? Does it give you a sense of purpose or help others find theirs?

    While I’m no longer teaching university students, I haven’t stopped teaching. I continue to be an active mentor to many young artists. As I see it, using my chosen discipline — art, photography — to demonstrate decency and goodness, a path toward self-actualization: that’s my responsibility as a teacher. Though I’ve never thought of it this way, I’ll call teaching my passion project.

    Most students I’ve taught eventually stop making art, so if I don’t recommend that the process toward making good art is analogous to the process toward living decently as a member of this global community, then what do I leave my students with? Aperture and shutter speed are important tools for making good pictures, but if those technical aspects, for example, are all I impart, then what lasting good have I really done?

    Do you feel that the liberal arts education you received at St. Mikes helped your abilities to communicate effectively or problem solve? How has a liberal arts education helped or hindered you on your career path or finding purpose in your life?

    The liberal arts education I received at St. Mike’s helped profoundly! No question. I didn’t take any photography classes at St. Mike’s, and I only took two art classes. But what a boon, honestly: a larger world opened to me. With my liberal arts training, I was better situated to teach myself the techniques of photography and the history of art. Without it, I don’t think I would’ve received my master of fine arts degree absent a prior, robust formal art education.

    More importantly, I imbue my art with research and references from psychology, mythology, literature, and religion, amongst other disciplines. So much of what I do artistically rings with the breadth and complexity of the many brands of academic thought I encountered at St. Mike’s. Further, I participate in print interviews about my practice rather often. I think it’s my ability to write clearly, vulnerably, and creatively that keeps interviewers calling (thanks again, Nat, Sharon, and Will). Because of this, my message about empathy and its relationship to the American condition (for instance) reaches a broader and more diverse audience.

    How did St. Mikes nurture or inspire your sense of purpose? What has this sense meant to you and others around you? How has it shifted throughout your life and career so far? I’m not sure St. Mike’s nurtured my photographic art practice, nor did it, in a direct way, inspire it.  Here’s what St. Mike’s did do: it gave me an important education — diverse, exciting, delivered by truly good people whom to my eyes appeared called to scholarship and teaching. St. Mike’s also gave me an education in being a part of something bigger, in paying attention to others and caring, in escaping solitude and embracing the chaos and energy and good will of a community. And it gave me my dearest friends. This is the foundation upon which I could place trust. Once I trusted — my perspective, my abilities, my worthiness, my humanity — I could then open myself to a purpose, built on failure and sacrifice, community, focus, and joy. Because I learned to trust at St. Michael’s, I found vulnerability. Because I found vulnerability, I found purpose.

    I think my purpose is to make meaning and to make it at all costs. I don’t mean to be sound dramatic, but it feels like a life-or-death proposition; if I don’t make meaning, I quickly fall into a destructive nihilism. Photographic art is the most expedient practice I’ve yet found to make satisfactory meaning, one that buoys and grows the best of me while helping me to empathically confront my injured and dysfunctional parts.

    I would like to think that as I discovered and embraced photography and art, faced all the fear and doubt that arises daily when traveling doggedly toward an undefined destination, I’ve simultaneously liberated others to do the very same. As a teacher, this was of the most important facets of my pedagogy: show my students that they could find purpose, too. Fear is the beacon, I always said. I try to carry this in my relationships, as well. I want the best for everyone, truly; that dreams are realized, that failure is smiled upon, that imagination meets with the courage to manifest. Art taught me about being the best I can be. But don’t miss my point here: I’m an utter work in progress, but with purpose the difficulties are easier to face, and self-actualization, presence, and joy appear possible. With purpose, I am a better father to my two beautiful children, a better partner to the most decent soul I’ve ever met, a more attentive, present friend, and an overall better and broader human being.

    Which of your accomplishments have made you most proud? I’m still shocked that I’ve published one photobook, never mind three. I made it my goal in 2008 to publish a photobook. It took ten years, but I did it. I sometimes have difficulty saying this: I’m super proud of myself. In 2018, Gnomic Book published You are Masters of the Fish and Birds and All the Animals. Gnomic has since published The Reflection in the Pool (2019), and Lakeside (2022). Each of these projects took up several years of my life.

    What part of the ‘Forward with Purpose’ strategic plan stands out to you as the best new ideas for the St. Mikes community, going forward? What in the plan do you find most inspiring?

    “Advance a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging on our campus, especially with regard to the recruitment and retention of BIPOC students and employees.” Active steps toward diversity and belonging inspire me. As you know, creating diversity should not be performative. A mission to create diversity must coincide with a mission to create for everyone space for belonging. The latter action is necessary for the former to be actualized — instead of simply performed. I applaud the inclusion of the latter with the former.