Coastal break: Photographer Megan Bent shines a light on perserverance

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Megan Bent’s “There Is A Crack In Everything, That’s How The Light Gets In” is on exhibit at The Bridge PAI through the end of July.  Photo courtesy of the artist. Megan Bent’s “There Is A Crack In Everything, That’s How The Light Gets In” is on exhibit at The Bridge PAI through the end of July.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

If you, like my quads, grimace at the thought of a fifty-minute cycle class, Megan Bent will blow your mind.

The 32 year-old photographer recently completed an 8-day, 525 mile-long bike tour along the Pacific Coast Highway 1. She also has one of the nearly 100 forms of arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes chronic joint inflammation and pain.

“The California Coast Classic (CCC) really tries to empower people with arthritis,” Bent said in a recent interview. The ride not only raises awareness and money for the Arthritis Foundation, it keeps those with arthritis moving.

“A lot of times it can be seen as it’s a disease where you should maybe rest and take it easy, but actually the best thing you can do is move and be mobile and keep your joints active,” she said. “The less you move, the more stiff your joints will become.” 

A photographer since high school, Bent said completion of the CCC “had been a goal of mine for many years. I already knew I wanted to photograph the ride and bring the project back to Charlottesville, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of SOUP.”

In May 2013, the crowd funding dinner series awarded Bent a microgrant for her project, which resulted in “There Is A Crack In Everything, That’s How The Light Gets In,” currently on exhibition at The Bridge PAI. “It paid for the film to produce my work, helped me and my bike get to the ride, paid for the film processing and for the vinyl and everything that it takes to put an exhibition together,” she said. 

Bent worked with the Holga camera she began using after her diagnosis at age 24. “It’s lightweight, it’s plastic, and due to these factors it’s not put together very well, so a lot of times it’ll produce what could be seen as imperfections in the image because the body of the camera doesn’t fit together perfectly,” she said. “Most often it will produce light leaks that will kind of seep in back where the film lies. This became a tool for me to work through the confusion, to embrace what could be seen as imperfections in my own body.”

In September last year, Bent hit the road with 220 other riders and the camera in her backpack. She captured photos from the daytime rides and evenings camping out: shots of tents drying on tree branches, a makeshift banner, a shining curve of downhill pavement—these suggest that people are present but focus on details instead.

A sense of immersion in the ordinary informs the majority of Bent’s photography. “My work is diaristic, like a visual diary,” she said. “If I see a moment that captures my interest, I’ll stop and take pictures. Movement has become such a focal point of my life that I tend to make work about moving in some manner or another.” 

Bent described a series in which she cut a hole in her backpack so the aperture of her pinhole camera could peek through. “It would capture the trace of my movement against the blue background of the sky, and that was the resultant image. My MFA thesis was based on the act of walking. I made another gallery-sized map with little videos of different walks,” she said. 

During the ride, Bent’s body transformed her vision as surely as her Holga. “I discovered what I physically had within me that I didn’t even know,” she said. “I’m a lot stronger than I originally gave myself credit for. It’s hard to articulate, because it’s so many things, but I realized how much I’m truly capable of.”

courtesy of the artist

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