The Hungry Eye

with Mike Deal

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  • Crazy Spider Lady

    07/25/2014 8:08 PM

    On a recent Sunday, Kimberley-Anne Johnson (a.k.a. The Crazy Spider Lady) was standing behind the table of her booth at the Manitoba Reptile Breeders Expo holding out a tarantula that filled the palm of her hand while a five-year-old girl tentatively stroked its furry back. I have to admit it made my skin crawl a little.

    There were plenty of geckos and snakes on display, but the non-reptile spiders are what really make me want to run screaming from the room. So, I just had to go and talk to Johnson to find out what it was that made her crazy for spiders.

    How did this all start?
    "My husband and I walked into River City Reptiles, when they were still up and running. He asked me if I wanted a snake and I said, 'Are you crazy?' So, he said, 'How about a tarantula?' and I said, 'Well, OK.'
    I'm an avid animal lover. I wanted a ferret, I wanted a parrot and I had a Rottweiler; I still do. We were driving home and my husband says to me, 'I will make you a deal, as long as you don't have any other pets aside from your dog you can have as many spiders as you want.'
    It's eight years later and I have 160. We have found that it's my passion."

    If you could give a piece of advice to a large group of people what would it be?
    "Live life to the fullest. I've battled cancer three or four times. Most of my insides are gone and I've come to the realization that you have to live each day for its day. You can't worry about tomorrow or you can't worry about yesterday, you have to live in the moment and just grasp life and live it."

    What is the best or most amazing feature that people might not know about tarantulas?
    "They all have their own personalities. Some are really skittish, some are like rocks, but you have some you take out and you hold them and when you go to put them back, they don't want to go back. They would rather be sitting on you just chilling.
    A lot of tarantulas are what you call ‘hair flickers' and they will take their back legs and rub them on their body to send out hairs. If the hairs get in your eyes you could be blinded. If you breath the hairs in you could have respiratory problems for the rest of your life. If you get bit and you are allergic to bees or wasps then have an EpiPen handy....
    "Whenever I get a spider I learn as much as I possibly can about it. My husband is always telling me I should go to university... If somebody goes to a pet store and has questions about spiders, they usually send them to me. I have the largest collection in Winnipeg. I have the only true Goliath Bird Eater in Manitoba and I'm not tooting my own horn, I've been told this by everybody, I'm the most knowledgeable person there is to talk to about spiders or tarantulas."

    So the hairs can be dangerous. Have you ever had a situation where...
    "At the last expo, I was leaning over my Goliath tank to decide whether or not I was going to bring her. She decided that she would send up this big poof of hair that got me all over the bottom of my face. The best way I can describe it feeling like is taking your face and dipping it in pink insulation."

    The experience of owning these spiders must have given you an opportunity to meet really interesting people.
    "I've met interesting people, but honestly the biggest downside of it is that a lot of people misunderstand tarantulas. A lot of people are scared of them. That's the biggest thing, people are too scared to get over their fear of spiders. When I first got into them, I was petrified of them. I just fed them in their tank and watched them. Then I started to handle them and my fear lessened every day.
    "The thing that I like the most about it is when you have families at the expo and you have little two or three year old kids and the kids are willing to hold the spiders. That is so awesome, because then they are not growing up with that fear."


  • I like seeing that sense of joy and passion in kids’ hearts

    06/3/2014 12:41 AM

    A couple weeks ago I was sent to go and take photos of someone who dresses up as Spider-Man, Iron Man and Elmo for birthday parties. I wasn't sure what to expect from the person behind the mask and I honestly wasn't expecting to meet someone with so much passion for the job.

    I met Gregory Marrast at the Cube in Old Market Square and every time he changed into a new costume he became the character. As Spider-Man he didn't walk: he crouched on the ground, jumped up onto a picnic table, then leapt back to the ground. All the while strutting and making witty comments. He probably had his photo taken with a half dozen people before we were finished with the Spidey costume.

    By the time we got to the final costume, Elmo, I was convinced this guy could play any character. Elmo was the icing on the cake though: this time, he changed his voice as well as his body language. I couldn't keep from smiling and I wasn't the only one. People in passing cars were honking their horns and shouting, "I love you Elmo!"

    After he changed back into his street clothes I asked Gregory if I could have a little chat with him.

    What is your greatest struggle right now?

    Right now, as an actor, I think it's finding opportunities in this city. Just because Winnipeg is such a hard place to break through in terms of actually becoming a success. I have a bachelors of arts in theatre and film at the University of Winnipeg, but so far the most jobs that has gotten me is a job at a shoe store downtown.

    It's kind of a struggle, opportunities come and go, you have to audition a lot. You've got to put yourself out there, but what I have found with what I am doing right now, is that I'm kind of creating opportunities for myself.

    What about doing this makes you happy?

    I just like seeing that smile on kids' faces and it doesn't matter what I'm doing, whether I'm Spider-Man or another superhero or I'm Michael Jackson, I'm just coming up to them and smiling at them or giving them a sticker or just taking a picture with them, I'm making their day. I like seeing that sense of joy and passion in kids' hearts when they see someone that they admire. I never got that opportunity when I was younger.

    Do you have a story of a particular moment while doing this that you remember that has stuck with you?

    One birthday party I did, I was in my Spider-Man costume, and a little girl had fallen off a slide and she was hurt and crying. I was just like, "Oh no! Spider-Man is going to fix this!" I ran into the house and the mom handed me a Spider-Man ice pack and I ran to her. I put the ice pack on her head and I said, "It's ok, Spider-Man's got you." She looked up at me and said, "Thank you Spider-Man, you saved me." That kind of stuck with me more than anything else I've done, just because that little girl just really believed with all her heart that I was the hero that I was presenting myself to be. Even though I'm just a guy in a costume. I honestly felt like a superhero in that moment, just because I had saved her in that instance.

    Have you ever gotten to that point where it is the complete opposite, you're like "OMG! What am I doing?"

    Where I have doubts about this? No. I've never had a doubt about doing this. Acting and theatre, I've always just known it's a passion of mine and I've never wanted to not do it.


  • People are people and everyone of us needs help

    05/12/2014 4:28 PM

    On Sunday afternoon there was a great gathering of community on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature. A rally to raise awareness about the nearly 300 abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria.

    Many of the people gathered were dressed in red to show solidarity, but off to the side was a man dressed in the most amazing suit I had ever seen. It was a beautiful lavender colour.

    After introductions Daswell McLeod said that he had a red suit, but thought it might be too much.

    I asked him if he had any advice he could give.

    "Let us come together and work together and be as one."

    Has there ever been a situation where you felt that getting people together, getting the word out, and it wasn't happening?

    "Yes, there are times when we get together and we want to get the word out, but it never materialized. I think it's time for us to really push hard. That an event like this, get out there and people pay attention. All of us, all of us as citizens, all of us that love this beautiful country of Canada can get together and help our fellow human beings around the world. That's what we are here for as a people."

    What might your greatest struggle be right now?

    "What I struggle with is the injustice, it's the unfairness that I see, even to some degree creeping into our country. I think we need to understand that people are people and everyone of us needs help. We can be selfish in what we have, we need to help each other."

    Have you ever been in a situation where you couldn't help others?

    "I have never been in a situation where I couldn't help anybody. In terms of money, I don't have a lot of that... but I've given my time, my energy, my input, I'm always there ready to do that. I have done that in the past, over and over again."


  • Try not to covet anything

    04/14/2014 10:04 AM

    After shooting an assignment at Studio Central a few weeks ago I met a gentleman on the way out who got onto a bicycle and was about to ride away. I had to stop him; he struck me as someone who would be willing to tell me a story. I really didn't know what to expect. Before I could even finish telling him I was going to record everything (I hardly got the recorder started), John Hansen launched into an incredible slice of his life.

    I'm a drunk, I spent time in jail. I spent 276 days in jail for a DUI. I was on bail doing breaches. What the hell else, I'm a doctor. I've got four university degrees, two years of family practice. Got involved heavily in alcohol, lost everything. Lost my savings, declared bankruptcy. Didn't know what the hell I was going to be doing.

    Then I discovered ArtBeat, which was a tremendous help, and got back into acting, and still had hope.

    Found that the things in life that are important to other people... I'm single, never been married... house, home, family. That might be good for other people, but for me it's just living. It is just really, living with no expectations that anything I do is going to give me a reward. My enjoyment and reward of anything is actually doing something. And that's it.

    What's the hardest part that you have experienced in terms of coming back from what you've been through?

    Realizing that... accepting... understanding that, it's hard to explain, understanding that I have my own different world than upper-middle class, or upper class, or their acceptance of what existence is. I had to come to grips with my own personal understanding of what my existence is all about without giving in or trying to accept others. I did that, I had a simple apartment at one time. My colleagues said, "Why are you doing that, why do you live like that?" With all that money, right. So, I did, I got a two-storey, three-bedroom apartment. I filled it up with furniture and it was probably the worst thing I ever did. And that was probably the beginning of the end and once I got... every time I got rid of something, I got better. The more I got rid of, the better I felt. The happier I was. The only thing I have left from my old life is my classical guitar. I don't have much but I'm happy with it. I live in a rooming house on Furby. I don't want to live there forever, I'd like to move up sometime, but life has been so much more wonderful without the expectations of getting anything from it.

    So, if you could give a piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?

    Try not to covet anything. Just let things come as they are. I think if you want to look for the next holiday that's fine, but I don't think you are going to find enlightenment in anything that you get. The only place you are going to find enlightenment is in your own mind, and to examine it, and to look at it.


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About Mike Deal

After freelancing for the Winnipeg Free Press for three years, starting in 1997, Mike Deal landed a part-time job as a night photodesk editor.

His first day in the new position was supposed to be September 12, 2001. But when he woke to the news of the two towers on September 11, he automatically headed into the newsroom.

For the next few years, he split his hours at the Winnipeg Free Press between photo editing and photography. In 2008, Mike was hired full-time as a photojournalist.

Mike’s training includes a journalism diploma from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. He also spent time at the University of Manitoba, working at the Manitoban and the U of M photo club and taking fine art courses.

Having also just finished shooting a personal project that involved taking 2,013 portraits using just his iPhone in the year 2013, he looks forward to taking the portrait project concept to another level. He will NOT be shooting 2,014 in 2014! Don't be surprised if he stops you in the street and demands a moment of your time. You have been warned!

Another personal passion of his is street photography, capturing the people of Winnipeg amongst the beautiful architecture of its downtown.

In his off-hours Mike enjoys taking photos with his iPhone, walks in Assiniboine Forest, and spending his free time with his partner Ariel and daughter Anna.


"I go to the street for the education of my eye and for the sustenance that the eye needs - the hungry eye, and my eye is hungry."    -Walker Evans


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