Roxanne in bloom

By Allan I. Ross

Post-surgery, Old Town co-founder ready to get her hands dirty again

Roxanne Frith was part of the team that started the renovation process of Old Town in the late ´70s.

Through her knack for coaxing life from the earth and her dedication to the art of photography, Frith, 55, planted the seeds for what grew into a bustling gallery district, and has become a guiding force in the local art scene. She also teaches photography at LCC and is still an avid gardener.

This summer, Frith, needed a kidney transplant because of a rare genetic disorder. Insurance covered the surgery, but not the incidental costs of her day-to-day life. The Old Town and art communities rallied to raise funds for Frith, successfully helping her navigate through a difficult financial period.

Frith took some time to reflect on going through surgery, her relationship with Old Town and taking pictures of her shadow.

What was your reaction to the support you received during your kidney surgery?

It was completely humbling. I think it’s incredible that because of that support, I’m going to get to continue to be here and be the artist and teacher that I’ve always wanted to be. It affirms that none of us live by ourselves and the most important thing you can do is to contribute to your community. If you can help someone, do that.

I didn’t sow the seeds with the expectation there would be a return. Every day I wake up, grateful to be alive. I’ve had a few opportunities to leave this life, but I haven’t. I still need to be here. I have stuff to do. I have art to make and community contributions to make.

When do you go back to work? I shot Michigan Pride last month, which was my first outing in a large public group since my surgery on July 18. But I had to wear a mask and stand far away from groups — my immune system was still too fragile. And it still is too fragile be out in public on a regular basis, so I can´t go back to LCC until next semester, which starts in January. But life will offer me many more years to be in the thick of it. I’m being patient. The gratitude for being alive outweighs the disappointment of not being able to do that now.

Currently,I’m splitting my time between editing photos of a Mediterranean cruise I took last summer with my mother and the ones I took at last Sunday’s statue dedication to Robert Busby.

How has it been watching Old Town´s growth and development over the years?

I got involved in Turner Street when I was 19 years old. I saw it as part of my education, part of being a young artist. I think a good metaphor would be the landscaping that’s occurred. I planted many of those perennials and I’ve watched as the buildings have developed around them. The green space has grown into a beautiful garden with a rich diverse plant life, nourished by all the different people who have moved in since we started. I’m proud to know that I was there to till that soil.

Has this experience changed how you approach your art?

It has, but I´m not exactly sure how. It hasn´t even been two months since the transplant. Something is gestating, but I just don’t know where it’s going to take me yet.

When I was a child, I used to do shadow portraits, and in the last couple years I’ve found myself returning to that. I did a selfportrait for a book I want to publish, called “Always Present.” My shadow is always there; it’s not a dark place, but you have to be able to move through the dark to come to the light. It’s a good life metaphor for this journey I’ve gone through: Coming to the threshold of death and coming back to life.