CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In this amazing age in which digital creativity is instantly shareable with the whole planet, it was many an artist's worst nightmare.
Photographer Michelle Kelly, a 36-year-old commercial and art photographer based in Meadow Bridge, thought she'd done her homework. The Colorado native had backed up a treasury of more than 200,000 images -- three years of work -- onto a 1-terabyte hard drive, itself backed up to another 2-terabyte drive.
"One of them wasn't reading in about October. Then, within a week of that one not reading, the other crashed as well," said Kelly. "So, basically, it was like the main part of my photography career."
For an artist whose official art-show biography describes photography as a life-defining, spiritual form of "visual poetry," this was a pretty deep blow.
"It was a little like losing a person or something. I cried a lot," she said.
A local firm could not rescue the photos. A Texas data retrieval firm thinks it may still be possible but at a cost of a couple thousand dollars, money a classic struggling artist like Kelly simply does not have right now.
So, several things are in play for the woman whose name adorns her Michelle Kelly Seltzer Photography business -- commercial shots, weddings and the like -- but whose fine-art photography is maybe the purest expression of her spirit.
She has had a realization that it is important to not just trust things to the digital realm, but to manifest her photographic vision into the real world sooner rather than later. Hence, a new project for which she is seeking crowd-funding: transferring and transforming some of her striking original or digitally transformed photography into 10 pieces of stained glass.
She sought out an artist-friendly crowd-funding site -- USAprojects.org -- which, unlike other such sites, screens, approves and matches donations. Kelly's "Living Photography" project has until Sunday to raise her target amount of $4,415, and she still has a way to go.
But whatever happens, she waxes philosophical, trusting that the stars will ultimately align in a creative life that includes both formal schooling -- a master of fine arts in photography from San Francisco's Academy of Art University -- and much self-taught experimentation.
"I'm pretty much trusting things to work. I never know exactly where my money is going to come from. I'm just kind of following my heart or my intuition with it. Even though I don't know how I'm going to pay the bills the next month, something happens so I am able to."
People who donate to her project will take an active part in the next phase in her work -- helping fund her explorations in stained-glass photography. They'll receive different samples of her fine-art photography, including one of the finished stained-glass pieces at the highest levels of support (which range from $20 to $2,500).