Michele McCormick’s Avian Photography Is Soaring
A writer and former PR executive finds a new passion
By Ed Goldman
Over the past 12 years, the focus of Michele McCormick’s work has morphed from corporate images to avian imagery.
McCormick was the founder-owner of a successful and respected public relations firm, MMC Communications which she sold in 2011. In its heyday, her client list included numerous Northern California cities, as well as the gargantuan Sutter Health, the retirement community icon Del Webb, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among others.
Michele McCormick in the field
“I enjoyed the work right up ’til the moment I was done,” she says over a recent lunch. The buyers of her firm retained her services for a couple of years after the sale. “Then it was over.” She grins. “And I mean: over.”
That’s about the time McCormick’s passion for photography took flight, literally, as she became a fulltime bird photographer. While she had done a good deal of photojournalism earlier in her career, her new pictures—from around the world and a few blocks from her doorstep—were, and are, exquisite, calming portraits of our feathered friends. Her eye captures the exotic and every-day, the colorful and monochromatic, in flight and seemingly in quiet contemplation.
McCormick will be delivering the prestigious Crocker-Kingsley lecture on her work at the Crocker Art Museum at 2:30 p.m. on May 17. Details are at https://my.crockerart.org/kingsley/897
In quest of photographing that tanager
I’ve been acquainted with McCormick for decades. Even when we more-or-less competed for clients, I always admired her for the quality of her work and the integrity of her character, neither of which are innate characteristics of PR practitioners.
An excellent writer, she wrote a harrowing, moving but unsentimental newspaper account about being stranded in New York City because of the horrifying events of September 11, 2001, and deciding to return home to California by rental car. She’s also written for Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal and a host of national, regional and local publications.
“I’ve met so many interesting people on the trail,” McCormick says of her fellow birders and bird-watchers. There’s a difference between those two groups, she says: “Birders go out and look at the birds and just enjoy them. Bird watchers take a more active role, writing down what they see and sharing them with others in that community.” Then there’s a third group: bird photographers like McCormick who strive to document the variety, habits and beauty of one of the planet’s more mysterious denizens.
“The birding community has been very helpful to me and very welcoming,” she says. “I can go walking with a biologist one day, an ornithologist another day, a photographer, or maybe a retired couple who simply love nature.” Though she sells her work, the pastime she calls her hobby “pays me huge psychic rewards.”
While she has “no problem at all” with people who use their cellphone cameras to capture pictures or shoot video of birds, McCormick takes her photos using a Sony A-1 camera with a 200-600-millimeter zoom lens. She posts “Today’s Avian Image,” a daily photo with a brief discussion of the model. As I write this, her entry is an homage to white-crowned sparrows “who have been so busy here all Winter. Now they’re off to points distant—some will travel more than two thousand miles to Alaska—and not so distant. Some enjoy life in the Sierra for the entire year.” (You can sign up to receive the posts at email@example.com)
She makes me laugh when she mentions that the Sacramento region is home to some “celebrity birds”: the sandhill crane, snow goose and tundra swan. “You can find these in local parks,” she says.
The elusive tanager
Before I saw her photography, I knew McCormick’s main passions included her husband of 38 years, Don, a United States Army officer, who passed away from melanoma nine years ago; her mom, Ann Watson, who’s a glorious 102 years old (she and McCormick’s late father Jack were career Congressional staffers); and her mini-schnauzers, which she raises and used to show. Since 1988 she’s had six of them, and all lived into old age; her current four-legged companions are Rose and Pearl “who are still young girls,” McCormick says.
When she isn’t golfing, swimming or traveling (her self-confessed other passions), McCormick occasionally takes acting jobs in TV commercials and even in “Fear,” a zombie movie directed by Deon Taylor. Shot in 17 days in the California town of Kyburz during the COVID pandemic, the film received a theatrical release.
For the past six years, McCormick has been in a committed relationship with Frank Pease, a semi-retired real estate investor whom she met on match.com. Deciding “Neither of us had a particular need to live together,” the pair instead decided to buy two modest homes “four doors down from each other” near the popular Rio Del Oro athletic club.
McCormick speaks of her sometimes-finicky subjects with respect. “I don’t know that you go off and find birds to photograph,” she says. “They seem to find you. And every time they do, I get an adrenaline rush from seeing a beautiful bird. A bird can leave your shot very fast. They’ll never pose for you. And maybe that independent spirit is what appeals to me.”
(To sample and/or buy her work, head to McCormick’s website: https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com)
A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela
President, Golden Pacific Bank, a Division of SoFi Bank, Inc.
photo by Phoebe Verkouw
THIS HISTORIAN IS HARDLY A “PARTY” ANIMAL
Michael Beschloss, whom Newsweek Magazine called “the nation’s leading Presidential historian,” was the star presenter at a recent edition of the Sacramento Speaker Series, of which Golden Pacific Bank, a division of SoFi Bank, N.A., is a proud sponsor.
Beschloss, the author of nine books on the United States presidency, is NBC News Presidential Historian, and has been a contributor to PBS’s The NewsHour.
In our times of polarized politics, Beschloss is a welcome voice focusing on the characteristics and qualities of great leadership, rather than political party affiliation. He spoke about courage, what makes a leader excellent, and what makes a President stand out over the test of time.
One of his most famous quotes: “Legacy is what a president does that affects later generations.”
He also said “What if we had a culture that prevented these presidents from being courageous? And I worry now that we have a system that makes it very hard to choose people who would make the same courage choice as our great presidents. And I guess what I would say is, in this next campaign, take a look at the people who are running. If they don’t remind you of the great presidents, do not vote for them.’
As Wikipedia reports, “President Bill Clinton told People in December 1997 that the first audiobook he ever listened to was ‘Taking Charge’ by Michael Beschloss. In Bob Woodward’s ‘Plan of Attack,’ President George W. Bush is quoted as telling the author Elie Wiesel in February 2003, ‘I read your views on Auschwitz in Michael Beschloss’s book’, referring to ‘The Conquerors.'”
The evening was an eye-opener for all of us who’d like the U.S. Presidency to be more about accomplishment than whose “party” you came to.