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TODD TURNER AND THE PERFECTLY IMPERFECT PATH

by Rebecca Harrelson

All photos by Todd Turner unless noted otherwise.

Greensboro native Todd Turner’s personal story is filled to the brim with the arts. There was a stretch of time around early 2000 when Turner was swept away with music. His upbringing as a child was pretty all-American. Growing up in an athletic household, Turner was on the path to East Carolina University, and playing football was the focus.

Greensboro was a hub for creative musicians then and for a brief period bands that had “it” were being signed to major indie labels. Turner’s band Far Less was one of those. Turner started playing drums as a hobby in high school. “I learned how to play by just teaching myself the coordination between my hands and feet by patting on my legs, along with the songs. And for my high school graduation present my mom got me my first drum kit, a Tama Rockstar Custom. We got it at Don’s Music City, when it was right off Randleman Road,” Turner says.

Photo by Tanner Messer

That first drum set was all it took to hook Turner into the world of rhythm and music. Turner went off to East Carolina and an unforeseen disconnect happened. “So I started playing then, dropped out of school, after about a year because I couldn’t stop thinking about wanting to play the music, which both of them went there and were huge ECU was really strange. My parents had no idea, fans. I had to tell them ‘hey, I am coming home because I am going to play music.’ It was a crazy transition in my life, but it’s honestly got to be up there in the hierarchy of best decisions I ever made. Because it ultimately led to everybody that is kind of true to me, very dear to me,” Turner says.

The touring life faded for Turner but he came away that much wiser. He talks about those memories—of musicians still living in Greensboro and those that moved away.

“That whole period was so special, like it really was, knowing those moments were there. So many people moved away, and have careers now, cause we are all in our thirties and that path starts to pave itself, but when we see each other those are the years we talk about,” Turner said.

Fast forward a couple years and Turner has reenrolled in college, is finishing his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography at UNC-Greensboro, has taken it upon himself to learn more about the production of recording and musical theory and has fallen completely in love with photography.

Returning to school is not always a simple process.

“I was at a total crossroad back then.

Which road will I go down? So I decided a couple summers ago to try and get into UNCG,” Turner said. “I applied but I was denied since my GPA was so bad.”

Turner called around the school and found out he could sit in front of an audit committee, speak his truth and hope they let him in.

“I met with them and I talked to the head of that program in private afterwards, she asked me why I wanted to be there? And I told her that I primarily wanted to be an artist,” Turner said. “I had gotten to that moment where I really wanted to learn formal art training. To have the confidence and believe in myself when I was self-declaring as an artist. I told her all that, and I told her to look at my past track record, last record of my semesters, to look at me now as a 31-year-old and not that 19-year-old. I just told her, ‘let me in and I will not let you down.”

There was a reason I was writing this article on Turner. I interviewed him a couple different times about various projects he had going on, but I could never keep up with his latest new passion, until now. Turner and I spoke about our lives, our regrets, our artistic paths and how to be true to who we are.

I met Turner though the arts at UNCG but he also existed in the downtown music scene I found myself in. I knew nothing about this guy, but I knew my friends at the time really loved him and his energy was palpable.

There was a moment when a couple of us were in my car before a show in downtown Greensboro, doing what people do in cars with the windows rolled up and a lighter passing in front of our faces.

Turner was giving me really blunt (pun intended) advice about a situation I was in and ever since that unnerving moment when a stranger was speaking to me like I had all the potential in the world, showing me the absurd obvious truth of the situation, I immediately took a liking to him and his outlook on life.

But what happens when you are interested in everything? How do you pick just one passion when your mind is going a million miles a second thinking about all the creating you can do?

“I was talking to my mom the other day and she was telling me just like what my old teachers would tell me, ‘if you only applied yourself to one thing’ cause I was always all over the place. I don’t really call it ADD, I just think that I am genuinely fascinated by a wide spectrum of things,” Todd says.

Turner carried that mentality into his art training, and it started to bother him. “I am pretty good at sculpture, maybe I should do sculpture, or I am really, rapidly excelling in illustration maybe drafting, maybe I should do that, draw or paint, then doing photography, I am really catching on to this, then videography,” Turner said. “So it really started messing with me and I started thinking, shit man, here we go, the same life story.”

Rather recently this was the position Turner was in, spinning around in a “whirl pool of art” not knowing how to focus all this energy on one path. “So I was talking to, who I consider my mentor in the art department, Lee Walton, and I was telling him about my dilemma. I didn’t know what to make of it, and he said ‘you should do all of that.’ I was like: really? And he said ‘yea, don’t worry about it. The fact that you can combine all these elements in a professional manner is going to ultimately lead into something that no one else can do.’ He said to do all of it,” Turner said.

Recently another of his mentors asked him where he was moving after he finished at UNCG. Turner explained his reason for wanting to stay, a reason I feel personally in tune with. There is a huge movement happening in this city and it takes the heart of someone like Turner to see that creative undercurrent. “The way I have seen this city, from when I was young to now, a lot of people complain about it but it has come so far,” Turner said. “It’s not even the recognizable city that I was born into. It has come so far. Sure, it can be better, but it is going there.

“I told him I want to be here, not because I am instrumental in some kind of movement by any means, but I think people like myself, like yourself, people opening local business, those are all the people that need to be here to breed more of that movement. If we continue having all these artists and musicians moving to Nashville, artists going to Brooklyn, it will over saturate those places and it’s going to take away any of the pillars that were holding up cultural movement here.”

Turner has been in every state in this country, he has seen a lot and experienced even more. Of course there are phenomenal places all over this world that “at first glance you would say that is far more superior to Greensboro,” but having a 30-year love affair with the same place and seeing its growth is also very special to Turner. “There could be another side of that story. Looking at your city and watching it fall apart, that is something completely different, when it’s gone, it’s gone, but I feel like Greensboro is on the other side of that equation. Greensboro is on the incline,” Turner says.

While finishing his degree, having his photography business take off, Turner bar tends at Longshanks and simultaneously represents Greensboro and the drive to be and do more. “If I go to another city I will just have to start it all over. Why not stay here and make my city great? Put my hands into growing this city to what it should be. And that is what is great. We are starting to bridge this gap between when I hear people talk about arts in Greensboro.”

Turner and I share one rather large pet peeve, a pet peeve I use to hear repeatedly. “There are so many people that talk about what they are about to do, and who they are about to be, and all this,” Turner said. “I mean no one is going to hand it to you. Go do it! You can. Most of the time they don’t have the actual passion to do it. Passion feeds your drive. Some people are more passionate talking about it rather than truly having the passion to go and accomplish something.”

No matter the creative outlet, Turner always seem to dive head first, giving that task his heart and attention. “Currently I am really trying to establish my business, its way ahead of the schedule. It has been extremely stressful being in school because I wasn’t planning on this happening so soon,” Turner said. “I made a Facebook page and started posting some of my work there but I wasn’t putting that on blast or anything. Then people started hitting me up to take pictures.”

Turner started exploring photography in 2003, the camera he was using he split with a friend and then that friend moved to Chicago ending his small photo adventure. “Something that I think is really essential when I went through my formal art training in drawing and sculpture, I looked at things differently. You start to look at things as if they are information and not objects,” Turner said. “There are relationships between objects, like the curves in the forms and in the weight of the forms.” By looking through a different set of eyes, Turner saw the world completely different than when he started.

“That translated into my work quickly. So that set a hook in me much deeper this time than it was before,” Turner says.

Turner is focused on capturing humanity, in its various forms. He makes a point about the way artists are represented and spoken to, and how to support them without belittling them. “I know that I have talent, but I use that word loosely. I feel that people use that word ‘talent’ as something that you are born with as opposed to something that you have earned,” Turner said. “I feel like when people say that to me, or anyone else, they are trying to be nice but it’s almost offensive as opposed to saying ‘I love your work’ and then it’s like ‘thank you’ because that is my work key word, ‘work’. I don’t roll out of bed and just assemble a nice photograph. I went out and shot and I shot thousands of pictures to find that one that you looked at.”

Turner has a wild-eyed passion for creativity and living life to the fullest. The road to fulfillment is littered with experiences, failure, growth and adventure.

“It’s just, for me, I look at it as I have so many days on this earth and creating things and taking pictures and making music and all the things that I like to do make me feel better than anything else I’ve found in this world. So I reminded myself of that daily.” !

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