Douglas Carr Cunningham describes Saturday night’s Dancing with The ARK’s Stars competition as a big hit: the dancers looked stunning, the music was terrific and, by golly, it was a great party-like atmosphere with over 500 people packed into the Pinewood gym.
Cunningham is a Summerville resident who teaches photography for DD2’s Adult School, and also teaches at the Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston.
He also likes to work as a volunteer.
“What I want is to give them quality pictures,” he said, “either as a reward for the people who are participating or to expose their goodness. There is nothing better than photography to show what people are doing because, frankly, they are all volunteers. They are raising funds for The ARK.
“Exposing what they do for the good, that is what photography does,” Cunningham added. “I’m just the guy who happens to do it. I’m honored to do it.”
Cunningham joined the Navy in 1968 and did not have a job at the time, and requested photography school. The Navy sent him to Pensacola, Fla. and he learned photography in 18 weeks. He took professional photos of the fleet and ended up working as a Navy photo journalist, traveling the world and covering events.
In 1986 he wound up in Charleston and decided to stay and retire to the area. Cunningham lives in Summerville.
As a photographer, Cunningham loves personal expression.
“There are parts of us that have to get out,” he said. “We express it through the visual media of photography. I have always been an introvert, and through photography I was able to communicate with others and get better at being around others. Subsequently I teach now.”
Cunningham feels he is at the stage in his life where it is time to do something important, which is why he shares his talent and volunteers.
“There are plenty of venues where photography needs to be a part of it,” he said. “The misconception is if a photographer has a lot of expensive equipment then he must have a wallet. The truth of the matter is he has a very thin wallet because he has such expensive equipment. So, when they volunteer and give up their time to donate, you might say it comes at a certain cost.”
But Cunningham does get something in return from volunteering.
“I’m not asking for a financial return,” he said. “I want to do something good, and it makes me feel good to do it. It’s about time I did something good, and there are other people whose hearts are open as well.”
Volunteering at The ARK has shown Cunningham the serious affects Alzheimers has on its victims – and the victims’ family members.
“I’m astounded,” he said. “It’s an equal-opportunity disease simply because everyone can be affected by it.”
Seven pairs of dancers joined together to raise money for The ARK, an organization providing respite care for those with Alzheimer’s. However, one aspect the audience might not have seen was the behind-the-scenes work that went into it, such as Cunningham, the volunteer photographer who was snapping pictures of the dancers as they tore up the dance floor.
“A lot of people contribute to the success of the Dancing with The ARK’s Stars,” Cunningham said. “It’s such a group effort, it’s almost overwhelming for me to imagine all these people coming in from all over Summerville to support The ARK. I’m just one, but I appreciate being able to do it.”
Winners of Dancing with The ARK’s Stars were determined by people’s choice and by judges’ choice.
The people’s choice winners were Tauna Longest and John Michael Tabakian while the judges’ choice winners were Sean Harrington and Lorna Parkinson. Photos of the event were also taken by volunteer photographer Jim Lotz.
Cunningham hopes when people see the photos taken of the performance that they will be inspired to make The ARK a priority.
“All this fun that was had Saturday night had some serious backbone to it,” he said. “People were supporting a just-wonderful cause. Pictures are meant to inspire people and I hope when they see my pictures they are inspired to help The ARK. That’s what pictures are for – pictures are meant to inspire.”