Anyone who's roamed South Beach at sundown has seen Raven's unmistakable dark-clothed, hairy-chested form moving deliberately up and down the sand. As he passes, a lot of residents who know the story of his 110,000-plus mile running streak will say things like, "I love that guy!"
But there's a lot more to Raven than the eight miles he runs every day without fail. In addition to his inability to let go of his 37-year running streak despite increasing health problems and pain, he has trouble letting go of other elements of his past. On September 7, a one-night-only photography and video exhibit at the Miami Beach Cinematheque will explore Raven's need to cling to his personal history.
The artist behind the show is Mary Beth Koeth, a senior at the Miami Ad School who is fascinated by Raven's story. She's followed Raven around on the trail, in the hospital, and at home for the past two years, amassing tons of still and moving images of the man's life.
The exhibit focuses on the Raven's "collections," which some behavioral therapists might call "hoardings."
"He collects different things," Koeth said. "He's got a huge collection of sunglasses that he found in the sand. He never wears them, but they're there. He loves baseball; he's got lots of baseball memorabilia. Old records. He has every pair of running shoes he's ever run in. They're all New Balance. So each photo represents a different one of Raven's collections. And they're shot in that style, more editorial," Koeth said.
Beyond the stills, visitors to the show will also get to see a 20- to 30-minute sample of some of the video footage Koeth has taken of Raven over the past few years, footage the artist is trying to compile into a full-length documentary, with the help of a Kickstarter campaign that's creeping towards its goal of raising $25,000.
Originally from Dallas, Koeth fell in love with photography during her teenage years. "I was that girl who was always in the darkroom. My parents would always drop me off at my high school early and pick me up late so I could work in the darkroom. I always knew that that's what I wanted to do," she said.
But like many artists, Koeth was afraid to pursue photography as a career because she wasn't confident she could make enough money with her camera. So she put photography aside and majored in graphic design at Texas Tech.
Upon graduation, she moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where she worked as a greeting card designer for Hallmark. Yes, seriously. But it wasn't as cheesy as it might sound, she asserted. "I was lucky. I was on a team that made products for Walmart, and the designs were the kind that you or I might buy, not the ones for mom and grandma."
The job eventually took her to Hallmark headquarters in northern England, where her neglect of her first love finally caught up with her. "I would travel around Europe. Every weekend I would hop on a plane and go somewhere new, and I'd always have my camera with me, wherever I went. And I'm like, 'Why am I not doing this? I've always loved it, I get amazing feedback for my photos, and that's where my skill set has always been.' I've always been a stronger photographer than I was a designer," Koeth said. So she quit her job with Hallmark and moved home to Texas before a peep at a friend's Miami Ad School portfolio inspired her to apply to the school herself.
"Looking back, Miami was so out of my comfort zone," she said of her relocation experience two years ago. "And I think now that I couldn't have picked a more perfect place for me. The digital photography and video program [I'm graduating from] focused more on conceptualizing. For me, with my design background, it's like anyone could take a pretty picture, but there's got to be something more to it," she said. "I got to intern and assist a photographer in Oslo, Norway, and I just got back from LA, where I got to intern with one of my favorite photographers, Joe Pugliese. You learn a lot more than you think you do on set, so I even see his influence in my work now in these past two months that I've been back."
For Koeth and many other running enthusiasts, getting to know Raven was an important part of building a sense of belonging in tourist-y, transient Miami Beach. "I used to run on the beach by myself all the time, and I'd see him running with this group of people. And I always had loved running in running groups -- it makes the time go so fast. So I timed my run where I would meet up with them at the end pier, and they were like, 'Hey, join us.'"
At the time she barely knew a soul in Miami, and she found the nightlife scene totally overwhelming. "I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this city is absolutely out of control.' So to meet people through the Raven Run was kind of like a comfort, having that to go to every day. It made it feel more like home."
As she ran with Raven, she began to peel away layers on what she could see was a very unique subject. "He's just an interesting dude," Koeth said. "I'm a people person and my camera is an excuse to talk to people. I got real close to Raven on the run, and when I came back from Oslo, literally the night I came back, he went to the hospital to have an angiogram because he was having chest pains and shortness of breath. And I said, 'You know Raven, I feel like this is a big time in your life. And if you would be open to it, I would love to come with you and document that. He let me come along and that's where the whole documenting him started."
She began shooting video as well because she felt still shots were inadequate for capturing certain elements of the South Beach icon's existence. "I've often thought, 'Oh my God, I have to capture this in a different way because it won't get to the meat of the story really. And it became more of a video project more than anything else."
It wasn't all that easy to get into Raven's living space for the first time. "The first time I asked to meet with him, he said, 'Sure, why don't we meet in the park right across from my place.' So I thought, okay, he definitely does not want me to come into his house,'" Koeth said. But her curiosity inspired her to push just a little bit more for a look at the Raven's nest.
"So I called him later that night and said, 'You know, I would love to get shots of your personal stuff that you have around your house, maybe photographs of when you were younger, just little details. The stories in your house are not in the park.' He was okay with that, but you could tell he was cautious. I didn't know he had a hoarding problem but I kind of figured that it wouldn't be pretty."
Koeth tried to make the photographs look like photographs of prize coin collections or the like. "They have a very newspapery feel, with natural ambient light. And I also love that Flemish painting light, where there's dark and then there's one source light. But overall, there's more of an editorial feel," she said.
Koeth said she's learned a lot about human psychology -- or at least the psychology of one particular human -- alongside digital video and photography during her time as a student at the ad school.
"I've learned about the way Raven's mind works, how he'll count his steps to the beach. He keeps all his miles on his calendar, to the decimal point. He has lists of everything. He updates the runners list every day, keeping track of their mileage, their birthdays, whatever."
Besides his compulsive running habit, Koeth's also documented Raven's obsessive pursuit of his other passion: songwriting. "He sends out demo tapes for his songs every other day. This photo I have of the list of places that he's sent the cassette tapes... the writing is tiny, and it's just pages and pages of addresses, when he sent what, and that just in itself is just like, 'Wow.'"
What's next for Koeth after the show? The artist hopes to get a more permanent gallery space so that more people can come take a look into Raven's world. Then, with the help of the Kickstarter funds, she hopes to put together the full-length film she's been working toward all this time.
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"Of course my teacher is like, 'I'm so over the Raven. Can you please shoot something else?' because he's about all I've shot for the past two years. But there's so much, there's so much more I want to do with him," she said. "We want to leave a legacy for him. We need his story and his voice. We need to do it justice and do it right."