Editor's Notebook: In memory of 'The Mike-arazzi': Check up, or check out

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We lost a friend and valued member of The Forecaster extended family this week.

For the last five years, the work of freelance photographer Michael Barriault has been a regular part of the newspaper. But on Sunday, Michael died after an all-too-brief battle against cancer.

Michael covered everything for us. He was a familiar face at high school graduations, press conferences, and on breaking news assignments – fires and the like – where fast response and a photographer’s ability to act and think quickly are invaluable. And he covered planned events like presidential campaign stops, election night political celebrations and the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K, where the emphasis is on having an eye for a moment that will set apart one photographer’s work from the work of all the others.

Michael was a fixture on Portland’s food scene, too. He carved out a niche documenting the city’s evolving spectrum of restaurants, with the kind of behind-the-scenes access few people are usually afforded. He celebrated this aspect of city life on his photo blog, PortlandTown.

Michael was also well known in the Maine arts community, where he ran the business side of things for his wife, the talented potter Toby Rosenberg. Michael would organize appearances at shows and exhibits, and could always be found in Toby’s booth, talking up the clientele.

Next to photography, in fact, talking was one of the things Michael did best. He wasn’t the shy type, and could offer an opinion on almost any topic. His eagerness, enthusiasm and unfiltered questions and comments about virtually anything earned Michael a nickname in our newsroom: “The Mike-arazzi.” He was much less pushy than the paparazzi who inhabit Hollywood – although Michael sometimes gave them a run for their money.

But there was nothing disingenuous about Michael. He asked questions, kibitzed and made suggestions because he was truly interested in his work, always thinking and looking for a way to be just a little better than the next guy. Send him to shoot the most mundane event, and he’d scan the rafters for a perch that would set his images apart. In fact, up until a day or two before this year’s Beach to Beacon, Michael was arranging to make a portrait of the race winners – next to the beacon atop Portland Head Light. 

Naturally, his drive for access sometimes carried him over the line. Once, he ducked under the yellow crime scene tape in South Portland to get a better photo, and got himself arrested as a result.

But it was all part of what made Michael who he was: dedicated, reliable, creative, passionate and one of a kind. It was what made having him around so entertaining and rewarding for those who worked with him. He only turned assignments down when he and Toby were traveling, or doing a large local show. We relied on him and always expected the unexpected from him.

Michael’s health deteriorated rapidly in a few, short months. Toby said that despite his diminutive physical stature, Michael was always confident about his ability to outmaneuver other photographers, and in his existential way, about his ability to make the right choices and his body’s ability to heal itself. But when it mattered most, when cancer was working its way from his prostate to his liver and bones, he made the wrong choice and did nothing until it was too late. 

“I missed the big one,” he confided to her.

When I last saw him a couple weeks ago, at Maine Medical Center, Michael was noticeably weak and seemed so much older than ever before. But he was still thinking like a photojournalist, planning “legacy” projects. He said he wanted to be the subject of a story that would send a message to others, like him, who delayed and procrastinated about prostate examinations. He even had a headline for it: “Check up, or check out.”

We agreed he would call me when he was out of the hospital in a few days, and I would send a reporter to interview him. But Michael never called. He died a few days after being moved to a local hospice. 

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. I have a feeling Michael, ever the existentialist, would have appreciated the irony.

Rest in peace, Mike-arazzi.

A memorial service for Michael Barriault is planned Sunday, Sept. 25, at 1 p.m. at Congregation Bet Ha’am, 81 Westbrook St., South Portland.

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Mo Mehlsak is editor of The Forecaster. He can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 107 or mmehlsak@theforecaster.net. You can also follow Mo @mmehlsak on Twitter.

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Editor of The Forecaster; prior reporting/editing gigs at Automotive Age magazine, Daily News of Los Angeles, Biddeford Journal Tribune; Syracuse U. Orange-bleeder; lifelong NY Yankees fan, longtime resident of Red Sox Nation.