The Church at SalgaThe hillside view I had during my trip to the Azores. If one photograph represents my departure from a hobbyist photographer to a professional one, it is the image to the left. The Church at Salga is the cornerstone photo from my Sao Miguel Series which got me my first recognition and sales as an art photographer.
I was invited to travel along with some Portuguese friends to the Azorean island of Saint MIchael and stay with their family in 2002. I was pretty excited as I had never been to the Azores and had always wanted to visit. My great grandparents were from Saint Michael and growing up on the South Coast of New England you're exposed to a lot of Azorean culture even if its not in your bloodline. How could I say no?
Several weeks earlier, my dad had stopped by my house with a bag. He was a contractor and busy doing a restoration at a local farm house when he saw the own throw a camera in the trash. Well the camera ended up being an immaculate-looking Nikon F2 film camera!* Attached to it was a Nikkor 50mm fixed focus lens also in decent condition.
I tested the camera manually, checking on the shutter and light meter to be sure it seemed to function. It did, so I bought a small test roll of film and shot things around the yard and dropped it off at a local lab. When I received the prints I knew the camera was in fact immaculate and functioning. I decided to take it along to the Azores with me.
I decided to bring just black and white film. I was basically following one of my favorite high school photography class projects. We were asked to shoot any one place we liked but with the limits of a fixed-length lens and some slow black & white film. I bought a case, bought the film, threw the camera in my bag and headed to Saint Michael.
One of the great things about being exposed to new places is immediately seeing the differences from what you are used to. Where the New England countryside on the South Coast is gently rolling, smooth and with subtropical flora, Saint Michaels was very different. Immediately, I was really aware of how "textural" everything else seemed. Many of my favorite photos of the series are the close ups. Porous stone, stucco, craggy outcroppings - everywhere I was struck by the texture and difference. I didn't bring a lot of film, I wanted to focus more on each shot. I also was experimenting a lot using selective focus to give some of the photos a timeless look and feel.
I was fortunate to have been able to stay at my friend's grandmother's home in a small town called Lomba de Sao Pedro (Saint Peter's Hill). Her back yard was open to a beautiful vista that included the church at Salga which was the next town over. I sketched and shot the vista a few times while I was there. It was hard not to - it was gorgeous and changed with the wind and the sky conditions.
When I returned home I had my film developed by one of the best black and white labs in the country. I opened the envelope when it arrived I knew I had gotten some great shots. I selected the best ones and had some prints made for myself, my host family and a few friends. From there, other friends requested some prints and then some more. I decided to put prints on eBay and to my surprise people from around the world began buying them. The Church at Salga was the most popular print - everywhere.
The Azorean diaspora is far flung and loyal to its ancestral island home. Soon I was sending prints all over the world and got such great feedback. One woman from New Jersey bought one print each of the entire series just for her dying father to look through. "He smiled and cried" she said "Thank you so much". Photos are treasures - never forget.
From there, the local newspaper did a story on me and the series and my life as a professional photographer began. I'll post that article in the coming weeks if you promise not to laugh at the photo of me.
The access of phone cameras and the informal ways we use them and share photos is a lot of fun. I'm right there with everyone else! However, the photo as an important and emotional historical document still exists and we need to consider some of those photos very seriously. That's where people like me come in. We're here to capture your personal art treasures. Don't forget them.
Thanks for visiting my website.
*My dad before he passed away used to rescue a lot of cameras and other things like this. I have a large collection of Nikon and other film cameras he rescued from the trash while helping people clean out their attics and basements before doing his carpentry.