Whether it's Sebastião Salgado's pictures of destitute coal miners or Annie Leibovitz's storied career of celebrity portraits, visuals can speak volumes. Even if sometimes they're but the accompaniment to a written story, sometimes the picture can say things a wordsmith never could. Sometimes it says everything.
These claims might seem obvious to some, but Doug Gates would certainly never put himself or his pictures in that category. The 40-year-old Little Italy resident who's originally “from all over the place” claims to be nothing more than a “casual shooter.” He started taking pictures about five years ago and has primarily just been doing it as hobby, adding to his lens collection here and there between bouncing around from various internet start-ups. Coincidentally, he once shot restaurant photos for CityBeat (none of the judges knew the identity of the photographers as they were inspecting images).
“I'm not yet a photographer,” Gates says. “I'm not a landscape photographer, a person photographer or a street photographer. I kind of shoot whatever.” He later adds, “It's that sorta thing where my best work is kind of unplanned and casual.”
While not completely unplanned, the fact that his photo, “Salami,” won this year's contest still came as a surprise to him. In talking with Gates, one gets the sense that, perhaps because of his humble approach to his own art, he might not see the nuances within “Salami” that others might find brilliant.
As for the story behind the man and his salted, cured meat, it's as simplistic as it comes. Gates had a friend who worked at North Park Meat Company and they were unveiling some of their new meats just coming out of the curing room. It was a big deal for the employees at the Meat Co., and Gates just happened to be the guy they knew who had a camera.
But coming into this with an untainted eye just might have been why we liked Gates' photo so much. He struggles to think of any photographer who might have influenced him.
“There's a bunch of art and photography that I would say has influenced my life,” he says. “But I don't know enough about either that I would ever say something like, ‘Oh, well, my appreciation for mid-century furniture is reflective in my picture of the guy with the salami.' Even though I love modern design.”
Gates' lack of pretension is exactly what comes across in “Salami.” For him, it all comes down to passion and just having fun with it.
“I just love when you see everyday objects in an extraordinary way, and when you shine a light on ordinary objects, like by taking a photo, they sometimes end up being extraordinary.”