Sometimes it seems that moving away from the old hometown, and staying away for a good long time, is the best way to fully appreciate what’s special and beautiful about it.
That’s what it took for Rob Fazio, St. Pete High class of ’71. After forging a career in the auto industry – he worked for Ford, in Detroit, in product development, marketing and more – he and his wife (she’s a local, too) retired to St. Pete in 2013.
Fazio’s second Arts Xchange photography exhibit, Altered Reality Redux, opens Saturday (June 8), during the monthly Second Saturday ArtWalk. Many of his most popular images – the ones that people purchase, frame and hang on their walls – depict St. Pete landmarks. There’s the downtown skyline, the Vinoy, the “inverted pyramid” pier. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Sailboats in a marina. Pelicans and fishing docks.
In the same way that Carrie Jadus’ paintings spotlight St. Pete iconography through her own distinctive, idiosyncratic lens, Fazio’s photographs have a singular and unique perspective. They aren’t postcard views – haven’t we got enough of those? – they’re interpretive art.
“I like to take a picture of something, and present it to somebody in a different light,” Fazio explains. “To remind them of the beauty inherent in something they may see every day that they forget about.”
His specialty is image manipulation. He’ll view the digital photos on a computer screen and turn them, double them, create mirror images, go to negative, remove color, add color, blend, shake, frappe, whatever hits him where it counts.
“The name of the show is Altered Reality,” he says. “Really, as soon as you take a picture, it’s altered reality. You’re going from 3D to 2D at a minimum. Forget about the colors, et cetera.
“But every photographer manipulates the shot in some fashion, whether it’s in the darkroom or on the computer. Obviously, not when you’re trying to capture nature in near-true form.”
Take Fazio’s “Study in Palm,” for example. “The palm tree’s gold, and the background’s black,” he explains. “It’s very simple. Here, we see palm trees every day. We take them for granted. But the photo reduces the palm tree to its structure – the fanning leaves, and the intricacy of the bark. And it’s just gorgeous. It’s this beautiful pattern of nature. And that simplification maybe allows you to see it versus when it’s all different colors and whatever else.
“First of all, it draws you in because it’s different. Maybe it makes you say ‘You know, palm trees are really cool.’”
The image “Surrealism in St. Pete” takes something familiar and turns it on its ear. Literally.
“I took a picture of the Dali Museum, but then I cut it off and made a double image so it looks like the museum is floating in space. Because surrealism is what he was all about. I took another one and turned it sideways and made a mirror image – and to me it looks like a head.”
His portfolio – well, his website – includes manipulated images of art and architecture, people and places from all over the world. The Fazios have always been travelers.
“And maybe 30 percent of my work is just as I shot it. So if I take a shot that I think is just really nice, and it doesn’t need a lot of manipulation, I’ll do it. But I’ll never be a Clyde Butcher – I’m usually looking at it in terms of ‘How can I present this in my own way?’”
Fazio had always been an amateur photographer. He even took a lengthy darkroom course in Michigan after he left Ford. But his second career blossomed in St. Pete just three or four years ago.
He organized several low-key photo photography shows downtown, with the proceeds earmarked for charity, and when a man he didn’t know bought $1,000 worth of his framed and matted work, he felt a sense of pride – and vindication – he wasn’t expecting.
He operates that way still. After his framing costs are recouped, Fazio donates the profits to four charities: The Kiwanis Scholarship Program, the St. Pete Free Clinic, Salvation Army Sallie House and the Ronald McDonald House.
“If somebody buys a big piece then they can select which charity it goes to,” he says. “Otherwise, I’m spreading the money around.” All profits from Altered Reality will be used to support the Arts Xchange, which is part of the Warehouse Arts District.
Fazio hasn’t yet written an official artist statement, but he does think long and hard about why he does what he does. “I like to be creative; it gives me a sense of pleasure,” he says.
“It’s a great hobby for being retired, and the nice kicker of it all is that I’m doing it to support good causes. So it makes me feel good in a lot of ways.”
His photographs cover a wide range of subject matter, perspectives and focus, but they all share a sense of adventure and fun.
“Some of them,” Fazio says, “are just because I want to create something that I think is beautiful.”