By Melissa Arnold
For more than 40 years, John Spoltore has immersed himself in his love of photography. It has taken him all over the world, earned him scores of accolades and allowed him to nurture hundreds of budding Long Island shutterbugs through teaching. But it all began with an unfortunate accident.
In 1975, Spoltore was enjoying an exotic honeymoon in Montego Bay, Jamaica, with his new bride Barbara. The couple spent one afternoon exploring the beautiful Dunn’s River Falls, but in a split second, Spoltore dropped his tiny camera with its precious photos of the trip from the top of the waterfall.
That trip led to a better replacement camera and a desire to capture the world. Now, Spoltore is sharing some of his favorite photos in an exhibit at the North Shore Public Library in Shoreham throughout the month of January.
“I always enjoyed taking pictures, but it wasn’t until after I was married that I really got bit by the [photography] bug,” said Spoltore, 64, of Port Jefferson Station. He originally went to school to become a teacher but ended up working for the Nassau County Department of Social Services, helping those in need access welfare and food stamps.
In his spare time, he read every book about photography he could get his hands on and attended local workshops.
One day, Spoltore walked into a photo studio and asked to help them shoot weddings. They took a chance, and soon he was shooting his own weddings and portraits. Eventually, Spoltore launched a successful career with companies including Tiffen and Canon. He has also taken thousands of photos of railroad life while working in public affairs for the Long Island Rail Road. Many of these photos are framed and hang in stations around the Island.
While portraits, weddings and event photography pay the bills, Spoltore loves to shoot landscapes. His favorite style focuses on highly saturated photos of colors that pop, as well as infrared and combinations of color with black-and-white palettes. He also likes to manipulate photos so they resemble oil paintings.
Spoltore takes much of his inspiration from the famous wedding and portrait photographer Monte Zucker and creates images based on Zucker’s quote, “I don’t photograph the world as it is. I photograph the world as I would like it to be.”
“I think digital technology makes things a lot easier since you can see your photos right away instead of waiting for your film,” Spoltore said. “Many of my students are intimidated by digital photography because of all the options. But when you see a really gorgeous picture these days, it’s (mostly) digital manipulation. You’ve got to be a good photographer, but you also have to be good on the computer.”
Spoltore’s teaching career began with a simple class he offered for adults in continuing education at Comsewogue High School. When that program ended, one of his former students approached the Comsewogue Public Library about letting him teach there.
The popularity of Spoltore’s classes exploded, and he now offers classes at 34 libraries on Long Island, in addition to private lessons. More than 800 people receive his weekly email newsletter featuring photos and articles about photography, and he’s also contributed a column to local newspapers for the past several years.
“Seeing the ‘aha’ moment on the faces of my students makes me so happy — they would say how easily they understood what I was explaining to them,” Spoltore said. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve never met have emailed me with questions or problems. I’ve had people come to me with a camera still in the box become really great photographers.”
This month’s exhibit at the North Shore Public Library is Spoltore’s 10th on Long Island. It will feature 25 framed prints of his favorite photos that showcase a variety of styles. Each photo is printed on metallic paper to enhance its color. Visitors to the exhibit can expect to see visions of Long Island’s North Shore, Alaska, Canada as well as Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country, to name a few. A photo of an Amish father and son riding a horse and buggy titled “Country Ride” is among Spoltore’s favorites.
“John Spoltore has a great and beautiful heart,” said Lorena Doherty, art exhibit and adult program coordinator at the North Shore Public Library. “I have attended his classes and am astounded at the level of knowledge that he has to share. He enjoys working with people. It gives him such great pleasure to share his talent, knowledge of people and wisdom with all. Please come and view these colorful iconic images.”
The exhibit will also be the photographer’s farewell to Long Island — Spoltore plans to relocate in a few months to Florida, where he hopes to continue spreading his love of photography to anyone willing to learn. His absence will be felt by many including the library where it all began.
“John has taught photography programs at the Comsewogue Library since 2010, and we are sad to see him leave the Island,” wrote the library’s Adult Services Librarian Christine Parker-Morales in a recent email. She continued, “John’s classes were always beloved and well-attended. In 2015 we ran a Geek the Library campaign at the library and John was our go-to guy for a patron portrait shoot included in the activities. He also took part in our library’s 50th Anniversary celebration, providing digital professional-quality family photos free of charge to those who participated. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors and will find his shoes here at Comsewogue hard to fill.”
“Photographs by John Spoltore” is on display through the month of January at the North Shore Public Library, 250 Route 25A, Shoreham. For hours and more information, visit www.northshorepubliclibrary.org or call 631-929-4488. Learn more about John Spoltore at www.swedephoto.com.