So on February 24th I turned thirty.
I rang in my milestone with great friends and my family, and had a blast doing it!
But it is an age that I have dreaded for much of my life because i thought it meant you were old, washed up, finished (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit!). I was not at all excited about it, until someone told me that my 30’s were the time to change the world. It made me reflect on what I am trying to do with my life and so many things pointed to making a change. I am currently writing my thesis on Elie Wiesel’s Night, in part to bring about a change in the way Holocaust literature is viewed and received by academia. This has (unknowingly at first) been a massive undertaking, one which I often kick myself for partaking in. Ultimately, it has been a project that has been a long time coming, one that I am incredibly passionate about, and one that has truly started to change my life. As much as I yell (internally) at myself for picking such a depressing topic, it has quickly become one of the most rewarding and interesting things I have ever worked on in my life. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
When I look at my photography, specifically my equine and racing work, I realize I’m trying to change how people view the racetrack. I know not all racetracks are like Monmouth Park, but I believe that MP can be the game changer when it comes to how this industry is viewed. The work I do there (all for personal use—I DO NOT WORK AS A PHOTOGRAPHER AT THE TRACK) is solely to show the public the side of the track that they don’t get to see. I don’t get paid for any of the long, hot days I spend there shooting workouts and races, except for the Haskell. This may ruffle a few feathers out there, but I was not a big fan of the show “Luck.” I felt that it did more of a disservice to the industry and missed the opportunity to truly highlight what so many of us love about it. There are downsides to this industry, but most know about them already; why not bring to light all the misconceptions?! My ultimate goal is to help bring about this change, to showcase the gentler side of racing, one where the jockey’s DO care about their mounts and risk their lives EVERY SINGLE DAY to do what they love. Where “free time” doesn’t exist, and the phrase “day off” is never uttered. This is a 7-days-a-week, and often a 24-hours-a-day job. It is not a joke, it is not easy, it is not “playing with pretty horses” (although that’s what some of us like to do, ahem, me!), it’s not a “fake job.” People invest their time and their lives into these horses, they love them, and if a horse isn’t healthy or doesn’t run well that is their money lost and maybe even their job. Upkeep and health are of utmost importance, and for as fast as these thoroughbreds can be, they are quite fragile. The fact is, I love this industry and I am not an awful person because of that. No one is happy when a horse breaks down. It hurts everyone involved, including the viewer. Many of us are friends with these jockeys—when any of them get hurt my heart is in my throat. I worry about them because they are my friends, not just the people who ride these horses. They are some of the most passionate people I have ever met. In fact, most horsemen and women are the most passionate people I’ve ever met. You have to be to be in this business. And they deserve their recognition and I intend to give it to them through my photography.
As for the rest of my photography, I find that rather than using it to bring about change, a change has taken place within myself. I have seen the growth I have made over the years as photography has morphed from a hobby into a passion into something I’d like to have as a career. I am proud of the work I’ve been creating, but more proud of the fact that I know I still have so much to learn. But while working on my photography, I suppose I didn’t realize that I am trying to change the way photography is viewed. When I’m not photographing horses I’m using my iphone to take landscape photos. This is a topic that is fairly controversial, due to the technology utilized to take the photo. I hope that photographers can learn to look past the device used and to appreciate the work and the artistry behind the photo, instead, for a photo is only as good as the person taking it! ;)
So, 30’s, I’m ready for you!
Today was a tough day.
I had to go to Rutgers University’s Biological Science’s building to meet former colleagues of my father’s who offered to help go through his belongings that were discovered in the basement.
Among old family photos, newspaper clippings of articles about him, old magazine articles he wrote and photographed, and about a thousand other random papers, were his old green journals—something I never saw him without. He would fill these pages with ideas for his dissertation, articles, books, movies, etc.. He would write his personal thoughts in them as well.
These books are very special to me because they allow me to enter into a part of my father’s life I was not privy to: his innermost thoughts. Dangerous? Yes. Intriguing? Even more so.
Most of all, I believe these books will help to fill the hole that has grown over the years of his absence and now recent passing.
It’s excerpts like the following that remind me of just how special my father was and how no matter what, he will forever be my hero: my real-life Indiana Jones.
“This particular trip was different. Instead of color photographs, I actually had my wife Roberta and our then 10 year old daughter Corinne with me. It was Roberta’s second trip and Corinne’s first visit—her first real-life adventure to the place I never seem to be able to stop talking about. “Serengeti, Serengeti, that’s all you ever talk about Dad.”“
“She was right. She’d grown up watching hours of slides show on our dining room wall and sat in on numerous conversations with various wildlife biologists and wildlife filmmakers who periodically crash at our house. While watching wildlife documentaries on Nova or Discovery Channel she has occasionally caught me with a hint of tears in my eyes as I re-ran memories of my own experiences or felt that familiar longing to be back there again. To me, the Serengeti is like a mistress, “the other woman” of the Soaps.”—John A. Cavallo
It wasn’t until this trip that my father speaks of above, that I was able to understand his longing and his love of a country that seemed so different and so far from home. To him, it was home, more than our beautiful lake-front victorian in Asbury and more than our open arms that eagerly awaited his return.
With age comes understanding and at 28, I now understand. While he may have fallen into the arms of another women, his heart was stolen long ago by the Serengeti. If you have never been, you will never understand. While I did not nearly spend as much time in Africa as my father, it stole my heart from the moment my toes touched its yellow grasses and dusty roads. Every moment I feel it calling to me, begging me to return and uncover the remnants of my father’s life there, to put together the pieces of the puzzle and gain some closure to a very long and painful loss.