By Ileana Sisson Ph.D.
Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Hence photographic art is more than just a picture. Like all fine art forms, photography has the power to transform us, heal us and move us.
But what drives nature photographer Alex Saputo to endure alligator filled swamps, endless assaults of mosquitoes and close encounters with poison ivy, to capture the elusive beauty of rare orchids and the mysterious ancient majesty of the Everglades?
I set out to find out. I drove to Captain Saputo’s Marco Island home and met an affable person with an easy spirit and a warm hand-shake. After introductions he offered a tour of his studio furnished with portraits of the wilderness; each picture a different adventure. His range is an impressive array of the wilderness most people never see; a young eagle stretching it’s wings as if in prayer meeting the new rising sun (First Flight); a close up of a gator educing an unanticipated response when you are touched by the soul in her eyes (Vision); a mirror of water reflecting a steeple of branches enticing us to follow (The Unforbidden).
A brilliant black and white portrait of a massive lone cypress named Before the Storm caught my attention. I’m equally drawn to a delicate picture of an orchid in pink and violets named Clamshell Orchid. Alex tells me, “After so many years of looking I finally found it….twenty feet up on a tree!”
“So, what did you do?” I asked.
“I climbed the tree!I knew it was covered in poison ivy, but I had to get my shot.”
Afterwards, he showed me his online gallery where his photographic works cover magnificent and poetic vistas from Michigan to the Smoky Mountains, but it’s obvious that it’s in the sub tropical Florida jungles where his heart lies.
We drive down 41 into the Fakahatchee Strand his favorite location because it contains the highest assemblage of orchids. As we navigate the dirt road to where we’ll pick up our trail Alex is pointing in all directions, describing the various habitats, species, landmarks and ecology. His relationship with the jungle is intimate. Frequently, he’ll hike 12-15 miles carrying a backpack full of heavy equipment through uncharted, trail-less and extremely remote areas, in search of that next photographic quest. “If I see something interesting I take off and follow my instincts. For me, it’s all about the adventure, discovering what may lie ahead around the corner.”
His kayak trips are no less arduous. Because many orchids bloom during the wet season, he often hikes an area during the dry season to locate the plant, later returning by kayak to capture the perfect photograph. Alex is a die-hard naturalist who doesn’t believe in using a tripod, years of training as an athlete has given him a steady hand and an agile body and he only photographs using natural light.
As we hike Alex stops frequently, looks, smells and listens. I’m curious but quiet because as a wilderness savvy person myself, I comprehend. He tells me, “Over the years you find patterns. I’ve learned that orchids tend to grow in a narrow range, or particular habitat within the forest, theselittle pockets where they thrive, smell, and look different than the surrounding forest. When I sense that particular aroma, and look around and see the patterns I recognize as an orchid’s favorite home, I know I am bound to find one.”
I commented how I felt each forest possesses a unique personality and like a person, has moods that change with the seasons. Alex agreed, knowing too well that an easy walk in winter can turn into a nightmare of a challenge in the heat, humidity, swamps and bugs of summer. In his quest to travel into uncharted areas and find his way out he takes two GPS systems. But even well prepared obstacles happen.
“One day I hiked all day to find nothing worth photographing until I almost stepped on a lovely cottonmouth snake that was resting and while snapping pictures, dropped my car keys. Of course, I didn’t realize this until I got to the car and had to turn around and go back. But when I got there both the snake and keys were gone!” He chuckles at the thought of the fond memory.
As he continues to tell me story after story he reveals that some locations within the jungle are personal favorites that he returns to year after year. There’s a familiar gator he knows, for example, that he has been visiting for quite some time. “I haven’t been back in a while but I have to go,” he says, as if he’s suddenly realized he’s neglected and needs to renew contact with an old friend.
We finish our hike, return to the car anddrive back to his home. He turns to me, “I have one more picture to show you,” he tells me. We walk inside and he returns from a back room with a photograph. It’s a pocket of consecrated wilderness abounding with the exuberance of life, untouched by human kind. A place where perhaps Alex, is the only one to have visited. The photograph is named, My Jungle Fix. “I call it my soul,” he tells me. I nod my head and remain silent. I know the feeling; I often felt that if it were possible to take a picture of my soul it would look like the forest in which I had once lived.
I realize then, that what compels this photographer into the wilderness to take photographs is his profoundly sensitive and complex soul that seeks for an outer expression of itself, in the natural beauty of the jungle. We all carry within us that instinct to connect with nature; to bear witness our own soul.
He gifts me a framed photograph of Eaton Creek in the Ocala National Forest, a place I know. The photo takes a prominent place in my home, for when that dust of life settles around us and we are unable to retreat into the wilderness, Alex Saputo’s work of photographic art reconnects us, uplifts us, heals us and reminds us of the natural beauty that is our own.
To contact Captain Alex Saputo call (239) 595-7495. Online Gallery: www.floridabackcountryadventures.com/artgallery.html. Eco Tours: www.floridabackcountryadventures.com
Contact Ileana Sisson M.S. Ph.D., Fl. Licensed Psychotherapist, 2477, Business Consultant, Health and Wellness, USA Certified Level 2 Cycling Coach, Women in The Wild ® retreats for Women! leanasisson.com (239) 283-6140.