Sag Harbor photographer Rick Gold has been many things in his life: a high school science teacher, an aerospace engineer, a stock boy at Willoughby’s Camera, a tree surgeon and a vending machine repairman.
But on Aug. 29, 2005, he was just a man sitting in Dr. Robert Semlear’s office in Noyac receiving bad news.
“Dr. Semlear said ‘you’re having a heart attack. Get to a hospital,'” he said.
Mr. Gold and his wife, Sharmila Cohen-Gold, got into their car and headed to Southampton Hospital. On the way, he called his brother, Hank, because it was Hank’s birthday, and to let his brother know he wasn’t having such a great day.
But after he was stabilized and taken to a private room, he turned on the television and was inundated with the pictures of Hurricane Katrina making landfall.
“I was more upset about New Orleans,” he said. “All I could see was people standing on their roofs. I said ‘I thought I had it bad today?'”
While he was in the midst of recovering and watching those pictures, Hank, who is a doctor in Massachusetts, appeared at his bedside with an advertisement for the brand new Canon EOS 5D digital camera.
“I casually said, ‘if i get out of here alive, I think that’s the camera I’d like to get,'” said Mr. Gold. “Photography was in the background. I never knew I’d have a serious opportunity to have a go at getting my work out there for people to see.”
Several months later, Hank gave his brother the camera in that ad, and Rick Gold has been a photographer again ever since.
Mr. Gold, now 67, then began combing through the boxes of suitcases he’d taken since he was a boy of eight in Far Rockaway. He found haunting black and white pictures of his visit to John F. Kennedy’s temporary gravesite, not long after he dropped out of the engineering program at Columbia University. He found street scenes of the time he spent wandering the streets of Greenwich Village, his head filling with potential music scores as he contemplated a future as a classical composer. And he still has more suitcases to go through.
Last year, he self-published “My Eyes Have Seen,” a book of 63 of those photographs. Many of the photographs in the book are on display now through July 31 at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton.
“I’m pretty much self taught,” he said of his photographic style. “I first became interested in chemistry when I was pretty young, eight years old. I was interested in how film worked. How do you take piece of plastic, put it in a camera box, put it in a bunch of soups and it comes out a picture?”
“I’ve always been pretty good at teaching myself stuff,” he said. “I built my own computer when computers were big enough to take up an office building. I got involved in a computer project, which took me to Columbia, but my parents took more interest in it than I had. I never thought of being passionately interested in any path of science. I discovered by accident I had been able to teach myself music. And I thought I’d rather be a classical composer.”
But Columbia rejected his application to transfer from the engineering to the music program, so Mr. Gold ended up back home with his parents in Far Rockaway, before moving upstate and beginning a series of odd jobs.
“I had a lot of false starts, but I don’t regret a minute of it,” he said. “At the time I really thought I took a terrible turn in the wrong direction.”
Mr. Gold and a group of friends moved to Sag Harbor to work for the firm QMed in the early 1980s, but by 1990, he decided to go back to school to become a science teacher. He taught for several years at a magnet school in Hackensack, New Jersey, before taking a job as a science teacher at Sag Harbor’s Pierson High School in 1996. He stayed there for a decade but knew, after his heart attack, that it was time to retire.
“Now, I just want people to see my work,” he said. “A lot of stuff got tucked into suitcases for years. I hadn’t made any attempt when I was younger to show it to people on any scale. Now, I’ve gotten so much positive feedback that I want to get it out there.”
Since rekindling his love for photography, Mr. Gold has developed two favorite areas of interest.
“Sometimes I have a picture in mind before I take it. It could be based on a place I’ve seen before and caught my attention. The potato fields in Bridgehampton — I was driving past them every three days on my way to cardiac appointments. In spring, when they’re planted, the straight rows going off into the distance. The clouds kept calling me every day,” he said. “Other times, I happen to be carrying a camera and something incredible becomes visible. So it it goes from Ansel Adams, carefully planned, zone system scenic photography to ‘there’s the decisive moment. Grab a shot, quick, before it disappears.'”
“I have an old fashioned eye. I like to set my own f stop and shutter speed,” he said. “I treated myself to a Leica M8 last year. It handles like the old fashioned Leica. The Leica happens to be a very good camera for shooting infrared. That’s considered a defect, but for people like me, it’s not a fault.”
“It’s a learning experience every time,” he said.
“My Eyes Have Seen” will be on view at Rogers Memorial Library through July 31. To contact Mr. Gold about purchasing a copy of the book, email email@example.com. His photographs are also available on Redbubble at www.redbubble.com/people/rickgold.