Arcata Eye Scene

A-town art, music, theatre. Mostly music. Updated Wednesdays.

Sheldon Sabbatini, take 2

Terrence tells you all about one of our favorite photogs.


Terrence couldn’t figure out how to click on the link. So we’re making it easier for him. Here’s the story:

Photographer extraordinaire Sheldon Sabbatini on love and passion – Nov. 13, 2007


Terrence McNally
Eye Business Editor

HSU – Small, rural California towns have a tradition of attracting great talents. Whether it was Samuel Clemens looking for gold riches, but finding jumping frogs in low Sierras’ Murphy or Bret Harte starting a journalism career at 22-years old at Arcata, Northern Californian-pioneering towns often pull in striving talents.

In Arcata now, it’s college commitments that bring in smart strangers. Sheldon Sabbatini, didn’t even come to go to school, he’s just sort of married to Humboldt’s wildlife program. Fiancée Lindsy Greene is working toward her master’s degree. Sabbatini, arguably one of the area’s best photographers, is biding his time, trying to figure out how to make the most of this weird, isolated burg. That’s love. Were he alone, Sabbatini would still be on the side of a snowed-in Western mountain shooting aerial drops from professional snowboarders. That’s his other passion, now a second-tiered one.

Based in Salt Lake City, Sabbatini became a much-sought after cold-weather sports photographer. His photos graced the leading snowboarding mags and Sabbatini ran with the top boarders in the sport. But one thing leads to another. Before that, Sabbatini was a dutiful art school student.

A high school talent for shooting skateboarding friends led into a real grasp for photography. He’d grown up around it – his mom worked a photo booth when they lived in Wisconsin. Sabbatini soon found himself studying the art in Bellingham, Wash. Armed with a degree, Sabbatini didn’t have a lot more. Every year, art schools churn out talented graduates with just about zero knowledge about how to navigate the business. “The reality is you still have to figure out how to get a job. They don’t tell you anything about
making money. Undergrad degrees – that’s how it is,” he says.

Sort of a whim, Sabbatini and Lindsy left Washington for Utah, snowdrifting. He knew how to shoot – well. He fell for snowboarding.

An easy-going personality and a head for camera technology, Sabbatini soon found friends making it in the business, and they took him under their wings. He was spending 200-days a year knee-deep in the show, shooting. And now he’s here, for a while, hundreds of miles from any serious snowpack.

“It’s been a big change,” he says resignedly. It’s been a year now. Most would have idled. Sabbatini has been working, building his portfolio with new and interesting shots. He’s gotten some work with Mad River Community Hospital and Kokatat, but his main mission has been to keep growing his craft. Sometimes paid. Sometimes just to do an interesting project.

He’s connected with every local photographer he could find, to talk shop. “I’m not afraid to share ideas. I’m all about sharing information.” Not everybody’s matched his enthusiasm, perhaps sensing a talent who would scoop up biz. He figures communication is a better resource than isolation and has kept at getting his name out there.

KSLG’s John Matthews

Sabbatini recently spent two days in Ferndale shooting all the KSLG 94.1 FM radio personalities. He liked the station. He offered his services. Most photographers probably would have gone for the in-studio shot with an “on-air” sign in the background. Sabbatini’s photos are stark, white background, empty-space drawing out faces of people accustomed to behind-the-mic privacy.

Two days later, he had coordinated a shoot of 40 Humboldt Roller Derby girls at the 330 Club. The team is just getting rolling. Maybe none of the girls had been asked to do a model shoot before. By the end of the afternoon – bolstered by a tight lighting system and a fog machine – he’d turned them into stars.

He asked them what they wanted to do, let them run with their ideas. Sometimes he’s reserved and self-effacing. Sometimes he makes faces at them, if he needs to yank them out.

“I probably look like an idiot. I don’t care. It’s about making them comfortable – as long as you capture their personality.” Trained in the art of photography, he might have thought the jobs were beneath him when back in school. But he’s pulling real gems out of the events. The lowest rung, perhaps? Sabbatini has thrown himself into wedding photography with abandon, seeking out clients looking for totally original representations of the day with a fine arts approach. He found, to his surprise, he really enjoyed it. Maybe more base yet – Sabbatini is figuring to remake the high school senior portrait into a unique shoot that blasts a teen’s personality off the page. Not posed shots on beach rocks. Vibrant lighting and energy. It’s commercial and it’s got its integrity intact.

“Artists have to be starving? I don’t agree,” he says. And he’s happy here, for however long he’s here. “There are so many places to get stellar photography. I just want to stir things up.

“I spent my first year here either working outside the area or thinking about what I’m going to do once or if we leave, and now, I just want to make great photography for the people here. I want to push the limits of other photographers and make great images in the meantime.” More examples of his work at


  Terrence McNally wrote @

You’re dead to me, Savage.

Laugh Out Loud!
Smiley Emoticon!

  ekovox wrote @

This guy is an incredible talent. Every shot a keeper. And could probably do it with just a Kodak Instamatic 110

  Jennifer Savage wrote @

(Terrence is so difficult to work with!)

I agree, Eko – Sheldon’s photos are amazing.

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