AS SEEN THROUGH THE LENS OF DONATEL: A WORLD WITH A VIEW By Sandra Castillo
Photographer Donatel is on a mission and that is to capture the one, stand-out image that has never been seen or experienced aesthetically before. Of course, since he rarely leaves home without his camera, it is more than likely his personal agenda is well on its way to being accomplished.
For it is with this very instrument, the camera, that has allowed his exceptional talents to marinate in the still waters of his mind’s eye. Donatel is an expert in his field, deftly constructing images veiled in hues and shadows that perfectly translate into what it is he sees when he looks through the lens of his camera. Even though he has been involved with photography for nearly forty years, he considers the last two decades as the ones that have steadfastly anchored his name to his craft. Donatel has gone on record as saying that the moment he “acquired a photography studio, that’s when I became a professional photographer.”
Just like so many of his constituents, who view the world through the lens of a camera, Donatel has taken the long and winding road to be recognized for his art. For him, it has always been about the joy of the journey that has allowed him to witness the world and humanity at large, all from the astute perspective of the one whose camera is really an extension of his soul.
Originally from New York City, Donatel has called California home since the late ‘80s. When he was living there in the early 1970’s, he worked as a concert photographer at Madison Square Garden, where he shot photos of The Rolling Stones, The Who and many other legendary musical acts. Donatel was also called in to document major sporting events, including those involving the New York Knicks basketball team.
“I used to find my way to the basket, the center of the action. This is where I took the photos, which was right under the basket. I’d sit with the other professional photographers and shoot the game and be right in the middle of the action. That was the most fun and exciting part of the assignment,” said Donatel, recalling those moments he and his camera made it to the floor of the Garden.
Although Donatel is primarily self-taught as a photographer, he has acquired some hands-on technical training through intensive studies from San Diego City College. He realizes that even though the mechanical aspect behind the creation of a photograph may not be considered the most exciting or glamorous, it is still imperative for any photographer worth his shutter speed to know how to manage the rudimentary functions of a camera.
Donatel’s current list of clients include several San Diego publications-Uptown, Gay and Lesbian Times and Buzz Magazine- corporations and real estate agencies throughout Southern California and aspiring models and actors, who seek out his services to obtain that perfect headshot. He is also highly sought after to document major events around town, corporate parties, weddings and the occasional, catered black-tie affairs.
When asked who he considers to be his mentors, Donatel is quick to mention the photographer Herb Ritts, who, sadly, passed away in 2002, and was responsible for creating many of the black-and-white, groundbreaking videos that immortalized the likes of Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson and Madonna, during the early ‘90s. He is also an admirer of Richard Avedon, whose stark, edgy portraits of Andy Warhol, Judy Garland, Twiggy and Marilyn Monroe became visual templates for Donatel’s own work.
In every photographer’s career, there is usually that one, definitive moment which stands out beyond the extraordinary. For Donatel, the momentous epoch occurred when he shot a particular photo of the late, great blues guitarist, BB King, during one of his concerts. As he peered through the viewfinder, he could see the performer looking right back at him. It was one of the most gratifying experiences of Donatel’s career, as he witnessed the exchange of raw, visceral emotion in the eye contact between himself and an iconic legend.
When asked about his primary objective, as a photographer, Donatel replied, “I’d like to say that I capture that moment in time…these people are in their own world, and (I am there) to capture that very moment, when they and the universe unite as one.”