UPDATE: I wrote an expanded version of this article and posted it October 5, 2018.
I just received an e-mail from one of Mike Baroli’s cousins with the sad news that Mike passed away December 19, 2010. The memorial service was yesterday at Spring Creek Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.
I met Mike behind the sales counter in a camera store, but Mike was more than a salesperson, he was a Photographer with a capital “P”. Our meeting came about quite by chance (or – looking back – maybe not by chance), but he transformed my photography.
In 1984, some low life person stole my camera. Insurance would replace the camera, but nothing could replace the photos that were still in the camera from a very special family vacation.
Insurance money in hand, I headed for a local camera store in Oklahoma City and found myself talking to Mike Baroli. He sold me a Canon F-1n camera, 50mm lens, and camera bag (I told him the bag was WAY too big but he prophetically said I would need a big bag), and I walked out of the store. Fortunately for me, he was not only a salesperson, he was an avid and passionate photographer.
A few days later, I came in to pick up my first roll of developed slides taken with my new camera. He spotted me at the front counter, came up and snatched my yellow box of processed slides out of the hands of the sale clerk (before I even had a chance to open it) and we went back to his corner of the store. He went through the slides and sorted them into two stacks. He pointed to the stack of 4 slides and said “Keep these.” When I asked what I should do with the other 32 slides, he said “Throw them away.” I didn’t like that. A little bit hurt, I gathered up my slides and left.
The next time I came in to pick up another roll of slides, he did the same thing again. Although I found the process annoying, the annoyance went away with time, the pain of the reject pile diminished somewhat, and it became a challenge for me to make the “keeper” stack bigger. That didn’t happen for a while, and the keeper stack never did get very big. So I finally said to him “Why should I keep these and not them?” That’s when he started teaching me how to be a better photographer. He started sending me to the best books to read, he converted me from Ektachrome 200 to Kodachrome 64 (a much better film). He would show me some of his own work as examples of what I should be going for.
He challenged me to be a much better photographer, our visits became a source of inspiration, and his critiques led to my first published landscape photos and my first magazine cover. I was in once or twice a week to pick up slides and we almost always had some time to visit unless he was swamped with other customers.
It was a red letter day when I came in and he was sorting another photographer’s slides into two stacks, a very small “keeper stack” and a big “throw these away” stack. He took my slides, showed one of them to the other photographer and said, “This is what you should be going for.”
Mike didn’t just do that to other photographers. He was equally rigorous with his own work, as his cousin told me in an e-mail:
“I watched him keep 2 or 3 shots out of a roll of developed film. So much work put into 2 or 3 pictures it seemed.
“Mike loved life, and he loved photography. He found great wonder and beauty in the world and did his best to capture it on film. I would say Mike was happy when it came to photography, but joyful is an even better word. Beautiful imagery, no matter who the photographer was, brought him joy.”
I could only find one photo of Mike online (which I posted above), but I can still see him behind the camera counter, happy, talkative, expressive, big smile, filled with energy, and promoting his favorite hobby.
I have Mike to thank for sending me well down the road to being a better photographer.
In 2007, I wrote to Mike and thanked him for everything he did for me. He wrote back and said:
“WOW thanks for all the praise but I don’t think I deserve it. All I did was share my love of photography with others. Lucky for me my boss at the time let me do what I do best and that’s talk to people about my favorite thing….If I did anything for you it would be to excite you about what I believe is the greatest hobby of all.
“It was great hearing from you after all these years and by the work that I saw you have learned your craft well.”
In June 2010, when my book was in the works, I wrote to Mike again and asked him if I could say a few nice words about him in the book’s acknowledgments. He wrote back and said:
“How wonderful. I would love to see the book. Yes you can mention me in the book, that would be a great honor.”
After the book came out, I sent him an e-mail to tell him I was going to send him an autographed copy as thanks for the difference he made in my photography. I never received a reply. Now I know why.
I am so grateful that I expressed my appreciation to Mike while I had the chance. I never imagined . . . .
But life is uncertain and Mike was too young.
I will miss him.
I wonder what joyful photographers do in heaven?
*** *** ***
From the Muskogee Phoenix:
January 1, 2011
Michael H. Baroli
— Warr Acres, Oklahoma: Michael H. Baroli, 59, of Warr Acres, died suddenly on December 19, 2010 at Harrington Memorial Hospital in Southbridge, Massachusetts.
Born in Muskogee, OK, son of Marvel (Brown) Baroli and the late Bill L. Baroli, he graduated Muskogee High School with the Class of 1970 and was a member of First Baptist Church of Muskogee. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Education and Drama from The University of Central Oklahoma.
Michael was a photographer for more than thirty years. His photography was his art. He was the owner and operator of Baroli’s Photographic Productions and was employed by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation for the last twenty-two years.
He leaves his wife of seventeen years, Joanne L. (Comeau) Baroli, and his daughter Kathryn D. Baroli, of Warr Acres, his mother Marvel (Brown) Baroli of Muskogee, two sisters and brothers-in-law, Betty and Ben Barton of Dallas Texas, and Loretta and Kenneth Self of Broken Arrow, OK, his niece Jennifer Griffin and her husband Jarrett and their children Ella and Evan, his nephew Joshua Self and his nephew Andy Barton and his wife Wendy.
Michael was a member and deacon of Spring Creek Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. He worshiped our God, cared for our congregation, and was devoted to his family and friends. Michael will be forever missed, but we will celebrate his life in all we do.
Family and friends are invited to attend his memorial service on Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 3 p.m. at Spring Creek Baptist Church, No. MacArthur Blvd, Oklahoma City, OK. A reception dinner will follow in the church fellowship hall.
Donations in Michael’s memory may be made to Spring Creek Baptist Church Missions, 11701 No. MacArthur Blvd, Oklahoma City OK 73162.