Former SUNY New Paltz student R.J. Partington III traveled to Southern India to attend the wedding of his close friend in the summer of 2010. He found himself on a bus from his friend’s native Kerala to a beach in Poovar, traveling through a small village toward the ocean. He felt he was being pulled by a strong instinct to walk back to that village and take photos of the people.
Partington found that following his instincts lead him to one of his finest hours as a photographer, ultimately earning him the chance to share his portrait work at various venues in New Paltz. His photos are currently on display at /Root, a grass roots tech café located on 60 Main Street.
“I am usually most inspired by people. My love of photography really stems from my love of people!” Partington said. “Once I was in the village, I have to say that the people and the environment inspired me. The children who were so energetic, the blue sky that was so beautiful, the energy that was so positive, everything came together so naturally and so powerfully.”
Partington said that it was merely the “gut feeling” that took him to the village.
“If you know me, you’d know that the ocean is one of my favorite places in the world, but my heart told me to walk back to the village and take some photographs.”
Partington took his 35mm Canon camera and Fuji slide film and walked through the village for about an hour and everything fell into place. In a short time he had taken nearly 200 photographs of the magnetic children he had met.
“There are some times in life where you are so happy and things go so right, that you know whatever you are doing will work out perfectly. This is how I felt that day,” said Partington.
Connie Rivera, a New Paltz alumna who graduated in 2003 with a degree in Women’s Studies, accompanied Partington on the photo excursion. Viewing the photos at the /Root had a great impact on the photographer’s friend.
“I knew how much the experience meant to R.J. he really loves kids and you can see that in the photographs.” Rivera said. “Even though they were in an impoverished area he took the negative and found the beauty. You don’t see poverty in those pictures. They’re just lovely.”
His favorite photograph in his current show is a close up portrait of a little girl. He said he loves the quality of natural innocence and happiness in her look, a common feature of his photographs.
“I love the intense expression on her face. I also love how you can see a little sand on her face, showing that she was probably playing around in the sand. It is by far the best photograph that I have ever taken in my life,” he said. “If you look at the photograph really close up, you can see a reflection of me in both of her eyes. At first, I didn’t like that, but now I think it is neat.”
Partington started taking photographs in high school in Southampton on Long Island after he’d been given a camera for his birthday. Since he was a black and women studies double major and not an art major, Partington had to sneak into two photography courses to learn some techniques and the basics he had never been able to learn.
But that didn’t keep him from taking photos. During his time at SUNY New Paltz, he incorporated photography into everything he did, from the “elaborate photography bulletin boards” he made as a Resident Assistant, to his time as an Orientation Leader, taking numerous pictures of his students. In fact, his first published photographs were in orientation and Residence Life brochures as well as on the SUNY New Paltz website.
Partington’s first showing of the photographs was at Karma Road, a vegetarian restaurant on 11 Main Street. During their time there, he was told by the employees that the photographs made people, children and adults smile when they caught a glimpse. The smiles alone are enough for him.
Dub Sonata, a former New Paltz student and local musician, was inspired to plan his own trip to India after seeing the photos.
“The intimacy [of these photographs] inspired me.” Sonata said, “Once I saw the finished product, I just had to pull the trigger and plan the trip.”
Partington said he wanted to share the experience he had and hopes to inspire those who viewed his photos.
“It may be photography or traveling, but it may be something totally different and that would be really wonderful!” he said.
Since his graduation in 2007, Partington has traveled to take photographs in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Jamaica. His photos will be on display at /Root through Oct. 20, spectators are welcome to drop in, view the photographs and sign the guestbook.