San Francisco, CA

Meet The Veteran Photographer Who Captures The Best Of The Bay To Free Himself

Vince Martellacci

Mike Carlson tells me that about 22 veterans each day commit suicide. He tells me that he was on his way to becoming that statistic. But when he found and began to pursue photography, art and entrepreneurship saved him.
We're big fans of Carlson's bridge photosPhoto byMike Carlson

I met Carlson at Clayton’s Art & Wine Festival. His photos of the bay area, San Francisco, and all kinds of subjects stood out to me immediately. He shares that he never would have thought to become a full-time photographer without the encouragement of a supportive friend and his time in the military that paid for his education. Though his time there took a toll, the benefit of being able to attend Academy of Art made a major difference in Carlson’s life.

Carlson started shooting photography in 1976, but it wasn’t until 2017 when a friend encouraged him to sell his photos. From there, school became the logical choice. Carlson credits the friend, “With her encouragement I decided to use my military education benefit and enrolled at the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco. I already had the basics down, but my instructors really made me take a critical look at my work.”

He says the opportunity grew him from a hobbyist to a professional. The dedicated professors grew him as an artist: “As with every photographer, it is an evolutionary voyage.”
Photo byMike Carlson

Photography gave Carlson a safe harbor after retiring from the military in 2010. Things were starting to feel hopeless for the long-running veteran. Mike says, “I didn’t realize how self-destructive I was becoming. As much as I hate to admit it, I was on the path to becoming a negative veteran statistic.” Photography allowed everything to turn toward the positive and reframed Carlson’s life trajectory.

Carlson takes a lot of landscape photography. He shares what drives him, “I want to create realistic photos of scenes that touch people’s emotions, whether it is a photo of Yosemite Valley or a Tunnel of Cypress trees.” If it affects Carlson, he goes for it in a totally unique way: “I look for scenes that touch me or seem unique and try to find a different approach to capturing that image.”

Carlson stays very creative with the way he actually gets his shots. He shares, “For example, I have a photo of an old, dilapidated fishing boat that is sitting on a trailer. I had to lay on the ground and shoot upwards to hide the trailer and make the ship look like it was riding a wave of ice plant.”
Photo byMike Carlson

Carlson also shows a different side of San Francisco. From his breathtaking bridge pictures to the cityscapes and nature that surrounds the city, Carlson shows how beautiful San Francisco is. He reflects, “This is such an amazing city to photograph. From the architecture to the bridges and all the boats, there is always something to take a photo of, and it is always changing.”

In all of Carlson’s photography, he says, there is something that will resonate with someone: “It doesn’t really matter what I take a photo of in the city, someone will have some attachment to it.”

Photography has freed Carlson, and he’s always finding ways to stay free. Soon, Carlson will be moving on and hitting the road: “I have a plan to retire from my ‘day’ job, get on my motorcycle and tour the country about 9 months a year, taking photos along the way.” Now, with the darker days of post-military life behind him, Carlson believes photography can pave the way for him for the rest of his life.

Comments / 0

Published by

I've covered stories of unknown immigrants from places like Cambodia, been an opinion editor and opinion blog writer, managed blogs for my own businesses & for other brands. I'm looking forward to getting back to more classical journalism.

Walnut Creek, CA

More from Vince Martellacci

Comments / 0