Marcelo Barrera rarely shoots people.
The Ecuadorean-born, self-taught photographer prefers capturing emotional vistas and cityscapes in novel ways — a perspective-warping, head-on shot of the Flatiron Building in Lower Manhattan, for example, makes it look like a melted puddle of goo.
Another of Barrera’s favorite shots captured a popular pier in Dumbo, Brooklyn. But he snapped it during winter, so the sight is familiar, but the emotion and coloring of the natural light is unexpected.
Occasionally he shoots portraits for family and friends with his Nikon D810 camera, but his work mostly reflects his eye for horizons, architecture, trees and mountains.
Barrera, 49, of Valley Stream, moved to the United States from Ambato, Ecuador in 2001 to join his wife, Livy Vega, who is of Ecuadorean descent but was born in New York. He took a job cleaning shelves at Sephora, in Roosevelt Field, and over the course of several years, advanced to operations manager for education, based in the 34th Street store in Manhattan.
He was interested in photography from a young age — his uncle bought him an Olympus camera while he was living in Ecuador — and became serious about his hobby when he moved to New York.
“I started visiting some galleries, checking some work of famous artists and getting some inspiration from these people,” Barrera said. “When I saw those pictures, I said, ‘Oh my God, I think I need to create’ — I saw photography, as an art expression. So I try to put my emotions or my feelings through photography and I think the city, or everything around New York, is so beautiful that I want to capture that.”
He saved money, bought tripods and lenses, and eventually enrolled in a three-month course at the International Center for Photography.
A few years ago, he won a Kodak contest, and a billboard in Times Square featured his photo of the city skyline. He told his supervisor at Sephora that he was taking the day off to go admire the billboard with his family. Management at the company’s San Francisco headquarters learned about the billboard, and circulated the news of his accomplishment throughout the company.
That experience led him to shooting various Sephora fashion and cosmetic events in New York City. He clicked through his photo gallery on an iMac in his Hicks Street home, looking for a picture he took of one of the Kardashians (it was actually of Kendall Jenner). Even his fashion photography has its own Barrera-style: He takes photos of models in their makeup chairs or casually preparing for shows instead of strutting down runways.
Photography remains a hobby for Barrera. He carries a small, versatile Olympus camera everywhere he goes, in case a moment strikes him as worthy of documentation. “It’s a way to dissipate my stress,” he said of photography.
He vaguely recalled a $500 check he once got from the Daily News for a photo he took of a loose fox in New York City — but that, and his occasional work for Sephora, is as close as he’s come to a career in photography. He shoots family portraits, and begrudgingly accepts wedding gigs at his friends’ insistence, even though he said he hates it.
There’s an active volcano about 20 miles from Ambato that he hopes to photograph someday, along with a few other bucket list items — the northern lights, the southwestern United States and Iceland. He has a vision for a project that would involve traveling across the country, photographing life in small towns. For now, Barrera said, he’s happy to look around Valley Stream for interesting shots. By working at his hobby each week, he is able to shrug off the idea of retirement.
“If that day comes, I hope I just have my camera and my car to move wherever I want to take pictures,” he said. “That’s my only dream.”
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