About the Artist

In 1956, photographer Louis Klemantaski stood on his balcony in Monte Carlo. “He had a handheld camera,” Dr. Adrian Vella says. “No motordrive, no autofocus.” Below, cars sped past on their practice runs for the Monaco Grand Prix. In the soft light of morning, before the days of digital cameras and burst shooting, Klemantaski managed to capture the reigning champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, drifting his car around an infamously dangerous corner. “The car is only an inch or so from the curb, just placed perfectly,” Vella says. “It’s one of his most iconic photos.” The car and the camera; two machines working in unison to capture the grace of both driver and photographer.

Adrian Vella, MD

Vella now has a selection of Klemantaski prints hanging in his office at the Mayo Clinic, where he studies the underlying mechanisms responsible for the progression of prediabetes to type 2 diabetes.

He can trace his own interest in photography to his time in medical school at the University of Malta, when he bought his first professional camera. He taught himself how to use it by reading photography magazines. But his love of motorsports goes back to a children’s book, Nuvolari and the Alfa Romeo, which he read at age six.

“I later searched high and low for a copy. And unbelievable as it sounds, within minutes of finding that very book at a racing memorabilia shop, I got an email that my first grant was funded,” he says, describing a National Institutes of Health study on the effects of TCF7L2, a gene associated with type 2 diabetes and glucose metabolism. “Professional and personal life, intertwining at that very moment.”

Vella has tried his hand at photographing motorsport events, but his primary focus has always been landscapes. Waking early to capture a scene at golden hour—the brief windows after sunrise and before sunset when the light is at its best—provides a moment of relief from the stress that accompanies any career in medicine.

“It’s a sanity check. I don’t have to think of much when I have the camera to my eye,” he says. “I can just focus on trying to capture something tangible.”

This emphasis on serenity may seem at odds with the high-octane style of Klemantaski, but the influence of motorsport photography can still be found in Vella’s work. While most landscape photographers rely on wide- or ultrawide-angle lenses to capture scope, Vella typically uses a telephoto lens to focus on finer details. Just as a motorsport photographer uses a zoom lens to appear closer to the action, to the distant gleam of a Formula One helmet, Vella’s photos highlight far-off details in the environment that the viewer might otherwise miss. The vane atop a cathedral. The iron webbing of a Ferris wheel. The bent light along a high stone wall. The forgotten parts of the everyday.

On the Cover: Morning on the Pier

In a distinct place and time, Klemantaski caught a vanishing instant, the perfect placement of a wheel. Every photographer owes something to chance. Vella’s featured photograph, Morning on the Pier, is one he has tried to recreate on several occasions, though the conditions have never again lined up in quite the same way.

“The air that morning was completely still. There wasn’t any wind,” he says. “If there had been so much as a ripple, it would have broken up those light trails on the water.”

Vella took his photo in 2012 with a Nikon D7000 camera and a Nikkor AF 70–210 f4/5.6 lens. The pier and lighthouse jut into Lake Michigan from the shore of Grand Haven, a vacation town 35 miles west of Grand Rapids. Vella often visits with his family.

“I woke up very early that morning. It was pitch black when I set up my tripod,” he says. This lack of light led to another happy accident. “When I took the photo, it was so dark, I only realized there was a man sitting on the pier once I got home. I had no idea there was someone there.

“I was pleasantly surprised. It was more than I imagined I had,” he adds. “It was the first photo of mine that I was moved to put on a wall.

It now hangs in Vella’s office alongside his Klemantaski prints.

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