Take the risk. That is Angel Madera Jr.’s mantra.
The photographer turned local Facebook page rock star says a cancer scare made him realize he was too comfortable, too disconnected.
In 2007, doctors told Madera they believed they found cancer in his lungs, despite the fact that he had never smoked. A scan before surgery to open his chest cavity showed the anomaly had disappeared.
In a meeting after the scan the doctor asked him if he prayed.
“I don’t pray, I just talk to God like he’s sitting next to me,” Madera said. “He said, ‘Well whatever you do, it works. You’re a lucky guy. There’s nothing there’.”
“I had a moment there,” he said. “I had already come to terms with it. If that was my path I wasn’t afraid.
“So I told the man upstairs if this is what you want from me, so be it. But if you change your mind, I’ll make good on it,” Madera said.
And he did. Madera set out to learn a deeper appreciation, he said, for life.
“At that point I was like, nothing is guaranteed for tomorrow. So I started to be a little riskier in what I did,” he said.
After 22 years at the same job, he and his wife left their home in Arizona and moved to Fairhope. After taking a photography class for fun, he started posting his scenic photos to the Facebook page, What’s Happening in Fairhope. He became a sensation overnight.
Scenes of sunsets, and sunrises, over the battleship and beef cattle, fishermen silhouetted against a yellow sky and magnificent seabirds. These were all details Madera captured with his lens. As his talent grew, so did his fan base.
So Madera took another leap. He left his job as a sales person in Mobile and began photography full time, opening Angel Eye Photography.
“This isn’t the first time my wife thought I was crazy,” he said.
This month he released his first book of photos, The Beauty of South Baldwin County Alabama Where Country Roads Lead to the Sea.
He said fans asked him to compose a book of images, but what really pushed him forward was a single comment on the site: “You have become the heart and soul of Baldwin County,” one commenter said.
“I thought, ok, that’s pretty deep,” Madera said.
“Then I got another message from a lady who had lived here most of her life and remembers playing at a lot of places I take pictures of. She can’t get there anymore and said ‘you have rejuvenated my appreciation of life. Even though can’t go see them I see them through your eye and they’re beautiful.’ That really stuck in me,” he said.
Now, Madera had a mission. He said he didn’t want to photograph weddings or portraits or other typical photography assignments. Instead, he wanted to focus solely on the place that he called home.
“I wanted to show people how beautiful our area is so we can try to take care of it,” he said. “Sometimes we get caught up in things and we don’t think about everything that is going on around us.
“Nature adjusts to us unfortunately and we don’t have much patience or care for a lot of what nature does. For the most part it’s either in our way or we don’t want it around so we remove it, he said. “But if you slow down and take a look at it, you will see the beauty of what we have here.”