Michael Valkys has had no formal training taking pictures, but he was a reporter for 25 years, including five years at the Daily Record in Morris County, New Jersey and 15 years at the Poughkeepsie Journal. “I was fortunate to work with some amazing photographers over the years,” he said, “Bob Karp at the Daily Record and Spencer Ainsley, Darryl Bautista and Karl Rabe at the Journal. I watched how they approached a shot and how they always searched for a different or unexpected point of view. So I think I learned a lot through osmosis. But mastering the technical aspects of the professional cameras they used intimidated me and prevented me from trying photography. Thank God for Droid phones. Now even a technical idiot like me can take great photos.”
Valkys is inspired by photos that show “a story well-told and getting folks to think about issues and people they might otherwise never have thought about or known.” That’s why he loved being a reporter. He left journalism about five years ago and really misses telling stories. He thinks taking photos has given him a new way to tell stories: “Hopefully, people like them.”
Valkys grew up in Madison, New Jersey and has lived in New York City and on Cape Cod. “I came to Poughkeepsie to take a job at the Journal in 1997 and didn’t know a soul,” he said. “I don’t think I could spell ‘Poughkeepsie’ at the time. I met the love of my life, Lisa Cardinale, in 1998 at the old Brady’s Publick House in Poughkeepsie, and I’ve called the city home ever since.”
Why is Poughkeepsie so prominent a subject for him? “I’m a diehard New York Mets fan, so I guess I love the underdog. That’s how I view the City of Poughkeepsie. It tries and tries, and even if it falls short more often than not, it never gives up. If it gets knocked down, it gets back up. The people of Poughkeepsie are like that. They’re resilient. I’m always rooting for the city to come back and win. And someday it will.”
He started with #PoughkeepsieAfterDark about a month ago. He works from 4 p.m. to midnight and stopped in the 7-Eleven on Hooker Avenue, not far from his house, to pick up ice cream around 1 a.m. one night on the way home. “Sitting in my car, I was struck by the store’s neon sign. So I took my phone out of my breast pocket and shot a few frames through the windshield. I thought they came out pretty good and captured the feel of the city at night: quiet and lonely, but beautiful.”
Since that night, he has been driving around to spots around the city that he thinks “might capture that vibe.” Sometimes he has a specific locale in mind. At other times, he’ll drive by a spot that he never noticed before. “So I’ll get out of my car and take a few shots that I think might be good,” he said. “Usually, there is no one else around when I’m taking photos. A few times, police officers in their patrol cars see me, slow down to take a look and drive away. I’m sure they’re thinking, ‘What the hell is this guy doing out here in the middle of the night?’’’
Valkys’ love/hate relationship with Poughkeepsie is definitely more love than hate. He says that he gets angry and frustrated sometimes that Poughkeepsie still struggles with crime, poverty and all the other social ills with which most cities grapple. He wants the city to get better; and it is getting better, but the pace of improvement maddens him at times. “But Poughkeepsie is a great city. I love the people, the Hudson River, the restaurants, the diversity. The good definitely outweighs the bad. I never in a million years envisioned myself living here. But 20 years later, I’m still here. I’m home.”
To see Michael Valkys’ Instagram pics of the Queen City at night, visit http://bit.ly/2i2nmE3.