Richard Stalbird was 13 and bored. So he picked up a small kid-friendly camera and started snapping pictures.
"It was just something to keep me busy," he said.
In the more than a half-century that has passed since then, Stalbird, now 68, has taken upclose photos of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and panoramic shots of the pyramids in Egypt. He has traveled to 50 countries to shoot his photos, which have appeared in galleries in California and New York City.
"I have collectors in the UK, Switzerland and India," he said. "Whenever I have a photo available for sale, I let them know."
The works of this Palm Harbor resident are on display through March at the Beck Gallery in Lutz. He has also just completed an 83-page glossy photo book called the Stalbird Collection, in which he compiled his art for those he considers his most ardent fans.
"I did the book for my grandchildren," he said. "I wanted to leave them with more than memories."
Stalbird is battling a severe case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive illness that makes it difficult to breathe. His lung capacity is at 28 percent.
"It was because of my health that I chose to put together this book," he said. "It's something for posterity."
"As it turns out, though, other people have liked it quite a bit."
Indeed, aside from the Beck Gallery, the book is also on display and available for sale at the Florida Museum of Photographic Art and the Dunedin Fine Arts Center. It contains photos taken around the world, from the busy streets of downtown Paris to the exotic waterways of Venice to the beaches of California (where he lived for a time and got to meet the legendary Ansel Adams, to whom his work has been compared).
And though these shots have been known to command up to $1,000 each, the man who took them never made his living as a full-time photographer. Stalbird earned his living as a self-employed trade consultant, an occupation that took him around the world.
"My career got me to the places where I could take my pictures," he said. "This is what I always loved to do."
Stalbird considers himself a traditionalist in the photographic arena, preferring the dark room to the digital studio and using the same camera since the 1960s.
According to Tana Brackins, owner of the Beck Gallery, this approach is a solid one.
"Just look at his photos," she said. "The tones are so rich. His art speaks for itself."
Although Stalbird's medical condition makes it difficult for him to travel long distances these days, he still loves to shoot photos of local green spaces, such as those found at the Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club. He teaches photography to college-bound students at the Dunedin Academy. He also enjoys spending time with wife, Sandra, three children and six grandchildren.
Stalbird hopes that his art will speak to them, and to future generations. In a dedication written at the beginning of the book, he leaves his wife, his children and his grandchildren with a single word of advice in perusing his life's work.