Tampa businessman finds recovery in photography

Joe Sale adjusts a light in his North Hyde Park studio, which opened in April. He will have a grand opening on Saturday.
Joe Sale adjusts a light in his North Hyde Park studio, which opened in April. He will have a grand opening on Saturday.
Published April 9, 2015

TAMPA — After a second night in jail, a judge told Joe Sale he couldn't be around alcohol anymore.

That morning, Sale gave up his 12-year addiction to alcohol and picked up a new one.


Sale, 37, celebrated his second sobriety anniversary on March 24 by opening his own photography studio. Tampa Image Factory is a 3,000-square-foot space with dark, tie-dye green floors, offices, three photography bays, a movie theater and an apartment on the second floor.

"Two years ago I was in need of something to turn my life around," Sale said. "It took me about four months to find a space to live and have a creative space, but it's the perfect property for what I'm trying to accomplish."

Sale's addiction to alcohol began at Florida State University where influence from friends and the college party lifestyle took precedence. Born on Davis Island and a fifth-generation Tampa native, Sale's departure for college marked his first time away from his hometown.

"When I got to FSU, my whole perception changed in regards to going out and partying with friends," he said. "Responsibilities seemed to come second. I just carried it on for too long."

He graduated with a bachelor's degree in sports management and began a career in marketing by forming Dent Marketing Solutions, providing services for Mazzaro's, Tryst and Tampa Pizza Co., among others. But Sale's partying and binge drinking continued past graduation. A DUI arrest in 2011 was his first wakeup call. He learned his hardest lesson with an arrest in 2013 after an argument with a taxi driver.

The driver wouldn't take Sale's debit card as payment and flagged down a police officer to settle the argument. Sale was arrested for petty theft for the cab ride and possession of MDMA, also known as "Molly," which he had taken earlier.

When he quit drinking, he needed something to fill the void, and photography came natural to him because of his marketing experience. His photographs range from simple, elegant portraits and candid shots to images created by light painting and the use of a pixelstick. Sale describes his style as "creative with an artistic flare," noting he is always "finding something with a unique perspective and expanding on that."

Instead of being connected to a bottle every weekend, he stays connected to his camera. Capturing the world around him in photos not only gives Sale a healthy hobby, it provides him with a creative outlet and brings some positivity to his life.

"I can't recall one positive thing that happened when I was drinking," he said. "Knowing I have the capability to pick up the camera and do something special means a lot to me."

Sale sees his photography, as well as his new studio, as not being just for his enjoyment. He wants the space to be for him as well as other photographers and agencies. He hopes to share his equipment and offices with whoever needs it.

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"I have been working with Joe Sale for the past year on a regular basis and he has always delivered on creativity and is extremely passionate," Teena Cardozo, president of BrandMunki, a design agency in Tampa, said. "I have enjoyed watching him grow as an artist and I am so happy to see him finally get the recognition he deserves."

Having his studio be a "collaborative space is important to Sale because "taking a great photograph isn't just for me, it's for others as well."

The movie theater could be used for screenings and training sessions and he's planning to establish pay rates for those wishing to rent an office or use the equipment and studio space.

The money he used to spend on drinks he now funnels into his passion for photography. He moved into the space at 520 N Willow Ave. in Tampa on March 1 and spent the past month settling in and gearing up for the studio's grand opening on Saturday.

"I don't want to be the biggest photo in the world," Sale said. "I just want to do special things for people."