Rocky Start Did Not Dissuade Award-Winning Photographer
PHOTO COURTESY ED CUNICELLI
Rob Cardillo is well known among garden communicators . His outstanding plant and landscape photography has been honored with numerous GWA Media Awards , and he was elected to the GWA Hall of Fame in 2015 .
But how many of you know that “ Mr . Cardillo ,” in his earlier years as a budding paleontologist , discovered a quarry in northern New Mexico full of amphibian and reptile bones dating from the Paleozoic Era ? That ’ s right , the Cardillo Quarry is named after our own Rob , who discovered it while working at Pittsburgh ’ s Carnegie Museum of Natural History , his first job after graduating from college .
That ’ s when Rob started carrying a camera . It was a tool , helpful for documenting fieldwork in interesting places . When he moved from the Carnegie Museum to Philadelphia ’ s Academy of Natural Sciences , Rob first worked in the herbarium and then in the ornithology department , where he helped build an image library ( yes , they were slides back then ) that aimed to document every bird species in the world .
FOR THE BIRDS
For four or five years , Rob focused on bird photography , and once again made a historic discovery , this time while on his honeymoon in Nantucket , Massachusetts . He and his wife Sue found and photographed the western reef heron , which had never been spotted in the western hemisphere .
Rob claims these discoveries are just examples of being in the right place at the right time , but don ’ t believe that for a second . Rob has an eye . And a deep love for the natural world , whether it ’ s dinosaur fossils , bird species or plants and landscapes .
While still at the Academy of Natural Sciences , Rob took photography classes at a local university . A career in natural history
would have required a Ph . D ., which Rob decided wasn ’ t what he wanted . Instead , he accepted a job as photo editor for Organic Gardening magazine at Rodale Press . For 11 years , Rob enjoyed working as part of a journalistic team that shared his appreciation of nature . He got to know some excellent photographers along the way , including an early mentor , Walter Chandoha , a GWA Fellow and member of the GWA Hall of Fame . Eventually , Rob decided to go out on his own and see how far he ’ d get .
He ’ s gotten pretty far .
GWA FOSTERS COLLABORATION
After leaving Rodale , Rob attended a GWA meeting at the Philadelphia Flower Show and very quickly realized that “ these were my people .” The life of a freelancer can be lonely at times , and in GWA Rob found a generous and talented group of people , who were willing to share what they knew . Membership gave him the chance to develop relationships with fellow photographers , and the opportunity to talk about shared problems and discoveries .
To this day he appreciates the spirit of giving and helping that is prevalent in GWA . Being part of the garden communicator community offers so many opportunities for collaboration , which gives him great satisfaction . Rob says he always comes away from these collaborations more enriched . Having worked with Rob , I can say the feeling is mutual .
Rob admits his own garden isn ’ t the most beautiful in the neighborhood . Those of us who work most doggedly during the growing season understand letting our personal landscape get a little ragged around the edges . Also , Rob describes himself as a plant collector , someone who ’ s liable to come home from a GWA meeting with more cuttings and plant samples than he can accommodate on his corner lot . But they ’ re all so interesting and new that Rob can ’ t resist them . What little gardening time he does have is spent with Sue in their vegetable garden , which Rob admits ( if pressed ) is pretty good .
WHAT ELSE HE ’ S UP TO
I asked Rob if he had a hobby , something he does to relax and unwind after a long day of lugging around a heavy tripod . He said he gets so much satisfaction from his work that he hasn ’ t thought much about a hobby . This winter ’ s work includes reducing his huge slide library to a manageable number of images . ( Rob will be writing about this process soon in On the QT .) He also has two books in the works for 2017 .
These days Rob is the photography director for GROW Magazine , a publication of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society , which won last year ’ s Gold Media Award for best overall magazine . He enjoys this project not only because it ’ s a beautiful , rich , and diverse magazine , but also because he ’ s working with three friends he ’ s known for more than 20 years . The network of garden communicators continues to thrive and produce things of beauty , thanks to people like Rob Cardillo .
Ellen Zachos is the author of seven books , including Backyard Foraging : 65 Familiar Plants You Didn ’ t Know You Could Eat and The Wildcrafted Cocktail . She is a regular contributor to several of the Edible magazines , and a Senior Regional Advisor at Garden Compass , a plant identification app . She also works with RemyUSA , teaching foraged mixology workshops across the US for The Botanist Gin . Ellen share recipes and tips about foraging at backyardforager . com