How does one begin to write an obituary for an old friend? It is not something you really think about. We all want to be remembered in a good light and hope our friends tell stories of our outrageous adventures and how great we were. Yet when faced with the reciprocal, the words to express your true emotions about someone are forever elusive. How can you write 500 words or less about someone who meant so much to not just you, but your friends, colleagues and the community as a whole? So please bare with me as I try to tell you about our great local legend who was taken way too soon and left a hole in many people’s lives.
On Saturday September 14, 2013 the photography world lost a great one. Gabriel Luis Acosta, staff photographer for the San Bernardino Sun, fell while trimming trees at his home in Riverside. His wife Laura, and two children survive him.
It is with a heavy heart that I must write this, and to be honest I do not know where to start. Gabe, as we all called him, was a remarkable person. He was a devoted husband and father, a man of faith, a well-accomplished news photographer, a painter, a mentor to many budding photojournalist, including myself. He was a great friend.
I guess the only logical place to start is at the beginning. Gabe was born June 18, 1967, in Riverside California. I first met him though in the fall of 2002 when I was hired to be the new photography lab technician at The Sun in San Bernardino, a job that Gabe once had as well. Immediately Gabe was there to help me learn the ins and outs of the paper. Everything from scanning negatives, (yes negatives because it was so long ago we were still shooting film), to day-to-day assignments. I can remember many times where I would come back from an assignment and editing the images to decide which was the lead shot, and Gabe would always offer up a critique of what was good, but also what I could have done better. Gabe was never afraid to offer criticism or speak his mind.
From the start Gabe and I built a friendship based on our similarities. We both went to Cal State San Bernardino for our undergraduate studies, and both had Sant Khalsa as a mentor. We both also started out as painters, and then made the switch to photography. Other similarities were our love of comic books and Star Wars.
Gabe was the kind of guy that was always ready to help you in any way he could. There is a ding in one of my condo walls where he helped me move a refrigerator up a flight of stairs while he was on break between assignments. Too be honest, the ding was my fault but it still reminds me of him.
He was also very active in his church community. Not only did he help out with the youth ministry at The Grove Community Church in Riverside, he also traveled the globe on goodwill missions to place such as Brazil, Mexico and Thailand on church coordinated vacations. On all his adventures he brought back great images.
Gabe was a very proud father and husband. His cubicle at the paper was covered with pictures of his kids and wife. I can remember every Halloween waiting to see the photos of what his kids dressed up as the next day. He would go straight to his computer, download his images and then shoot them over to me to print.
One thing that all budding photojournalists, and photographers in general can learn from him is that he always had his camera at his side. Even when we would just go to lunch, or to a bar after a long week there was Gabe ready to say, “Oh that’s great! I got to take a pic.”
This always-ready attitude stems from his extreme dedication to his job. He never hesitated at any time to run out and cover any type of news. On September 11th, 2001 he was told to stay in San Bernardino, and to not go to Ontario Airport. That didn’t sit well with Gabe so he did what he thought was best and that was to get images. So he turned off his cell phone so that he could simply say, “I never got your call” if someone were to call him to find out where he was.
He was a very humanistic photojournalist, one who truly cared about the people he photographed and their stories. He would take the time to talk to people first and build a little rapport and gain insight into them before making his images. I gained a lot of my people skills by watching how he worked, one of the many benefits from assisting him on countless photo shoots.
Gabe and I also had a lot of differences. He was Republican and I am more of an anarchist. He was very religious and I am agnostic or atheist depending on the day. He was a family man and I do not want any children. He loved photographing people and I prefer not. To my knowledge he didn’t have any tattoos where as I have lost count. And our greatest difference was our taste in music. Gabe absolutely loved the 70’s and 80’s, including disco, and I am more of a punk rock guy. He would constantly play some Bee Gees, Abba or some disco compilation in the lab. Then I would have to put on some Bad Religion, Dead Kennedys or one of my compilations. Our musical tastes weren’t always a battle; we did have some common ground-Frank Sinatra, Social Distortion and Johnny Cash to name a few.
His love of the 70’s was something that everybody who knew him understood. He even had a disco ball in his garage. When I got married, to another photojournalist, he showed up in white pants and a purple shirt like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever!
Gabe was always making lists. He was extremely organized and liked to have everything in its place, and needed to makes lists to make sure every detail for anything was laid out. One time he came into the office with a plank of wood and a list of supplies he needed written on it. I asked him, “What do you do with the plank when you got your list done?” He answered, “I just sand it off so I can use it again.”
I asked why not just use a notebook, and I believe he said, “Cause it’s too easy to lose.” I swear one time he even had a list written on a red brick.
In his garage he had some of his favorite LPs hung up, and yes they were all perfectly aligned and spaced, and yes there was a lot of music from the 1970’s. We would frequently talk about which ones he wanted or needed to complete his collection. Many times my wife would call Gabe when we were at record stores or antique stores to see what he may be looking for, or if we found something he may like. A special album he was looking for was The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Alternate Electric Ladyland LP. I have been searching for this one for him for a while now, and I hope I never find it, and if I do, I will probably pretend that I did not see it. This way every time I go into a record store I will still immediately head to the Jimi Hendrix section to see if I can find Gabe his record. Then every time I can say to myself, “Not this time Gabe. Maybe the next.”
Gabriel Acosta was many things. A devoted husband and father. A man of faith deeply invested in his beliefs and church. A talented artist. A first class photojournalist. A mentor to many up-and-coming photographers. A man stuck in the days of disco. And for the last eleven years I was lucky enough to call him my good friend. Gabe, you will be missed more than you know. Thanks for everything you taught me. I have always had nothing but the deepest respect for you and I loved you like a brother. Just make sure you have a nice glass of whiskey waiting for me the next time we meet. Till then old friend, I’ll see ya when I see ya.