An eye for detail: Holyoke photographer gains fans capturing city’s historic architecture

  • A photo taken by Holyoke resident Joe Gamba of an apartment building on the corner of Sargeant and Main streets in Holyoke. Gamba said it was one of the first buildings he ever photographed in the city, its blue trim, brickwork and ornamental features dominating the otherwise bland intersection. JOE GAMBA

  • Holyoke’s City Hall, photographed by city resident Joe Gamba, who said the Gothic Revival-style building is one of his favorite to photograph. JOE GAMBA

  • A tree in Holyoke’s Forestdale Cemetery, photographed by city resident Joe Gamba. JOE GAMBA

  • The Norman Paper Company factory building in Holyoke, photographed by city resident Joe Gamba. JOE GAMBA

  • Colorful glass embedded in the mortar of a now burned-down house at 106 Pine St. in Holyoke, photographed by city photographer Joe Gamba. JOE GAMBA

  • A now burned-down house at 106 Pine St. in Holyoke that had beautiful colored glass embedded in its mortar, photographed by city resident Joe Gamba, who loved the building. JOE GAMBA

  • Holyoke photographer Joe Gamba stands off Race Street overlooking the city’s Second Level Canal on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke photographer Joe Gamba stands off Race Street overlooking the city’s Second Level Canal on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke photographer Joe Gamba stands off Race Street overlooking the city’s Second Level Canal on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke photographer Joe Gamba sits at a table on Sargeant Street in South Holyoke on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/31/2020 12:02:45 PM

HOLYOKE — When Joe Gamba is out and about in Holyoke, he always has his camera with him. It’s not a high-end piece of equipment, and Gamba is an amateur photographer. But when he shows off his work, Holyokers take notice.

“Great shots, great perspectives, great colors!” one fan recently wrote online about his work. “Thank you for capturing the beauty in these historic buildings,” another wrote.

Anyone active on the popular “Hello Holyoke!!!” Facebook group — population 13,513 — likely knows Gamba’s shots of the city’s historic architecture, its canals and other beloved landmarks. His posts on the forum generate hundreds of likes and comments, sparking remarks from new arrivals to the city, longtime residents and those who Gamba says reach out to him the most — the “Holyoke diaspora.”

Gamba, 78, said in an interview that he has always enjoyed architecture. His two nephews are architects, and he said he often reminisces about the 19th-century buildings in his hometown of New Britain, Connecticut.

“Photography is a one-person thing, and I’m usually out there by myself,” he said, noting that the pandemic has not slowed down his work. “I can do it for hours or for just a few minutes.”

Typically, Gamba finds buildings to photograph as he’s out driving around. He’s found that his keen eye for intricate masonry and other touches are appreciated by those who haven’t taken the time to notice the beautiful buildings around them.

“You drive by and you don’t even notice,” he said. “A lot of people have said that — I’ve driven by that on my way to work for 20 years and never noticed it.”

The places that stick out to Gamba the most include an apartment building on the corner of Sargeant and Main streets, its blue trim, brickwork, and ornamental features dominating the otherwise bland intersection; City Hall, its Gothic Revival style built from granite quarried in Monson and its main tower visible across the city; and a now burned-down house at 106 Pine St. that had beautiful colored glass embedded in its mortar, the brickwork standing in sharp contrast to the boarded-up windows and overgrown weeds that crept up in front of the structure.

“There are some incredible buildings that are just being let go,” he said. “And I know you can’t hang onto everything, but I’m a Luddite at heart.”

People across the city share Gamba’s love for Holyoke’s breathtaking, historic buildings. But those who hold a special place in his heart are those who have moved away from their native city and miss it. He said many in the Holyoke diaspora tell him stories about sneaking across a bridge he photographed, for example, or wax romantic about the city’s canals.

One person has messaged him all the way from Korea about his appreciation for Gamba’s pictures of his hometown. Another frequent commenter on his photos grew up in the city but moved to Baltimore after she got married. He said she has told him how much she appreciates seeing the old buildings she is familiar with.

“I love it,” Gamba said of the feeling he gets seeing his photos bring people nostalgia. “I absolutely love it.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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