A vintage glimpse of Arroyo Grande, circa 2011


Huasna resident Mark Zammitt has a fascination with old photos, calling them “a window into the past.”

However, to passersby in the Arroyo Grande Village earlier this year, Zammitt may have looked as though he stepped out of one himself.

For a few months starting in May, Zammitt hauled a view camera, similar to what landscape photographers like Ansel Adams used, and set it up on East Branch Street to take portraits of a selection of store owners and employees in front of their shops.

The result is 27 black-and-white photos that capture the character and faces of current Village workers but recall an earlier time.

“They are little snapshots in time,” said Vivian Krug, who sits on the board of directors of the Village Improvement Association and the South County Historical Society. “It’s a neat thing to have and an unusual thing to have. It’s not just a regular digital photograph.”

Zammitt had become interested in photography about 20 years before, when he still lived in the Los Angeles area. He moved to Huasna about 15 years ago.

Until recently, his focus had been on landscape photography. But then, while walking one day down Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard, he shot his first environmental portrait — a photo of someone in his surroundings.

His photos in Arroyo Grande include a variety of Village businesses, including Arroyo Grande Meat Co. There, owner Henry Gonzalez said, he was initially taken aback by Zammitt’s idea but then had a change of heart.

“I think it’s a really neat thing to do, and I’m genuinely happy that someone would take the time to do it,” he said. “I think everybody here is probably really touched by it.”

Gonzalez said he hopes to get a second copy of the photo so he can hang one at work and one at home.

Zammitt shot the photos using an Arca Swiss 4x5. It produces negatives that are 4 inches by 5 inches, allowing Zammitt to develop in his darkroom a high-quality print that won’t fade over time.

On the back of each handmade frame, Zammitt has attached a description of “the story behind the photo” so future residents will know a little about past generations.

The intent, he wrote, is “to preserve for future generations a small glimpse of the life and people of Arroyo Grande” in 2011.

Smaller prints of the photos were also included in Arroyo Grande’s time capsule, which was buried during its July centennial celebration.

Zammitt said his project gave him a chance to not only indulge in his “chemical addiction,” but to also meet local community members. He plans to give the photos to those pictured, with the hope they’ll hang them in their shops.

“They are really community oriented,” he said. “You can tell that they’re there because they love the place.”

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929.

Photos on display

Mark Zammitt will display his photo documentary, “The Shopkeepers of Arroyo Grande,” from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at El Taco Loco, 106 E. Branch St. in Arroyo Grande.