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Ann Anderson, left, and Elizabeth Flynn, both from La Canada Flintridge, have breakfast at Penelope's Cafe with artist Eric Polchow's photographs in the background at the La Canada Flintridge eatery on Tuesday, September 7, 2010. Polchow, a La Canada Flintridge native, now lives out of state and suffers from Parkinson's disease. (Raul Roa, La Canada / September 6, 2010)

La Cañada native Eric Polchow has made a career for himself as a photographer, striving for many years to establish himself as someone who sets goals and achieves them.

Born into a large family and spending his formative years in La Cañada, Polchow, who currently resides in Las Vegas, Nev., is now a renowned photographer whose work expresses the different phases of his life.

"Most of my education in photography was self-taught and through mentorship," Polchow said. "I received validation from an incredible artist. He died and I took what he taught me and for the last 15 years I've been following what he told me to do."

Upon completion of high school in La Cañada and after attending Pasadena City College for one year, Polchow decided that the only thing he really enjoyed was photography.

"I believe I was born with a gift for composition and it took me a while to develop it and to do something with it," he said. "It's interesting to see how my work has changed and what I'm expressing. I try and look at the finished product and see what I was trying to connect with. It's a matter of letting whatever's going to present itself to me and capturing it in the photo."

Polchow's photography is as diverse as the subjects he shoots. From people in their daily lives to city scenes to unexpected photo-worthy moments, Polchow's images cover all the emotions and moments that make life worth living.

"A lot of emotion comes from those photos," Polchow said of his work. "I have a very versatile personality. I've developed and built homes and built a business in California and La Cañada with an auto detailing company which was a success for many years. I've traveled around the world and on my own. Some of the pictures are of La Cañada and through Arcadia, throughout our own community. It's easy to go to Italy and take pictures of a canal, but to take pictures in my own environment has helped me develop my skill of walking out the door and taking a picture, capturing a time. I like people to see my work and feel like they've been there."

Whether taken from the basket of a hot air balloon or at a rodeo, Polchow's shots invite the viewer to stop and for a brief time, imagine the context in which the photo took place and what it must have been like to have been there. Polchow calls his subjects, "versatile and abstract things, not being quite sure what you're looking at; thought-provoking images."

Polchow has experienced setbacks in his life. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, and that turning point in his life is conveyed in some of his work. "Sometimes I would take pictures at night and I got a sense of that's how I was expressing this disease through my artwork."

Polchow remains resilient and optimistic, showing to the world that he will not be brought down by his disease. His official website, http://www.EricPolchow.com, will launch in a few weeks.

"One of my goals is to make a book on people, families and relationships, so that's where I've changed my focus on people now," he said. "I'm going to continue to travel, so right now I'm working on taking pictures of people in their own environment.

"I love people. I love being around people, different cultures and different families. I want to do some public speaking around the country and incorporate disease into how I grew up and learned to make a good positive out of whatever your challenges are in life and not to quit. Nothing stops me. I don't look back, I just keep going."

Polchow's work can be viewed this month at Penelope's Café Books & Gallery, 1029 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada. Call (818) 790-4386 for more information.