Dante Fornaro and his mother Denise were on their way to Laguna Beach High’s home opener last month when he asked her if they could stop and pay Principal Joanne Culverhouse a visit. “ ‘If I’m going to the football game, I want to take pictures,’ ” Mrs. Fornaro remembers her son saying.
The 13-year-old walked confidently into Culverhouse’s office, stuck out his hand and looked her right in the eye. “’Dr. Culverhouse, you don’t know me, and I know I don’t have an appointment, but it’s really important that I talk to you,’ ” Culverhouse recalls the precocious seventh-grader saying before asking if he could close the door.
During their brief meeting, Dante described the first picture he ever took. “He talked about a bird on the fence with its wings spread and the light was coming through it,” said Culverhouse. “It was very clear that he was not just messing around. He had a genuine passion for wanting to be on the field and taking pictures.”
Culverhouse gave Dante two rules: he would have to wear his Thurston Middle School ID around his neck at all times, and he couldn’t have any friends with him on the sidelines. She handed him an official LBHS lanyard and sent him out on his first assignment. As he left the office, “he turned to his mother and said, ‘this is the best day of my life,’ ” said Culverhouse.
“I’ve never been a shy kid,” said Dante. “I walked in there as a normal kid with a camera, and I came out as a Laguna Beach High School football photographer.”
As a 6-year-old, Dante would build Lego cities and people, and then move his creations around in small increments, photographing each position on a small point-and-shoot camera in a painstaking process called stop motion photography. Later he would import all the stills into a movie-making program and create animated videos. “Some of them took like two days,” he said.
Dante was and still is an energetic teen that “tends to jump around a lot,” said his mother. But photographing Legos “really did keep him focused.”
Over the next few years, Dante’s parents began to see that photography had become his passion, so they bought him a digital SLR camera with an interchangeable lens. Inspired by his uncle and encouraged by his parents, Dante set out to learn all he could about sports photography. “He’s trying to really soak everything in like a sponge,” said his mother. “It’s nice to see he’s dedicated to it.”
He started shooting soccer before moving to football, the sport he loves and plays. His first time on the sidelines of Guyer Field, Dante said, “I was pretty distracted because my friends were yelling my name from the stands.”
He is still mastering the nuances and limitations of his equipment, and dreams of upgrading to a bigger, faster lens someday. “Even the best don’t start with the best [equipment],” Dante’s father tells him, trying to keep everything in perspective.
After four games, Dante knows most of the key players, and he moves around the sidelines with great purpose, looking for opportunities to capture his favorite player, running back Drake Martinez. “When he gets a really good shot, he’ll run over and he’ll show it to me,” said Culverhouse, who always watches the games from the sidelines.
Every Monday morning, Dante leaves a disc on Culverhouse’s desk with a note card attached, giving her permission to use his photos and thanking her for the opportunity to take them. She then turns them over to the Athletic Department.
One of Dante’s shots of Martinez in the open field against St. Margaret’s found its way to the cover of the Sept. 28 issue of the Breakers game day program. And three more ended up on page 28. “The first picture I ever had published was on the cover,” Dante said proudly.
Although too young to get a business license, Dante already has plans to take photos of school and community sports, upload them to a website, and catalog them by the jersey numbers of the athletes pictured. Visitors to his site would be able to enter a number in a search field and see all the photos of athletes wearing that number. He plans to sell his photos for $5 each, or two for $8.
Without the support of Culverhouse, who broke her own rules and took a chance on a kid with a passion, Dante would still be in the stands with his friends, dreaming of being on the sidelines with his camera. “If you can remove a hurdle that’s sitting in front of a student, it just propels them and launches them to a new passion and excitement,” said Culverhouse.
Dante hopes that kids will see him on the sidelines, living his dream, and be inspired to pursue their own. “I want to show people that kids can do some of the adult stuff too,” he said. “Every kid should have that opportunity.”