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Retired Russian engineer captures early morning photographs of Quincy

Ed Shapiro is up before the sun every day, and out onto the Squantum streets, camera in hand, dressed for any weather, ready for whatever he sees.

Shapiro, a retired Russian engineer, said he is still a novice when it comes to photography, using only a point-and-shoot camera that he carries in his pocket. Yet his photos speak of a higher calling.

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In the early dawn light, he has captured swans in midflight, the rising sun bursting through clouds, and deer quietly munching on shrubs - all before most of Squantum is awake.

“I do it practically every day from Marina Point, walking towards Squantum. This is also rather a remarkable part of Quincy. It allows me to rediscover life,’’ Shapiro said, his words colored by a strong Russian accent.

The seventy-something Shapiro laughs often and recalls much, a soft glint in his eye as he talks about moving from Russia with his wife, Galliana, and their son, Max, in 1979, first to Oregon, then to Michigan, and a short while later to Lexington.

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The Shapiros moved to Quincy in September 2010. In a little over a year at Marina Bay, living in a condominium that faces the sunset and the Boston skyline, Shapiro has found stories to tell.

He first started walking in Wollaston, but “Wollaston is flat, no excitement,’’ Shapiro said. Squantum came next, with all its hills and, most excitingly, its wildlife.

‘The best shots happen unexpectedly, when you don’t really plan for them.’

David Remedios Watertown resident (left) is the sound designer for “Art’’
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“I see quite beautiful sceneries . . . what prompted me to [take pictures], whilst on my walk, a swan landed beside me, and it was absolutely a remarkable thing to see. And I blamed myself that I did not have my camera with me to take a picture. From that day on, I never leave home without my camera.’’

Since then, he has mastered the art of quietly waiting, watching wildlife until something unusual happens.

“Gradually it becomes clear, the best shots happen unexpectedly, when you don’t really plan for them, but all of a sudden something right away comes in front of you,’’ he said.

As beautiful as the Quincy images are, Galliana Shapiro said her favorite photos are those that capture memories, like the time the couple went to Hawaii for their 20th wedding anniversary, or the weeks visiting their son, Max, abroad.

“He’s always carrying the camera around. When we see people, places, events, I never think about capturing them, or rarely do. And he always does,’’ she said. “That’s why it’s great to have those memories, you can always come back to and remember that’s where it was, or that moment.’’

Yet although the Shapiros have lived in the states for over 30 years, their time in Russia is still ingrained in their memories.

“I was fired from my rather ambitious position [working in weapons manufacturing for the military] because I was a Jew. They didn’t even make a secret of that,’’ Shapiro said, explaining why he left what was then still the Soviet Union.

Despite being a graduate of Leningrad Military Mechanical Institute, it took Shapiro six months to find another job.

A few years later, when he could not rent an apartment because of his religion, he knew it was time to leave.

“I got the feeling being a Jew can be a terrible legacy on Max,’’ Shapiro said of his son. “I was adult, I did my accomplishments and then some, created a lifestyle for my wife and me, but for Max to go through that was unthinkable. I decided I cannot allow it to happen.’’

According to Max, it was no easy feat.

“I’m definitely proud of him for getting us out of Russia,’’ he said.

“I know it was originally, for both of them, a difficult transition to a new language and culture here in the states, so I’m proud of both of them for having made that sacrifice.’’

Shapiro said his passion for photography started when he was 7 and his father gave him a German camera. The young Shapiro was living on a military base in northern Russia, a tundra-type region where the sun barely rises for half of the year.

“Maybe this is where my passion, my obsession with the sunrise, is coming from. I cannot miss a sunrise. It attracts me like a magnet. Maybe because of so many years of living in the dark.’’

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.
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