Man Behind the Lens

By Steven Libowitz   |   December 14, 2021
Mike Eliason's work is published in Santa Barbara and Beyond: The Photography of Mike Eliason

Carpinteria native Mike Eliason has taken tens of thousands of photos over the course of his 35-year career as a photographer in town. Eliason spent the first quarter-century as a newspaper photojournalist who worked for just about every paper in town, capturing sunsets and shooting alongside wildlife and wildfires before the Santa Barbara County Fire Department hired him as its Public Information Officer, an extension of his time working as a reserve firefighter for Carpinteria and Summerland in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The new job has brought him to the front lines of local disasters, and his up-close shots of battling the Thomas Fire and the rescue efforts and devastation of the Montecito Debris Flow were ubiquitous not only on local news sites but were also published by national and global news organizations. 

But it’s only now that Eliason has entered the world of books, and only because of the pandemic.

“I was always posting pictures on social media, but very sporadically,” he explained. “But when COVID hit, everything was just so negative on the news and social sites, so I decided to post one positive picture a day to combat all that.”

Twenty months in, old friend James Buckley of Shoreline Publishing approached Eliason about putting together a book, with a few journalistic shots but mostly evergreen pictures of the area organized into several categories including Nature and Valley. Santa Barbara and Beyond: The Photography of Mike Eliason was published a couple of weeks ago, just in time for holiday gift-giving. 

Rather than collecting pictures from his job, which he sees as “getting the news out accurately and timely, and educating the public to what’s going on in their community,” the 160-page book is filled with “pictures that make Santa Barbara so unique and beautiful,” Eliason said. “I’ve been here so long, and the community has been so kind to me that I enjoy just driving around and documenting and showcasing what I see as a reflection of the community in pictures.”

Eliason did an in-store event at San Ysidro Pharmacy last weekend and will sign copies again at Chaucer’s Books on December 14 and The Mesa Bookstore on December 19. More information at

Sing Out

The brand-new Santa Barbara Gay Men’s Chorus makes its recital debut at 8 pm on December 13 at First United Methodist Church (305 East Anapamu Street) where the non-audition tenor-baritone-bass choir with no gender or sexual orientation requirements has been rehearsing since late September. UCSB’s newish Director of Choral Music Nicole Lamartine leads the ensemble, which stands at about two dozen members.

“That’s a pretty good number considering the pandemic,” Lamartine said. “We want to open our doors to everyone, including some who have never sung in choir before, which is a big part of my expertise. They wanted a community, and a place where they could feel safe and make friends while making music. My job is to facilitate all of that and I’m just thrilled. And they sound great.”

The concert features a selection of winter choral music and carols. Suggested donation is $15. Visit

Classical Corner: Music Academy Makes Move

The Music Academy of the West has appointed Daniela Candillari to the new position of Principal Opera Conductor for the next three summer festivals, quite a coup for the endlessly ambitious Academy. Candillari, who made her MAW debut helming the Academy’s West Coast premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain in 2019 and led the singers on a program of all contemporary vocal chamber music last August, was slated to make her Metropolitan Opera debut on December 8 conducting Eurydice from composer Matthew Aucoin, who appeared as both a guest conductor and composer at the Music Academy in 2016-17. We’re imagining her appointment signals a commitment to contemporary operas by MAW for the next few years. Meanwhile, Eurydice will screen at Hahn Hall on December 12 as the next installment in the rebroadcast series of the Met’s Live in HD series. Details at

Focus on Film: Awards Announced

With the 37th Santa Barbara International Film Festival slated to open in less than three months, the fest has already named two of its major award winners for the March 2-12, 2022, festival. Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis will receive the Outstanding Performers of the Year Award for portraying former husband and wife Richard Williams and Oracene Price in King Richard, the bio-drama about the father and coach of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. The twice previously Oscar-nominated Smith — whom SBIFF honored with its highest award, the Modern Master, way back in 2007 — is considered one of the favorites to take home a statuette in April. Kristen Stewart gets SBIFF’s American Riviera Award on March 4 for a career topping performance in Spencer where she also portrays a real person, Princess Diana. SBIFF is also hosting a special screening of Spencer followed by a Q&A with director Pablo Larraín on December 9. Visit

Meanwhile, longtime SBIFF executive director Roger Durling drops by Chaucer’s Books on December 13 to sign and talk about Cinema in Flux, the curated collection of essays he wrote recommending films to watch during COVID’s darkest lockdown days, offering insights reflecting on what was happening around us as both a commemoration and celebration of cinema providing hope.


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