West Windsor resident Kalpana Patel, known to her friends as Kapu, is turning her interest in photography to good use: From now through Tuesday, January 15, she will be offering electronic portrait packages, and all proceeds will benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy. As Patel says, “I feel very lucky to be able to do something like photography that I enjoy, and I want to make a difference in the world with my pictures.”
Patel, who shoots natural, candid portraits using outdoor lighting and settings, was not always a photographer. In fact, even after developing an interest in photography, she chose to shelve her hobby in order to focus on her career in pharmaceuticals. But eventually, she returned to photography, and now it is an important — and growing — facet of her life.
Patel was born in Gujarat, India, and remained there through her college years, earning a bachelor’s in pharmacy. Her father also worked in pharmaceuticals, while her mother managed a household of 13. She came to the United States 27 years ago as a graduate student in pharmaceutics, eventually earning a PhD from the University of Iowa.
While she was studying for her PhD, she met and married her husband of nearly 25 years, Jatin Patel. The couple moved to Evansville, Indiana, when her husband worked at Meade Johnson (now Bristol-Myers Squibb). Patel, determined to complete her studies, commuted back and forth between Iowa and Indiana to finish her PhD. During this time she also began dabbling in photography, taking courses such as black and white film photography, developing photos in a darkroom, and 35 mm camera basics. Pharmaceuticals was her focus, but the seeds of her passion for photography were sown.
Once she earned her PhD, Patel took a position with American Home Products in Hammonton, NJ, and for three and a half years she and her husband were once again separated by their careers. Luckily he was transferred to Bristol-Myers Squibb in New Jersey, and she went to work for Johnson & Johnson.
Patel’s career was rising at J&J, and even the birth of their first child in 1996, daughter Meghnee, did not slow her down. “I was lucky enough to have a mother willing to take care of my baby all day long, even while I was traveling for business,” she says. “After six weeks’ maternity leave, I was back at work, often 80 hours a week or more as I earned director status.”
When Meghnee was nine months old, the Patels moved to West Windsor. During this time, Patel focused on her career, and hobbies such as photography simply had no place in her life. She decided something had to change; so in 2001, when son Lakshay was born, she requested a longer period of maternity leave. Although it was granted, when she returned to J&J, she was shifted from the pharmaceutical side of the company to the consumer side. Although she was eventually returned to the pharmaceutical side, she began to rethink her priorities.
An epiphany came when she and a friend were at the beach with their kids — and their Blackberries. They both decided that they needed to spend more time with their families and their hobbies. When her friend left the corporate world to start his own business, Patel joined him in 2004. The company, Abeille Pharmaceuticals, based in the Princeton area, developed pharmaceutical products that have since been licensed to others. Patel remains involved in Abeille in a part-time capacity as the VP of strategic planning and alliance management, and does some independent pharmaceutical consulting, but at a much less stringent pace.
Patel was looking for “more flexibility, to allow me to spend more time with my kids and my ailing parents, to be home when my kids get off the bus, and to increase my volunteer work with the PTA. And I wanted to take up my camera again and start taking pictures.”
Now photography has become part of her life. While she enjoys taking portraits and capturing people’s memories on film, her personal passion is travel photography. Patel has traveled all over the world taking pictures, and has even set up a travel blog to catalog her adventures: adayhereandthere.blogspot.com.
Patel feels truly blessed that she has been able to devote so much more time to her family, especially her daughter, now a sophomore at High School North, and her son, who attends Village School, and her photography, and believes that her photography is a gift to be shared.
Instead of turning it into a business, Patel’s ambition is to become a 501(c)(3) charity so that she can utilize her gift to benefit others. “My intention is eventually to focus on seniors, those living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, and use my pictures to help seniors capture and preserve their memories for them and their loved ones.”
In the meantime, Patel has started holding various fundraisers to help charities and those in need. Her first fundraiser was in September, 2011, when she displayed some of her photos at the West Windsor Library. Proceeds from the sale of these pictures — $700 — went to Homefront, an organization which helps the homeless in Mercer County.
She has several additional fundraising ventures planned with local charities, in addition to her current project for victims of Hurricane Sandy. As part of this project, Patel is offering portrait sessions, with a suggested donation of $10 per electronic copy of each picture. “I will present customers with high-resolution electronic copies of the pictures, which the customers can have made into portraits, greeting cards, or anything else they would like. Customers will write their checks directly to one of the charities assisting in the Hurricane Sandy relief effort; I will retain none of the proceeds.”
For more information, visit the special website Kapu Patel created for this project: adayhereandthere.wordpress.com.