It’s just after 5 a.m. on a cold Tuesday morning, more than an hour before dawn, and Michael Funk is wide awake, all packed up, and ready to go shoot the sunrise. But first, he needs some coffee.
“I got a really nice picture Sunday, out by the river, at Steamer Landing,” Funk says, shortly after picking up his Grande-sized brew at the Starbucks on Washington Blvd. For the last few years, at least once a week, Funk rises early, and chooses a spot to set up his camera and wait for the sun to show itself over Petaluma. “This morning, I’m thinking of doing something different,” he says, “maybe go find a place to shoot up in the hills, just outside of town.”
This morning, according to a smartphone app called The Photographer’s Ephemeris, the sun will rise at 6:14 a.m. By then, Funk will be waiting and ready.
“I like to get in place early, because the sun changes so fast once it starts coming up,” Funk explains, climbing into his car, with his equipment in the back and his coffee cup at his side. There are few other drivers on the road as Funk aims west, and heads out in the general direction of Helen Putnam Park. “I like to get there about an hour before the sun peaks, to watch the colors change,” he points out. “This is my favorite time of day, sunrise. Some people like sunsets, but that’s tougher, for me. To go out there at dinner time, or after a cocktail and a look at the news, that’s not something I want to do. I’m really more of a sunrise person.”
Funk is evidently not alone.
There are a number of other Petaluma photographers who also rise at the crack of dawn to capture the early morning light, choosing to shoot downtown, or on the river, out at Shollenberger Park, or wherever the clouds, the fog or the sunrise seem likely to put on a good show. Many of the resulting shots end up being posted on the “I Love Petaluma!” Facebook page, which has become a popular virtual art gallery for local camera jockeys to show off their work.
“I ran into Eric Tobias not too long ago, over at Ellis Creek,” says Funk, mentioning another regular poster to “I Love Petaluma!” “He looks at me and he says, ‘You Mike?’ I say, ‘Yeah. You Eric?’ Every once in a while, I see someone else out there taking pictures somewhere. It’s kind of fun.”
Funk grew up in New York, and in the 60s, while serving in the Air Force, he became interested in black-and-white photography. The hobby grew more serious in the early 70s, when he spent time in Taiwan.
“There was nothing to do, so I started developing my own film,” he says. “On the base, there was a dark room, so I would develop shots of the markets downtown, and that was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed that. But I kind of let it go for a number of years.”
After leaving the military, Funk got involved in Hospital Food Service industry, working in Buffalo, New York, and Boston, Massachusetts. He eventually got tired of it, and relocated to Northern California, where he joined the Novato Police Department, staying on for 28 years. A Petaluma resident since 1983, Funk retired from the police department as a sergeant in 2001.
PETALUMA AROUND THE CLOCK
This story is the final installment of a ten-part series. We started out at 6 a.m., with the residents waking up at the Mary Isaak Center, and each week since, we’ve skipped ahead a few hours, moving from place to place and person to person, moving around the clock to capture the colorful details, conversations, and activities that make up an average day in Petaluma. If you’ve enjoyed this series, and have ideas of where we can spend an hour, day or night, when we bring Petaluma Around the Clock back in 2019, please send your ideas to David Templeton, at email@example.com.