Taking photos in Grant Park saved this South Milwaukee man's life
By James Groh,2023-05-26
Nature’s moments can last just a second which is why a photo can be worth more than gold.
“Every day for me is like a treasure hunt," Keith Orchalski said.
He might be retired, but he's still a workaholic.
“I always say I’m at the office," he said as he pointed towards a trail in Grant Park .
He walks seven to 10 miles a day with a camera in hand looking for the perfect picture at Grant Park in South Milwaukee.
“I like to take pictures for people who used to be here and left or old people who can’t get out," he said.
That became critical to staying busy during the pandemic. He would walk to Grant Park and spend hours taking photos even though most of the park was closed off.
"I didn’t know if we could come in the park or not, but they never say nothing. But I'd always wave (to the police) and they wave back. Well, I’m like okay so I guess it's open," he said.
He posts photos to various Facebook groups like South Milwaukee Town Hall and Friends of Grant Park after every walk. Orcholski does it almost every day. After a while, people began to recognize his name, and he gained a following.
“It brings me a lot of joy because I get to see what I used to see and miss very much," Lorie Bump a fan of his work said.
He wants other people to enjoy the park just as much as he does.
“He’s a phenomenal photographer. He captures the essence of the tiniest flower, the smallest bird, the largest deer. It’s amazing," Dorothy Fare said.
He has become a fixture at Grant Park. Orchalski said many people recognize him now.
“The greatest thing I was called was by this older gentleman who is in his 90s. He calls me the backpack photographer. So every time I pass by his house he goes, 'hey there’s the backpack photographer. How you doing today,'" he said.
But nature’s moments almost went unseen. His life changed faster than a click of a camera.
“What happened was at 55 I had a heart attack, and then I was a big-time smoker, and then I had the choice to either keep smoking or die.”
So he quit, but he replaced smoking with overeating.
“My daughter says papa camera this is my favorite picture of the two of us, and when I saw it I was so embarrassed because it looks like my fat is eating her so that is another reason I lost all the weight," he said.
That is when he began to walk. At first, he could barely walk a mile. However, he kept walking motivated by the thrill of what his camera could capture. He went from 300 pounds to 180.
"Now, I walk through the woods. I walk up and down the stairs here, across bridges, through the woods, along the beach at sunrise," he said.
He credits this park for saving his life.
“It makes you feel better," he said.
He has doubled down on his photography. With each photo he takes, he gets better. Four of his photos are in the Friends of Grant Park calendar. National Geographic has also shared his photos twice as their 'Photo of the Day'.
With his newfound popularity, he doesn't plan on starting a photography business or charging people for photos. This will forever be a hobby for him.
"It would be a job, and I don’t want it to ever be a job. I just want to make people happy and all that stuff."
That is why he will continue to roam Grant Park searching for nature’s moments because if you don’t pay attention, it could be gone in a second.
It’s about time to watch on your time. Stream local news and weather 24/7 by searching for “TMJ4” on your device.