Programmer, photographer, historian

Ralph De Palma misread the definition of retirement. Or perhaps he just understood it as “start all over doing something you completely love.” Not that he didn’t love his first career as a software engineer at Cape Canaveral, yes working on Space Shuttles (super cool). In 2001, needing a break, he accepted a job redesigning Mosquito Control’s software system and moved to the Keys. After all, he could fish after work.

But De Palma met up with an old friend he had forgotten about and everything took an unexpected turn. Music showed up in his life again and it was everywhere. In 2011, he retired from software engineering but added photographer, historian, and author to his resume.

“This is a music island, music is in the DNA here,” De Palma claims, and he is at the heart of it. “I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s loving the music but life got in the way.”

Familiar with digital photography from when he worked web development for such giants as Fed Ex and Citibank, De Palma headed to the bars and events and began shooting. He and his wife of 30 years, Barbara Weikel, attend eight to 10 music shows a week. It has resulted in two books chronicling the history of Key West musicians titled “The Soul of Key West,” Volume 1 and 2.

Describing his love of music and photography, De Palma said, “The musician has a two way conversation with the audience, the artist senses it, and keeps it going. If I can get that in a still frame that’s where the magic is.”

De Palma will be photographing Huey Lewis and the News on Saturday, April 2 for Keystock. He has already done his research on Huey and will be looking for key moments in concert Huey’s “oh yea” moment with his audience. What’s next? Look for the Cuba-Key West connection to show up in his coffee table-style photography books.

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“The more I listen, the more I learn, and the more I love it.”

— Ralph DePalma


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