Dr. Jose Francisco Salgado says he doesn’t consider himself a planner, but he does plan on urging people to combine their passions like he does. He says he can’t imagine not combining the subjects he’s most interested in – astronomy, photography, education, and music.
The renowned astronomer and visual artist has already exhibited his films, featuring NASA images, historical documents from the Adler Planetarium as well as his own astronomical photographs, in more than 75 performances with major symphonies worldwide. On July 31, he will be exhibiting his HD film “The Planets” in Illinois’ Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Originally from Carolina, Puerto Rico, the 44-year-old says his parents brought him up without ever uttering the words, “No, you can’t do that.”
“I found this book that my father owned about the first man on the moon,” remembers the vivacious Salgado. “I was fascinated by the story that we landed on another world, and the technology that took us there. It was a eureka moment for me.”
It was that moment when Salgado first said he wanted to study “space.”
“I did consider other things, but the funny thing is the other things I considered, like photography and music, I’m actually doing those as well,” says Salgado. “Without actually planning it or having a master plan, I naturally started combining things. That’s a message that I try to submit.”
He says you should never abandon anything you love, but find a way to fit it in your life.
“When I talk to kids, they are either drawing, or playing an instrument,” says Salgado. “I try to encourage them to keep their interests as they become adults.”
As the executive director of the non-profit organization he helped found in 2010, KV 265, he recently developed a school program in Chicago which teaches kids about the physics of sounds and music. He says more programs are in the works for elementary and middle school students.
“In grade school, they’re still excited by what they are doing,” says Salgado. “I think it’s a perfect time to encourage them.”
He adds that because he was encouraged by his parents to learn about whatever he wanted to learn from a young age, he’s not easily intimidated when it comes to learning any subject matter.
Although, he formally studied physics at the University of Puerto Rico and got his PhD in astronomy at the University of Michigan, he says he never stops wanting to learn.
“I’m self-taught in graphic design and computers, photography, and even filmmaking,” says Salgado. “I didn’t study video editing. I just learn from reading and asking people who know.”
Eventually he ended up in Chicago, because of the position offered to him at Adler Planetarium.
“I thought it was the perfect place to work on astronomy, education, and public outreach,” says Salgado, who now creates astronomy films that follow both tone and tempo of symphony orchestras. “The end result is like watching a film and listening to the soundtrack, but in reality the music came first.”
He says he tries to find things that he knows people will find awe-inspiring, or things that they have not seen before, for inspiration for his photographs.
“One of the films that I produce shows the night sky from different locations on earth,” says Salgado. “They watch in amazement because they don’t know that it could have so many stars.”
He’s especially proud of the Bailey-Salgado Project he started with musician Tom Bailey, from Thompson Twins fame, with whom he’s going to meet for another collaboration next week in Spain. He excitedly says now Tom’s fans that have followed his career in the 80’s are interested in science.
“I have been a fan of his work since I was a teenager, since his MTV days back in the 80’s,” says Salgado. “In 2010, I needed to quickly edit some of my footage for a conference, so I used music he composed in the 90’s…He suggested that we collaborate in a future film…”
He says although his concerts sometimes seat up to 12,000 people at a time, he doesn’t think he’s reached the pinnacle of his work.
“They are just crests and peaks,” says the man who feels privileged to be doing professionally what he would for fun. “Just like I was inspired by a book, I can only dream that one kid can be inspired by one of my presentations.”