December 19th, 2011 — It’s 5PM and the doors are about to close at the passport office and they just handed me my passport for the first time.
I’m meeting Ne-Yo and his crew at the airport in Newark, NJ and we’re flying down to Haiti at 5AM. I’m leaving the country for the first time in less than 12 hours on an assignment to document Ne-Yo and his Compound Foundation deliver toys to children in Port Au Prince for Christmas.
When we land, we’re met by several unmarked bulletproof police escorts. We’re chauffeured from the airport to our hotel in Port Au Prince with the sirens blaring in the middle of the night as hundreds of people walk through the streets that are still filled with rubble from the 2010 earthquake. After we drop our bags off at the hotel, we’re met by the President’s son, Oliver, and taken to his house for dinner. After a night of food and entertainment, we go back to our hotel to get ready to meet with the President at the National Palais (their White House) in the morning.
We pull up to the National Palais and we’re met by security guards who then take us up to meet the President in his office. After our tour of his house, he takes us out to the backyard — and there was a crowd of a few thousands Haitian kids, just waiting for Ne-Yo to arrive. No one knew this was happening except the President, Michel Martelly. He introduced Ne-Yo to the crowd and he began performing some of his songs to show his appreciation.
“Let me remind you — I just got my passport 36 hours ago. I just left the country for the first time. I’m at the National Palais in Haiti, on stage with the President and Ne-Yo, shooting with a camera that I borrowed, documenting all this for an assignment, but also for myself because this is all happening so fast.”
After the National Palais, we’re taken to visit orphanages where children were sleeping on quarter inch thick plywood without any pillows, pillow cases, sheets or mattresses, yet, they were the happiest people I’ve ever met, til this day. It was a very, very humbling experience.
After our time in Haiti, I was asked by one of the members of Ne-Yo’s team if I was busy the next two days. I said no, why? He said: We’re about to hop on a private jet and head to Los Angeles and shoot the finale of X-Factor. You wanna go? Guess what I said?
After X-Factor we all returned to our respected destinations to spend time with our family for Christmas. My 30th birthday was in 7 days. While back home in New York, I started making calls. I had a passport now! It was about to get real! A couple of friends and I went to Dubai for New Years Eve to celebrate my 30th birthday. We had a great time. Instagram just started becoming popular, it was still only for iPhone at the time, not Android, and I was all over it. Taking picture after picture with my iPhone. I actually even made an entire video of my trip that I shot with my phone. UAE / Dubai was my 2nd country in 2 weeks and the contrast between Haiti and Dubai couldn’t have been anymore drastic. It was culture shock x eye opening x humbling x you name it.
When our trip was over, I found myself sitting at the airport in Dubai by myself, having just parted ways with my friends who were headed back to Los Angeles. It finally hit me. I just turned 30 years old. I remember having this feeling come over me of how free I felt to finally have a passport. I can go ANYWHERE. I can’t believe it took me so long to get one. I decided to look at a map of where I was. I wasn’t ready to go home. The closest coolest place I could find was Istanbul. So…I booked a flight to Istanbul.
I land in Istanbul, my 3rd country in 3 weeks and now, I’m in the Middle East, by myself. I walk around, eat, get a drink, smoke shisha and take iPhone photos. iPhone photo’s were the extent of my photography. I didn’t own a camera until mid-2012. This is January, 2012. As I’m smoking shisha, prayer time comes on over the loud speakers. The Turkish flag is waving atop a building across from me, I’m drinking hot tea with sugar cubes on my tea dish, a chicken kabob platter in front of me and my shisha bubbling to the right of me. I can get used to this. Not a care in the world. I’m connected to the Wi-Fi in the restaurant on my iPhone 4S, and I’m happy. The waiter walks over to me and starts up a conversation, asking where I’m from. The conversation led him to telling me how close we were to Italy. My ears went up. One of my goals was to visit Italy before I turned 30 years old. Although I was already 30, my 30 year old feet haven’t touched American soil, yet. So…I booked a flight to Venice.
The plan was to spend 24 hours in Venice. Get in so I can say I did it, see what there was to see, try the food, take my pictures and get back home to New York. I did just that. It was a short trip but I accomplished what I wanted to. I had dinner on the Grand Canal (which was terrible). Took a bus through Venice, took a water taxi to Marco Square and shot sunrise. Next stop? Brooklyn, New York.
It wasn’t until my flight home that I had a chance to look back on everything, as I sat still in the airplane without any distractions, alone with my thoughts at 30,000 feet. I remember sitting against the window watching the sunset thinking to myself, how can I do this forever? How can I make this last? Travel, and take photo’s? In my mind, I put them together, swaying my side from side to side. Travel…photography. Travel…photography. A lightbulb went off. I said travel photographer? I asked, do they even exist? I wasn’t sure at the time, but I decided right then and there that I was going to be a travel photographer.
When I got back to New York, I made a website called Jeffsettin.com and took what photos I had and put them up and titled it, Jeff Lombardo – Travel Photographer. Same thing on social media. Next thing you know, things started happening and I haven’t looked back since. 47 States, 23 Countries and 5 Continents later, I’m still going….
To see my current work, much more polished work as a travel photographer and not photo’s like these that were shot on an iPhone 4S, click here.