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EOC offers talented NEK artist support to change careers

Written by
Stephen Mease

March 16, 2022


Jay Natola

If you haven’t had the chance to hear one or both of Jay Natola’s NEK-based bands, Subject to Change and The Beardos, play a deep jam session, think Phish, Dave Matthews, or the Grateful Dead.

“Subject to Change used to play a festival every year in Glover, and we put on a show. We could play a song for 15 minutes,” recalls Natola, who waxes metaphorically about those extended riffs. “If you keep playing, you might hit something at that 16th minute that you would’ve never expected in a million years. And I think that's why not giving up is a huge part for anybody, because you never know — that next step you take might be ‘it.’ Just hold on.”

Natola, who plays 10 different instruments and demonstrates a wide range of artistic talent, found he had to take his own advice in early 2020 when the onset of COVID shut down what looked to be his big musical break.

“We played some amazing shows in 2019. We played Dog Mountain to the second-biggest crowd they’ve ever had. We were on the front page of the Caledonian Record. And in 2020, we had so many gigs lined up that I was like, ‘Yes, I’m gonna make it, music’s gonna do it.’ And then everything got canceled.”

So, Natola, who lives out in the woods of West Burke, picked up a different instrument — his camera — and thought about a career change.

“I've been an artist since I was able to hold a pencil, and I always had a camera in my hand when I was playing shows with other bands. I’d be the guy that everybody would yell at, you know, ‘Stop taking pictures!’” Natola laughs. “I knew I had a talent years ago, but not necessarily all the know-how behind it; so I was like, well, why don’t I learn the rudiments and the theory behind photography that will up my game?”

A bird perched on a branch

Description automatically generated with medium confidenceNatola was eager to polish his technique and to learn the more commercial aspects of the photography business — such as portraits and formal events — that don’t come to him as naturally as his ability to capture breathtaking landscapes and beautiful moments in nature.

So he turned to his local Voc Rehab office for information, then was referred to VSAC’s Employee Opportunity Center, a program to help adult students get the education and training needed to make career transitions. Marti Kingsley, a longtime VSAC counselor, has been working with Natola for the last 8 months, helping him identify opportunities and complete applications. Natola is currently taking a series of Adobe certifications to learn the software to process and enhance his images, and he hopes to take additional courses at NVU.

“Marti and Jeff have been right there with me every step of the way,” says Natola, referring to Jeff Dudley from Voc Rehab, who has also been an instrumental part of his team. “Marti got me a stipend and got my Adobe classes paid for; and when I needed something extra — like a business loan when one of my lenses broke — she immediately went back to VSAC. She’d talk to them, and by the end of the conversation, she’d say, ‘Yep. You've got it. Give us a few days to get the paperwork through.’ And I was just blown away. Between Marti and Jeff, I have zero words for what they have done for me.”

Perhaps more important than the funding and the logistics, though, is the moral support. “I sent Marti a link to some of my work, and she sent me a message back saying, ‘If those are your pictures, that’s unbelievable. I can see you taking pictures for National Geographic in the future.’ And I was like, wow, you know, she’s got my back. She really believes in me. I think a lot of people can give up because they don’t have that.”

Kingsley also somewhat accidentally played a key role in Natola’s business name, Between Here and Forever. “It was called Between Here and Never, which was a band name that I wanted originally,” Natola says. “And then when Marti said to me, ‘Those pictures I saw on that Between Here and Forever site are amazing,’ I realized that for a picture, Between Here and Forever means a lot more; so Marti is the reason behind my business name.”

A waterfall in a forest

Description automatically generated with low confidenceNatola has already found that taking photographs brings him the same feelings of “total absorption, of getting in the zone, of leaving this planet” that he felt when he was playing music. “My music is so spiritual for me. It engulfs everything of my being. The only thing close to it is walking in the woods with my camera.”

 “I think what I’m after is to transport people. Somebody looking at my art and just feeling like nothing’s there but that picture. To give the same feeling I used to get when I would go to the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum years ago. I would see those big paintings and I would just stop. I couldn’t speak. That picture frozen in time is almost like when the music gets to that high point, and you’re just holding on. It’s the water cresting on the high point. That’s what I’m trying to capture. Because then, when I look at it, I immediately have that feeling that I’m jamming, I’m in it.”

Indeed, people in the Northeast Kingdom are starting to take notice of Natola’s work. Recently, the owner of Rustico, a restaurant in Newport, approached Natola and asked to hang his prints.

But there are also skeptics.

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘You really want to be a photographer?’ I’ve had a couple of people tell me ‘You’re never going to do it.’ But yes, I can. I’m not going to give up,” says Natola. “I had many people tell me through the years that I would never make a living doing music. But I made a living playing music for 10 years. And this photography thing is definitely working.”

“Had COVID not happened, I would still be playing music, doing what I was doing. No doubt in my mind,” says Natola, who adds that he hasn’t given up on music entirely; he hopes to have the opportunity to play a few shows a year when large gatherings start up again. “But I think my life has changed. At 50 years old, this is a new act of my life. And I think the second act is always better. That’s what I’m shooting for.”

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