Juneauphotos.com kicks off fund drive

Posted: Sunday, December 14, 2003

Rodney Bauer may have left Juneau in 1994, but when he thinks of home, he thinks of the view from the Lena Point house he lived in for 23 years. It's a sight he'd pay to see on a daily basis.

Thanks to the Web site www.juneauphotos.com, the wallpaper on Bauer's computer desktop is a photo of that view - the sun setting over the Chilkat Mountains. Bauer, and thousands of others in Juneau and around the world, visit the site several times a week.

"We were down in southern California for six years and that is such an insane place down there that it was a touch of reality for me to go back to the Juneau site and see what the world should be like," he said. "It gave us something to hang on to."

So when Pat Costello, who created and maintains the site, asked visitors in early December to purchase a $25 membership to the site, Bauer pledged to send a check.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's like cable television. I enjoy cable and I pay for that, and this is entertainment too," he said.

Costello is hoping to sell 300 memberships to the site. He'll use the $7,500 to pay Web hosting fees, photo and computer equipment expenses, gas costs for his photo-taking excursions, and a small stipend for his work.

"It's a one-man band and it's just too much for one person to do on their own for free," Costello said. He and his wife, Julie, recently had twins.

"Now with the twins and my wife not working ... there's a fair chance I might have to get a second job," he said. "This is a second job, it just doesn't pay. So I'm just trying to make it pay."

Costello put juneauphotos.com online in 1997 and the site received about 50 hits per day. In recent years, the site has received as many as 1.5 million hits per month, with the average visit lasting four minutes.

Messages posted on the site's guest book hail from computers in Juneau, Washington, Texas, England, Holland and Jamaica, among other locales. "Hip Clicks," a daily Web entertainment column on usatoday.com, on Friday included juneauphotos.com in its listing of worthy Web sites.

As the site has grown, so has the amount of work that accompanies it. Answering e-mails from visitors, taking the photos, updating the site and dealing with requests to use the photos in publications can take anywhere from 15 to 40 hours a week, said Costello. He works full-time for the retirements and benefits office for the state of Alaska.

As of Friday, 45 people had contributed to the membership drive. The guest book on the site is replete with gushing admiration for Juneau, the Web site and Costello's photography. One man wrote of how he chose to change his honeymoon site from Ireland to Southeast Alaska based on the photos.

People have also posted their suggestions for ways Costello can keep the site alive.

"What business wouldn't be (happy) to get their ad on your site," wrote one anonymous visitor. "You'd think you'd have found a way by now to have them pay for our addiction, though I don't mind paying. Check's in the mail."

"You should consider becoming a nonprofit group since you are providing peaceful beauty to the world," wrote another guest to the site.

Costello doesn't sell advertising space because it would change the tone of the site and increase his administrative duties, he said.

As for becoming a nonprofit agency, Costello said photography is his business, not his charity.

"This isn't a take pity on Pat sort of thing," he said. "It's a business decision."

If the site does shut down, Costello said he will be okay with it. Regardless, he's proud of the six years of labor he's put into the site.

"I've gotten the most incredible e-mails from people," Costello said. "The pictures bring tears to people's eyes sometimes. A good photo I guess touches peoples' nerves, their lives. ... It's impacted them to move here and that's incredible."

• Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.

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