Even before he arrived at Sacred Heart University, Jean Paul Vellotti ’94 certainly understood the importance of receiving a higher education. “I was the first in my family to attend a four-year school and I wanted to show that it was an opportunity not wasted. I did my best to avail myself of every opportunity.” A proud alumnus, Jean Paul has proven to be a true Pioneer in his field of photography and publishing. SHU introduced him to inspiring professors, invaluable extracurricular experiences, and future professional contacts.
Jean Paul attended SHU during a time of true change and growth. “I was enrolled in what I call, ‘the first transition class,’ meaning, the dorms were just built and there was a shift from commuter to residential students. As I lived locally, I was among the commuters, but I never thought of myself as a commuting college student. Commuting to me only meant that I didn’t sleep on campus, although that’s technically not true. When I was involved with the Spectrum newspaper, we would have some late nights closing and it was safer to sleep on the couch than to drive home at 2 a.m.” Jean Paul’s involvement with the Spectrum prepared him for a career devoted to sharing stories and photographs with the world. He looks back fondly on his time with the student newspaper: whether he was writing in the office, roaming campus taking pictures, or developing film in the darkroom. In addition to his involvement with the Spectrum, Jean Paul was a founding member of the men’s lacrosse team at SHU. Though he had never played before and did not know the rules, he was proud to be part of the team.
After graduation, Jean Paul worked as a freelance photographer for “what seemed like every newspaper from New Haven to Greenwich.” A few years later, during the beginning of the Internet boom, he landed a job at Golf Digest. “They were working on a new concept called online publishing and since I knew how to use a computer for newspaper page layout, I was somewhat qualified. Because I was a junior employee, I didn’t cover the pros and was assigned to a college player named Tiger Woods. He became a big deal, and then the Internet exploded in the ‘dot-com’ years, and suddenly I went from being a photographer in suburban Connecticut to an editor in New York City immersed in technology.” After the Internet bubble burst, Jean Paul returned to his true passion of photography. “I began graduate work in Photojournalism at the elite International Center of Photography in New York on September 12, 2001. What might have been an otherwise mundane year suddenly transformed into a very intense experience, documenting the aftermath of September 11th. I have work from that period in a book titled, “NYC: Life Goes On,” and other places, but strangely enough, I took a photo which is now in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a neat honor, but at the same time, I wish the photo didn’t need to exist.”
Jean Paul’s work has taken him around the world. He has taken photographs for national magazines such as Islands, Caribbean Travel and Life, and National Geographic Traveler. Jean Paul has shot everything from cook books to countless rock-and-roll bands, and most recently, Buddhist monks in South Korea for a book deal and PBS three-episode special. This past summer, Jean Paul was also the official stage photographer at the Gathering of the Vibes in Bridgeport. “It was an uncanny experience as two decades ago I was an official stage photographer for Woodstock.”
Jean Paul’s experiences at Sacred Heart prepared him for his inspiring career. He credits Drs. Ralph Corrigan, “Bunny” Calabrese, and Roberta Staples for guiding him during his time at SHU. “I was an English major, with a concentration in journalism, and these professors were advisors and mentors. Each contributed in a different way, but I think they were crucial to my core education. On the visual side, it was an adjunct professor named Robert Lisak who I credit as my first serious photographer teacher.” When asked to offer one piece of advice for freshman students, Jean Paul reminds them to take advantage of every opportunity. “Don’t be afraid to take chances. You will make mistakes, you will fail, and you will question yourself constantly." Wise words from a true Pioneer.