Michael Baca is in demand as a portrait photographer, in Arizona’s metro areas as well as his home base of Florence. He has also been hired to shoot in Sedona, Flagstaff and on the beach in Southern California.

It all happened more or less by chance.

“Basically, social media forced me into becoming a professional photographer,” Baca said, sitting in his downtown studio in the historic Arriola’s Cosmopolitan Store.

He used to hike a lot and take pictures along the way. “I’d post them, and people would like them.” Then one day about 10 years ago he received a request for family portraits.

“I hesitantly said yes.” The family was pleased enough to post the photos online, which led to more requests, and “I never stopped doing portraits from that day on. That’s what spurred it, and it just grew from there.”

He was working in school maintenance at the time and also had a mobile car wash service. “It kind of actually forced me to quit my job, because so many people asked me to do stuff for them, I was just overwhelmed how busy I was.”

He first became interested in photography as a student at Coolidge High School; he thought if he were taking pictures for the yearbook he could get out of class. It wasn’t until he took a class from art teacher Leon Silver that he began to find his passion.

“That’s when I really caught on and understood photography. I understood it completely, probably because he was a good teacher.”

Baca graduated in 1987.

Aside from his high school photography studies, Baca has been through several workshops sponsored by Arizona Highways magazine. His work has been featured in the magazine’s online galleries several times, and his photos have appeared with online articles. The magazine, known for its stunning photos of Arizona landscapes, has also used one of Baca’s rattlesnake photos to accompany an online article.

The public can browse Baca’s art in person at Casa de Baca Studios on Florence’s historic North Main Street. When he first opened, Baca thought he’d operate a portrait studio supplemented by selling a few landscape photos.

Then when he started making frames for his photos, art sales began to take off.

“My business is as much art as it is the portraits. So we spend a lot of time making art for people.” His wife, Janell, also has photos for sale. “With the addition of my newlywed-wife, she’s added a lot to the dynamics of the place, including her landscape photography, and she’s just a great team member.”

Their studio, which has been open for four years, also features jewelry by Linda Turner and Neola Bye-Beza, and gourd art by Dawn McVicker.

“I like the vibe of the old historic district that we have our space in,” Baca said. “And I like the fact that it’s an up-and-coming place. I feel like it has a lot of potential and it’s going to take off, and I want to be here when it does. I like the people here. And the area is beautiful, and it’s centrally located.”

He has been active in the business community, helping to launch a successful “Third Friday” after-hours downtown event, and was the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s “Person of the Year” in 2020. Congressman Paul Gosar gave him an award for contributions to the town and “putting Florence on the map.”

He and Janell have also organized a couple of “Old West Days” celebrations. But lately, he’s been stepping away from those activities.

“I want to put my focus on my business. All the creativity I have I want to use for what we create in this art gallery.” PW

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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