Oriole Park at Camden Yards, though impressive, is no Sistine Chapel. Likewise, Janis Rettaliata, the unofficial park photographer, is no Michelangelo.
But as the 14th-century artist is best known for his distinctive painting of the chapel ceiling, so might Rettaliata be remembered for her photographs of baseball's latest monument.
"Even if I shot another building, I couldn't shoot it the way I did this one," said Rettaliata, 42. "I'm not saying my career ends here, but this is certainly the defining moment to now."
Rettaliata, a native of Govans, has just published "The Baltimore Ballpark Project: The Creation of a Baseball Stadium," a 96-page pictorial chronology of Oriole Park, from groundbreaking in June 1989 through the early part of this season. Priced at $25.95, it is available at local bookstores.
For Rettaliata, the book is more than just a collection of pictures, in much the same way that Oriole Park is more than just a stadium.
"This is a really special place for me, and it will always be a big part of my heart," she said. "It's not just a building. It's the embodiment of all the good parts of my hometown."
Rettaliata said her grandfather and his Brownie camera first stoked the flames of her love of photography when she was a child.
He traveled extensively and would bring back pictures of the locales he visited. Those shots, and the numerous pictures of her family, drew her into the world of photography.
"I learned at a very young age how to preserve a moment, preserve a time and therefore how to preserve the emotions attached," Rettaliata said.
She pursued other interests out of high school, but came back to free-lance photography at age 26.
Rettaliata was the official team photographer of the now-defunct Blast for seven years, and has shot the World Series for NBC and the Super Bowl for The Sporting News. She has also shot for Sports Illustrated, Sport and Baseball Weekly.
Besides sports photography, Rettaliata is passionate about construction photography, and she has shot some of the city's more impressive downtown towers, including the Gallery at Harborplace, the Signet Tower, the Legg Mason Tower and her favorite, 250 W. Pratt Street.
"I don't think people really appreciate construction photography," Rettaliata said. "It can be bland, but I think it can really tell a story."
Said Robert Rayborn, project administrator for Barton Malow, the stadium's Upper Marlboro-based general contractor: "Janis captured the pace and the feel of what we were doing with an artistic flair. It's something that most construction people never have."
The new ballpark gave Rettaliata an opportunity to combine her two favorite photography subjects into one assignment, and she sought to obtain the construction photography contract from the Maryland Stadium Authority in July 1990.
Her bid was received a week late, but Rettaliata was determined to be a part of the process, so she obtained the authority's permission to visit the site and shoot it architecturally.
That meant more than 190 visits to the site during the 2 1/2 years of construction, at virtually any hour of the day and in any weather, from early-morning shots of the installation of precast stairs on the upper deck to dusk shots of the nearly finished project, to a photo of the playing field covered in snow.
"I had to adjust my entire schedule for when the light would be best for getting the work that was going on," Rettaliata said. "I was very subject to Mother Nature. I didn't run my show. She ran my show."
As construction continued, Rettaliata decided to put together a book from some of the 2,200 shots she had taken, but she didn't seek out a publisher. Instead, she chose to publish and $l distribute the book herself, a risky move.
"It was a gut feeling. It was my own vision and I wanted to carry it out," she said. "I'm a baseball fan and this is my hometown and I thought other people would feel about the ballpark the way I did."
Though they didn't invest in her project, the ballpark's architectural firm, HOK Sports Facilities Group of Kansas City, Mo., and officials of Barton Malow purchased a substantial number of copies of the book.
Rayborn, who is in Denver supervising the construction of the Colorado Rockies' ballpark, scheduled to open in 1995, said the book is serving as a guide.
"In my own way, I'm trying to show Janis' book to my men," Rayborn said. "I tell them, 'Here's a good example of what a wonderful lady captured of what we're trying to do.' "
And even as Rayborn and others build new parks around the country, Rettaliata is confident the ballpark she photographed will become the industry's standard.
"After years of watching the town grow, I have a chance to be part of that growth by giving back a visual history of something that's unique," she said. "Even if there are other parks built, I think they'll point to Baltimore as where it all started."