Galleries : Jeffrey Serusa: Seeing the big picture
When Jeffrey Serusa bought his first camera in Oak Bluffs in 1968, he never imagined that 40 years later he would open his own gallery to display his own fine art photography of nautical subjects and seascapes. A well-driller by trade, Mr. Serusa lived in Africa for 12 years early in his career, returning home to the Vineyard in 1984 to start his own business. Abandoning his camera for more than 20 years, he picked it up again in 2005 and began in earnest to record his unique vision of the Island's beauty.
"Seasmoke," his mystical image of the Islander hovering in a haunting mix of clouds, mist and water, catapulted him from well-driller to noted photographer in 2006.
Last year, he opened Seaworthy Gallery on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. A zealous chronicler of classic coastal New England, his images of Vineyard seascapes, including wooden boats, lighthouses, wharfs, and ferries, adorn the walls of not only his own gallery but those of The Granary Gallery in West Tisbury. His work is featured in commercial and corporate establishments on and off the Island.
Labeled by many as a late bloomer to his passion, 57 years old and conspicuously happy, Mr. Serusa says nothing has ever felt more natural: "This is the easiest thing I've ever done. I'm technically oriented so I'm not afraid of any equipment or technology. Every aspect is enjoyable."
Mr. Serusa will host a reception at his gallery from 6 to 8 pm, on Saturday, August 8.
From shooting the images to printing and framing, he controls as much of his process as possible. Beginning the day at 4 am to produce enough images to keep pace with the demand at the galleries, he uncomplainingly puts in 16-hour days. And, although he opened Seaworthy nine months ago in an unfortunate parallel with the economic recession, he says he has no regrets.
Vineyard photographers may be nearly as abundant as ice cream cones in summer, but Mr. Serusa's images are distinctive and powerful, the result of his observant eye, weeks of planning, excellent equipment, production quality, materials and technical prowess.
He employs both medium- and large-format film cameras, abandoned by many photographers in favor of digital technology. His wooden large-format camera sits in the center of the gallery for visitors to see.
"They ask me how old it is because they think it's an antique," he says, chuckling. In fact, it was crafted in Arizona only several years ago. He lugs it, a tripod and a bag with lenses - 80 pounds of paraphernalia - to many of his shoots, confessing that he uses a digital camera for test shots.
"I just can't get the same quality image with a digital that I can with the cameras I have," Mr. Serusa explains. The only downside to the large-format camera is in the stormy weather he loves to capture on film: its unwieldy design makes it a potential projectile in wind; that's when the medium-format camera becomes the weapon of choice.
"I try to capture the beauty of the Island to share with others," he says. "I'm drawn by light and the way it plays on a subject. I often discover something I want to shoot months or even years before I actually do. I wait for just the right moment - the right weather and time of day. I wait and wait and wait."
He smiles - a frequent expression. It is the smile of a man resigned to his fate and loving it.
He insists he didn't come by his patience easily, claiming the late Stuart Bangs, former West Chop postmaster, surveyor, and, as Mr. Serusa puts it, "Island character," taught him important life lessons. "He taught me the art of incremental success - two bricks at a time," he says.
As he walks through his gallery, Mr. Serusa stops before each photograph and relates its tale: how he came upon the subject, the optimal conditions he needed to shoot it, how many weeks or months it took to achieve just the right moment, the number of hours it took to get the single shot he envisioned. If every picture tells a story, then his tell epics. As many as 80 percent of his shots, he says, are planned months in advance.
"The best compliment people pay me is when they stand before my work, study it intently, and ask me questions about how I got the shot," he says. Remarkably, his images, often dramatic, are untouched by Photoshop or any other software magic. "I'm color-blind," he says, "so I can't really mess with what I shoot."
Gallery Manager Ted Jennings lends his extensive marketing and sales background to Mr. Serusa's art. He has ambitious expectations for the photographer. He and Mr. Serusa are staging a drawing of one of the gallery's major pieces - a limited edition "Seasmoke" print signed by the former captain of the retired Islander. Anyone whose purchases add up to $495 will be issued a ticket. The gallery is also planning a major sale this weekend.
Mr. Serusa plans to add 25 new images to his collection for the gallery's walls next season. So this winter, braving the elements, wind howling, temperatures sub-freezing, he will probably be somewhere perched on a rock overlooking the water.
Artist's Reception, 6-8 pm, Saturday, Aug. 8, Seaworthy Gallery, Beach Road, Vineyard Haven.
Karla Araujo is a frequent contributor to The Times.