Jenn Coito’s radiant smile, appealing demeanor, and red attire are all hints into her art — photography. In an exciting opening exhibit at Crossroads Gallery, you may ask yourself, Why red? Coito titled her show “She Wears Red Again,” to reflect a coming back into her own.
“I had stopped wearing red at a certain point in my life,” she said. “It was my favorite color, and I stopped wearing it for a very long time. I think I didn’t want to stand out. Ultimately, I wanted to hide a little bit — not be as goofy as I used to be.”
When you step inside the gallery, you’ll be assured that’s not the case anymore. Goofy is an operative word for one of the two genres she’s selected to show. Coito has a original take on farm animals, whose in-your-face closeups are indeed both goofy and personal. Although she is behind the lens, her subjects are communicating with her. They are intriguing photos that vividly capture the personal relationship between the photographer and individual animal. Bella, a ham who is actually a cow, is perhaps the kookiest, and sure to win your heart.
Coito’s first instructional exposure to photography was in a class at MVRHS, but she admits her passion started way before. “I used to steal my mom’s camera all the time,” she said.
But a lot of time passed before she picked it up again. Her life was filled with illness and often unhealthy relationships, both of which inspired a journey of self-discovery — the result of which is expressed through photography.
About five years ago, Coito found herself single for the first time since she was 13 years old. She picked up photography again, and rediscovered her passion for it. She studied online at the New York Institute of Photography, and after a couple of years, Michael Blanchard, owner of the Crossroads Gallery in Oak Bluffs, came into her life.
They met at the Chilmark Flea Market when their stalls were adjacent to each other. Coito said, “I remember saying to my mom, ‘I’m not going to sell anything with him next door!’ But he was just amazing. He came right over and introduced himself. By the end of that flea market, he knew I was using an older camera, and ended up gifting me a Canon 5D. It’s the one I use to this day. I don’t think I’ll get a new one because I like how I got it.”
Blanchard became an important fixture in her life, not only because of photography, but also as a dear friend and mentor. Coito suffered unexplained liver failure after 16 or so years of being ill. The situation became deadly when she had a severe reaction to the medication she was given. “It felt like my body was shutting down,” she said. “I thought I was going to die. The nurse put her hand on me and said, ‘Take a deep breath.’ I did, and let it go. I had this huge weight lifted off my body like it went right out the window.”
But Coito’s journey wasn’t smooth going from then on. About six months later, she needed another infusion, and got sick again. Finally she was diagnosed with gastroparesis. She started doing hot yoga, saw a nutritionist and herbalist, and reflected.
“That brought me to here, and I feel phenomenal again,” she said. “Because I’m feeling better, I’m feeling comfortable in other ways, and able to address other things I’ve been through in my past. I had been in an abusive relationship for many years. But I finally started to address these things.”
Since her last recovery, Coito has been shooting photography again because it makes her feel great. Blanchard encouraged her to start charging for her work, but Coito said she wasn’t ready to put herself out there yet. Finally, about six months after her diagnosis, the mother of a close friend pulled her aside and said, “You need to do this. Follow this.”
Coito said she’s heard that before, but in that moment, it’s all it took. About a month later, Coito called Blanchard and said, “OK, I’m ready.” It meant finally doing what she wanted to do — being a full-time photographer.
“I had to let go of the fear and judgement I had put on myself. I was blaming myself still for what had gone on,” Coito said. “Now my photos are totally different. I feel more empowered and connected with the camera than I have in the past, and I feel that my photos are showing that. What I found is that I don’t like to put myself in a box.”
Right alongside her unique animal photos are stunning sunsets and sunrises. She also decided to exhibit a slideshow of her family and children’s portraits so she can share another genre of work.
Coito admitted she almost backed out of doing the show a couple of times, but you’ll be glad she didn’t. She even feels excited now. “More than I thought I would,” she said.
“I hope in sharing my photographs that people can see light — and knowing who took them, see the triumph. I know I had other people to look up to, and I hope I can do that for somebody else.”
Jenn Coito’s opening reception is Friday, Oct. 26 from 5 to 7 pm at Crossroads Gallery, 57 Circuit Ave., Oak Bluffs. Denis Toomey’s Church Street Coffee will be served.