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One for the Birds: Photographer & Muscian Larry W. Cusick

IN THE July 25 ISSUE

FROM THE 2020 Articles,
andArts & Entertainment,
andMusic,
andSarah Peterson-Camacho
SECTIONS

by Sarah A. Peterson-Camacho

Nature and photography go hand in hand for award-winning Fresno photographer and musician Larry W. Cusick, whose love of birds makes the avian species one of his favorite muses. But variety is the spice of life, and Cusick has also made a name for himself as a maker of music, playing the fiddle, Irish flute, and uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes).

Kings River Life spoke with Cusick about the birds, the photos, and the music, how the three intersect in his art, and his work with the Fresno Audubon Society, the Fresno Folklore Society, and the Spectrum Art Gallery.

KRL: Were you always interested in nature and photography?

Larry: I was really a late bloomer in the way that I came to appreciate nature. When I retired six years ago, my wife and I started to take advantage of the rich bounty of natural parks we have in central California. We joined the Fresno Audubon Society and participated in birding hikes in the foothills and mountains. We discovered a vibrant community of local hikers and birders. The natural world can take you to places outside of your head that is visual and tactile.

I have always been interested in photography, mostly taking snapshots of family and vacations. But once I started to really look at birds, I found them to be a natural subject of photography. I always bring the camera on a birding hike. Photographing birds can be incredibly challenging. They typically don’t sit still, often hidden in shadow, and are generally not very cooperative as a subject. But the rewards of a patient photographer can be exhilarating.

Grakels by Larry W. Cusick

KRL: Did these two interests always intersect?

Larry: While most of my photography is nature and birds, I do enjoy taking pictures of other subjects, including people. I think almost all photographers enjoy taking pictures in a variety of situations. Once you start looking around you, there is no lack of interesting subject matter.

KRL: How long have you been a photographer, and how did you get your start?

Larry: I think I am more a photo dabbler than a photographer. And this began for me in college when I took a photojournalism class. Ever since I have been a shutterbug. It’s all fun for me. Retiring accelerated a latent passion.

Hawk by Larry W. Cusick

KRL: What draws you to birds as subject matter?

Larry: Birds are incredible to me. They can be found on every continent. Many of them migrate seasonally from one continent to another, some flying across vast stretches of water for days with no rest. The sparrow in your backyard may have flown there from South America. They are descended from the only dinosaurs to have survived the great dinosaur extinction. Their adaptation of flight has proved to be exceptionally successful for survival. They have survival talents that leave us humans in the dust. Their beauty and grace in flight is a marvel. And they are unbelievably photogenic. What is not to love about them?

KRL: Are you a birder? If so, how has bird-watching informed your photography?

Larry: My wife and I go out birding as much as we can. The San Joaquin Valley and surrounding foothills affords many opportunities for birding. There are several national wildlife refuges as well as regional and national parks within a short driving range. We are particularly grateful to the many members of the Fresno Audubon Society who have been incredibly welcoming and helpful on enumerable birding outings. I have found that bird photography requires patience and constant attention to my surroundings. It is not like say portrait or landscape photography where you have a lot of time to set things up. If a bird flits by, you have to be ready to take the picture in seconds. Being in the field and trying to predict where the birds will be can be frustrating. You learn to accept what you get. As a photo dabbler with birds, I have become more humble, and at the same time appreciative. That is how I approach all of my photography.

Kestrel by Larry W. Cusick

KRL: What is your favorite bird, and why?

Larry: This is a very difficult question to answer, as I don’t really think that way. I get excited when I see a bird I haven’t seen in a while. Many birds migrate. They follow the seasons. In our valley spring brings the ash-throated flycatcher. Winter brings flocks of sandhill cranes to our wetlands. And there are so many more. It’s like seeing friends who you haven’t seen in months. There is also the bird that shows up unexpected, like a bald eagle flying over central Fresno (happened once).

KRL: What species have you not yet photographed, but would like to?

Larry: The honest answer is any bird I have not yet photographed. The great thing is there are so many bird species in the world, so I will never run out of birds to photograph. I have photographed only a fraction of the birds that can be found in the Central Valley.

KRL: How long have you been a musician?

Larry: Music has been a part of my life since I was eleven years old when I joined my elementary school band as a drummer. There has not been a time since that I have not been involved in music. I was a percussionist in college as a music minor. My last year in college I saw local folk music legend Kenny Hall perform on campus. I was awestruck. That was the music I wanted to play from then on. So I got a guitar and started playing folk music. Within a year, during graduate school, I started playing fiddle.

KRL: Do you sing/play instruments/both? If you’ve performed, where at?

Larry: I am an instrumentalist. My instruments now are fiddle, Irish flute, and uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipe). The style I play is called trad, the traditional instrumental music of North America and the Celtic countries including Ireland. I am very fortunate to live in a community with an active music scene. The Fresno Folklore Society has been instrumental in keeping the Fresno folk music flame alive for decades. I think my talents are more of an organizer of local musicians. Before the pandemic, I organized music sessions where we played in living rooms of volunteer hosts. And there were others in Fresno that did the same. It would not be unusual for there to be, in any given week, four or five music sessions somewhere in town open for participation by anyone interested.

Fresno is blessed with many fine fiddlers who play in many styles. One of my pleasures was to organize the Annual Fresno World Fiddle Day. Sponsored by the Fresno Folklore Society, this was a concert for local fiddlers to showcase their music. Although cancelled this year, we plan to return in May 2021.

Fiddler by Larry W. Cusick

I was very gratified that my efforts in organizing local musicians was recognized with the 2015 Fresno Mayoral Historic Preservation Award.

KRL: Have you exhibited your photography? If so, where?

Larry: I am a member of Spectrum Gallery in Fresno, and have exhibited several of my photos there. In particular, two of my photographs can be seen in the current Stay@Home Online Exhibition via their website. As part of Spectrum, I have also exhibited at the San Joaquin River House and Fresno City Hall. There are also plans for an exhibit in Governor Newsom’s Fresno Office. One of my bird photos was awarded first prize in the 2019 Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Facebook Photo Contest. Finally, I have a photography website where I post some of my work, larrywcusick.com.

KRL: Any upcoming photo or music projects you’d like our readers to know about?

Larry: Unfortunately, the pandemic has preempted so many public events. I’ll just have to say…Stay tuned.

KRL: What are the most rewarding aspects of photography and music?

Larry: Without hesitation, I would say that my rewards are the many talented and welcoming folks I get to work with. Particular thanks go to everyone in the Fresno Folklore Society, the Fresno Audubon Society, and the Spectrum Gallery. They have all been helpful, gracious, and kind. And I am grateful to all other musicians, birders, photographers, audience members, and gallery visitors that I have been privileged to interact with.

Photo by Larry W. Cusick

For more information on Cusick and his work, please visit www.larrywcusick.com.

Sarah A. Peterson-Camachois a library assistant with Fresno County Library, with a Bachelor’s in English and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from California State University, Fresno. In her free time, she makes soap and jewelry that she sells at Fresno-area craft fairs. She has written for The Clovis Roundup and the Central California Paranormal Investigators (CCPI) Newsletter.

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