By Rita J. Egan
Photographer Jerry McGrath has a keen eye when it comes to capturing the beauty of wildlife and landscapes, and through the end of February, nature lovers can enjoy his work at the North Shore Public Library in Shoreham. The exhibit will include approximately 20 images — the majority taken right here on Long Island with a couple from his trips to Alaska — printed on canvas from the Wading River resident’s collection.
The library’s art coordinator Hildegard Kroeger said a few years ago when the library displayed McGrath’s photos, they were well received. She said library patrons will enjoy the new exhibit with stunning photos that capture the impressive wingspans of birds or the eye color of the creatures. “He captures them in a very artistic way, and it may open up the eyes of people to look at things differently,” Kroeger said.
McGrath said becoming involved in photography opened up a whole new world for him. A former fifth-grade teacher at Wading River Elementary School for 30 years, the educator’s love of the art form developed slowly over the decades. He said he bought his first 35mm camera in 1968 while stationed in Vietnam. At the time, it was to simply record his experiences there. He never imagined the purchase would one day lead to the passion it has become for him the past five or six years as well as a small source of income.
McGrath said when he prepares for an exhibit he sees the images coming out of the printer, and he becomes energized knowing that he was part of creating the work and just wants to share it with others, and it can be difficult to choose his favorites to display.
“I just love when the picture comes out of the printer, and I see how that final product looks. And when it looks really sharp and crisp, just the right subject, it’s just something that I get a charge out of. I don’t know what it is,” he said.
An avid fisherman, McGrath was inspired to become more involved in photography after a fishing trip to Alaska that led to winning a photo contest. The photographer, who is also a former licensed charter boat captain and conducts a fishing course through the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, has been visiting Alaska for fishing trips annually for over 15 years.
A few years ago during one trip, he caught a halibut that weighed over 200 pounds. McGrath asked his friend Mike to take a photo of him with his catch, while he held the tail of the fish and sat down with his feet stretched out next to the head of the halibut to give perspective of just how big it was. When he returned home, he entered the picture in a fishing photo contest sponsored by Alaska Airlines and won. With this win, he thought about how he coordinated the photo and started thinking that he may have a knack for capturing a moment.
Winning two round-trip tickets to wherever the airline traveled, he and his wife Cathie decided to take a trip to Hawaii. McGrath said he felt that not any camera would do for such a scenic vacation so he purchased his first DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. The photographer said he found it easier to use than previous manual exposure cameras that he owned, as well as an inexpensive way to take photos, and he began taking more.
He said places such as Hawaii and Alaska are beautiful spots to take stunning photos. “You can’t take a bad picture of the sun creeping behind the mountains at sunset at 11 o’clock at night up in Elfin Cove, Alaska. It’s just spectacular,” McGrath said.
However, while he has taken gorgeous photos on vacations, the Long Islander said his favorite spots to take photos are close to home. He said he loves going to the Wading River Marsh Preserve where he easily finds birds by the water or even deer in the woods to photograph.
He added that his own backyard is a great place to take photos, especially of birds such as cardinals, blue jays and mourning doves. McGrath said he never paid much attention to birds, but once he started photographing them he started reading up on the different types and now can identify many of them.
“It opened a whole new world for me,” McGrath said.
A tender photo of a mother fox and her cubs that will be on display at the library was taken on Fire Island. According to McGrath, many of his wildlife photos are possible not only due to a good deal of patience while waiting for the perfect shot, but also by using a 300mm lens and 2x extender, which enables him to get great shots even when he is relatively far away from the subject. He now has a collection of three DSLR cameras, and from time to time, he will use a monopod to remain steady.
Visitors to the library exhibit who are interested in purchasing prints will be able to do so directly from McGrath. The photographer said after his first exhibit at the North Shore Public Library a few years ago, he displayed his work at the former Grind Cafe in Wading River and realized people wanted to buy his photos. He said he was amazed when during the two months of the café exhibit he sold 14 or 15 pieces that started at $150 or more. While the sales encouraged him to try to sell more of his photos, he said, “I just love taking the pictures. I would take the pictures whether I was getting paid or not.”
The North Shore Public Library, 250 Route 25A, Shoreham, will present McGrath’s exhibit through Feb. 27. An artist reception, hosted by the Friends of the Library, will be held to meet the photographer on Feb. 7 from 2:30 to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.northshorepubliclibrary.org or call 631-929-4488. To view McGrath’s work, visit www.facebook.com/CapturedMcgraphicsPhotosByJerryMcgrath.