Richard Fusillo in his natural environment, Cuesta ’s photographic arts department.
Photo by Austin Brumblay
On the walls at Cuesta College’s photography building, equipment fill the shelves, on the desk lies an old 35 millimeter camera and a new Apple Mac with Adobe Lightroom minimized. In the middle of the clashing technologies, sits Richard Fusillo, arms crossed—merging the differing eras together.
Fusillo is Cuesta’s unpictured hero in the photographic arts department. Behind the scenes, Fusillo, 31, keeps the popular program running sharp for hundreds of students to excel in their photographic endeavors.
The uniquely-large community college lab features four dark rooms to develop film negatives, and an expansive “safe-light” (dim yellow) room featuring eighteen film enlargers to develop prints. This gives students the opportunity to perform every step of the black and white film process in a digitally dominated age.
The center is regarded as one of the best college photography labs in the area according to Professor Doug Highland, department head.
To support this claim, Fusillo’s responsibilities must run like the shutter of a camera—smoothly and frequently. Students hard at work are in constant need of topped off chemical bins to develop film and precise functioning equipment to produce the hundreds of negatives and prints that leave the studio every week.
“My duties, other than helping students, are basically making sure the photography department is running,” Fusillo laughed. “…mixing chemicals, computers, enlargers in the dark room. I’m the one that does maintenance on them, I make sure all parts are proper, I clean everything.”
Fusillo operates like a shadow in the faint lit halls, his light only recognized by his music playing over the large lab speakers or his Australian-shepherd mix, Zoey, mingling around the open-lab on Fridays.
Like many aspiring Cuesta fine-arts majors, Fusillo had a humble beginning here at Cuesta College in 2006, where he took courses with (now retired) Professor Jefferson Clark.
“[Clark] took me aside during open lab and taught me…and told me stories [about music and photography] …the stories are what really got me into photography,” he said.
With his new passion developed, he spent time traveling with bands up and down California unraveling stories with his camera.
“Meeting people, that’s the best part of music photography,” he said.
In 2015, Fusillo crossed paths with Highland, whom he was close with while attending Cuesta,
“I had a couple classes with Doug Highland … we kind of connected…,” he said.
While hosting an art showing, Fusillo reconnected with his old friend and they quickly picked up where they left off, he said. It was then that Highland informed him that Cuesta was hiring a lab technician.
“…so that’s how that came about … I wasn’t expecting to get hired,” he laughed. “It kind of just became a coincidence basically.”
Of the countless tasks to perform in the Cuesta lab, undoing student mistakes is high on the list. With a mix of students who have never held a film camera to advanced photographers “…you see wide variety of stuff,” Fusillo said.
When asked the worst mistake he’s experienced, he leaped out of his rolling desk chair to search for a large piece of bent metal.
“We have a fiber based paper dryer (round drum dryer) that wasn’t working for a few months…I pulled it completely apart and somehow a student put a negative carrier (metal looking ping pong paddle for printing negatives) in the drum, seizing up the machine … it was bad.”
Outside of Cuesta’s bustling photography lab, Fusillo works as a freelance photographer shooting commercial, editorial, model and landscape portraits and is currently putting together a website to promote his prints.
Photography is all about seizing the moment so personal comfort zones often go out the window in the business. While the rest of the Central Coast hunkered down during the lightning storm on Sept. 10, Fusillo loaded up his gear and headed to Cuesta Pass, 1,500 feet above sea level.
“I just hoped the storm would move over the mountains…and thankfully it did,” he said.
Standing out in the storm in the early hours, camera at the ready, he caught fierce images of the rare California spectacle.
A lover of animals, Fusillo is donating 15% of all proceeds from prints of the lighting storm to Wings of Rescue, an organization to help displaced dogs and cats from hurricanes; Harvey and Irma. He is using his camera as a tool to fight nature’s destruction with nature’s beauty.
Whether it’s helping students focus on their dreams, capturing nature’s wildness or shedding light on a great cause, Richard Fusillo is more than a single exposure, he’s the whole roll of film.