Bookstore cafe employee shifts his work into adjoining gallery for photo exhibit


For one month, Justin Tsucalas' worlds will collide.

The 17-year-old senior at St. Paul's School in Baltimore County is the featured artist this month at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Ellicott City. Tsucalas, a photographer who lives in Ellicott City, also works at the bookstore's cafe not far from where 25 of his photos are being displayed.

It was artist initiative that got Tsucalas his first public show.

"I saw that they had artwork every month, mostly paintings and things," Tsucalas said. "I asked if I could put some of my stuff up, showed them what I did, and they jumped at it."

The bookstore displays work by local artists as part of its community outreach. Hilary Craig, the cafe's manager, said Tsucalas' co-workers are thrilled with his newfound status as an exhibitor.

"We're all pretty proud," Craig said. "I think he does awesome work."

Tsucalas invests a great deal of time in the darkroom. The black and white photos on display range from party scenes to a portrait of his father watching television.

Tsucalas travels with his Nikon and has been known to snap photos on a whim. Nothing seems to escape his camera's lens -- even leftovers.

"I had had pasta the night before and hadn't washed the dishes," he said, gesturing to one of his creations that showed remnants of his dinner in a pot. "I came down the next morning, and there was something about the way the light was hitting the pan."

Tsucalas said his photography came as an extension of his other artwork. He began drawing as a child and took a photography course during the summer after eighth grade.

It quickly became a passion, he recalled.

"I really got into it," he said. "I'm really drawn to faces. Whatever I see that's interesting, I take a picture of."

Tsucalas was photo editor of the student newspaper last year and has not ruled out the possibility of photojournalism as a career. Edward Brown, a teacher at St. Paul's and Tsucalas' adviser and mentor, said the teen-ager possesses a rare talent.

"He's amazing," Brown said. "He listens incredibly well, and he is willing to take chances."Brown said even Tsucalas' classmates are impressed with his photography skills.

"The students enjoy discussing his work," Brown said. "His mind just works differently from other kids' his age.

"I don't look at his stuff and say, 'This is good relative to a 17-year-old,'" Brown added. "I look at it and say, 'This is just flat-out good.'"

Tsucalas said he would like to find a college or university with a good photography program. He had to turn down a job offer as a photography assistant in New York this summer because he was visiting colleges.

For now, Tsucalas wants to keep taking pictures and provoking thought among viewers.

"With photography, you are kind of stopping time," he said. "I like getting a reaction."

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