Larry Busby hadn’t lived in Town Shores very long before his stunning photographs of familiar Gulfport scenes, posted on Facebook, were discovered by local residents, artists and businesses. His work began showing up around town at Mermaid Bay Mercantile Company, at the Enroy Foundation Gallery, and now he is one of five artists selected for an exhibit honoring veterans and their art at The Straz Center in Tampa. While Busby’s recognition might seem like an overnight success story, he says it was a journey to get to the place he is now.
“How did my work get to The Straz Center?” he asks. “The journey started years ago or I wouldn’t even be here.”
Busby, a Kentucky native, joined the U.S. Navy in 1978. After attending the prestigious Naval School of Photography, he served as a combat camera team member, photographer’s mate and petty officer second class. He earned his Navy Aircrew Wings, and flew on Navy maritime patrol, reconnaissance, surveillance and intel-gathering aircraft and became an award-winning naval photographer. But his experiences started to take their toll both physically and mentally.
“When you enter the service, they are training you to be part of a war machine,” says Busby. “You are toughened up both mentally and physically to be ready for whatever comes your way and just push through it.”
Busby began to suffer with addiction problems that eventually led to a choice between a dishonorable discharge or rehabilitation training. After a suicide attempt, he was Baker-acted and admitted to the “flight deck,” or psych ward.
“That’s where the real journey began. By that point I had lost everything: my home, my wife. I had car wrecks, DUIs, court costs. I had nothing but a car that was paid for. I felt I had nothing left to offer,” says Busby. “I started working with counselors and therapists who suggested I get a hobby to serve as focus once I was released.”
Busby hadn’t done anything professionally with his photography for 30 years.
“When I picked up the camera again, everything had changed. I had to learn about DPIs and megapixels,” he says. “But I discovered that the creative part was still in me.”
He moved to Town Shores and began the practice of posting his landscape photography of Gulfport scenes to a few different Gulfport Facebook groups.
“People seemed to like my work, and they urged me to start selling my photographs,” Busby says. “The first place I sold my work was Mermaid Bay Mercantile Company. I am eternally grateful to the Farnums for the opportunity.”
These days, Busby also works as a park ranger for the National Park Service at Terra Ceia Preserve and is an active volunteer and spokesperson for the Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay (VACTB), a non-profit that promotes healing for veterans and active duty military personnel through art and art programs. The VACTB will hold its grand opening on March 25 with live music and showcasing art by veteran artists.
“I feel useful again,” Busby says. “My purpose in life is to help other veterans who might be in the same situation I was in.”
The Veterans Art Center was instrumental in getting Busby’s work shown at The Straz Center. His three-by-four-foot aluminum print Sunrise Gulfport was selected for the Veterans Art Exhibit: Reintegration and Resilience, which showcases art that comes from a place of healing in the hearts and minds of veterans expressed through the visual arts. The exhibit will run through March 15.
“I was excited to hear my work was chosen. It is quite an honor,” says Busby. “Three years ago, I never thought I would be taking photographs or that my work would be exhibited at art galleries and certainly not at The Straz Center. Art saved my life.”