There are veteran lifeguards all along our coastline, almost lifetime lifeguards - people who spend 40, 50 and more years on local beach patrols.
Dr. Rusty Silverman is not one of those lifers.
Silverman, an osteopath who lives in Ventnor, spent a few months almost 45 years ago on the Atlantic City Beach Patrol. And he wasn't actually a lifeguard - in those days, Atlantic City had "beach doctors," or medics, and when Silverman was in medical school, he spent one summer working at the ACBP's States Avenue station.
Still, in spite of his brief experience on the lifeguards' end of life, Silverman has spent decades taking pictures of lifeguards in action. Mostly, he does that during the favorite action of many guards' careers - the beach-patrol competitions that heat up every summer from Cape May Point to Long Beach Island and well beyond.
He started shooting these races in the 1970s, and got serious about them 25 years ago, as soon as he got serious about photography. Now, he always keeps supplies of two different business cards handy:
One is for his day job as CEO and chief medical officer of Cenegenics Medical Institute in Somers Point, where he specializes in "age-management medicine." The other is for "Rusty Silverman, Lifeguard Art Photo Gallery." (See lifeguardart.com.)
Silverman the photographer recently put together 106 of his favorite shots - out of tens of thousands he has taken - in a book he also calls "Lifeguard Art." But having a coffee-table book's worth of lifeguard pictures in his portfolio doesn't mean he's ready to hang up his camera now.
There are 35 or so races on this summer's South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association's schedule, which was released this week and starts next week - the first races are Friday night, in Wildwood Crest and Longport. And Silverman hopes to shoot at least a dozen of those competitions.
"I've been looking for this schedule for a long time," he said this week, adding one goal this year is to visit some races that aren't in his regular rotation.
He already sees at least one conflict on his schedule, with two of his favorite events on the same day. On Aug. 10, the United States Lifesaving Association's National Championships return to Cape May, and the South Jersey Lifeguard Championships are in Ocean City.
But Silverman has already solved that conflict: He'll shoot both, going to Cape May in the morning - and taking a vacation day from work - then heading up to Ocean City for the South Jerseys in the evening. He expects to shoot lifeguard pictures and travel for more than 12 hours that day.
He enjoys capturing competition, but Silverman isn't your classic sports photographer who focuses his energy mostly on winners and losers and action and reaction. Some of his favorite pictures come before the races even begin, when the rowers or swimmers or paddlers are preparing and "I can feel the adrenaline flowing," he says.
He also shoots the scene around the races, looking for odd angles - everywhere from thigh-deep in the ocean to standing on a lifeguard stand. He highlights the places of the races, with landmark buildings or Boardwalk rides in the background, and he loves the timing of most local races. If they weren't scheduled in the "soft, golden light" of evening, he says, he probably wouldn't be as faithful a photographer as he is.
Silverman has shot races everywhere from his local beach to California, "and some day, I'll get to Australia," he says.
He has fans among local lifeguards. The Cape May Beach Patrol keeps a link to his pictures on its website, and Ventnor's Beach Patrol has a handful of his shots among a collection of historic pictures on display in its headquarters, Capt. Bill Howarth says.
"One of our favorites is Andrew Funk coming down on a wave" in the singles row that clinched the 2003 South Jerseys for his team, Howarth says. "That was a special moment, and Rusty caught it."
ACBP Chief Rod Aluise agrees Silverman takes "beautiful shots," including some that aren't of lifeguard races at all - they're of quiet moments on a beach. But this 40-year veteran lifeguard adds he doesn't know of anyone who shoots more local lifeguard races than the doctor does.
"Not as broadly and consistently as he has over the years," Aluise says.
One more person who has found that photographer Rusty Silverman's pictures make nice wall hangings is Dr. Rusty Silverman, who has dozens of those pictures on display in his office. Some patients enjoy learning that when he's not practicing medicine, their doctor practices capturing lifeguards in action - and turning them into art.
(Contact Silverman through his web site or call 609-487-7654.)
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