This October I was pleased to meet Kristin Foringer of the Chesapeake Research Consortium, one of the creative
managers of this website. She attended my roundtable discussion at the 39th
Annual Conference of the North American Association of Environmental Education. We gathered around the idea of how we can describe human-ecological relationships through photography. I realized we both share a great affinity for coastal environments. While the images I featured at NAAEE drew from my work in Amazonian Ecuador, everyone there was interested in capturing the “essence” of their favorite places and getting their students involved in creating those photo essays. The idea for this blog entry was forming.
A focus of my editorial photographyhas been making images that harness some type of human story. We interpretive types are constantly seeking out visuals to illustrate concepts, stimulate reflection and make connections. Whether we speak about the field of biomimicry (where the physical and behavioral adaptations of plant and wildlife inform engineers and product designers), the historical relationships of man and nature or how we use art to escape our technocentric lives, photography is a medium we go to.
While stationed as an interpretive park ranger at Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California, I was fortunate to produce and lead interpretive programs for visitors from around the world. The historic Point Reyes Lighthouse was built in 1870 and stands on the windiest place in North America, and the second foggiest. There’s a great history of shipwrecks and stories of survival here.
The Point Reyes lighthouse keepers log of 1888 shows man had difficulty adapting here.
But this blog entry is not a story about lighthouses per se. Yet, much like the lead character in a wilderness story, lighthouses are given living attributes. Metaphors like “sentinel” and “guardian” come to mind. Point Reyes and Chesapeake Bay share a common history. According to the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, some 30 lighthouses, lights and beacons remain of the original 74 that once lined Chesapeake Bay.
Good photography is largely a matter of patience, intense observation and reduction.
Before I make any photograph, I ask myself “What attracts me to this scene?” The most effective images are often the simplest, but that ability to visually summarize a scene may be the product of a long relationship, an intimate understanding of place. Photographers know that meaningful photographs are often the celebration of a long journey.
I had pre-visualized this image of the lighthouse. The essence of Point Reyes would include the unification of rock, fog and lighthouse beacon in equal roles. From this perspective, the wind-sculpted sandstone conglomerate jutted directly onto the lighthouse. The jagged contour evokes the same rock on which many ship ran aground. During a demonstration lighting one day, the steel-plate lighthouse and its lens of 3,000 crystal elements were reduced to a shaft of light poking through the fog. Surrounded by open space, the lighthouse is small against the forces of nature and the fog appears to swirl about the lighthouse. That sense of motion, and a glimmer of hope perhaps, is provided by the patch of blue sea above.
Sometimes a single image takes on more meaning when contrasted with another. I think the diminutive Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), a federally endangered shorebird that scurries along beaches not far from the lighthouse, provides a wonderful counterpoint. Here it is shown in an image I contributed to the Pt. Reyes National Seashore Association. In Maryland, the federally endangered Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is found on Assateague Island.
If you enjoy photographing in the Chesapeake Bay, consider incorporating perspective and elements of geology and weather in your photographs. I was surprised to find few images of the famous Thomas Point Shoals lighthouse that really captured the totality of the environment. Drawing from a sense of history and the composition strategies of photography, landscapes can be made to touch on our emotional ties to place. These are among the exercises I expand upon in my summer tours for educators in Amazonian Ecuador with Raw Rainforest Photography & Educational Tours where teachers and biologists create singular images and photo-essays that become powerful tools within their own curricula.
Protect the Chesapeake Bay region!