Writing & photography for Keys park kiosk

As part of a major renovation of Old Settlers Park (Tavernier), I wrote text and donated photographs for the history and natural history panels of a kiosk now installed in the park. Thanks to Jill Patterson and Alice Allen (Friends of Old Settlers Park), Janice DuQuesnel (Florida Department of Environmental Protection), Peter Frezza (Audubon Florida – Everglades Science Center, Tavernier), and Jerry Wilkinson (Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys) for the local expertise that fueled much of my writing. I learned a lot!

Mirror, mirror in the mangroves

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) stalking prey in the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, February 22, 2015. Shot handheld in kayak with 100 mm. lens, 1/500 second, f/2.0.

Little Blue Heron, Sanibel Island.

Little Blue Heron, Sanibel Island.

Magnificent Black Glider

Magnificent Frigate Bird (Fregata Magnificens), male

Magnificent Frigate Bird (Fregata Magnificens), male

Sunrise Drive, Tavernier, Florida… Friday, January 2, 2015, 7:05 AM… wind blowing east/northeast at 9 knots. Big gliders out in force, especially Magnificent Frigate Birds and Brown Pelicans. Even panning with them, anything slower than 1/1000 sec didn’t freeze their glides, and my shutter had to be wide open (f/2.0) to capture even a slight glimpse of their feathers lines against a bright sky. Above shot with a 100 mm. lens, then cropped close to frame stealth bomber wings more dramatically.

My grandfather said…

My mother’s father, a painter and art teacher, wrote this about photography in a 1926 article for the Providence Journal:

“A camera used by an artist may produce a work of art; when it does, the camera becomes merely a tool of expression in the same way that paint and canvas, or copper plate and etching ink, are a means of creating art in other hands; the usual photograph is much like Dickens’s description of the dictionary – ‘Everything is there but there isn’t much plot.'”

I like that he didn’t turn his nose up at photography, respected it as an art form even though, as far as I know, he never owned a camera or took any photographs.

William Holland Drury in Riverdale, NY, painting the Hudson River (1950s)

William Holland Drury in Riverdale, NY, painting the Hudson River (1950s)

“Decisive” color

Yesterday I found Anne-Marie sitting on a bench outside a restaurant in Key Largo, awash in a lovely palette of blues and salmon pinks and it hit me that Cartier-Bresson probably would have included color in his descriptions of “decisive moments” if he hadn’t been working when color film was still in its infancy and much harder to use than black-and-white–slower (harder to ‘freeze’ movement), often requiring artificial light.

 

Anne-Marie outside Category 3, Key Largo restaurant

Anne-Marie outside Category 3, Key Largo.

 

Keys verite

I keep looking for photos of the Keys that go beyond spectacular sunsets, leaping tarpon, blissful kayakers, Key West roosters, white sand beaches, luxury villas, artsy shots of waves and mangroves, divers communing with sea turtles – you get the picture(s). Don’t get me wrong – that’s all good and true about the Keys (except maybe the white sand beaches); that’s why most of us live here. But what about all the stuff that happens outside the walled garden of this so-called “paradise,” in the everyday lives of the 70,000+ people who live and work here year round–the good, the bad, the ugly? Was Dylan right – “nothing matters outside the gates of Eden?”  Most photos in local papers are mug shots, posed group portraits, high-school sports action shots and close-ups of crumpled vehicles at the latest Highway 1 accident–not much going on visually in any of them except passive documentation of standard news events.

So I was relieved to see that a New York photographer named Rona Chang saw the Keys a bit differently during a brief residency at Studios of Key West last year, although like many newcomers she was seduced and distracted by “Key Weird”…

"Future fruit stand, Big Pine Key" - Rona Chang

“Future fruit stand, Big Pine Key” – Rona Chang

See my starter collection of “Keys verite” photos on Pinterest… definitely a quest-in-progress… I’m sure I’m missing a mother lode of interesting Keys photos somewhere.

“The decisive moment”

The famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) is perhaps best known for articulating the concept of “the decisive moment” in photography and pursuing it throughout his distinguished career. “Photography is not like painting,” he told the Washington Post in 1957. “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

On another occasion he said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” [translated from French]

I’m sure many photographers know intuitively what Cartier-Bresson meant and have experienced their own “decisive moments” even if they’ve never heard of him. I was only vaguely familiar with his name many years ago when I went on a beach walk with my two sisters, my brother-in-law and a dog and took my camera along.  Walking backwards in front of them, looking through the viewfinder, I saw a nice composition enfolding with one sister in closeup focus in the left foreground and the other in the background talking animatedly with her husband and probably a little out of focus due to a fast shutter speed (1/500 sec.?). When Sarah whistled for her dog I quickly snapped the shutter and knew instantly that I’d captured the moment I’d been waiting for. I thought about that moment and liked that photo a lot for many years before getting to know Cartier-Bresson’s work. The “decisive moment” was, of course, Sarah’s whistle, but the out-of-focus talking couple in the background added a second, more intriguing “event.” I can’t really take much credit for all that; the photo came out of the blue, flew fast up to my camera and alighted there.

sbh_whistle (1 of 1)