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Writing
Oct 23, 2019, 05:55AM

Capturing The Chesapeake

From an iPhone versus a real camera.

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Photo: Mary McCarthy's iPhone 8.

For those of us who love the Chesapeake Bay, watching it change is hard.

This past weekend I experienced a photography workshop of renowned Bay-area photo pro Jay Fleming, whose work has graced the covers of Chesapeake Bay, Anglers Journal, Edible Delmarva, National Fisherman, and many other magazines.

Though I’ve lived on the Chesapeake for nearly 20 years and have a writing cottage on one island, I’ve never visited the only offshore islands of Smith and Tangier. As a fan of his first book Working the Water that captures the lives of working watermen, I attended a lecture of Fleming’s and know he’s working on a new book Island Life (out next year) capturing images of these islands. My thought is that over time I’d like to experience the Chesapeake in a new way by watching him work on this book and writing an article about this perspective of the Chesapeake through his lens. 

One challenge of attending a photography workshop was that I don’t know how to take a photograph with a camera. I borrowed a nice uptown camera (it’s a Sony, don’t ask me which one or how old, because I have no idea, but it seemed fancy enough) from my 16-year-old daughter to whom it was given by her grandparents for her annual World Series of Birding adventures and recent birding trip to Costa Rica. She showed me how to use it. I promptly forgot, and also left the battery for it on the charger on the first full day out, to shoot crabbers on the water. I was humiliated, but Fleming said, “The best camera to use is the one you know,” which in my case is my iPhone. I shot what I could from my phone—it took the pressure off not knowing anything and I was able to just have fun and experience the time on the Chesapeake. I took a quick video of the crabbers, got some shots of the friendly fox we encountered, and even found some sea glass, which I definitely already knew how to shoot with my iPhone. I failed completely at getting close-up camera pics of a patient praying mantis because I forgot that the habit of removing my glasses to look at a close-up screen when taking a phone photo didn't transfer to looking through the viewfinder, so I couldn't focus the image because I have 20/600 vision, not becuase I "couldn't get the camera to focus." 

My favorite part of the weekend was watching Fleming interact with the islanders and watermen. He's spent a number of years getting to know the locals, these personalities that make up the fabric of the Chesapeake. He’s a local celebrity, and the residents enjoy having the spotlight shone on their everyday work life. I enjoyed meeting the real photographers who took the workshop and watching them work and learn. I accidentally commented to my roommate about the cool settings on her phone, which she patiently explained was called a camera. 

On the flip side, the saddest part was seeing close at hand the destruction of coastal erosion, and the inevitable loss of these fragile places and ways of life. Whether it’s an island where rows of trees form fences of driftwood piled against a now-gone shoreline, watery gravestones the only standing structures on an island lost to the tides, or dozens of abandoned houses lost to repeated floods, there’s a lot of grim reality on the islands of the Chesapeake. I am grateful Fleming’s there to document the fascinating people who call these islands home, and look forward to writing more about these experiences.

Jay is talented not only at photography, but during the workshop caught the fish we ate for dinner, cooking a fabulous meal; and the crabcakes he'd made the night before were a tough act to follow! If you get the chance to visit the Chesapeake, I recommend checking out his workshops- regardless of your photography skill level. To get to know him better, check out Fleming’s website about page, the recent feature about him in Coastal Style magazine, or a short YouTube documentary. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram so you don’t miss any of his images of the natural beauty of the Chesapeake and the people who bring it to life. 

—Follow Mary on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

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