The Chesapeake Bay is an undeniably beautiful place, and it’s easy to take a photo that reflects the endless convergence of marsh, water, and sky. But the real challenge is to capture something that’s more than a pretty sunset. Jay Fleming is a young photographer working out of Annapolis, Maryland, who is hoping to change the conventional perception of the Chesapeake, one picture at a time.
From the traditional fishing culture’s slow disappearance as captured in the slumping collapse of the last house on Holland Island, to the vibrant eruption of silver croakers from a pound net (taken from the fish’s perspective), Fleming depicts a Bay that is working hard to keep its head above the water. Bursting with life, color, and dynamism, his photos convey the clear sense that the Chesapeake’s working harbors and underwater terrain are rich, thriving environments.
Clearsighted to the Chesapeake’s charms and its changes as only a native son could be, Fleming’s pictures look past the sunsets to a Bay that’s struggling to survive but still has so much magic left.
Following is the conversation of interviewer Kate Livie, Beautiful Swimmers blogger and CBMM education director, speaking with Jay Fleming, photographer.
KL: Who are you and how did you get started taking pictures?
JF: My name is Jay Fleming, from Annapolis, Maryland. I was born and raised in the area. My father is from Delaware and shot for National Geographic for 15 years, and I would go with him on assignments as a kid. As a teenager I started to use his equipment and when I was around 14 or 15, I submitted a photo to an EPA Wildlife and Wetlands photo contest and won the grand prize, which sparked my interest in wildlife photography and being on the water and taking pictures. I started shooting stuff I was interested in on the Bay and developed my own style that was different than my father’s.
KL: It seems like while some young photographers may expand away from the area where they grew up, you’ve really been dedicated to shooting the Chesapeake. What captures you about the Chesapeake, and why do you want to take pictures here?
JF: I would say that the more I look into a particular subject on the Chesapeake, the more I find out, the more I learn, and there are a lot of different photo opportunities for each subject. The thing I love about the Bay is that the deeper you dig into it, the more you find.
KL: What do you think is your favorite setting and topic to shoot on the Chesapeake?
JF: I love being on the water. I love fish, anything underwater. Watermen, different fisheries, underwater stuff. Those are what really spark my interest.
KL: Do you think your pictures tell a story, and if so, what is that story about?
JF: I think they do help people understand more, like the particular topic I’m working on now, which is how people make their living working on the water. I think my photos help people understand that the seafood industry might not be what it was 50 years ago, but there’s still a lot going on. There’s a quite a few people making a living off of the Bay and the Bay’s resources. If I can help people gain appreciation for local seafood and the hard working watermen, then I think that’s a great accomplishment.
KL: Do you feel like you are able to document the Bay in a way other photographer’s haven’t? What’s different about the pictures you take?
JF: I try to approach photos from a different angle than most photographers. I have the versatility of shooting above the water and underwater. I don’t think there are that many underwater photographers in the area, which I think you could say is my little niche. I have the ability to get out on the water, as well.
KL: How do you think your pictures help to address some of the issues that are impacting the Bay as it changes?
JF: My photographs are helping document what is currently going on in the Bay, whether it is a beautiful sunset or it be a dilapidated old building on the water, like the house on Holland Island. The pictures address a lot of issues that the Bay faces. I’m not trying to beautify anything, I’m trying to document what’s going on in the Bay, in somewhat of an artistic fashion.
KL: How do you think that your age gives you a different perspective or worldview on the Chesapeake than some of the photographers of the older generation?
JF: I see some of the things in the past that other people might take for granted, and I see how different ways of life and different communities are falling by the wayside with technology and this new generation. People aren’t really connected to the land like they were- not as dependent on the land. I think my pictures take people to a different place and a different time, also. The Chesapeake that once was, and still is, in a lot of ways. Kids my age don’t really get out a lot.
KL: How old are you, Jay?
JF: 27…Maybe I shouldn’t call myself a kid (laughs).
KL: But you’re a kid at heart, though, right?
JF: Always will be!
KL: Do you think your pictures might change any outcomes for the future Bay? When you talk about kids today that don’t get out, do you have a hope that they’ll reach people like that?
JF: Yeah, I do. I hope they can inspire people to treat the Bay better, and help protect the Bay, for the environmental purposes and the cultural purposes as well. Like with the watermen photos, a lot of people wouldn’t know half the stuff that I photograph actually happens. The people in DC and Baltimore and Annapolis might not know that people still go out in skipjacks and pull oysters off the bottom. They don’t know details about it. But being able to see it really brings it out in a different light. It’s still happening, and there’s quite a few watermen on the Chesapeake Bay. They’re going to hold onto their way of life and hopefully we can sustain it for the future.
KL: I think people tend to read the bad news in the newspaper and on TV and they begin to think the Bay is beyond all hope, but your pictures document how much is happening, not just above the water but below it.
JF: Absolutely. There’s a lot of negative publicity about the Bay, and the Bay has it’s fair share of environmental issues which have caused a decline in our fish stocks, but there’s still a lot out there that is pretty captivating and productive.
For more on Jay’s work, check out his online portfolio at: http://www.jayflemingphotography.com/
Thanks to Jay Fleming for the interview, and for allowing Beautiful Swimmers to share his images.
Jay fly fishing in Yellowstone National Park. Courtesy of Jay Fleming.