Explorers, Egmont Key, Florida



This image was recently selected by Brett L. Erickson (@brettlericksonphotography) as juror’s choice for PhotoPlace Gallery’s Man in the Landscape Exhibition.

Brett wrote of his selection in his juror’s statement:

“Joyfully, many of the images submitted to this show were in that fraction of the whole, for they moved me deeply; selecting the show, online gallery, and best in show image was extremely challenging. A good deal of them will stay with me forever. The best in show image, that of four boys trapped in the geometric wasteland of fecund runoff and concrete, their gazes trapping me within the image, haunted me most. It asks questions of humanity and progress, of inheritance, and of exclusion. And yet it is beautiful in its balance, its forms, and its color. It is truly Poetic.”

It is quite an honor to be written of so highly by such an esteemed photographer, and writer, as Brett. I encourage everyone to seek out his work as it expands on the history of American photographer in a unique way.

I would also like to narrate my personal journey with this image, Explorers, Egmont Key, Florida. It began with location. The historic Battery McIntosh, which once housed coastal artillery is situated on Egmont Key, a small island off the coast of Florida. The structure seen in the picture was the first thing to strike my attention — its stripped down quality appealed to me in the same way many other ruins have, their archaic quality illustrating a past in which constructed objects are designed in such a way as to reveal curiosities of shape, and mystery. It’s a highly geometric structure, including not only rectangular entrance ways but a circular opening which, when placed next to the boys, softens the image. In my photographs I often depict structural subjects which have what I call a “hard edge”, usually very angular and defined by their shape. And certainly, this image without the boys would affect a harsher, colder, and more austere relationship, yet the inclusion of the children softens this edge, elevating the picture beyond the documentary and into the poetic realm.

My original intent was to photograph this image without the human element, since its design intrigued me and the flooded floor’s reflective detail seemed to be enough to carry the impact of the picture, but as I set up the 8×10” camera, I felt something was missing. So I waited. As I did so, several other people visited the location in front of my camera and as I observed them my discontent with my original rendering grew  — this image needed a human element to complete it. I continued to leave my camera set up, ready to expose a sheet of film. All I needed was to find a subject not only willing to be in the picture, but one that would help reinforce the meaning which I was hoping to convey. A counterpoint to the harder architectural element.

The battery is connected with another fortification on the island with a long brick path which runs in a clear line for about 150 feet. It was down this line that I peered for the arrival of a subject to complete the scene. After about an hour waiting in the Florida sun, four boys arrived at the southern end of the fortification and were intrigued with the building. They started to climb inside, and were wary at first before stepping into the flooded ground, but soon fear gave way to curiosity and they walked through the tadpole-laden water with nonchalance. I saw in their excitement my own curiosity for this place and so there was a certain empathy between myself and the subject here.

Empathy with a photographer’s subject is not to be underestimated when creating personal work.

So the counterpoint, my subject, arrived in the form of four boys, all around the age of 12. I introduced my purpose there, that I wanted to take their collective portraits. There wasn’t much positioning of the boys required. In a way they fell naturally into the scene, because it is a place where they were engaged, and in wonder.

I exposed the scene on an 8×10” sheet of Kodak Ektachrome film, thanked the boys, and off they went, as quickly and spiritedly as they arrived.