America Reimagined: Maryland’s Watermen

A Collaboration Between

Boyd's Station and

American Reportage​

Photographer's Journal

Maryland's Watermen

Text and Photography by Carlin Stiehl

This summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Chesapeake Bay Program as their multimedia intern. I was asked to produce a long term project over the summer on any topic, and immediately, watermen came to mind.

What draws me to photojournalism is the exploration of cultures, and in America, culture can change dramatically by simply traveling one county over.

The Chesapeake Bay Program discusses many of the environmental issues taking place in the Bay, incorporating science and research into those reports. I sought a way to humanize the issues through the exploration of the defining culture that represents the Chesapeake economy, Watermen.

By giving a face to the numbers that tend to define contentions in policy and regulation, my goal was to connect an audience to the struggles watermen face, bridging a gap of misunderstanding and socio-political motivation.

There are few people with as deep a connection to the Chesapeake Bay as watermen in Maryland. Their profession is often passed down through generations, along with an intimate appreciation for the Bay and the bounty that it provides. Watermen have faced environmental and economic challenges for well over 100 years and have proven their ability to adapt. Yet, 2020 has tested watermen communities in unprecedented ways.

The coronavirus has forced economic strain on a finely balanced industry of supply and demand and highlighted the challenges that watermen have long faced while trying to preserve their culture.

Some claim that the last watermen are working the Bay at this moment, as their average age skews older and older. The future for Maryland watermen is uncertain, yet the faith and commitment of those who rise each day to work the Chesapeake Bay perseveres.

Tackling a project of this scale suits my nature of biting off more than I could chew and thriving off the personal insanity that defines who I am, also known as, the behavior of my passion. 

 

I spent the month prior moving to Annapolis reaching out to oyster farmers, local anthropologists, and watermen. The head start on research allowed me to hit the ground running with shoots since I only hand two and half months out on the Chesapeake.

Almost every weekend I was making expeditions to the Eastern Shore, and had I better looked at a map, I would have chosen to live there for the remote internship and this project.

Traveling to historic watermen communities, heading out on boats, and trekking through the swampy landscape of the Eastern shore, I began making images that spoke to the lifestyle and issues watermen face. Meeting local legends , community members, and learning about their life and history better informed me what I should document.

 

By the end of the summer, I had covered three islands, around eight communities, and somehow only ate steamed blue crabs twice.

In hindsight, it would have been more feasible to document one single community in greater detail, which I think would be an amazing project; however, I believe that confronting the challenge of an impossible project was an invaluable life experience. I’m happy that I have a body of work that reflects the message I was trying to convey.

More from the Project

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Pandemic Wedding

Half a year ago, Lauren and Romeo of Dayton, OH, were intent on saving up for a big wedding of over 400 people.

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Eid-ul-Adha Sacrifice

Muslims in Hawaii celebrate Eid-ul-Adha by sacrificing cattle in the rural countryside – something that is unusual to find in Hawaii’s landscape. While this is a common ritual to find in a Muslim country on the Islamic holiday, it’s unusual in an isolated state like Hawaii. 

Photographer's Journal

Maryland's Watermen

This summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Chesapeake Bay Program as their multimedia intern. I was asked to produce a long term project over the summer on any topic, and immediately, watermen came to mind.

Photographer's Journal

Generations Living Together in a Pandemic

This multigenerational family had been living together for years. Tara and her children have been living with their mother at their grandparents house on and off for their entire lives. 

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Rough Seas Ahead

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COVID-19 and the Carpool Cinema

With many summer commitments scheduled at Rivers of Steel being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rivers of Steel, has begun hosting drive-in movie experiences that could abide by the state’s current health guidelines.

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Minneapolis Protests

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Pandemic in Paradise

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ESSAY

Anchor Bar & Grill

The unsinkable Anchor Grill has re-opened in Covington, Ky., following closure in mid-March due to the state’s Covid-19 restrictions. Proud to call themselves a “dive,” and featuring an iconic neon sign that says “We May Doze But Never Close,” the eatery has remained open since 1946.

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Cling-Wrap

This project chronicles Margo Reed’s view of the COVID-19 pandemic through a cling-wrapped camera lens.

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Reflections

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The Aftermath

Rod Lamkey Jr. writes about this impressions covering the aftermath of the forced removal of protesters near the White House on June 1, 2020.

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Serving Through a Pandemic

Mike Simons covered the effects of thee Covid-19 Pandemic at the Iron Gate, largest stand-alone soup kitchen and grocery pantry in Tulsa.

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Automobile Sanctuary

In the Covid-19 era, the vehicle has been elevated to a place of sanctuary, a vessel trusted to deliver security outside the home in insecure times.

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Portraits in Quarantine

Portraits during the pandemic as photographed by America Reimagined photographers.

SPONSOR

The work done by American Reportage and Boyd’s Station would not be possible without the generous support from PhotoShelter, the official provider of both organization’s archive systems – powered PhotoShelter for Brands.

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AMERICA REIMAGINED

PROJECT CURATORS

Charlie Borst

Stephen Crowley

Cathaleen Curtiss

Nikki Kahn

Michael Keating

Molly Roberts