A Collaboration Between
Boyd's Station and
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
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.
Anchor Bar & Grill
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