Hillsborough River: from the Green Swamp to the Bay…an end and new beginnings.
This portfolio was initially created for The Big Picture Project during my yearlong tenure as the City of Tampa Florida’s 8th Photographer Laureate (2010 –’11). This progressive city project was modeled after those such as the FSA photo program of the 1930’s and 40’s and Tampa’s own historic Burgert Brothers archive. These men left an extraordinary visual link to Tampa’s past with photographs dating from the late 1800s to the early 1960s.
Inspired by this rich history, the photographs created under the auspices of the modern Photographer Laureate program become part of a unique image archive about the life and times of Tampa today. Each year, via a juried process one photographer is commissioned to shoot a portfolio, subject of his or her choosing to add to this archive. My subject was the Hillsborough River. Formally this series and my post have ended however I am still engaged in exploring the many new directions this project nurtured.
Florida is a most alluring state and a puzzle of contradictions. The state has a truly interesting history and a remarkable cultural and natural heritage. It is home to some of the most unique natural areas in the world. That said it is no secret that there is a constant balancing act between the preservation of Florida’s wild areas and development. For me, the tie that binds all in this most diverse state is water. And my obsession has been Florida’s freshwaters, its springs, rivers, and swamps. This interest recently culminated in an exhibition at the Southeast Museum of Photography, in Daytona Beach titled The Mark of Water: Florida’s Springs and Swamps. The Hillsborough River Project allowed me to veer off the familiar route and key in on a specific river. The story of this particular river speaks volumes about Tampa, one of Florida’s most vibrant cities.
The Hillsborough begins at the still wild Green Swamp. Like so many other natural areas in Florida, it is a relatively short drive from the city. Not only is this area the headwaters of the Hillsborough, it is also the headwaters of the Withlacoochee, Peace and Ocklawaha rivers. When I began the project I spoke to my friends Bill and Martin who are Tampa natives and have been friends since childhood. For them the river was just part of growing up and has always been in their lives. It flows into Hillsborough Bay where as boys they water-skied and fished. These waters were a place of adventure when they were young; Bill even found a dead body floating in it one day. Martin wished I could have talked to his dad. He lived in Tampa all of his 90 years. By trade he owned a menswear store. By heart he was an avid fisherman. He REALLY knew the waters around Tampa. For nearly a century he explored them and saw them change.
For a visual artist, the paradoxical scenery—as I traveled through time both culturally and naturally from the swamp through the city—was irresistibly compelling. I allowed the work to bend and flow, in whatever direction the experience took me all the while creating work that reflects the life and character of Tampa in a very special way.
I commend the city for having such a forward –thinking program. I look forward to continuing my personal quest and welcome the vulnerability that pursuing new ideas brings.