This time last year I was paddling up Trout Creek alongside the St John's River photographing for LINC and Florida Forever. This year I was assigned to an area just north of my house in Key Largo surrounding the Crocodile Lake Wildlife Refuge. Sounds pretty cool right? I thought so too and was excited for a good excuse to get to close and personal with some American Crocodiles. I soon found out, however, that the target conservation zone rested just inland of the mangroves and I would be photographing instead, the hardwood tropical hammocks.
Consisting of over 100 species of trees and shrubs, this specific area has more plant biodiversity than most states. My favorite species of trees, the strangler fig and gumbo limbo thrive here and are at risk from development efforts.
I visited the area over a period of two weeks, and admittedly, had a difficult time producing an image I would be proud to publish in a calendar. The dense tangles and busy backgrounds of the canopy made it exceedingly problematic to isolate a subject.
Gumbo Limbo trees have a flaky reddish bark and are often called the Tourist Tree as they peel in the sun.
Walking several sweaty miles through poisonwood (a worse version of poison ivy) and mosquitoes, I finally found two locations with a group of gumbo limbo trees which I photographed just before the sun went down. Something was missing, so I decided to get creative. Andy Goldsworthy creative.
This image came about after a full day of looking for a subject. You can call it desperate, but I call
it creative. It took me about two hours to gather all the yellow leaves from the gumbo limbo trees and
arrange them around the trunks. I really like this kind of art and I have a feeling this won't be the last time.
For a conservation calendar, however, I needed something a little more subtle and not so contrived. So I went back to the Crocodile Lake Refuge office and borrowed a Stock Island Tree Snail shell from site manager Steve Klett. These little guys have had a tough time staying alive. From habitat destruction, to introduced fire ants, cats, and pesticide spraying, they were believed to have gone extinct in their native range. Snails don't get much notoriety, so I decided to make this one my poster child for the tropical hardwood hammock.
I needed some assistance on this one. Adam Chasey and Garl Harrold helped make this image possible.
Adam controlled the flashlight which lit up the hollow snail shell and Garl provided the foliage. The
bokeh in the background comes from the setting sunlight dappling through the tree canopy.
While this photo was not what I imagined when I started the project, I enjoyed the creative challenge of making an image in an aesthetically difficult place.