For the last two years, the first weekend in May has been spent running around Churchill Downs providing Derby coverage. As for most years of my life, however, this weekend has been spent running around the downtown area of my hometown, Fernandina Beach, FL, at the annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival. Due to a family commitment, I was scheduled to be in Florida on Derby weekend, and so I began planning some special coverage of the 50th anniversary of my hometown festival, thinking about some new ways of portraying this event that I have attended numerous times as a participant. As with most things, however, even the best-laid plans can be scrapped by rain, and we had way too much of it in Northern Florida this weekend!
One traditional event that remained on the schedule was the dual pirate invasions, preformed by members of the Fernandina Pirate Club, a local philanthropy group that raises money through various presence at other Island events. One group of pirates “invades” the downtown waterfront, usually by shrimp boat or other craft, while others fight back from the docks. While this event is usually seen by festival participants from the shoreline, I was able to secure access to accompany the “enemy” pirates onboard the “Island Girl” shrimp boat to shoot them setting off their canons. Technically, it was rather easy to capture the photos – one second exposure and wait for the fireball to come rushing out of the muzzle. Finding and maintaining good angles to shoot from on a working shrimping vessel was the tough part. Navigating the many hanging nets, chains, motors and pulleys – in almost pitch dark – was the hardest part of making the photos. I came back to shore with a decent angle in time to shoot a family watching the fireworks.
Setting this up was based on establishing and maintaining relationships. Many folks who watched me grow up on Amelia Island know that I work as a photographer “somewhere else,” and welcome me into various events when I return home to visit my family. Others know me as that photographer that shows up in town every once and a while. Either way, though, these relationships are key in telling the stories of my hometown and maintaining my connection with a place I love dearly.