This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
Cameron Davidson has been photographing the Chesapeake Bay from helicopters and planes for more than three decades. His dramatic aerial shots capture the bay and the thousands of miles of marshes, rivers, and tributaries that flow into it. In his new book he teams up with environmental reporter David Fahrenthold to document both the beauty and the environmental challenges facing our region’s most impressive waterway.
- David Fahrenthold Reporter, Washington Post; co-author, "Chesapeake: The Aerial Photography of Cameron Davidson."
- Cameron Davidson Aerial and location photographer; co-author, "CHESAPEAKE: The Aerial Photography of Cameron Davidson."
All images courtesy of University of Virginia Press from the book “Chesapeake: An Aerial Overview of One of Our Most Precious Watersheds:”
Photographer Cameron Davidson photographs the Chesapeake Bay area from the air. This footage is courtesy of Cameron Davidson:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Chesapeake is believed to be an Algonquin word referring to a village at a big river. For most Washingtonians, the Chesapeake is the broad waterway we see when we cross the Bay Bridge. But few of us see it from another angle, thousands of feet up from a helicopter.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom above, you can see the hundreds of larger and smaller tributaries, the marshes and isolated fishing villages that make up the watershed of the bay. You can also see the manmade changes to the landscape, the farms, factories, and even a nuclear power plant, all of which play a role in the pollution that have nearly destroyed this great estuary. A new book captures the striking images with essays by an environmental reporter.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThis series of vignettes give us a new perspective on the Chesapeake Bay. Joining us to discuss it is Cameron Davidson. He is an aerial and location photographer based in Virginia. His book is called "Chesapeake: The Aerial Photography of Cameron Davidson." Thank you so much for joining us.
MR. CAMERON DAVIDSONYou're welcome. Thank you for the invitation.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is David Fahrenthold. He is a reporter for The Washington Post. He wrote the text for "Chesapeake." David now covers Congress, but he covered the environment for several years. David Fahrenthold, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID FAHRENTHOLDThanks for having me.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, that's our number. You can call it if you'd like to join the conversation. What do you think of when you think of the Chesapeake Bay, a beautiful natural resource, environmental disaster, crabs, oysters? 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there.
NNAMDICameron, your goal was to shoot the entire watershed of the Chesapeake from above, not a small project given that there are six states involved. Why did you decide to embark on this project?
DAVIDSONWell, it came about from a project I shot many years ago for National Geographic, which was a story on great blue herons, which were on the Patuxent River in southern Maryland. And I saw what it looked like, and I was absolutely in love with the interaction of land and water. So as the years went by and I became a pilot, I grew more and more interested in the bay.
DAVIDSONAnd I just decided, as a personal project, I want to do this. So I went ahead and shot the whole watershed.
NNAMDIThe bay begins as a lake way up in Cooperstown, N.Y. at the head of the Susquehanna River. What was your goal in the beginning in going to the beginning of the major tributaries of the bay?
DAVIDSONWell, with the Susquehanna, I just wanted to see what Cooperstown looked like, and I wanted to see what Lake Otsego (sp?) looked like. So I went there. We flew that one day from southern Maryland all the way to there. We had this amazingly clear day, and we flew that part of the river in an aircraft, and in a Cessna.
DAVIDSONAnd it was just phenomenal to see this very, very small tributary that was a creek that, within a couple of miles, becomes a really major river in a very short distance. And so I thought it was interesting to try to go to the headwaters of each of these rivers. And most of them are not very impressive at the headwaters. As they go further east or south, they become more and more just larger headwaters.
NNAMDIAnd that's demonstrated vividly in "Chesapeake." David Fahrenthold, how did you get involved in this project?
FAHRENTHOLDI started with this -- I've been covering the Chesapeake Bay for The Washington Post for most of the last six years. And Cameron was doing a photo essay for The Washington Post Magazine, so they asked me to come and write sort of an essay that would go along with it, try to give some perspective to it. That's how Cameron and I first met, and we started talking about doing something larger after this.
NNAMDIWhat is most people -- most of our relationship to the Chesapeake?
FAHRENTHOLDI -- in my opinion, it's just a giant guilt trip. I think that's one of the worst things that has happened to the bay, is that it's this wonderful interesting cultural place, and, for most of us that live in the cities around it, especially D.C., Baltimore, it's just this giant, oh, God, the Chesapeake Bay. It's always dying. The watermen are always dying out. The oysters are always dying. And there's just no joy to it.
FAHRENTHOLDThere's no -- there's nothing that people think of and have any sort of positive association. As you said, it's -- people will drive over to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and they -- maybe they see it then. But, mostly, they're just terrified to look out the side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. And yet -- so I thought one of the great things about Cameron's book was it showed you sort of a beauty and a complexity that most people who live here never see, they never appreciate about the Chesapeake Bay.
NNAMDII have a confession. Before I saw the book itself and discovered we were doing another show on the Chesapeake Bay, I said, oh, we're going to save the bay again.
NNAMDIYou're right. A guilt trip is what tends to dominate our consciousness. Once you open this book, you'll forget all about the guilt trip and enjoy the amazing spectacle that's the Chesapeake Bay. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. You can also send us email to email@example.com. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Cameron, how do you get your aerial shots?
DAVIDSONWell, they're primarily from helicopters. They are 40 percent airplane, and the rest is from helicopters. And it's working as a team with the pilot, and we kind of plan out what we're going to do. Most of the shoots are done very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon. And I'd say a good percentage of them are what we call targets of opportunity. You just see something really wonderful in this interaction.
DAVIDSONAnd you just spend time doing tight circles around it or wider shots, and everything ranges from real high altitude images, from 8,500 feet, all the way down to several hundred feet.
NNAMDIWell, at our website, kojoshow.org, we posted some video of Cameron doing one of these shots. But, David, how would you describe what Cameron does to get a shot from the helicopter?
FAHRENTHOLDThe stories that -- I've never actually been in a helicopter. I'd be terrified to do it. But to hear the stories of what Cameron has done -- in some of the photos, you'll see...
NNAMDIThe mere mention of a harness scares me.
FAHRENTHOLDI think -- so not only are you hanging out of a helicopter -- so imagine that for a moment, hanging out of a helicopter. But, also, we're doing this a lot - I mean, a lot of the photos Cameron took were taken in the dead of winter. So imagine hanging out of a helicopter in -- what were the temperatures like? How cold was it sometimes?
DAVIDSONOh, it's -- well, on the pictures of the seven bends of the Susquehanna, it was about 15 degrees on the ground, and you lose two degrees every 1,000 feet. So it was 16 -- it was about zero.
FAHRENTHOLDSo, yeah, hanging out in midair, zero degrees, I mean, I think most of us would just be terrified, you know, for -- Cameron is able to sort of focus and capture these great photographs. I think that's an amazing presence of mind.
NNAMDIYeah, I saw him in the video just focusing on what's going on rather than focusing on my fear. I understand that you usually sit on the floor with the door of the helicopter off, wearing this aforementioned harness so that you can lean out.
DAVIDSONYes. Absolutely. Yeah, I did it two days ago for a Washingtonian story. Just sit on the back of the helicopter. We take the rear seats out. And I sit on the floor, and there's a skid that I can put my feet on. And I'm not leaning all the way out, but I do have a harness on. And it allows me to lean out.
DAVIDSONAnd a lot of times, again, it's the coordination with the pilot that we're doing tight pedal turns or -- you know, I don't have to lean out to look straight down because we can bank the helicopter. So we'll do, like, a 30-degree bank, and I'm looking straight down that way.
NNAMDII know you've shot from planes also. Do you prefer shooting from helicopters?
NNAMDIIt's closer to the ground.
DAVIDSONYeah, and you have more control. It's more intimate.
NNAMDIMore control when you're leaning out of a helicopter on a harness? How is that?
NNAMDIOkay. I'll stop dwelling on that.
DAVIDSONYeah, you're working as a team, you know, and it's very much the pilot -- I sit on the same side of the aircraft as the pilot does. So I sit directly behind him. And we're seeing the same thing, and it also gives us another set of eyes for both of us to be able to look for additional aircraft around us. So, for me, it's more comfortable. The only time it feels uncomfortable in a helicopter is when you go to extreme altitudes.
DAVIDSONAnd when we went to 8,500 feet, the helicopter just doesn't feel right at 8,500 feet, whereas, in an airplane, it's, like, no big deal. And, mainly, it's because everything is so open.
NNAMDIWell, I know in my first trip in a helicopter because, as you pointed out, it flies so low, one gets the feeling of dashing around. You feel like you're dashing around. How do you deal with the sudden turns and the bumps that you feel in the helicopter?
DAVIDSONWell, what I tell people is to eat a bagel before they fly because it absorbs all the stomach acids. I don't feel it, and I never have. I've only gotten queasy in a helicopter once, and that was after having too much jambalaya on a shoot in Texas. And...
NNAMDIAnd not a bagel.
DAVIDSONYeah, so I don't feel it. And a lot of times we're flying fairly slow. You know, that's one of the beauties of a helicopter is that we can go down to staying out of dead man's curb. We can go down to 40 knots and be flying, you know, slow...
NNAMDIIt's my understanding...
DAVIDSON...what we call (unintelligible).
NNAMDI...you also use a gyroscope to...
NNAMDI...to smooth out the roughness.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Cameron Davidson. He's an aerial and location photographer based in Virginia. His book is called "Chesapeake: The Aerial Photography of Cameron Davidson." Also joining us in studio is David Fahrenthold. He is a reporter with The Washington Post, who wrote the text for "Chesapeake." We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Here is Heather in Arlington, Va. Heather, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HEATHERHi. I just wanted to say that I must be one of those people that actually has fond memories of the Chesapeake Bay. I grew up in Maryland. And I remember crabbing with chicken legs tied to strings or swimming or tubing and boating. I went to school in Annapolis. So I have fond memories of the bay. So I'm sorry that other people actually think it's like this sort of social burden, and all they, you know, see is Save the Bay.
NNAMDIYeah, well, that's what David Fahrenthold says we feel.
FAHRENTHOLDI think that experience -- there are people who have that experience, obviously, and who love the bay because they were able to get in contact with it. And I think -- although you think now people don't go to the beach or the bay anymore since they built the Bay Bridge decades ago. People now go to the beach on the Eastern Shore. People sort of -- there's not a lot of public access to it, unless you live right on the bay.
FAHRENTHOLDAnd even take the one connection we used to have. We used to eat oysters and crabs out of the bay. So at least we had that connection here. Now, we Maryland-style crab cakes that are actually made often with crab from Vietnam. So the -- any sort of connection we used to have in a good way to the bay, the kind of thing that Heather is talking about, that's become rarer and rarer, I think, now.
NNAMDIHeather, thank you very much for your call. Cameron, you -- there's an image of a frozen cove near Annapolis and the model of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is carved into the snow and ice. Tell us about that.
DAVIDSONTotal target of opportunity. Just saw it. One of the pilots and I took off in his Cessna 177 out of Freeway Airport, which is halfway to Annapolis. We took off. We aimed for the bay. I saw the cove on the left side as we were taking off or just reached altitude. And I said, Gary, bank left, quick. And we shot one circle, and I shot about 15 frames, and that was it.
NNAMDIIt says Save the Bay in enormous letters. It's got an image of seagull and a fish. You also captured -- and this one I really love -- the seven bends of the North Fork Shenandoah River near Woodstock in winter -- in both winter and summer. It -- they're remarkable images. Can you tell us about that part of the Shenandoah River?
DAVIDSONWell, that's the part where you don't really see it from the ground because the bends are really quite amazing, and it's in a relatively short set of miles. And I had done it in the summer, and it was hazy, as is traditional for our area. And I wanted to go back to it again, and so I went to it in an airplane at 6,500 feet. I said no. I got to get higher.
DAVIDSONSo Steve Bussmann, the helicopter pilot I fly with in this area, we took his helicopter over to the Shenandoah Valley in the winter for a repair. And I said, Steve, just get me as high as we can go. And we got up to 8,500 feet on a very chilly day and shot the seven bends, which I was glad because, in the winter, you have this really remarkable clarity of light. And my goal was to kind of show that, something that you couldn't see from the ground.
NNAMDIBut seeing it juxtaposed on the next page to the same shot in the summertime...
NNAMDI...it looks like a completely different place.
DAVIDSONYeah, it does. It does.
NNAMDIIt's absolutely amazing. Back to the Mark in Herndon, Va. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKHi. Great show. And I'm really looking forward to seeing the pictures. I've been along the bay since the early '70s, and it's truly, you know, in my opinion, the gem of the area that's underutilized and underappreciated. You know, when I started on the bay, which is in -- I was in the Deale, Md. area. It was all working boats then.
MARKAnd those working boats have long gone the way of the dodo bird, and that's due to, you know, overfishing in the bay and from pollution and other sources. So, you know, I really hope that people get an appreciation for the bay, and I'm sure the pictures will provide that. But I hope that it gets preserved, and it stays there for future generations. I still sail on the bay. I eat crabs, you know, from the bay and do all that stuff.
MARKBut I'm afraid it won't be there for long if we don't take better care of it, and especially as more people move into the area and there's more pollution and more issues going on. So it's really truly the gem of the whole area.
NNAMDIDave Fahrenthold, you did the text for this book. Did you have concerns like Mark's in mind as you were writing it?
FAHRENTHOLDOf course. I mean, that's one of the things people talk about the Chesapeake Bay is that, at some point, people get -- if people get used to not using it in the way that it used -- that they're used to not eating crabs from there, used to not eating oysters, then people won't know what they are missing, and there will be nothing to sort of restore.
FAHRENTHOLDOne of the things that I think is tragic about the Chesapeake Bay is that the thing -- the pollutions that are the worst there are invisible. They're basically not something that turn the water orange or green or set it on fire. It would actually maybe be better for the bay, more easy to explain if it did catch on fire.
FAHRENTHOLDInstead, what they have are these pollutants that feed algae blooms that cause dead zones, that when you're sitting on the dock and, say, Michael is eating your crabs, it looks the same as a healthy bay. There's nothing about the way the water looks to you that look -- that tells you it's in trouble.
FAHRENTHOLDAnd that's been one of the hardest things about writing about the bay and, I think, for those folks who were trying to make the bay better, that you say, well -- there's nothing you can point to and say, look at this, isn't this horrible?
NNAMDIAs I said, listeners can find images at our website, kojoshow.org. We've also got a slideshow of Cameron Davidson's work there. That's at kojoshow.org. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on "Chesapeake: The Aerial Photography of Cameron Davidson." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about "Chesapeake: The Aerial Photography of Cameron Davidson." Cameron Davidson is our guest. He is an aerial and location photographer. Also with us in studio is David Fahrenthold. He wrote the text for "Chesapeake." And we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIIn the break, David, we were talking about the shot on page 90 of the book, which our listeners obviously can't see at this point, but you might want to describe what it is.
FAHRENTHOLDIt's one of the, to me, one of the most beautiful photographs in the book. It's a shot of this -- the valley of the south branch of the Potomac River in West Virginia. So everybody thinks of the Potomac River as this giant river that goes through Washington, but it begins in these little Appalachian Valleys in Northern West Virginia. And this one is just particularly beautiful. It's a narrow valley, and you see just a little bit of farm land.
FAHRENTHOLDTo me, it stands out for one reason, because it's beautiful, but also because I have sort of a special association with this place because I once went to this exact branch, this pristine, bottled water-looking river to write about the male fish in that river that were growing eggs, and which was the beginning of what has turned out to be sort of a problem throughout the Potomac watershed, these male bass that are sort of changing in a way that seems totally unnatural.
FAHRENTHOLDAnd scientists are just trying to begin to figure out, is it chemicals in the water? Is it something from livestock waste? You know, what is it? But it shows up -- we talked about how the pollution can often be invisible, so that sort of awful thing is happening, even in a place this beautiful.
NNAMDICare to comment, Cameron?
DAVIDSONWell, the hardest point for me in this whole book was to show the actual pollution because most of it is non-point pollution. You can't see it. The only place you can really see it is the industry east of Baltimore and in Hampton Roads area. So, for me, my adaptation was to show the beauty of the bay and even show how incredibly pristine most of it is, but you can't see the pollution.
NNAMDIOn to Liz in Clifton, Va. Liz, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LIZYes. Well, I had a question and a comment. The question is, where can I find the book? 'Cause I would like to purchase it. And my comment is, is that I go down quite a bit to the northern neck of Virginia. And whenever I talk to my friends up here in Northern Virginia, they have no idea what I am talking about. And we have friends that live down there. And they have a restaurant in (word?), and we go on the great Wicomico River.
LIZAnd her husband's family have been crabbers for, you know, many generations and that they had found, because of, you know, with the restrictions because of the crabbing industry and the things that have been going on with the crabs, they have now gone into what -- oyster beds. And they -- at their restaurant, they serve their locally harvested that they get from their own traps.
LIZAnd I just have to tell people it is beautiful to go down to the Northern Neck. It is just really lovely, and it's still pretty much untouched. And so thank you.
NNAMDIOh, well. Care to comment, Cameron?
DAVIDSONWell, the book can be purchased at Politics & Prose, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, many bookstores in the area. And the Northern Neck is gorgeous. There are photographs the Greater Wicomico in the book. There's quite a few photographs of the Rappahannock, including, unfortunately, a red tide on the Rappahannock. And the whole area of the Northern Neck is relatively pristine, and it's quite lovely.
FAHRENTHOLDOne of the most interesting stories I did when I covered the bay was about accents of the Chesapeake Bay and how -- because these places were so isolated for so long, they were -- you know, there would be a very distinctive accent in the Northern Neck versus other parts of Virginia, and people talking about how sort of that is surviving in the modern era, but it's sort of slowly eroded.
FAHRENTHOLDSo the Northern Neck was one of those sort of places in Virginia that was sort of its own place and is only slowly becomes sort of a changed by people moving in.
NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up because there are some remote islands on -- in the Chesapeake where life is still centered around the water. Some of these communities are pretty isolated. Tell us about Tangier Island.
DAVIDSONWell, Tangier is pretty amazing. If they don't want you to understand what they're saying, you will not understand what they're saying.
NNAMDIDavid said that, yes.
DAVIDSONThey have a very distinct accent. It's a great little island. There's a runway there, so you can actually land and get the $300 crab cake to fly out (unintelligible).
NNAMDIHey, I checked. They have a website.
DAVIDSONIt's lovely, and I've shot it quite a few times. In the book, I shot it in the winter with a very rare snow that happens on the Eastern shore in Middle Bay, and it was pretty incredible. Smith Island, the other island in the bay, is as pretty, a little bit more spread out, three communities over a large marshy area, and they both have distinct dialects, accents, and they're pretty incredible places.
NNAMDIDavid Fahrenthold, where does that dialect come from?
FAHRENTHOLDWell, you'll hear a lot of debate about where it comes from. There are people who say this is some remnant of people, who, you know, Elizabeth dialect of these original settlers of these islands in the 1600s. They just moved there, didn't really talk to anybody else for hundreds of years, and so that's how they still talk. To me, it sounds like -- the Smith Island accent, particularly, sounds like the Baltimore accent turned to 11.
FAHRENTHOLDYou know, if you think of -- people say like, ocean from -- in Baltimore, that same sort of vowel change happens. They say -- house sounds like hays, brown sounds like brain. It's a very -- you can -- like Cameron said, you can -- it can be impenetrable. After a little bit of writing about folks down there, I can understand a little bit of it, but it is amazing.
FAHRENTHOLDAnd one of my favorite people to talk to around the bay is the guy who's the mayor of Tangier Island in Virginia, whose name is Ooker. Well, that's not his given name. His given name is William, but his people call him Ooker, O-O-K-E-R. That's the mayor because it's such a small place that a sound that he made when he was child has followed him through life.
FAHRENTHOLDAnd it's small enough that you can become mayor being called Ooker. So these are wonderful places, but, yes, it -- we talk about how the bay has changed so much. These are places that have changed the least.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. What is your favorite view of the bay? Do you vacation or visit the Chesapeake Bay? 800-433-8850, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is Agnes in Bladensburg, Md. Agnes, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AGNESI have a comment. I've been in -- I've lived in Maryland all my life, and I've always heard that the Maryland blue crab was, you know, just a fantastic thing to have in the state. I didn't really appreciate until I -- I mean, I've done a lot of traveling. I was in Scottsdale, Ariz. two weeks ago and asked for crab cakes. And when I mentioned I was from Maryland, they said they import them from Maryland.
AGNESI was in Dubai and mentioned I was from Maryland, and someone had said, oh, the Maryland crabs? But we don't seem to appreciate them here because, as Kojo said earlier, there have been efforts to clean up the bay for 20 years, and it's not gotten better. It's getting worse.
NNAMDIWell, I think it is getting a little better in terms of the blue crabs, is it not, David Fahrenthold?
FAHRENTHOLDThe blue crab is one of the areas in the bay that has gotten a lot better. And just in the last five years, they really hit a low point at -- and probably about five years ago. And then the two states, Maryland and Virginia, that have parts of the Chesapeake Bay instituted some new catch regulations that prevented people from catching female crabs, and so -- because one female crab can lay millions of eggs.
FAHRENTHOLDThat protection led to a rebound in the crab population. So still, as I said, a lot of the crab cakes that you eat around here, it's -- you have to really make sure you're eating Maryland crab and not eating an entirely different species that can be mixed with old bay and then called Maryland style. But the true Maryland blue crab is wonderful, and if you find that, either the hard crab or the picked crabmeat, you can really taste the difference.
NNAMDIAgnes, thank you very much for your call. Cameron, you have been accused of taking photos that are too pretty, that don't show enough of the devastation that's taking place in the bay.
DAVIDSONAbsolutely true. It's -- I did a story on mountain top removal in Southern Virginia, and someone said the same thing to me. Here I am shooting these incredibly scarred-up, cliff mountains and mountains that have just been ripped apart, and people are accusing me of saying the images are too beautiful 'cause there's mountain fog in the morning around them. It happens.
DAVIDSONI can only shoot what's there in front of me and try to interpret it the way that I do, and the bay is still an incredibly beautiful place. It is very difficult to show non-point pollution. So, for me, I decided to focus on the beauty of it to, hopefully, get people to understand that this watershed is huge, and it's all interconnected.
NNAMDIThere's a photo in the book of Three Mile Island, the nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. It's still in operation. A lot of people probably didn't realize that it's part of the Chesapeake watershed. It's on the Susquehanna.
DAVIDSONYes, absolutely. Well, the Susquehanna is the mother of the bay. It's the original bay. And Three Mile Island, unfortunately, is very much a part of that. Although the two reactors that were impacted by the disaster in the -- when was it -- early '80s are no longer active. It's the newer ones. I think three and four are the ones that are active.
DAVIDSONBut, yeah, the Susquehanna is huge, and it just goes on and on and on. It drains New York and Pennsylvania.
NNAMDIOn to Diana in Montgomery County, Md. Diana, your turn.
DIANAHi, Kojo. Thank you. I want to congratulate you on another great show and thank your guests for putting this book together. And I look forward to picking one up as well. I -- there are two items. The first is I wanted to -- regarding people using and getting enough use out of the bay. Your first caller said something about it being underutilized. The problem is not that it's underutilized.
DIANAThe problem is we're using it like a garbage can, and it's not a garbage can. And we can see the other side of that coin when you go with sixth graders on their outdoor education program that NCPS runs, or when you go to Tangier or Smith Island with some of the seventh and eighth grade classes that have a biology class with a professor -- teacher from, you know, Hoover Middle School who put it together and took those kids out there.
DIANAAnd they got, you know, up to their thighs in mud and learned about what's in the water and what shouldn't be there and what is there and how it got there. And the second item is I wanted to give a shout out to our Maryland Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler for getting, A, the arsenic out of our chickens and, B, trying to get the chicken poop out of our bay and instead turn it into energy. So I hope your guests can comment on that as well.
NNAMDIWell, I can comment, too. When we have Doug Gansler on the broadcast, he seems to prefer to talk more about chicken coop poop than he does about politics, but that's another story. Care to comment, David?
FAHRENTHOLDWell, one of the interesting things about the bay is -- and this makes it sort of hard to write about in some ways is that poop is such a big deal, not just -- we talk about chicken poop. That's something where there's -- you know, in the eastern shore of Maryland, people probably have seen them driving to Ocean City, these giant -- look like gigantic sheds that are chicken houses.
FAHRENTHOLDAnd the waste that comes out of those places can run off with the rain and end up in the rivers. Cameron has a couple of great pictures in the book of cows in the Shenandoah Valley just standing in the water, which could -- because it's cooler, but that also means that there's cow poop in the water. And so those things go downstream and become sort of the building blocks of these dead zones that we talk about.
FAHRENTHOLDAnd those things are -- the problem that is hard about that is those things are all small changes. It's hard for people to make these tiny little changes. Those are the problems that have to be fixed with the bay, a million cows out in the Susquehanna -- in the Shenandoah Valley rather than, you know, one pipe in Baltimore that you could just turn off.
NNAMDIThere are some examples, however, of positive intervention by humans. There's a picture of Craney Island in Virginia here constructed of what, Cameron?
DAVIDSONI think it's all dredge.
NNAMDIAll dredge material from shipping channel. What goes on there?
DAVIDSONWell, right now, the goal, as I understand it, is they're eventually going to fill Craney Island so that it's solid land. And it's going to be built, I think, by the Navy.
NNAMDIAnd so it becomes a critical habitat for threatened and endangered species?
DAVIDSONYes. There is going to be an area that there's going to be watershed, like probably some sort of marshes.
NNAMDIOspreys, brown pelicans and others can just kind of hang out there. On now -- and, Diana, thank you for your call. We move on to Jack in Falls Church, Va. Hi, Jack.
JACKHi. How are you, Kojo?
JACKListen, I really, really appreciate you having these fellows on, and I appreciate the effort it took to make this book. I -- my wife and I had a place over in St. Michaels for years and years. And my question is that -- are there any photographs of the Chesapeake Bay racing log canoes in this book?
NNAMDITell us more about that, Jack.
JACKWell, these were -- it's a really interesting, small niche segment in the working boat history of Chesapeake Bay. There were sailboats that were specifically designed to be extremely fast and particularly in the light winds that are native to the Chesapeake Bay region. They're precarious to say the least. They have these long boards, and the crew all crawl out of the boards to hike out a tremendous large sail. And the racing is unbelievably exciting.
JACKThere's a whole series in Rock Hall and St. Michaels and all around the bay, and they have the finals on Labor Day. And it's just a fantastic festival, and these boats are old. A lot of them are 100 years old, and yet they're out there racing, a spectacular spectacle.
NNAMDII think you can get Cameron started on his next book.
NNAMDIJack, thank you so much for your call.
JACKThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIBut, David, there are also the odd and interesting things, like Jack just pointed out, the 25-foot high replica of the Statue of Liberty near Harrisburg, Pa. What strikes you most about that and Cameron's photos in general?
FAHRENTHOLDThe thing that I'm amazed by in Cameron's photos, you do see -- it is interesting to see sort of the human signature set against the bay. Cameron has a great photo in here of a new subdivision just cut out in the middle of a forest on the Eastern Shore. And it's amazing to see straight lines appear in this place where, obviously, no straight lines have been before.
FAHRENTHOLDTo me, the most interesting thing is to see these places that you could never see from the ground, these marshes that you could never really get to from the ground. When he pulls up over Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge over on the Eastern Shore, places on this side, like Jug Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in southern Maryland, to see the sort of complicated crenulations of all the marshes, all the little guts and creeks and everything else, they're just beautiful.
FAHRENTHOLDAnd it's a pattern that you could never recreate and you could never see, even if you had a boat there. It would just look like marsh where you were.
NNAMDICare to comment, Cameron?
DAVIDSONWell, the Statue of Liberty in the Susquehanna was, again, a target of opportunity. I had no idea it even existed. The pilot and I were flying, and he says, I got something really cool to show you. Then, all of a sudden, here's this replica of the Statue of Liberty on a bridge pier in the middle of the Susquehanna River. So...
NNAMDIYou had to take it.
NNAMDIHere is Karen in Alexandria, Va. Hi, Karen.
KARENHi, Kojo. I have a really cool Tangier Island story. In researching my family history, my aunt learned that our Trinidadian family was not just from Trinidad, of course, but we thought that they came from Africa to Trinidad. We learned that they came from Tangier Island into Trinidad and that they had been recruited by the British Army during the war of 1812 and promised their freedom and a plot of land in Trinidad if they were to help the British fight.
KARENSo a couple of years ago, we'd never heard of Tangier Island, but we traveled there for better part of a week to just give a tribute to our ancestors. People are very nice. The mayor was phenomenal and even took us out to the old British fort, which is completely underwater now, Fort Albion. But it's a really nice place, and they actually, to me, sound very British.
NNAMDII can only think of combining the Trinidad Patois with the Tangier Island language and what your ancestors must have spoken like when they were living in Trinidad.
KARENI have no idea. It was a very interesting trip. I would encourage everyone to go, but not during hurricane season.
NNAMDIOh, I hear you. Thank you very much for that, Karen. Cameron, there are a series of images of marshes on Maryland's Eastern Shore. They're bright green and with amazing geometric patterns apparently made by scientists for mosquito control. Tell us about that.
DAVIDSONWell, as I understand it, that's how they were cut, and they're -- David can probably delve into that a little bit deeper. I'm drawn to the -- just the amazing patterns as you described, and I've shot it several times over the years. The last ones -- ones that are in book were shot by helicopter 'cause I wanted to be lower to them to see them up close.
DAVIDSONI understand that there was some dubious use of some chemicals in the '50s as mosquito control, and that's since been refuted, but also have been counteracted by a couple of people -- contradicted. And, you know, I don't really know exactly what they were used for. It's kind of a mystery, but they're really quite (word?).
NNAMDIThese are images of the northern shoreline of Fishing Bay and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, David?
FAHRENTHOLDThese are places that I've been to a lot. I actually don't know much about that particular piece of the history, but it's -- one of the things that, I think, your listeners will find interesting about these places is that they're -- you know, we think of nature as timeless. Oh, isn't this beautiful? It's the way it's always been. But this is a place that's actually changing very fast because of sea level rise.
FAHRENTHOLDThis is -- people think of sea level rise as a problem for Louisiana or Florida, but Chesapeake Bay sort of has an -- because of some unusual geologic history, the water level is actually rising very fast here. So places -- one of my most favorite stories about the Chesapeake Bay was about cemeteries that are now washing away.
FAHRENTHOLDPlaces that had been not just, you know, land, but dry land, people had farmed on it, in areas like the ones Cameron's photographed here, where the water slowly crept up over time. And now, the cemeteries themselves are washing away because the land is disappearing underwater.
NNAMDIYou also note that some beaches have actually disappeared in the lower bay. Why is that?
FAHRENTHOLDAnd for the same reason. The water comes up, and the people that live near the water, instead of allowing sort of the beach to naturally go back, which it would, they decide, well, you know, that's my land. I want to protect it. So they build a wall. They build a bulkhead. And the result is that the water goes up somewhere else, where it would have gone up on your property. So we once wrote about places that have beach in their names.
FAHRENTHOLDThey were named such and such beach, and now, there's no beach there because the water has risen up so much that it's just a bulkhead.
NNAMDITime for a name change. Got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about "Chesapeake: The Aerial Photography of Cameron Davidson." But you can still call us, 800-433-8850. What is your favorite view of the bay? What do you think of when you think of the Chesapeake Bay? 800-433-8850, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing "Chesapeake: The Aerial Photography of Cameron Davidson," with Cameron Davidson. He's an aerial and location photographer based in Virginia. David Fahrenthold joins us in studio. He is a reporter for The Washington Post. He wrote the text for "Chesapeake." We are now taking your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIBut, Cameron, photography, of course, is based on using light to create images, and, obviously, light has to affect your work. But a lot of times, when you get up there in a helicopter, you have no idea what the light is going to be like.
DAVIDSONWell, actually I do 'cause we really plan it out around the weather. We tend to fly on the second day of a high-pressure system when the winds have died down and the air is the cleanest. And I fly very early, often before sunrise until maybe an hour or two after sunrise, and the same thing in the afternoon. But there are images, like the lead image in the book, which is of Jug Bay on the Patuxent River in Southern Maryland with fog.
DAVIDSONAnd it was a day when it was -- VFR flight was not recommended. And my buddy that I was flying with said, let's go with it. And we did. And, you know, we flew in marginal conditions that were absolutely beautiful because you had this incredible fog lifting off of the Patuxent River.
NNAMDIGot an email from Bill, who says, "How does one fund a project like this? Was it funded by the photographer and the writer?"
DAVIDSONIt was funded by the photographer.
DAVIDSONI had tried the gather grants route. I had tried to do -- publishers being interested in the book, and I just ended up doing it on my own. And what I would do is work with certain pilots and fly this, and then, also, when I had commercial assignments, if I was fly something in, say, Hampton Road's area, I would book an extra hour on a flight that I would pay for myself if I was flying for a client.
DAVIDSONSo we would do the client work, and then, from that point on, I would be responsible for the charges. And we'd go shoot what I was doing. But it was totally a self-funded book.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Steve in Germantown, Md. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEHello, Kojo and the guests. I'm very much enjoying the show. Two quick things, my favorite view of the Chesapeake Bay is actually one of the river that's sitting on a -- out on a restaurant pier in Solomon's Island, looking towards the bridge at sunset, watching the sun come down there. That is beautiful. But the main reason I was calling -- when you were talking about some other dialects.
STEVEI lived for a while in Gloucester, Va. and used to go out on the Mobjack Bay there and crab with chicken necks. But I got to know some people in the area. They referred to themselves as Guineamen, and they had an -- very extreme dialect, very British. And it was explained to me -- and I'm not sure if it was an urban legend or not, but that most of the people from that region were deserters from Cornwallis' army during the revolution and stayed there at the -- across the river from Yorktown into Gloucester Point Guinea area.
STEVEAnd so it's just a very, very unique accent I'd never heard before until I got to know some of the people there. And I was just wondering if your guests have encountered any of the Guineamen and talked with them.
FAHRENTHOLDI've never actually met anybody down there, but I have also -- I had heard of them as an example of folks that -- although they live on part of the mainland, not in an island -- they have sort of lived one of the more isolated existences in the bay's history. And they have one of the more unusual dialects. I wish I'd gotten down there but never did.
NNAMDISteve, thank you very much for your call. We mentioned that -- Dave, that Cameron financed "Chesapeake" himself. We should have mentioned that it's published by the University of Virginia.
FAHRENTHOLDYes, University of Virginia Press.
NNAMDIHow long did the whole project take?
DAVIDSONWell, the project itself took a little over 20 years 'cause I started shooting in the late '80s. But most of the photography has been done in the last seven to eight years since digital came along. And the design was done by a design firm in Alexandria, graphic, and they are friends. And they took everything together and built the initial project. And then I took it to University of Virginia Press after having a dummy made up, and they liked it.
DAVIDSONAnd then we did a redesign, and that was kind of smoothed out from a National Geographic designer, Lisa Lytton. And that's how it all came together, and UVA Press went for it.
NNAMDIWe got an email from another Lisa in Camp Springs, Md. "My family had a farm for some 40 years on the beautiful banks of the Nomini Creek in the northern neck of Virginia. I can only agree that this area is indeed pristine and in many ways a real sanctuary for people as well as for wildlife. I've traveled in Europe, but this is truly one of the most beautiful and serene places on our planet. I look forward to seeing this book."
NNAMDIWe move on now to Stephanie in Bethesda, Md. Stephanie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEPHANIEHi. I'm really enjoying the show. And, Kojo, you're wonderful. I am a recent enjoyer of the Chesapeake Bay. My brother-in-law has a house that they've had in their family for years. And I just noticed that the beach is disappearing. I know you guys mentioned this earlier, but it's such a rapid rate. I mean, every -- it's only been five years that I've been going there, and it's noticeable every year.
STEPHANIEI don't notice beach disappearing anywhere else quite as fast. Is this really just due to people putting, you know, embankments up?
FAHRENTHOLDWell, it -- there's a couple of factors. In sort of a local area, yes, that -- the embankments certainly don't help. The bigger reason is that you have the sea level -- the sea levels are rising all over the world, in part, because of climate change. But you also have, in this area -- something that sounds very odd, but it's true -- that the earth is actually sinking.
FAHRENTHOLDIf you imagine back, you know, thousands of years ago in the last Ice Age, there were these huge, heavy glaciers sitting on places like New York and Canada. And think of the earth like a racquetball. So the glaciers are pushing down there. Our area sort of (word?) up. And now, the glaciers are gone, and, as the time goes on, our area is slowly sort of sinking back to where it should have been.
FAHRENTHOLDAs it sinks and the water goes up, it makes the effective sea level rise doubly bad.
NNAMDIStephanie, thank you so much for your call. And, I guess, in that context, Cameron, you have described your photos as vignettes. Can you explain?
DAVIDSONWell, yes. They're -- you can't shoot all of it at once. And so, my idea was to show lots of small places in the bay to tie together so that people understood that what happens in upstate New York impacts the bay as much as something that happens in a lower bay. So the idea was to show little parts of the bay to make a greater whole.
NNAMDIAnd the reason I said in the context of the call we got earlier is because -- for me, they are vignettes also because they capture a certain period in time of the Chesapeake Bay that -- parts of it that might be different at a later stage 20 years from now. So it is, in that regard, I think, also a vignette. We move on to Arianna in Olney, Md. Olney -- Arianna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ARIANNAHi. I just wanted to make a (word?) for an excellent book I read, and I haven't mentioned -- I haven't heard anyone mention it. But -- Michener, and it was 1978, wrote a book called "Chesapeake."
NNAMDIOh, yeah, that was a novel.
ARIANNAHave you read it?
NNAMDINo. But I'm familiar with it.
ARIANNAOh, it's excellent. It's excellent. Yes. It's a historical novel. But it gave me a new appreciation for the Chesapeake and the whole reason how it was formed, the people that lived there, the development of the seafood industry, slavery, the War of 1812. It just covers such a broad slice of the history, and I can't think about the Chesapeake Bay without just being fascinated by it because of the book. So I heard that one...
NNAMDIAnd the only thing...
NNAMDIIt's a great companion for this because the only thing the book does not have is pictures.
ARIANNACorrect. Absolutely. And, I mean, I just -- I feel so strongly about the book, and, yes, it is a historical novel. But I think students in high schools in Maryland and Virginia and D.C. should be reading this book.
NNAMDIOkay. Arianna, thank you very much for your call. It is a very well-known novel. David, the heavy rains and storms this summer caused some more problems for the bay. What happened?
FAHRENTHOLDThe heavy rains and storms this summer sort of dramatized them and that I think Cameron and I find it hard to sort of describe under normal circumstances, which is, as one of the callers said, the way that the Chesapeake Bay acts as sort of a storm sewer over this giant area of the East Coast.
FAHRENTHOLDThings that wash into the bay upstream end up -- wash into the river upstream end up in the bay. And so this summer, you saw not only a lot of dirt, sort of simple dirt that washed out of, you know, construction sites and off -- out of riverbanks all the way up into New York, but also tree trunks and big chunks of things, basketballs.
FAHRENTHOLDAll these things that washed down the river just -- it gives you a sort of a dramatic sense at how much things that are on the land end up in the water. And so we don't have -- we shouldn't think about water pollution just in terms of like what comes out of the sewer pipe, but what we allow to wash off the land.
NNAMDIHere's Julie in Vienna, Va. Julie, your turn.
JULIEHi, Kojo. I'm a native Californian whose father was an AP and UPI reporter and photographer in the '60s, so I have a great appreciation for your guest today. I feel it's a gift to be able to make great photography look easy when, in fact, it takes tremendous skill. And Cameron achieves that. Cameron, I'm interested in your versatility.
JULIEIs there any chance that Fairfax County residents will have an opportunity to view more of your work, perhaps of the people?
DAVIDSONWell, there is -- there are a couple shows being planned. They haven't been locked down yet, so there will be shows from the work in the book. And that'll happen later this winter, so that's forthcoming. And there's also going to be some book signings in the next couple of months.
NNAMDIIs there a website that Julie can go to to find out updated information?
DAVIDSONYes. You can go to camerondavidson.com, and also aerialchesapeake.com.
NNAMDIAnd we'll provide a link to camerondavidson.com at our website, kojoshow.org. So, Julie, thank you very much for your call. Here now is John in Glen Echo, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHello, Kojo. I'm enjoying the show. I'm from the West, and in Oregon, our beaches are public. That means we have access to go out and do what I like to do, which is to wade and to fish and to take pictures. I'm -- since I moved back here, for the past 20 years, I found that maps aren't available, and access isn't all that available, at least in my experience. Will your book help me find access for places I can go do these things?
DAVIDSONI don't think so, but...
NNAMDII don't know if it was written with that in mind.
DAVIDSONNo. But the most immediate beaches that I think of that are incredibly beautiful are the ones at Assateague, and that spans Maryland and Virginia. And that's well worth a trip to Chincoteague to get to Assateague.
NNAMDIIndeed, it is. Thank you very much for your call, John. One of your goals, Cameron, was to show people the reach of the Chesapeake's watershed and the effects of that, was it not?
DAVIDSONYes. Tying it all together, it's a huge, huge watershed from Western P.A. to upstate New York to Northwestern West Virginia to -- even into Delaware. So the goal was to shoot every major watershed in -- within the Chesapeake watershed.
NNAMDIAnd, David, as we've said, just mentioning the Chesapeake triggers guilt in a lot of us. There is some good news. Things like the oyster recovery program have been in the news. What else is going right for the bay?
FAHRENTHOLDWell, you've seen, in the last couple of years, a real effort by the federal government and some state governments to try to turn around what had been this kind of failed Chesapeake Bay cleanup project for two years. I mean, as you've said, we've been talking about this forever. But the talks sort of never seem to translate into reality, and, I think, in a lot of ways there was this idea that we were trying so hard, that it had to get better.
FAHRENTHOLDAnd I think the federal government in the last couple of years has tried a new tactic, which is to try to -- instead of just asking the states to clean up the water that comes out of their watershed, making them or trying to make them with legal punishments, and there's been a lot of pushback against that. I'm not sure how it's going to turn out in the end.
FAHRENTHOLDBut at least there's sort of a new energy and a new set of ideas being applied to the government effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
NNAMDIAnd I guess this is a good note to end on. We got an email from Don, who writes, "I am right now on the bay on our 30-foot sailboat listening to your show." It's our 27-year wedding anniversary. Though the bay needs saving, there is a lot of recreation still on the bay." Isn't there, Cameron?
DAVIDSONAbsolutely. And congratulations on 27 years.
NNAMDICongratulations. And I couldn't think of a better way to spend it. Thank you very much for your email, Don. Cameron Davidson, thank you so much for joining us.
DAVIDSONThank you. I'm glad to have been here.
NNAMDICameron Davidson's book is called "Chesapeake: The Aerial Photography of Cameron Davidson." He's an aerial and location photographer based in Virginia. David Fahrenthold, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIDavid is a reporter for The Washington Post. He wrote the text for "Chesapeake." He now covers Congress, but he covered the environment for several years. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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