Seduced

Officially I was in Charleston last month to attend a two day photography conference. Unofficially I was there because it makes a nice stop when driving between Tampa, FL & Greenville, SC – where our kids are – and because I’ve been wanting to photograph Charleston’s low country for some time.

First stop was Edisto Beach at sunset. Great afterglow.

Crazy but it was not the most beautiful scene of the day. As I was driving toward the beach during the golden hour, fog and light fell on the low country marshes in an indescribably beautiful way. There was no safe place to pull over to photograph, but the scene is one I’ll never forget.

The next morning I skipped the conference’s keynote address so I could photograph the Angel Tree. Whether 400-500 or 1500 years old (experts disagree), it’s unquestionably a very old and beautiful live oak on Johns Island, just outside of Charleston. Some say it’s the oldest living tree east of the Rockies.

Angel Tree, Johns Island, South Carolina

Its sprawling limbs and gnarly trunk resemble something a movie producer would create, but it comes with a caveat: it’s not photographer friendly. If you want a photograph similar to this, be prepared to spend time in Photoshop removing people and large white signs cautioning visitors not to climb on the tree or sit on its limbs. There are also tripod restrictions. But, despite these obstacles (and some might say protections), it’s still worth a visit. This live oak is Mother Nature at its finest.

Just down the road from the Angel Tree is an Anglican church and cemetery with beautiful camellias and Spanish moss.

Camilla in bloom
Spanish moss in the low country is like Mississippi’s Kudzu – it’s everywhere

When driving over the bridge back to the mainland, there’s a great view of the low country marshes, but again, no place to pull over and photograph. I turned around and found a road leading under the bridge to a boat ramp.

Here’s my first photograph of the marshes. I would like to be in that yellow kayak.

It was in this area that I spent the next half hour or so stalking a blue egret as it hunted its breakfast. Click the Download button below to watch a short animation of this.

I’ve included this image in case you didn’t click download 🙂
and breakfast

There is a unique charm to Charleston’s low country which I haven’t experienced elsewhere. Author Pat Conroy described it this way:

Charleston has a landscape that encourages intimacy and partisanship. I have heard it said that an inoculation to the sights and smells of the Carolina low country is an almost irreversible antidote to the charms of other landscapes, other alien geographies. You can be moved profoundly by other vistas, by other oceans, by soaring mountain ranges, but you can never be seduced. You can even forsake the lowcountry, renounce it for other climates, but you can never completely escape the sensuous, semitropical pull of Charleston and her marshes. – The Lords of Discipline

Seduced. I can’t think of a better word to describe it. I was seduced by the low country and as a consequence missed the morning session of my conference.

Seduction connotes something powerful and tantalizing, something that keeps pulling you back. Will I attend another conference? Probably. Will I make a greater effort to return and spend more time photographing Charleston’s low country? You bet.

What do you see when you look at the Angel Tree? Know what I see? I see those long outstretched arms motioning me to come back … Will you join me sometime?

Thanks for following my blog.

Instagram: @maryricephoto

the Jesus Bakery

When working in downtown Atlanta, my friends and I would sometimes walk down Marietta Street to the “Jesus Bakery” to buy a cake or a pie or some other sinful dessert for a co-worker’s birthday or because we just wanted to.  These bakery goods were the real deal, made from real butter and sugar, all the good stuff, no preservatives.

The bakery actually had another name, we just called it the “Jesus Bakery” because of the inescapable message you received when there. So, for example, if visiting to ask if they could have a red velvet cake ready for pick-up the next day, the answer would always be “if the good Lord is willing.” More than once I left the store with more than I went in to buy. You might think that’s typical of a lot of shopping trips except I didn’t ask for or buy these extra pies or cakes, they just freely gave them to me.

Recently I’ve spent a lot of time driving with my husband through the South: 20 hours to and from Tampa a couple weekends ago with furniture to set up Scott’s new apartment, and 12 hours last weekend to and from South Carolina for Parents’ Weekend at our daughter’s college. These were in no way photography trips. It was mostly a lot of boring interstate with a day wedged in between when we could spend time with our children.

But I always bring a camera and so I took this image of Spanish moss at a rest stop somewhere in northern Florida.

Spanish moss
Spanish moss hanging from a tree in northern Florida

In South Georgia I was struck by the thick white cotton fields alongside the interstate. Don kindly exited the interstate and took a nearby frontage road so I could briefly photograph them.

Georgia cotton fields
irrigation system over Georgia cotton fields

High Cotton
big white fluffy cotton ready to pick in South Georgia cotton field

I say briefly not because Don or I were in any hurry, but because within a minute I realized I was standing in ankle high ant beds with armies of red fiery ants crawling all over and in my sandals. If you think there’s a lot of cotton in that field, I’m thinking there’s at least ten times as many ants.

In South Carolina a week later, Don and Betsy gave me five minutes (bless their hearts) to take a couple photos of the boiled peanuts vendor who is always parked across the street from the local Walmart.

Hot boiled peanuts
Hot boiled peanuts vendor parked outside a Walmart in Greenville, South Carolina

Twenty minutes later, I returned to the car having eaten and learned all about boiled peanuts and then giving Don a bag of roasted peanuts instead. And people wonder why I frequently run late …

Here’s the peanut man getting ready to show me how to open a freshly boiled peanut:

getting a lesson in how to open a hot boiled peanut
How many peanuts have these hands opened?

Here he is inside his trailer posing. Notice the sign above his radio.

this unspoken message
peanut salesman posing in his trailer in Greenville, South Carolina

It’s occurred to me that the South is, in a sense, one big Jesus bakery. You enter it knowing you’ll be greeted by characters you just don’t meet anywhere else and you leave often taking home with you more than you bargained for. Yes, the Bible Belt is changing, but that’s why the real deal needs preserving through photographs.

Photographing the South is hardly an original idea; indeed, there are entire festivals and magazines devoted exclusively to southern photography, but I think, this Mississippi bred girl is going to take it on, slowly (as in years) but surely, if … the good Lord is willing. The landscape is beautiful, the people colorful, the culture intriguing, and … it’s home.

“One place understood helps us understand all places better.”
– Eudora Welty

Happy Thanksgiving ya’ll.