Pho­tog­ra­phy book cel­e­brates the Bay


Spe­cial from the Bar­gaineer

— Last month, An­napo­lis-based pho­tog­ra­pher Jay Flem­ing re­leased his new book, “Work­ing the Water,” a com­pi­la­tion of three years’ worth of pho­tog­ra­phy fo­cused on the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, the water­man cul­ture, and Mary­land’s seafood in­dus­try.

Last Thurs­day, Flem­ing vis­ited the Havre de Grace Mar­itime Mu­seum to give a pre­sen­ta­tion on his project and pro­mote his book to a room full of wa­ter­men and seafood en­thu­si­asts.

His jour­ney of chron­i­cling the Ch­e­sa­peake spanned nearly the en­tire bay area, from the Susque­hanna River re­gion near Havre de Grace all the way down to the mouth of the bay in Vir­ginia. His project took him into ev­ery cor­ner of the bay.

“What re­ally in­spired me to start the book was work­ing with Art Daniels,” Flem­ing said.

Daniels, at the time Flem­ing met him, was a 93-yearold skip­jack cap­tain. “I was in­spired to com­pile the pho­tos into a vis­ual nar­ra­tive of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.”

The project, he said, wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily a new en­deavor that hadn’t been done be­fore. Ac­knowl­edg­ing this, Flem­ing sought unique per­spec­tives to cap­ture one-of-a-kind shots.

Flem­ing im­mersed him­self in the sub­ject to create stun­ning pho­to­graphs — many of his pho­to­graphs were taken from in the water or un­der­wa­ter. In one photo, he poses in a fish­ing net — cov­ered with freshly caught fish.

“An­other im­por­tant as­pect of my book is show­ing what the seafood looks like in its nat­u­ral habi­tat,” Flem­ing said, show­ing un­der­wa­ter pho­to­graphs of crabs hid­ing in aquatic grasses and cat­fish in the Po­tomac River.

For his book, Flem­ing cap­tured over 300,000 pho­to­graphs. There were days he’d take thou­sands of shots, and not get any keep­ers, and there were days he’d shoot a hun­dred, and get sev­eral keep­ers.

Re­al­iz­ing that the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay is al­ways in the news for the wrong rea­sons, Flem­ing aimed for a pos­i­tive por­trayal of the bay and the seafood in­dus­try. His goal, he said, was to tell the story of wa­ter­men, crab pick­ers and the seafood it­self.

“There’s a lot of bad pub­lic­ity out there about the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, but a lot of it is still vi­brant and full of life,” he said.

Pos­si­bly due to the neg­a­tive im­age of the seafood in­dus­try, many wa­ter­men were skep­ti­cal and re­luc­tant to let Flem­ing on their boats, he said.

“At first, they didn’t see


what ben­e­fit it would be,” Flem­ing said, ex­plain­ing that wa­ter­men felt “ap­pre­hen­sive.”

Some­times, he didn’t bring much luck to the wa­ter­men. Other times, he was good luck.

“There were a lot days I was bad luck for the wa­ter­men, but this is one of the days I was good luck,” he said, show­ing a large haul of fish. “It’s nice to see the bay in abun­dance.”

The crew caught over 30,000 pounds worth of croaker.

He soon be­came friends with many of the wa­ter­men he crossed paths with.

“Even­tu­ally, they comed me into world,” Flem­ing said.

Flem­ing’s book is di­vided into four chap­ters — one for each sea­son.

Dis­play­ing a pho­to­graph of wa­ter­men out on a boat — with ice on the water and snow in their beards — Flem­ing ex­plains that, “for the wa­ter­men, they have to go out and work to sup­port them­selves and their fam­ily.”

“The goal of these pho­tos is to show how hard it is,” he said.

The seafood in­dus­try isn’t just hard work for the fish­ers and crab­bers. It’s tough, dirty work for crab pick­ers and oys­ter shuck­ers, too.

Flem­ing spent a lot of time in crab pick­ing houses — “where meat is picked by hand” — on the Eastern Shore, pri­mar­ily in Dorch­ester County. Ma­chines, he said, aren’t as ef­fec­tive or ef­fi­cient as hand­pick­ing. Not many crab pick­ing houses are left, and the ones that re­main are all on the Eastern Shore, he said.

Busi­nesses rely on mi­grant work­ers, of­ten­times from Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, he ex­plained.

“Not many young Amer­i­cans grow up to be crab pick­ers,” he said.

That state­ment un­der­scores a broader, more sig­nif­i­cant phe­nom­ena wit­nessed by Flem­ing. weltheir

Crab­bing and fish­ing are trades that of­ten stay within a fam­ily. Many mod­ern fish­ers and crab­bers are fourth and fifth gen­er­a­tion wa­ter­men.

“It’s re­ally neat to see this gen­er­a­tional as­pect,” he said, shar­ing a pho­to­graph with three gen­er­a­tions of wa­ter­men.

But more and more, younger gen­er­a­tions are aban­don­ing the trade, and older gen­er­a­tions are dy­ing out. Five peo­ple pho­tographed by Flem­ing passed away dur­ing the three-year process of cre­at­ing the book.

It’s kind of sad to see that chil­dren don’t take it up,” he said. “But it’s daunt­ing for a young kid to get into.”

Be­tween the early morn­ing hours, phys­i­cal la­bor and ex­pen­sive costs, many chil­dren are de­terred from the ca­reer. Crab pots can cost as much as $50 each. Build­ing a boat is ex­tremely costly and time con­sum­ing. One boat doc­u­mented by Flem­ing took two years to con­struct.

“But the busi­ness is still lu­cra­tive for some,” Flem­ing ex­plained. “This year was a phe­nom­e­nal crab­bing year, I’ve heard from wa­ter­men. It’s good to hear it’s still lu­cra­tive for some.”

The glob­al­iza­tion of the seafood in­dus­try has been a bless­ing for some wa­ter­men.

Not only did Flem­ing ex­plore the more main­stream fish­eries, like crabs and oys­ters, he also ex­plored the tur­tle fish­ery and the eel fish­ery. He said that Mary­land is home to around 20 to 30 tur­tle fish­ers.

“The glob­al­iza­tion of the seafood in­dus­try has opened doors for tur­tles to be shipped to places where they are con­sumed more,” like Asia or New Or­leans, Flem­ing ex­plained.

He added that, “If any­body’s ever had eel, it’s ac­tu­ally re­ally good meat.”

Speak­ing on the bay’s de­clin­ing crab pop­u­la­tions and poor health, Flem­ing said “it’s an in­cred­i­bly hard prob­lem that’s dif­fi­cult to solve.”

He ex­plained that the vast ma­jor­ity of wa­ter­men ac­knowl­edge what they need to do to sus­tain the bay. Though, there is ten­sion be­tween wa­ter­men and reg­u­la­tors, who set lim­its on when they can fish and how much they can keep.

“A lot of water­man un­der­stand that reg­u­la­tions are in place” to make it sus­tain­able, Flem­ing said. “Eighty-five to 90 (per­cent) fol­low the rules, but 10 per­cent don’t.”

The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay’s water qual­ity did noth­ing but in­crease dur­ing the three-year project, Flem­ing said.

Flem­ing’s hope­ful for the bay’s fu­ture, and he hopes that more peo­ple help the cause.

“I hope that my im­ages can serve as mo­ti­va­tion for peo­ple to want to save the bay,” he said.

As for fu­ture projects, Flem­ing said he’s con­sid­er­ing a project in the North­ern At­lantic — from New Jer­sey to Maine — and in the south­ern At­lantic Ocean — from Vir­ginia Beach down to Florida.

Flem­ing’s web­site can be found at jayflem­ing­pho­tog­ra­ His book, as well as cal­en­dars and in­di­vid­ual prints, can be pur­chased there.


Flem­ing poses in a net with a freshly caught haul of fish.


Crab­bing and fish­ing is de­mand­ing work, and demon­strat­ing that was a fo­cus for Flem­ing.

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