Four-hundred years have passed since Captain John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay, searching for food to help nourish the Jamestown colonists. Since his voyages from 1607-09, much has changed along the bay, though pockets of the past likely remain in the nooks and backwaters of the Chesapeake and its tributaries.
You can get a feel for the setting that greeted the captain, and which is now part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail in Tidewater: The Chesapeake Bay in Photographs, a book compiled through the lenses of Stephen R. Brown that reflects the past and the present on the bay's waters.
Mr. Brown turned to three-plus decades of his photographs to assemble the book, which takes you from the Chesapeake's Eastern Shore to the Lower Bay and up along the Western Shore. Along the way he peeks his cameras into Kent Narrows, up the Wye River, and into Herring Bay, capturing both the past and the present.
"My family and I have been boating and photographing the Chesapeake Bay for 30-plus years and as frequently as 100 days per year," he recounts in the book's introduction. "I have on more than one occasion convinced magazine editors to send me to the Bay on assignment. I have hitched helicopter and small plane rides when I could and the Coast Guard and state rangers have been kind enough to bring me along as they do their work. The great trick of photography is making images of what you love."
The stories he tells with his images reflect both a blue-collar estuary that for centuries lured watermen who netted, and still net, their livelihood from the bay's waters, as well as of a place for those who ply the waters for fun in sailboats with gleaming woodwork and sails snaring the breezes.
In Jug Bay, though, Mr. Brown trained his lenses on settings that might have greeted Capt. Smith. There are images of herons along the marshy shore, as well as reedbirds clinging to...reeds. One photograph freezes two ducks as they take to the skies, their reflections captured in the still backwaters of the bay.
Along the Chickahominy River, the photographer, whose credits range from National Geographic Books to Life and the New York Times, found stands of bald cypress trees with their knobby knees. Here along the Chickahominy, which is part of the water trail, Mr. Brown also went to the air to better capture the meandering channels with their pockets of cypress and hardwood trees. These shots stoke desires of taking to these waters with canoe and paddle to explore.
And while the Chesapeake's oyster beds of today don't rival those that Capt. Smith encountered, his ship banging into them, Mr. Brown succeeded in finding oystermen who struggle to make something from the bay. He also joined a crew from the state of Maryland that was catching and relocating baby oysters, "spat," around the bay with hopes of establishing new beds.
Neither weather nor the clock swayed the photographer from heading out onto the bay or into the towns that fringe its waters. There are misty morning scenes amid pockets of cypress, shots of a sailing club out on the West River, sunsets glinting gold off the bay's waters, and a daring top-down shot on a sailboat that required remotely triggered cameras high on a mast.
The result is a book that captures the beauty of the bay, its backwaters, and those who making a living -- and have some fun -- on the Chesapeake.