Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Photographer Mac Stone Launches Everglades Book in Miami

A snail kite hunting for food. Photo by Mac Stone.

I hope Marjory Stoneman Douglas was looking down from heaven recently because she’d have been very pleased. The author of River of Grass -- a book that changed the world's perception of the Everglades in the 1940s -- would’ve loved to meet conservation photographer Mac Stone.

Stone grew up in North Central Florida, where he cultivated a love of swamps and practiced the craft of photography. As a teenager, he'd wake up before dawn to capture the perfect light, even if it meant being tardy to school.

His dogged determination didn't end there. Fast forward -- after years of traveling around the world with his camera -- to the Everglades, where Stone trekked through the wilderness, shooting breathtaking images of flora and fauna for his new book, Everglades: America's Wetland.

Stone launched the book last week at the Frost Museum of Science where over 100 guests enjoyed viewing 40 framed prints in the gallery. In the book, art meets science through photographs of birds, reptiles, plants and weather -- all things great and small in the river of grass. The book also features narrative and a list of resources.

Mac Stone at the Miami book signing.

Photographer Mac Stone with book cover and print.

I’ve followed Stone and his work on Facebook for months but nothing prepared my eyes for the stunning images seen on a wall instead of a computer screen -- so precise and detailed,  as if graced by the brush of a watercolorist.

To the undiscerning eye, an Everglades panorama may seem flat and boring, but it's really a complex landscape of contradictions, harsh and yet subtle in its vastness. Stone's photography beautifully reveals the many nuances of America's only subtropical wilderness.

During his presentation, Stone often reminded us about a story that needs to be told.

And it's a story that's not so easy to tell -- logistically speaking.

It takes true grit to explore this forbidding landscape. For five years, he ventured into remote areas far from the comforts of civilization. He hung a hammock from a cypress tree for a makeshift campsite that dangled above a lake. He took a close up of a snake, fangs about to attack the lens. He snapped an image of a very toothy alligator -- jaw gaping, tongue covered in mud. He endured sunburn as well as mosquito bites in chest-length black water for days just to capture a snail kite’s hunting technique.

While showing us a slide of his face covered in spider webs he pointed out the obvious: “It’s not glamorous or Indiana Jones.”

For those of us who aren't brave enough to witness the Everglades so intimately in the muck, we can experience Stone's adventure vicariously and travel to places distant not only by miles but also in time. Trails carved where there are no trails, far from the truck-filled highways that intersect the state. Winding rivers that have never seen urban development. Celestial backdrops on flowing water. Nature beating its own primal rhythm.

I’ve experienced this poetic side of the Everglades before. A blanket of peace. The smell of the swamp. The shrill cry of a hawk.

The book brings it all back to me, although I've never ventured so deep into the wild as Stone. Its pages serve as a meditative road map to this once pristine wonder. The camera's lens glimpses an ancient past when plants and animals coexisted without meddling humans. It’s a privileged vantage point: look but don’t touch.

Stone's story is simple yet its impact is profound: if you don’t appreciate it, you won’t protect it. So in a very tangible way, he’s carrying on Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ legacy in the effort to restore, conserve and protect the Everglades.

Stone’s work -- 40 large prints from the book's enormous collection -- will be on display at the Frost Museum of Science until December 4. Half that exhibit will remain until closing date, January 11.

The book launch was also co-presented by the Audubon Florida.

Everglades: America’s Wetland is available wherever books are sold. Support a local bookstore and buy it at Books and Books.

We had an impromptu chat at the book launch. Video on Youtube.

Fortunately, we needn't travel too far to experience and appreciate America's Wetland -- at least from the safety of boardwalks and cemented paths. I recommended the Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley for beginners. Visit Everglades National Park for more information.

No comments: