Photo Spot 37: Dry Tortugas National Park – Fort Jefferson Moat
A few weeks ago, we ventured into the northernmost of the Florida Keys, Elliott Key in Biscayne National Park. Today, we visit the Key situated at the opposite end of the chain. Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles of Key West, Florida, like Biscayne is mostly an underwater park. The land area consists of seven diminutive islets, totaling only 40 acres of sand.
Few people visit Dry Tortugas, because of its remote location, however it is a unique place with one unexpected sight. There are two ways to visit Dry Tortugas National Park: by ferry, or by seaplane.
For my first visit to Dry Tortugas, in December 1997, I wanted to see the islets from the air, since this would provide an interesting perspective on this very flat terrain. At that time I was still so fond of large format photography that I tried to shoot everything with my 5×7 camera, including aerials. I have to confess that lacking the experience and technique of a Brad Washburn or William Garnet, none of those images turned out to be even competent. This helped teach me “horses for courses”, using the right camera for each situation.
The big downside was that while a trip by ferry would have let me spend five hours on the main island, Garden Key, or even camp overnight, the trip by plane gave me only a little over two hours there (note: as of 2010, full day plane trips are available, but they cost twice as much). The island is so small that if I was just sightseeing, I could easily see every nook and cranny of it in that time, however photographing it was another matter. Since the park has two components, nature and history, I tried to capture both. I first focused on the Caribbean atmosphere on the sandy beaches, then rushed inside Fort Jefferson, the massive brick structure (largest in the Western Hemisphere) that takes up much of the surface area of Garden Key, and milled around the courtyard and galleries, looking without much success for a defining image of the place.
The fort is so large that two-thirds of it drops directly into the water, just protected from the ocean by a low seawall, the spot that I had missed, because of its unusual position. With less than ten minutes left before the departure time, as I took a quick look there, I saw instantly the image that captured what I felt to be the essence of the location: the geometric meeting of the luminous sky, turquoise waters and the brick walls, at the same time so incongruous, but so integrated into this environment. As there was not enough time left for a large format photograph, I settled for a quick shot with my 35mm camera, already planning to come back by ferry.
Since this blitz trip I’ve returned twice to the tiny Dry Tortugas but I have not been able to duplicate in large format the “quick shot” taken on my first sight of the moat. Not that nature hasn’t been generous in her variety: I’ve witnessed overcast days, stormy days with gale-force winds, sunny days with clouds. However, only an almost cloudless day (that some declare to be uninteresting) made it possible to create the stark and minimal composition that initially caught my eye. Such is landscape photography. I nevertheless like the two other images below, but they do not convey the same impression.
Which one is your favorite ? Please vote, and even better, say why in the comments.
(if you do not see the poll, click here)