STREAMING SOUTH: Illuminations from a journey home
Photographs by Douglas J. Eng
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DOUGLAS J. ENG – ISSUE 3 Photographs and text © Douglas J. Eng, 2015 All rights reserved Printed using MagCloud Rev. 0 – 08/20/2015 Rev. 1 – 08/30/2015 Previous Issues Issue 1: Straight and Twisted – An inquiry into the nature of trees Issue 2: On Fertile Ground – The Wing Lee Yuen Truck Farm
S TREAMING SOUTH Illuminations from a journey home
Photographs and Text by Douglas J. Eng
Dedicated to the conservation of our natural waterways and the individuals who work tirelessly to support these special places.
Introduction ......................................................................................5 Acknowledgement .............................................................................5 Artist Statement............................................................................. 6-7 The Project ........................................................................................8 Exhibition Prints ......................................................................... 9-46 Summer ................................................................................. 9-22 Fall ..................................................................................... 23-28 Winter ................................................................................. 29-33 Spring ................................................................................. 34-45 There’s a Sigh: Doug Eng’s Streaming South ............................. 46-49 The Creeks ................................................................................ 50-51 Exhibition ................................................................................. 52-53 About Doug Eng ..............................................................................54
INTRODUCTION We all have a place where we call home. This is a special place, a place that informs much of who we are, what we think, and how we feel. Usually we think we know our homes intimately having lived there for a while. I’ve lived in Jacksonville my whole life and I’m familiar with this place and what it offers from a lifetime of experiences burned into my memory...so I thought. “Streaming South” has many dimensions and grew in scope from a landscape photography project to an experience in self-discovery and environmental advocacy. I evoked a connection to the place where I grew up and live, conjuring up memories, opinions, and emotional reaction to what I was seeing and experiencing on the creeks. These became deeply personal sessions and more than what I was accustomed to during a typical photographic outing. I hope you become inspired to go out and explore these or your own special places to find peace, solitude, and a quiet space to think. We are fortunate to live in a region of exceptional natural beauty and this project reminds us to walk out the door.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I wish to thank Florida State College at Jacksonville for providing the Wilson Art Center gallery for the first exhibition of the project in August, 2015. It is an honor to have the support of the college and the community. I’m grateful to have a friend like photographer Gray Quetti, who convinced me to buy a digital camera in 2004 and a kayak in 2014. Without Gray’s companionship on those first few outings I would not have made the commitment to start the project. Jacksonville artist, writer, naturalist, and environmentalist Jim Draper provided the inspiration to pursue my present course, and whose advice and counseling from countless studio visits helped to shape the project’s focus. Jim’s eloquent prose “Sigh…” is included in this book with gratitude. And finally, a big hug goes to Dorian, always there for support, encouragement, and a gentle critique, I think she actually enjoyed having me out of the house on those kayak days.
ARTIST STATEMENT Last spring, paddling a kayak became the first steps of my journey home. My birthplace and residence is Jacksonville, FL, on the St. Johns River, a 310 mile artery dotted with spring fed creeks. I often photographed a glimpse of a creek from a bridge or trail and always wondered what lay beyond what I saw. “Streaming South” started as a desire to produce a series of intimate landscapes of individual creeks, depicting remote places in the style of early 19th century landscape painters who visited Florida and found an unspoiled paradise. Florida has changed dramatically since those times but I knew that a version of the “real” Florida may lay deep within these creeks and I wanted to find out. Over the course of one year, I experienced the seasonal characteristics of the landscape in 33 visits to 12 creeks. I created thousands of images and started a blog, streamingsouth.com, to record each outing with comments and additional writings. Once I began my explorations, my outward excitement about what I was seeing shifted to a personal introspection concerned with ethics, morality, respect, care, and gratitude. Not only was I given a gift of incredible beauty, peace, and solitude, but I was exposed to neglect, disrespect, and violations that stirred deep emotions. I always appreciated where I lived but never had an attachment to anything specific. I never cried when I saw trees being cut or became resentful of a dock or bulkhead on a riverbank. I never laughed at otters eyeing my passage or spent time collecting discarded bottles lodged in the roots of trees. I never witnessed the awe in a perfect reflection of over-arching trees forming a cathedral in the middle of a stream. Now things are different, I have changed. When photographing the “environment” you make choices. Do you focus on beauty or despair or exactly what exists? It’s an easy decision for me. Beauty and peace connected me to my home. Not the plastic bottles, beer cans, old tires, and keep out signs. I believe that my advocacy for attention to these rare places must appeal to what is positive and good about our home. First connection, then care. That’s how it worked for me. 6
As a result of this project, I have developed a special connection to my Home. Connection is about participation, hands on experience, and being present. You must step out your door and cross the line. To really care about a place, to cherish it for what it does to our hearts and souls, to really connect with all that it is, creates the cognizance necessary for responsible, actionable stewardship. These are only pictures, but they represent in a very real way what is here and now and beautiful about our earth and where we live. This work is my advocacy. I am grateful for finding a glimmer of enlightenment through photography for myself and to share with others. The journey continues.
Doug Eng August, 2015
THE PROJECT Over 4000 images were created over the course of the “Streaming South” study, from May 2014 – May 2015, in 33 outings to 12 creeks. All images were taken from a kayak, handheld, using a Canon 5DMk3 digital camera. Details of each trip are recorded in a blog at streamingsouth.com. No animals were harmed during the making of this body of work with the exception of some mosquitoes and 2 yellow flies (who deserved it). My initial outings became a series of experiments to learn boat handling and basic skills. Photographing from a kayak has its own challenges. In addition to the inconvenience of transporting an 80 lb. boat and finding an appropriate launch site, you are dealing with less than ideal environmental conditions and an assortment of creatures (biting flies, mosquitoes, spiders, snakes, and alligators) eager to make your life miserable. Hand holding your expensive DLSR with the very real possibility of total water immersion requires a good insurance policy. Proper exposure is problematic. Bright skies, dark canyons of trees, a moving platform, wind, and limited mobility all add to the thrill of getting an image that is actually useable. As a result, I have developed some very strict rules about what works and doesn’t when it comes to weather conditions, tides, anchoring, high ISO, and navigating around spider webs.
“You find that you have to do many things, more than just lift up the camera and shoot, and so you get involved in it in a very physical way. You may find that the picture you want to do can only be made from a certain place, and you’re not there, so you have to physically go there. And that participation may spur you on to work harder on the thing, . . . because in the physical change of position you start seeing a whole different relationship.” – Jay Maisel, Photographer The photographs selected for exhibit represent an overview of the seasonal characteristics of the landscape. Florida does not have abrupt seasonal changes, there are subtle transitions in the trees and light that are part of my interest to experience. Each season brings its own visual aesthetic and emotional signature. With each outing the landscape was different. The same creeks continuously transformed into something new. The seasons changed the trees, the water, and the light. The experiences changed me. Different conditions yield different photographs. As I continue to review and process the image collection, I am surprised and delighted by new discoveries and details that appear fresh and original. These areas are my new “Grand Canyon” of visual and emotional fulfillment and I look forward to a lifetime of explorations. 8
Deep Creek â€“ Hastings, FL June 28, 2014 The creek splits at this junction forming a small island. A dominant side suggested the way to go. I explored both sides. Let curiosity take you beyond the obvious.
C A T H E D R AL
N AT U R E
Julington Creek â€“ Jacksonville, FL June 8, 2014 Early one Sunday morning I realized what people experience during worship in a cathedral. I anchored my kayak and marveled at the splendor before me. The stillness of the moment infused my body and I was at peace.
Julington Creek â€“ Jacksonville, FL June 8, 2014 Immersion is losing yourself in another place. When the forest is thick, dense, and enfolds you with green, you feel secure and accepted. Coming here is like being home.
CREEK CANOPY Big Davis Creek â€“ Jacksonville, FL June 1, 2014 Overhead, the tree branches and leaves form a canopy of green, illuminated by daylight. The view is different from below and often we forget that our perspective determines what we see.
Deep Creek â€“ Hastings, FL June 22, 2014 Rain cleanses the forest and fills the air with moisture. This morning I could hear the droplets falling from the leaves, smell the earthy humidity of the banks, and see the rising mist off the water. Soon the sun brought everything back to normal.
E A R L Y S U MM E R McCulloughâ€™s Creek â€“ Racy Point, FL June 21, 2014 Once the sun comes up over the trees my time for photography is usually over. As I was paddling back to my car I caught a glimpse of the bright sunlit forest through the trees signaling the beginning of a new day.
Deep Creek â€“ Hastings, FL June 22, 2014 Rarely does one experience a natural event that is unique. The air was thick with humidity and I saw where the sun started to peak through the forest. The double reflection off the water was a surprise, and in the area where the two light beams collided dust fairies were dancing.
RENEWAL Deep Creek â€“ Hastings, FL June 22, 2014 When a branch falls into the water, it continues to grow. Life is never ending in the creeks and can overcome all challenges, save one.
CYPRESS BOUGH Deep Creek â€“ Hastings, FL June 28, 2014 The creeks are dark in the summer with a thick canopy of green leaves. I look for details and gestures in the trees, and this branch reminded me of my own journey, alone and illuminated.
LIQUID GREEN Six Mile Creek – Orangedale, FL July 13, 2014 I never appreciated the “greens of summer” until I started visiting the creeks. The reflected surface of the water magnified the total experience of being in the green.
Ortega River â€“ Jacksonville, FL July 18, 2014 The Ortega River is wide with a strong current. As I paddled upstream I witnessed the ever changing shoreline and the variety of trees and vegetation. I felt privileged to be the only one on the river this morning with this visual symphony all to myself.
O V E R P A S S I N G N AT U R E Ortega River â€“ Jacksonville, FL July 18, 2014 Nature and man intersect constantly throughout our landscape. Twelve lanes of Interstate traffic roars across this idyllic creek unbeknownst to the travelers. I paused under the overpass to feel the energy of the roadway and the calmness of the creek beneath.
Durbin Creek â€“ St. Johns, FL November 1, 2014
Autumn in Florida is subtle. Trees begin to lose their leaves in November, and if you are observant, there is a brief period of color before everything goes to brown. The creeks undergo a gradual transformation from verdant green to yellow, with light and energy infusing the creek bed, reflecting the season everywhere.
MORNING MIST Big Davis Creek â€“ Jacksonville, FL November 17, 2014 There are rewards for those who rise early. I try to beat the sunrise, but rarely do. You learn a lot about yourself when you try to rise early, few things are worth the effort. Sunrise was nice today.
Big Davis Creek â€“ Jacksonville, FL November 17, 2014 Exploring the small creek tributaries is fun. Itâ€™s like having a bonus creek to explore. I paddle as far as I can go and then just sit. You find yourself surrounded. Today the yellow infused the air and I was content that I found autumn.
AUTUMN HIGHLIGHTS Deep Creek – Hastings, FL November 16, 2014 Sometimes the view is so incredible that you can’t stop your boat fast enough. The intense reflection caught my eye. I anchored and waited until all was calm again. It’s easy to paddle through life and miss a precious moment.
CREEK TANGLES Durbin Creek â€“ St. Johns, FL December 21, 2014 Order and chaos permeate the landscape. I am attracted to randomness and complexity like a moth is to light. I try to find a resolution within the frame of the image. Itâ€™s all part of my investigation of life.
Durbin Creek – St. Johns, FL December 21, 2014 This cold winter morning I waited for the sunrise and as the sky became filled with light I looked up into the trees. Being directly on the water one forgets that the creek is actually three dimensional, and that the surface of the water defines only a plane of navigation for “impaired” explorers like me.
Durbin Creek â€“ St. Johns, FL December 21, 2014 A cold day in Northeast Florida is rare. Today was cold, and the gray, overcast sky echoed my sentiments about being out. The lifeless trees were still and offered no protection from the wind. A new and different experience that enriched my day.
LIFTING FOG Thomas Creek â€“ Jacksonville, FL January 3, 2015 As I began my paddle the fog lifted and the sun began to shine. My disappointment soon turned into a celebration of being present in a magnificent place. I saw no one that day, I was the only witness.
TRANSPARENCY Thomas Creek – Jacksonville, FL January 3, 2015 Winter transforms the creek landscape completely. The ability to see “through” the forest creates a new perspective, one of openness and clarity. The trees stripped of their leaves, form a loose boundary and bring new freedom of movement and light.
MIXED HARDWOODS Lofton Creek â€“ Yulee, FL February 1, 2015 As the sun breaks over the trees, the shoreline illuminates with the first light of the day. I noticed the variety of plants filled with new spring growth all vying for their piece of sunshine. Cool, crisp mornings in Florida are rare, as was the specialness of the morning.
Deep Creek â€“ Hastings, FL February 21, 2015 In spring, the trees differentiate themselves with shades of green, yellow, and red. In winter, everything goes gray, in summer itâ€™s dark green. A unique time when you can still observe the individual structures and the foliage. I love spring for the clarity it provides.
Thomas Creek â€“ Jacksonville, FL March 12, 2015 Rarely do we have fog on the creeks. Sometimes in the spring with a combination of the right temperatures and dew points we experience sea fog that pours into the surrounding areas. I was thrilled this morning to find a foggy creek and for about an hour I found myself in another world.
CREEK SPLIT 2
Deep Creek â€“ Hastings, FL February 21, 2015 Returning to a junction in the creek I have visited many times thrilled me with a sense of connection to a place. Familiarity allows one to go deeper into feelings of being present and finding the specialness of a moment in time. 38
EXUBERANCE Thomas Creek - Jacksonville, FL March 12, 2015 Spring brings exuberant growth and color to the creeks. Every plant awakens out of their hibernation with energy. Observing these changes is a reminder that these places are very much alive.
Julington Creek â€“ Jacksonville, FL April 7, 2015 Life in the creeks is a complex system of interdependencies. There are no loners, everything is connected in harmony. We are the only ones capable of interrupting this balance and destroying the system.
JUNGLE CRUISE Durbin Creek â€“ St. Johns, FL April 12, 2015 By April everything is green again. The cycle repeats. How many countless seasons has this creek repeated these transformations? And how many seasons will be left?
PUZZLE Deep Creek – Hastings, FL May 25, 2015 Approaching these areas is like solving a puzzle, if you can’t get through you turn around and go home. I got through this one, a tight squeeze with lots of spider webs. Sometimes you don’t make it, but you always try.
SHOWERS Lofton Creek â€“ Yulee, FL May 30, 2015 Iâ€™ve never been caught in the rain on my boat until today. I felt trapped, vulnerable, and confused, until I accepted the fact that I was going to get soaked and could do nothing about it. Sometimes we need to resign ourselves to finding peace in what is.
WATER SPIRIT Lofton Creek â€“ Yulee, FL May 30, 2015 There is something in the creeks that runs through everything. Itâ€™s the same with all living things. We live in an interconnected world. It is always there. May this spirit be with you as you explore your special places and find Home.
THERE’S A SIGH: DOUG ENG’S STREAMING SOUTH. by Jim Draper Originally published in Arbus Magazine, September/October 2015
There’s a sigh. Ease into your seat, and tuck the dry sack between your knees, just in reach. Water, insect repellent, everything secure. Pull your hat down tight, grab the paddle and shove away from the shore. The water is black silk. Cool. A kingfisher, startled by your approach, lunges from his perch. He darts down, dips to the water, flies away. Blue wings vanish into a ray of sunlight upstream. An errant twig plops. Concentric ripples fan out. Be still, the water follows your lead and lays perfectly flat. You are unstuck. Time, space, direction all go away. What is real? What is reflection? You are floating. Air inflates your lungs. Then pushes out, slowly, evenly. Welcome to the black water. “So, what kind of kayak should I get?” When my eyes landed on the famously furrowed brow of Doug Eng I knew he was serious. “Well, Doug, it depends.” Advice on a kayak purchase is something I seldom give. “What do you want to do?” “I just want to get out, explore. Maybe shoot some images.” I showed him my kayak, what I liked about it and why it worked for me. “It took me a couple of years to decide on this one. ” “What about a sit-on-top?” “Hell no, it won’t work.” Too many reasons to explain. “Trust me.” I knew he’d probably try to juggle a camera, change lenses, and eat lunch. “Mainly, your butt is wet all the time. You’ll want a cockpit.” I figured he’d already decided on a sit-ontop.
We talked now and again about his boat choice. For the most part I forgot about the conversation. A few months later Doug participated in a seminar that Staci BuShea and I held at the studio. Full Immersion. Eight of us met once a week for six weeks. Our goal was to understand Environmental Aesthetics in relation to the Natural Order. We read round-robin. Our voices circumnavigated a make-shift conference table in the middle of my painting studio. The texts included Mark Twain, the Bible, Kant, Paul Kingsnorth and some adventurous contemporary environmental writers. Deep stuff, great conversation. Our circle included other artists, two law school professors, one who happened to be a Dominican nun, a landscape architect, and a local businessman/fisherman. Everyone was free to speak. No idea was too liberal or too conservative. Questions were introspective, investigative. There were no answers. Mostly suggestions followed by an occasional, “I never thought of it that way,” from each of us.
Late spring. Durbin Creek. Cypress, maple, tupelo leaf out full. Sun high overhead burns through the foliage, it ignites the green hues at the top of the canopy. Chartreuse, olive, emerald, juniper. A stained glass dome. Dots of blue sky wiggle and squirm, drip wet onto your corneas. Exhausted of greens, the spectrum filters warm. Burgundy, violet, and rust trace trunks and twigs drawing their way to the water. Bam. The light, armed with its cache of colors and images collides with the tannin stained surface. The splash baptises your eyes. You are transformed. Vision reborn. Doug bought his kayak about the time the seminar began. “Now, you’ve got to tell me some places to go.” Again, I knew Doug well enough to know when he’s serious. “I’ve traveled all over the world looking for interesting places to shoot. Now I want to see what’s in my backyard.” “Anywhere,” I handed him a gazetteer that showed all of the boat launch sites in Florida. “With a kayak, you can also just see something from the side of the road, pull over and drop in.” “Is it dangerous?”
“Not nearly as dangerous as navigating traffic on ‘95.” I watched his work. No doubt I respected Doug’s abilities with the camera. His studio, a stone’s throw from my door, was papered with immaculate panoramas of urban landscapes and natural wonders. Exotic cityscapes. Monumental rock formations. Each one was exquisitely rendered, immaculately executed. With Eng, the mind of an engineer met skill of an ancient craftsman. His images were filtered through the soul of a poet. Eng’s work shifted, slightly at first then dramatically. The more he paddled his kayak and recorded images, the more he began to understand the mystery of the black water. He found his sigh. Drifted into that inky black steam full of possibilities. All his knowledge and skill with the camera became a servant to a higher order. He recorded those short seconds. Flashes of the seasonal drama. Times when the reflection is so perfect, the water so still, the wind so quiet that he couldn’t tell which way was up or which was down. He rendered the vertigo of the sublime.
The water ripples, perfect realism churns abstract. Wind lays an even texture across the wet, silver vibrates the surface. Look up, bits of blue turn grey, the leaves silhouette against the sky. One big drop hits your eye. Panic. More drops. Deluge. Nothing you can do. Relax, absorb, look, record. Click. Back to calm. Steam. Mist. During the year I popped into Doug’s studio often. My short glances at his work turned to deep gazes. “Damn, Doug,” I bowed to the master. “You got it.” “Do you really think so, Jim?” “Trust me.” Fluid welled behind my eyes. A lump formed in my throat. “These are right.” For those of us who go there, into the black water, we learn to see. Our job as artists is to embrace our vision, then to share. I was shown the black water by my friend Allison Watson. She showed me the mysterious margins of the St. Johns and its tributaries. There, I found myself reborn. I have watched Doug Eng slip into that same ink and come out changed. Amplified. Ready to pass the vision on.
Gator bumps your boat. Oh, Shit, He’s as big as I am. Sit still, don’t breathe, the moccasin, wide mouth open showing white cotton, shimmies out of the water, coils up into the cypress knees. Great Blue heron floats down with awkward grace. He tucks wings in, toes squeeze into the muck. Water fleas slow dance at first, tango, gyrate into a tarantella. A wide mouth sucks one from the surface. Fall brings maple leaves down, curled and crisp they drift and sink into the black. Bare trunks open to clear blue above. Early winter sun wedges low and pries the swamp awake. In from a night of hunting, the barred owl: Who cooks for you, who cooks for you too? The Kingfisher flies close and lands on a snag a few feet over your head. Then it’s spring. Maples bloom out magenta and red. Cypresses sprout delicate chartreuse. Repeat.
© 2015 Jim Draper, all rights reserved
Kayak launch sites
The creeks featured in the exhibit are: Deep Creek – Hastings, FL Julington Creek – Jacksonville, FL Big Davis Creek – Jacksonville, FL McCullough’s Creek – Racy Point, FL Six Mile Creek – Orangedale, FL Ortega River – Jacksonville, FL Durbin Creek – St. Johns, FL Thomas Creek – Jacksonville, FL Lofton Creek – Yulee, FL Other creeks visited during the project: Goodbys Creek – Jacksonville, FL Simpson Creek – Ft. George Island, FL Trout Creek – Orangedale, FL All creeks are readily accessible through public boat ramps or launch sites as shown in the map above.
EXHIBITION “Streaming South” contains 31 – 20x30 mounted prints and was first exhibited at the Florida State College at Jacksonville – Wilson Center for the Arts from August 17 – September 16, 2015. The exhibit includes writings and a “behind the scenes” area containing work prints, maps, and studies. The exhibit travelled to the “Slow Exposures” Exhibition Popup Tour in Zebulon, GA in late September, 2015 and is scheduled for exhibition at the Camerawork Gallery in Portland, OR in January 2016. Please contact the artist to inquire about the availability of “Streaming South” for exhibition.
ABOUT DOUG ENG I have enjoyed diverse careers as a Professional Engineer in the power industry, a software programmer, and a small business owner. My education includes degrees in Structural Engineering at Cornell University and an MBA from the University of North Florida. I am pursuing a lifelong interest in photography and have studied at various workshops throughout the country. I have won numerous awards in juried competitions and am published in several magazines. My photographic specialties are urban and natural landscapes. Jacksonville, FL is my home and I am involved in several projects to revitalize our cityâ€™s urban core through the arts. My visual fascination with my surroundings, whether built or natural, comes from many years of trying to understand why things are what they are. An engineering discipline seeks to explain and rationalize the world, and to develop solutions to problems. My curiosity about forms, structures, patterns, rhythms, and textures is a natural outgrowth of the need to find order in all things. But it is chaotic randomness that creates uniqueness and vitality. Our world is both simple and complex, structured and random, free and boundâ€Śall in a simultaneous expression of what IS. This is my realization through photography and these are the subjects of my investigations. For additional information please visit www.dougengart.com.
Step out your door to find a place called Home. www.streamingsouth.com www.dougengart.com
Streaming South Project Book for review