Chronicling Change

In his highly anticipated new book, “Island Life,” photographer Jay Fleming documents the watermen and the stunning, natural beauty of Smith and Tangier Islands — as their lands and livelihoods disappear

The environment, culture and economies of the Smith Island, Maryland and Tangier Island, Virginia photographer Jay Fleming in his second book, Island Life, — the Chesapeake Bay’s last two inhabited offshore islands — are intimately documented through the lens and dedication of Annapolis-based photographer Jay Fleming in his second book, Island Life, set to be released on October 21. 

Island Life is equal parts informative and aesthetically pleasing as it reveals the beauty and perils of a life dependent upon the rhythms of the tide and the harvests of the Chesapeake Bay.

Since his first trip to the islands, in 2009, Fleming has seen remarkable changes to the islands’ landscape and communities. Cemeteries are washing into the water, while acres of marshland are disappearing, and the populations are in decline. Fleming felt a sense of urgency to document the islands’ iconic working waterfronts, as the very forces that sustain them also threaten to take them away.

Jay Fleming’s second book, Island Life, set to be released on October 21. 

Smith and Tangier Islands were initially settled as remote farming communities in the early 1800s, and when the Chesapeake’s oyster fishery grew by the middle of the century, the islands populations increased. The islands became a perfect place for watermen to access the productive oyster and crabbing grounds in Tangier Sound and the mainstream of the bay. In modern times, working the water has become less dependable as the economy and environment changed causing many island families to abandon their ancestral homes for life on the mainland. Island Life captures a moment in time for the islands and the remaining residents — many of whom can trace their lineage to the islands’ original British settlers —as they stand strong in the face of an uncertain future.

CLASS ACT
Jay frequently leads photography workshops to Smith, Tangier and other coastal communities to share the treasures of these locations with fellow photographers.

Born and raised in Annapolis, Jay grew up with an affinity for the water. He discovered his passion for photography at the age of 13, after inheriting his father’s hand-me-down Nikon film camera.

After graduating from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2009, Jay spent four years working in the field of fisheries, first for the state of Maryland and later for the National Parks Service in Yellowstone National Park. He then worked in the seafood industry, dedicating his time to promoting sustainable fisheries and the consumption of locally sourced seafood. In 2015, Jay turned his attention to photography full time, leading to the publication of his first book, Working the Water, in 2016. Since then, Jay has spent his career chronicling the unique people and places of the Chesapeake Bay. Jay also leads photography workshops to Smith, Tangier and other coastal communities to share the treasures of these locations with fellow photographers.

“Aside from my workshops, I spent as much time on the islands as I possibly could, often for weeks and months at a time. I traveled to the islands during all times of the year to document the seasonal fisheries and capture a sense of place even during the harshest conditions,” Jay said. “I made the trip to the islands so many times that they started to feel like my second home. Of course, getting to the islands was no easy task. The process of packing my gear, towing the boat down to Crisfield, Maryland and running across Tangier Sound took the better part of a day, and was a clear reminder of the challenges that come with living in an isolated island community.

“Through it all, I was motivated by a deep desire to capture a moment in time for these incredible islands, as the very forces that sustain them also threaten to take them away.” Jay continued. “Since my first trip to the islands more than a decade ago, I have witnessed remarkable changes to the islands’ landscapes and communities. Though only miles from the mainland by boat, Smith and Tangier seem worlds apart from the life that many of us know. I hope the photographs that fill the pages of this book give you the same sense of awe I had when I first stepped foot on the islands, transporting you to the Island Life.”

Island Life includes 280-pages of photographs as Fleming shares an intimate understanding of island life through the relationships he has built with Smith and Tangier’s islanders over more than a decade.

For more information and to order Island Life, visit JayFlemingPhotography.com