The Southern Exposure Grant
Documenting the people, culture and landscape of the American Southeast
Dustin Angell - Sebring, United States
Florida Stewards celebrates wildlife biologists and others who work in Florida’s wild places, protecting its rarest species. In 2014 I began accompanying these Stewards into the field, observing and making portraits. My goal is to educate the public about Florida’s wildlife and the professionals working to preserve it. The Southern Exposure grant would help with the costs of an exhibition and monograph.
Florida Stewards is a photography project celebrating wildlife biologists and other professionals in the Northern Everglades who work in Florida’s wild places, protecting its rarest species. In 2014 I began accompanying these Stewards into the field to make portraits and observe them at work when possible. The Stewards each posed in their field clothes holding the tools of their professions. Their postures and expressions tell the story of people willing and proud to work through harsh and sometimes dangerous conditions for a cause they believe in. My goal is to use these photos to educate the public about Florida’s endangered species and the professionals trying to understand and protect them. The Luminous Southern Exposure grant would help me continue this project and cover some of the costs of an exhibition and monograph.
The Florida Stewards in this project work in and around Highlands County, FL which hosts the highest concentration of rare and imperiled plants and animals in the American Southeast. Reaching over 200 ft. in elevation, the county is one of the highest points in peninsular Florida. Today, it is part of the Northern Everglades, but once it was the southern end of an ancient sand island, one of the only pieces of dry land in Florida a million years ago. The island’s isolated history and the extreme conditions of fire, flood, drought, heat, and nearly infertile soils made it a hotspot for evolutionary creativity. Due to recent habitat destruction, one of the county’s principal habitats, the Florida scrub, is considered the 15th most endangered ecosystem in the continental United States of America. But even as the wild species of the ancient island disappear, the Florida Stewards work to understand and protect them.
The Florida Stewards work in grasslands, scrublands, ranchlands, wetlands, forests, and other wild places. They work in extreme heat, slog through flooded lands, and deal with mosquitoes, venomous snakes, and alligators. They operate chainsaws while up in pine trees, control landscape-scale fires, and operate vehicles including trucks, ATV’s, and swamp buggies. Most are wildlife biologists, but other Florida Stewards are land managers, artists, archaeologists, dedicated volunteers, and educators. As the work continues this year, I am expanding it to include cattle ranchers, who play an enormous and often unrecognized conservation role in the Northern Everglades.
Ultimately, my hope is that generations from now, people in Florida will still have wild places to visit and a rich diversity of wildlife to see. And when they do, I also think they should know who it was that saved it for them.