ST. MICHAELS — Documentary photographer David Harp of Cambridge got his first camera in 1946. He has covered the grit and the grace, the critters and the watermen of the Chesapeake Bay since the 1970s.
Harp will have 40 years of images on display this fall at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in a new exhibition titled “Where Land and Water Meet: The Chesapeake Bay Photography of David W. Harp.” Scheduled to open Sept. 25, “Where Land and Water Meet” will be on view in CBMM’s Steamboat Building gallery, as well as in a virtual format.
“They liked the idea of mid career retrospective,” said the 74-year-old photographer with a chuckle.
Harp’s inspiration comes from exploring literal and figurative edges: shorelines, communities, habitats, and traditional working life where culture and nature connect, creating the essence of what defines the Chesapeake.
Harp’s photographs will hang at the museum until next September. The idea was to distill 40 years of shooting into 50 images.
“I got it down to 100s, but I needed help to get to 50,” Harp said. So, he called in other people to look at his work.
Most of the images in the show are 16x20 color prints, socially distanced. And right in the middle of the exhibit will be a scrim playing his black and white images of skipjacks from the ’70s.
He said he has always had good luck with captains.
“Every skipjack captain I have asked has always said yes. They usually say something like, ‘You know we leave at 4:30 in the morning and won’t be back until 4:30 in the afternoon.’ I spent two weeks with them in Tilghman and Cambridge,” he said.
“My early inspiration to photograph the people, flora and fauna of the Chesapeake Bay region came from a book by Aldo Leopold called ‘A Sand County Almanac.’ In the forward to the book he wrote that land should be treated like a community of which we are a part rather than a commodity that we buy and sell,” he said.
“Dave Harp has a long and varied career, and his naturalist’s eye provides an unparalleled perspective on the interdependence of communities, land and water along the Chesapeake,” said Jenifer Dolde, associate curator of collections at CBMM. “His passion for the environment continually draws him to explore the Bay’s rivers, marshes and guts by kayak, on foot and by air, always revealing them in new ways.”
Harp has a reverence for this land and the people who work it.
“Crabs and oysters from Smith Island or Tangier island. I think I appreciate what you do. A lot of times I have talked to the captains who have caught the crabs,” said Harp.
“Whether it is kayak, walking or car, I am an outside dog. My mother used to call me in. I played in streams. It is the same stuff I am doing now,” he said.
When asked who his favorite photographers were, he said, “It’s a guy you have never heard of. (Award-winning National Geographic photographer) Bob Madden (of Kent Island). He mentored me in the ’70s. He suggested to me to do what I love, working on the Bay. I lived it. “
“I like getting out when the light is right. I studied meteorology. So I can predict if there is going to be steam rising off the marsh and just get out there. I am going to celebrate this place in this time. That’s the essence of my work,” he said.
The show at the Maritime Museum features two of Harp’s collaborators: Tom Horton, the author, and Sandy Cannon-Brown, the film maker.
“Collaboration is utterly important. The whole is greater than the parts. Working with a writer is almost essential. I like the words and pictures to collaborate,” he said.
Harp has done five book projects with Horton starting in 1992 — all centered around the Bay. More recently he has teamed up with Cannon-Brown and Horton to create four documentaries. Three out of four are about the Eastern Shore.
Even a photographer who revels in the outdoors has been affected by COVID-19.
“If you are going camping and sharing food, you have to be careful,” he said.
Harp has a spiritual reverence for where the land and water meet.
“I’ve thrived on the marshes surrounding the Eastern Shore rivers and islands,” he said.
Entry to the exhibition is free for CBMM members or with general admission.
In addition to the photography exhibit, CBMM also plans a series of virtual artist talks that will be held via Zoom on Oct. 7, Nov. 4 and Dec. 9. To register, visit cbmm.org/HarpArtistSeries.