Meet Jay Fleming, Annapolis-based Fine Art Wildlife Photographer
Photos, photos, everywhere! We snap and post, like and share, have access to literally millions of stock photos to upload as screensavers or drop into newsletters all while being enticed with vivid eye-catching photos online and in social media designed to excite, entice and stimulate us to purchase, engage or get involved. I Googled “photographs of sailboats in the sunset”, and while it didn’t give me a number, the scroll went on and on and on… we are not at a loss for maritime photos to be sure. We can find or take any photo we want.
And then we walk by the Annapolis Collection Gallery and see a stunning and moody photograph by Jay Fleming of watermen working on a boat in the mist and it speaks to us in an entirely different way from all of the online media-mania.
What’s the difference? It is fine art. Fine art photography, or photographic art, takes our experience to the next level. It doesn’t just document a scene; it provides a story in itself. What sets true fine art photography apart is that its purpose is aesthetic, to present the beauty and spirit of the subject. You don’t just see it, you feel it.
Here in Annapolis, we are graced with some of the best fine art photographers in the region who have succeeded in presenting a unique view into the world of the challenging and beautiful Chesapeake Bay area. Jay Fleming is at the top of that list.
Jay’s first and newly published book, Working the Water, has been flying off the shelves since its release in October and is almost completely sold out. People who knew of his work lined up to buy it, and people who were discovering him for the first time realized the instant they looked in the window or opened the book what a terrific artist this young photographer is.
I’ve been getting to know Jay who, at age 29, may appear to be somewhat of an overnight success. And while his book did catapult him into the spotlight, this artist took no shortcuts to reach success.
Jay started young and at the age of 14 won an award for a photograph used by the Environmental Protection Agency, a huge milestone. When he got his first car and was old to enough to make his own decisions about what to do with his spare time, he wasn’t out partying – he was out shooting photographs and exploring. His photographs are a testament to the time he has spent developing his craft and exploring his subjects. He also has the successful mix of creativity and business sense, and knows what he is doing and where he is headed.
Since his photographs speak for themselves, I wanted to interview Jay about his projects, specifically his book, and his next project. We met at his new studio on Cathedral Street, where he was packing up boxes and boxes of books ordered by customers who know a good gift when they see one.
Which came first – the love of the subject matter or the love of photography?
Probably my love of the outdoors. I grew up on the water – first in Epping Forest and then St. Margaret’s (both water communities in the greater Annapolis area). After school, I would go out fishing or crabbing. But photography has been an important part of my life since the age of 13. Using it to photograph nature became a way to legitimize being out there. Taking pictures was doing something productive. I got a lot more out of what I was doing on the water when I was able to share it with other people.
Of all of the wildlife and maritime subjects you photograph, what is your favorite?
Fish! There are so many different ways to photograph fish and so many different fish. You could spend ten lifetimes photographing fish around the world. Just in the Chesapeake alone there is a huge amount of diversity in fish.
But I am also interested in the human element. I always loved shooting wildlife and nature. When I combined my love for fish and the outdoors with the human element, it brought my photography to a new level. Those photographs gained more attention because people could relate more. It was an important jump for me; I never felt comfortable shooting people until starting this project (the book).
About the book: You have a wide variety of marine subjects that you photograph. What made you choose the “Working the Water” as the topic for your book?
First, of course, I love the area. The book is all about how humans interact with the Chesapeake Bay and how people have become dependent upon it. It intrigues me because there’s a delicate balance – they are dependent upon something that is completely out of their control. Some years are better than others for fishing. No matter what the conditions are, they have to work. If the weather is nasty, they still have to go out. That is an interesting way to make a living, and something a lot of us don’t have to deal with.
Why do they stick with something that is so unpredictable?
They stick with it when it gets really tough because it can be very profitable when it is going well. Most people that live around here or visit regularly really love the seafood that is from this area. So many of our businesses and restaurants rely on the strong attachment people have to not only the fish but to the story.
Even though it is a tough business, there are people who are making good money and do more than just get by; they know how to go with the ups and downs.
“Working the Water” has 300 photos segmented with narrative, and a book of this nature usually takes a long time to get a book published. When did you start the book project?
I started it July, and released it in October. I started my own publishing company called “Fleming Creative” and did every aspect of it myself. I wanted full control of the product, and it was hard work but it turned out exactly the way I wanted. Plus, I didn’t have to split the proceeds. I couldn’t be happier with the final product. I will be going into a second printing in February.
Tell me about your next project. What will it be and how long will it take?
My next project is a wildlife photo book of the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed to show the wildlife that depends upon it, which includes everyone who lives on or near the Bay, and the commercial fisheries. There are millions of residents from New York’s Susquehanna River all the way to Virginia Beach. My goal is to show people what they haven’t seen before that is right in their backyard.
It will take about two years, because that work and the trips to the watershed will be balanced with other work I love doing and running my studio.
You can find Jay’s photographs at the Annapolis Collection Gallery, and he is planning on an exciting studio opening in the next few months. All you have to do is see Jay’s photographs to know that he will have staying power. This is an artist/photographer to watch! See all his work here.