In wonder and gratitude, prize-winning photographer John Moran travels the Sunshine State with his cameras, seeking his vision of natural Florida as it must have appeared to Ponce de Leon and other early strangers in paradise. This remarkable collection of images and essays celebrates the magic of a landscape born of water, he writes, and "blessed with beauty beyond measure." The book caps Moran's 20-year odyssey to discover the soul of one of the most photographed states in the country. Still, he says, for a photographer who works on the road, he doesn't get around very much. The outer limits of his travels ordinarily are defined by places close to home, with names like Live Oak, Cedar Key, and Micanopy. Working mostly in north and central Florida, Moran says his pictures consecrate a region "steeped in black-water swamps and rivers, populated by egrets and alligators." Keenly aware that much of the state's wilderness has all but vanished, his pictures sometimes only suggest the illusion of unspoiled nature. "I can't tell you how often I've had to recompose my pictures to eliminate a beer can or a bed mattress or worse in the woods," he writes.
At times, he's made his best pictures literally within sight of his car, "aware of my own impact on the land, mindful of the myth of untainted nature that I promote with my camera." He's also worked in unconventional situations, lying inside a home-made PVC pipe-and-burlap blind to photograph dancing sandhill cranes and perching inside a bucket truck 50 feet aboveground to photograph nesting ospreys. The companion essays reflect Moran's philosophy about both nature and photography, and they weave together personal narrative, natural history, and photo-technical instruction. They include commentary about the actual moment he snapped each picture, factual information about the place, and sometimes a historical perspective on the setting by such well-known writers and naturalists as William Bartram and Archie Carr. Moran emphasizes "making" pictures as opposed to casually taking them, and writes that his job can't be done without a plan and a specific set of tools and materials. But, he says, his job "isn't always about the picture, it's about the experience of just being there, chasing the light; alive and awake and aware."
And he recalls some of the best advice he ever received: before you focus your camera, first focus yourself.