Reflections on the object of my affection

Oh, the scenes it and I have seen

The wildflower (cranesbill) was tiny — and unseen by me; the bee, even more so. The camera saw it all on the Coker Prairie tract of Edward Chance Reserve in Manatee County. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

It has been dropped, rained on and subjected to the broiling heat and high humidity of a Florida summer, but it has remained faithful throughout many years of my traipsing about.

It has covered an eclipse, tropical storms, slide shows at conferences, high noon in the Florida scrub (108 degrees) and a rare winter freeze.

After many years of use, the big red map book I use to navigate Florida in places without cell towers is in tatters. Not so the Panasonic Lumix.  It rarely gets rave reviews on the internet. There is nothing trendy about it. It is out of date — and a duplicate. Ten years ago, the first one I bought was so good — it has a Leica lens — I ordered another. I have been working the spare for years now.

Despite no rain for months, ditches (these are in Charlotte County) are lavish with wildflowers (mock bishop’s weed with pink sabatia). Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

A real workhorse, it adjusts to changes in the light, which varies constantly in Florida. Distance is never daunting. A subject may be high up in a tree — or just a couple of inches from the lens. It sees things I miss: a bee pollinating a flower, a bird entrapped in fishing line and, once, a snake slithering up a pine. It does my bidding even when I do not ask!

In another lifetime, I stuck to the assignment. My photo editor at the D.C. paper gave me these instructions: Fill the frame; bracket; ID the subjects. God forbid should I get back to the office empty-handed. There would be a hole on the page.

An industrial park in Bradenton yields up treasures like this immature little blue heron. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

At first, I used a friend’s Rollei. Photo fare was urban and political: LBJ’s midriff, for example; and occasionally cultural: Nureyev and Fonteyn dancing. And though I did not know it at the time, historical: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Mall. (It was so crowded I could not get close to him, but I could hear his voice.)

In November 1963, I could not bear to photograph the events following JFK’s assassination, but stark images remain with me: Emperor Haile Selassie dwarfed by Gen. de Gaulle following the caisson down Connecticut Avenue.

Limpkins rest in the grasses in the heat of day at Myakka River State Park. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Just once in that era, Mother Nature was allowed to shine. I sold my editor a shot of a little girl lying in a bed of flowers at Rock Creek Park.

Now my subjects are flowers and trees along weedy roadsides, edges of industrial parks, the railroad tracks, pastures out east, undeveloped parcels on the Ridge, rivers, parks — and the beach, of course. Animals — becoming noticeably fewer — are closer to the heart of my work. I think of my camera as a faithful friend, as I do my van, which I have named the Green Hornet.

Tickseed takes over when the water disappears in spring. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Memories of missed opportunities plague every photographer. Mine was an assignment to photograph the arrival of the Beatles in America! I lost out to the AP guy! Recently, it was alligators so thick in a river I could have walked across them. And “Irma.” Even using a tripod I could not steady the camera. It helps to be heavy in a hurricane.

Sometimes I will run into a guy loaded down with cameras, lenses, filters, tripods. My camera is so small, so light, so inconspicuous, I could probably sneak it into the Oval Office. Not that I would ever leave Florida! I am wedded to the nature of this place. For now, there is still beauty around and my camera keeps on recording it.

Refurbishing along the railroad track in Bradenton kills the wildflowers — but not to worry: They will be back! Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Elderberry graces this thicket. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
An alligator is beached at the height of the drought. Now that the rains have returned, it will have a lot of choices as to where to hang out. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
A dragonfly seeks out water to breed in along a roadside in Bradenton. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
The green anole — our native anole — popped up to my delight at Lake Manatee State Park. It has been eclipsed by the non-native brown anole, which is everywhere! Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
This is a typical scene along State Road 72 near Arcadia: Elliot’s milkpea vine growing on a fence line; on the ranch, bought palms stand out against a backdrop of live oaks. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Indestructible elderberry thrives through flood and drought. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Springtime means Alicia! An endemic wildflower, it growsin south and central Florida. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

2 thoughts on “Reflections on the object of my affection

  1. Those “bought palms” are Bismarck Palms, indigenous to Madagascar, and now all over Florida.

  2. Fran’s photographs are always stunning and her writing is so informative too. She knows how to make magic out of the mundane. I especially liked the detail and shadows on the alligator. Sorry she missed out on the Beatles but glad she moved to Sarasota.

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