• Story and photos by Caroline J. Phillips

Jay Fleming: Capturing a Unique Perspective of the Chesapeake Bay

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

Jay Fleming

Many of those who spend time around the Chesapeake Bay are captivated by its beauty and charm. The sunsets, the shoreline, the natural architecture — the uniqueness of the Eastern Shore is constantly captured by cell phones and cameras. Everyone has their own perspective of what makes the Chesapeake Bay area special, and local photographer Jay Fleming has a point of view that truly is captivating.

As the son of a National Geographic photographer, Fleming grew up in Annapolis with a camera in hand and a passion for capturing stories. At 13, he started tagging along on assignments with his dad, Kevin Fleming, using a Nikon n90s film camera. Once he grew up and got his driver’s license, Fleming would shoot wildlife and landscapes on his own, mainly from his kayak along the water.

Since then, he’s been documenting stories along the Chesapeake Bay — his own backyard. Those stories include a variety of people interacting with the water — whether it be fishing, crabbing, oystering or boats, as well as wildlife on the water and under the water.

When asked what his favorite thing to photograph is, he replies, “I could safely say anything on the water.”

When Fleming isn’t taking his boat out of Annapolis or Crisfield, he sometimes travels to other parts of the country on assignments. But he always finds the Chesapeake Bay particularly enchanting compared to other bodies of water.

What draws him toward this landscape is the history of people working on and interacting with the water. He says the landscape of the Chesapeake Bay is different in that, “there are so many creeks and rivers to explore in the watershed.”

Photos by Jay Fleming

More than ever, he says, it’s important that we document life along the Chesapeake Bay. With environmental issues taking center stage, what we see now when we cross the Bay may not always be this way. Fleming knows this.

He constantly has a camera in hand to document “the ways” of the Chesapeake. In his first book, “Working the Water,” he was able to represent all four seasons of watermen along the Maryland and Eastern Shore of Virginia waterways. It’s an intimate look at the true lives of the men and women whose lives depend on the Chesapeake Bay.

Fleming currently is working on putting together a new book about island life on Smith and Tangier islands. With this book, he says he wants to document all aspects of Smith Islanders and Tangier Islanders unique lives — the watermen, the infrastructure, architecture, family life, and religion. Since not as many families make their homes on these remote islands, their culture slowly is fading, and Jay wants to document it before it’s gone.

Flemings photos stand out alongside a lot of other wildlife photographers with a sense of true documentation rather than just capturing an image. There is a bit of action that comes from both the subject and Fleming himself, since he often is in a kayak or in the water, capturing his subject.

The fluidity of Fleming’s capture truly is attractive. Whether it’s a shot of a seasoned crab picker, an early morning watermen’s boat leaving the dock, or a sunset beside the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, you feel a sense of home in the photo. The organic nature and outdoor architecture shapes the frame. He captures what he finds interesting, and in turn, that interests a lot of people.

Fleming, by capturing the uniqueness of the Chesapeake Bay and its horizons, has been able to capture the true Chesapeake that many of us know and want to cherish for years to come.

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