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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Florida Explored

In his home state, John Moran found his true photographic love. He never tires of the visual possibilities and the varied wildlife and landscapes

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“Lunar Lupine.” Moran isn’t afraid to light up a scene. He carries a Pelican case of gear with him that weighs more than 100 pounds.
“Apart from the normal lineup of cameras and lenses from 10mm to 500mm,” Moran continues, “I use several flashes and a bunch of flashlights and a lot of light-modifying gear: reflectors and diffusers and grid spots and color gels and softboxes and umbrellas and light stands and booms and radio triggers and a custom-modified 25-foot TTL flash cord. Even without the long glass, my basic Pelican case—which I pretty much roll with me every time I go out to shoot—now weighs a shade over 100 pounds. I know this is nuts, but how I love my tools.”

Moran’s love of photo gear has led him to invent. His custom “Johnnypod” is a 16-foot ladder-cum-tripod, and it’s not only a neat toy to fiddle with in the workshop and backyard, but it makes a tremendous difference in perspective when he’s working far afield.

“I just love to create homemade solutions to problems,” he says. “Basically, it’s a giant tripod with a ladder substituting for one of the legs. I can strap the thing on the front of my canoe. I’m also able to fit this up on the deck of my motorboat and it’s really quite a dramatic perspective out there on the water. I can actually set my standard photography tripod on top of this rig, or clamp the camera on a Manfrotto Super Clamp on top or just stand up there and handhold it. It just makes a world of difference. I like to get high with my camera. Get high, get low, get wet, get dirty; I’m always varying my angle. It would be impossible for me to overstate the value of the ‘Johnnypod.’”

Realm of the gator.
The challenges of augmented lighting, alligators, equipment and technique may influence Moran’s photography, but there’s one uniquely Floridian challenge that keeps him up at night: He’s photographing a state in which commercial and residential development are encroaching on the natural world at an unsustainable pace. Because of that, he struggles with showing the natural Florida that one has to work to find rather than the disappearing Florida that’s impossible to avoid.

“It’s so daunting,” he says of the problem. “It really challenges my underlying sense of optimism. I’m somewhat self-conscious for Florida about photographers coming here from elsewhere and wanting to venture out and do daytrips in search of photographs. The thing that I point out to people is that the beauty of natural Florida is site-specific and light-specific, and you have to know where and when to go looking for the good stuff. It’s not like the Oregon coast that’s just non-stop gorgeous. It’s out there, but you’ve got to go scouting and you’ve got to be persistent and selective in your vision.

“I do have a little bit of a concern that people may get the impression, looking at my work, that Florida has this endless bounty of nature and that somehow the pace of development is compatible long-term with the well-being of natural Florida,” Moran continues. “It’s such a bummer to arrive at someplace new I’ve fantasized about for years, only to realize the developers or hurricanes got there first. In many ways, my work presents a fantasy view of idealized Florida—real pictures of an extraordinary place facing extraordinary pressures and changing quickly. I think to live in Florida with a sense of the past and concern for the future is to live at the confluence of hope and pessimism.


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