Off the Grid

A glimpse into the world of watermen
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Smith Island fisherman scrapes for blue crabs in the shallow waters of Tangier Sound.

Smith Island fisherman scrapes for blue crabs in the shallow waters of Tangier Sound.

While shooting images around Chesapeake Bay for his first book, Working the Water, Annapolis-based photographer Jay Fleming developed a deep fascination with Tangier and Smith islands, and the people who live and work there.

Smith and Tangier are two of the last inhabited islands on the bay. Primarily accessible by private boat or commercial ferry, the islands are less than 20 miles from the mainland, and yet far off the grid. The inhabitants—who travel by boat and golf cart, rather than car—are isolated in a way most people can’t understand, Fleming says. “That’s what makes the place and the people so unique,” he says. “That isolation has shaped the way they live, and to me, there is something really special about that.”

His curiosity piqued, Fleming began compiling photos for his second book, which will explore the environment, culture and physical beauty of these unusual places. Island Life will portray the seasonal rhythms of Smith and Tangier, where most residents make a living from the water.

“They are out there every day, oystering or crabbing or fishing,” Fleming says. “The experience is so distant from what most of us know on a regular basis, with our access to modern technology. Theirs is a pure way of life that’s appealing to me.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue.