Documenting through photography the wildly disparate cultures and communities of Key West that tumble together in such close proximity.
Overview: At the southernmost tip of Florida, you’ll find Key West. This 2 by 4 mile island, while tiny, encompasses many worlds not easy to define. It’s not a Caribbean island isolated by miles of open water, but with its monuments to treasure hunters and feral roosters running free on the streets, Key West doesn’t feel like the rest of the U.S. either. My travels as a photo-documentarian have taken me around the world, but in no other place have I found such wildly disparate cultures and communities tumbled together in such a small area. My next project, “Changing Tides in Key West”, will take me to Key West for five months to document the complexities of this place that is unlike any other in the United States.
Why Key West? This is a place where everyone is from somewhere else, and has found a different reason for staying. Here, artists seek creative sanctuary, and celebrities find respite from the demands of fame. Alongside them live groups of hippies, fishermen, sailors, houseboat families, and bikers. There are “Conchs” who trace their families’ history on the island to the 1830s, and the Cuban community whose families came to Key West before the embargo of the ‘50s. These two groups have the unique perspective of multiple generations to tell the story of this island. Add to these the vibrantly active LGBT community, drug-runners, lobster poachers, and the swarms of pasty sunburnt tourists who come and go with the season, and you have a potent mix of communities all intimately mingled, going about their everyday lives on eight square miles of land.
Since the Spanish arrived in 1521 and named it Cayo Hueso, the “Bone Key” for it’s Native American battlegrounds, travelers and adventure seekers have been drawn to this place that still carries the legends of shipwrecks and pirates. Key West’s port still attracts people from all walks of life; tourist cruise ships and sailors on adventures come in and out with every tide.
Its location is part of what gives Key West it’s vibrant culture, but it also presents serious challenges. Merely 18 feet above sea level, Key West is vulnerable to climate change and hurricanes that threaten the island every year. With increased changes in this planet’s weather patterns, attention to these issues must become a priority. Similar to New Orleans, Key West possesses a unique and beautiful culture that should be better understood and protected. The island faces social changes as well. Whether it’s sanctions lifting in Cuba, weather patterns shifting, or changes in demographics, Key West life is changing and will change more in the years to come. Soon, Key West’s charm may become harder to access. I believe it’s important to document the unique blend of history, climate and people right now. I want my photographs to capture Key West as it is today.
Why Me? To me, photography provides a visceral and immediate way to convey the essence of an experience, place, or an encounter to others. It gives me a language that has allowed me to cross cultural boundaries around the world. I have recently returned from completing a yearlong Fulbright project in Calcutta, India. But this is more than just a project to me; I share a personal history with Key West, and the photographs I produce here will be a loving tribute to a place that was an integral part of my own coming-of-age. My travels to Key West are a constant source of inspiration to me as a photographer. I know Key West is so much more than what has been shown in the past. Rich with ideas, moments, growth, and challenges, today’s Key West is a buzzing microcosm of contradictions that should be documented as it is right now. I want to photograph the intimate everyday details of life on the island. Its unique history, climate, location and size have created a mix of people unlike anywhere else. Everyone here has a story to tell and, for me, that is the real treasure begging to be mined in Key West.
Details of the Project: “Changing Tides in Key West” will document every day of the five-month tourist season. I will immerse myself in this project to create a body of work that will culminate with an exhibit at “The Studios of Key West” at the end of the project. Your generous support for “Changing Tides in Key West” will allow me to create an intimate and comprehensive portrait of this very special place. The funds raised here will cover travel, production, printing, and framing costs. Once the exhibit is complete, I will use the images to apply for another grant to publish the Key West project in book form, complete with interviews and the stories of my subjects. I appreciate you considering an investment in my project. If this project sounds like something you would like to see completed, please give your support. Just a final note, Kickstarter requires that I reach the full fundraising goal in the allotted time or your funds will revert back to you, so if you like this project, pass the word on to your friends. Thanks so much for your help!
(Photographs by Alexandra Dietz. Video shot and edited by Anthony Rizzo.)
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