I’ll remember this photo as long as I live. It was the first photograph that really made an impact on my career as a photographer.
I took this photo in Awendaw, South Carolina when I was photographing a feature on the Intercoastal Waterway for South Carolina Wildlife Magazine. Awendaw at that time was nothing more than a sign at a crossroads on highway 17 leading north out of Charleston. My intern at the time lived in Charleston and he asked if he could assist me on my travels while completing this assignment. He also told me he knew of some friends who made their living crabbing and fishing along the waterway. Not knowing anyone who lived along the waterway; I certainly welcomed his assistance.
The afternoon before, Richard, my intern, introduced me to a man named Dave Fender. Dave was a burly young man around 30 years old who seemed a gentle soul. Dave lived along a dirt road in a trailer with his very pregnant wife who was expecting their first child at any moment. After speaking with Dave and arranging to photograph him pulling crab pots the next morning, I was leaving when Dave stated: “I’ll meet you in the morning at the dock as long as my wife isn’t going to the hospital. I agreed to meet Dave at 6:30 the next morning at the docks located at the end of his road.
A photographer should always arrive to an appointment early to scout out his locations. Arriving at the dock 6am the next morning, I saw a beautiful veil of fog lifting out of the water along the waterway. The sun was not yet above the horizon but I could tell that this morning was one of those mornings photographers cherish.. Fog has a way of giving a timeless, etherial look to any subject. The fog had softened the surrounding marshlands and one could barely see what was beyond the water. I remember hoping that Dave’s wife would not this morning have her baby and he would arrive soon. As the sun broke over the horizon the earliest golden rays shown through the fog, illuminating our location in a golden light that’s hard to describe. The dock we were launching from was nothing more than a picket-fence array of foundation posts and well-worn boards along the walkway. The posts created a silhouette against the sunrise and a person walking along that dock would surely top any expectations I expected from this assignment. Thirty minutes go by, and time was running out on the best window of light; and still no Dave. I assumed his wife was having her baby this morning. I figured Dave was on top of the world and that thought softened my disappointment somewhat. It was now about 6:50am and I was preparing to wrap up the session.
I had gotten a nice session of sunrise-fog photos and I was searching for another aspect of the situation when I heard noises from the road. A pickup truck was coming down the road and it was Dave! After parking, Dave gets out and apologizes for over- sleeping. Dave introduced his helper Fuzzy. One could tell Fuzzy probably drank a little too much and looked as if he had spent his entire life outdoors. His face was ruddy and lined. He looked to be 60 years old. As Dave and Fuzzy gathered their ropes, pots, and lunchpails, I climbed a slight hill and set up my camera for the photo I scouted out a few minutes earlier. I would be ready as Dave and Fuzzy walked down the dock to their boat. I remember telling myself to just wait, wait, until they got in the right position along the dock. When they approached the best position together, I pushed down my motor-drive button and got a series of photos as Dave and Fuzzy walking along the dock.
Water-men don’t waste time. Before I knew it I was the one who was late to the boat. It was time to pull the crab pots. I grabbed my bag and hustled along the dock taking care not to fall in. That dock was not in the best of shape. As the boat pulled away for the landing, I had a timeless moment within myself. I couldn’t hear a thing because I was so deep in thought. I remember thinking of what a unique moment I just witnessed and had the honor to photograph. It was the first time in my career feeling that experience. Those experiences are few and far between. The best photo along the dock was published as the cover of the magazine and later went on the be published in Print Magazine as an honored editorial photograph. I still wonder today what became of Dave and Fuzzy.