In ‘An Unflinching Look,’ Benjamin Dimmitt Bears Witness to the Ecological Disaster of Florida’s Wetlands

Source Colossal  

“Dead palm in creek” (2021). All images © Benjamin Dimmitt, shared with permission

In one photo, dead palm leaves dangle from a desiccated trunk and skim the surface of a creek, making the crispy, lifeless fronds soggy with water. In another, a diptych highlights the same shoreline photographed 18 years apart, the latter sparse and sickly in comparison to its thriving predecessor.

Taken in stark black-and-white, these scenes are a few of many captured by Benjamin Dimmitt during the last three decades. They document the immense ecological changes of Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, approximately 70 miles north of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast, and are now compiled in a forthcoming book that approaches the climate crisis with raw, unwavering honesty.

Slated for release in September from the University of Georgia Press, An Unflinching Look: Elegy for Wetlands highlights how the region has undergone dramatic changes since the 2010s when saltwater began to infiltrate sources of fresh water due to rising sea levels, over-pumping the underground aquifer, and general contamination of the area. “As the climate crisis worsens, my photographs show wetlands that are no longer an ecosystem in transition but now a ruin, a nearly barren, treeless salt marsh,” Dimmitt tells Colossal of his more than three-decade project bearing witness to this destruction. “The only plants thriving now are grasses, salt-loving mangroves, and the toxic algae that has flourished with the increase of phosphates and other fertilizers in the aquifer.”


“View Downstream,” top (2004), bottom (2022)

Although he’s currently based in Asheville, Dimmitt is a Florida native, and his profound respect for the state’s ecosystems and desire to preserve its natural life is evident in his photos. While earlier images show broad swaths of land, today, he primarily focuses on what’s left of the salt-addled forests, zeroing in on the barren limbs and cracked, gnarled roots of downed trees. The images are poignant reminders of the life we’ve already lost due to the climate crisis and that, while much damage has already been done, there’s still more to save.

Pairing more than 90 photos with contributions from scientists and writers, the book is a broad-reaching examination of a damaged ecosystem. It also suggests that what’s happening in Florida is indicative of a much larger problem. “The coastal inundation at the Chassahowitzka is a bellwether for low-lying coasts everywhere,” Dimmitt says. “What I have photographed is happening all around the world. As our planet continues to become warmer, the glacial melting and rising seas will only worsen.”

An exhibition of An Unflinching Look will open the new Wild Space Gallery in St. Petersburg, Florida, for its inaugural show this October and also be on view at Asheville Art Museum in November. Dimmitt will be traveling the southeast U.S. for a book tour this fall, and you can find news about that on his site. Until then, An Unflinching Look: Elegy for Wetlands is available for pre-order.


“Late Sun, Blue Run” (2020)

“View Upstream,” top (2004), bottom (2022)

“Blue Ruin Still Life 2” (2020)

“Diagonal trees in creek” (2021)

“Lower Crawford Creek,” top (1988), bottom (2014)

Do stories and artists like this matter to you? Become a Colossal Member today and support independent arts publishing for as little as $5 per month. The article In ‘An Unflinching Look,’ Benjamin Dimmitt Bears Witness to the Ecological Disaster of Florida’s Wetlands appeared first on Colossal.

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