The magazine of the art-form of the photo-essay
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Nov 2013 back issue
by Medford Taylor
Although my career began as a photojournalist in the hurried world of newspapers, I have always been most drawn to
the quieter world of nature and water and regions where people live keenly and directly with the natural environment.
It is no wonder that Chincoteague Island took hold of me. This mere seven-mile sliver of National Widlife Refuge and
tranquil fishing village extends gracefully along Virginia's eastern shore. Life on the island revolves around the sea, an
abundance of nature and wildlife and the wild ponies that live among the saltwater marshes and dunes. Every
summer for well over eighty years the "saltwater cowboys" round up wild ponies on Assateague Island and move them
across the channel to Chincoteague Island where the foals are then auctioned. It is an event that draws spectators
from around the world, and inspired the classic book about Misty the Chincoteague pony.
These images of Chincoteague Island are steeped in island history, but also in a bit of my own history; this being one
of the last photo essays in which I used 35mm color film. Soon thereafter, I transitioned from film to digital, while also
beginning a steady departure from covering assignments for magazines and newspapers to exploring different, and
more personal, photographic avenues.
Since the publication of my book, Salt Water Cowboys, I have settled into perhaps my most fulfilling photography
chapter yet, that of giving expression to the natural world. Through motion, color, and light I aspire to represent
nature's perfection in its countless variations. The results of this quest have stretched me creatively and cleared the
way for possibilities that continue to show up. When staying close to home in Virginia, my attention is focused on the
macro world of bugs, the quiet rivers of Virginia's foothills, or even life in a Heron rookery that happens to be in the
center of Richmond. However, my most captivating project of late has spanned some five years---Monarch butterflies.
During multiple trips to Mexico, working alongside monarch experts, I have stood on truly sacred ground at the only
wintering site for the Monarchs in Michoacán, Mexico. Just as on Chincoteague Island, I was initially drawn to the
natural world; however, the direct relationship of the butterflies and the neighboring people soon became obvious.
Butterflies and people and their connection to the land were inextricable. The story of people, place, and nature once
again come together as one.
In a way I have come full circle. Through my photography, I have returned to my roots, to that inherent fondness for
the natural world and a simpler way of life.
The wild horses begin their annual swim from Assateague Island, across the channel, to Chincoteague Island.
Steven Liscum wrestles with a determined young colt on auction day at the annual ‘Chincoteague Pony Penning.’
Stallions accustomed to their own territory and herd of mares in the marshes, will fight other stallions when confined in
Ellis Savage holds this small but beautiful foal before a packed audience at the auction on the Chincoteague
fairgrounds. Proceeds from the sale of the foals goes to support the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Dept.
David Savage saddles up for the roundup on the first morning of 'Pony Penning' at his stable on Chincoteague.
After a rest from their swim across the channel from Assateague Island, the horses are driven through the streets of
Chincoteague to the fairgrounds where the auctioning of the young foals takes place the following day.
Huge crowds line the streets each year in July, to watch the horses being driven along the streets of Chincoteague to
the fairgrounds where the young foals will be auctioned the following day.
The mares and stallions swim back, after their foals are sold at auction, to live free in the salt marshes and on the
beaches of Assateague Island.
Walt Clark.......cowboy.......cockfighter......poacher.......US Marine.......a Chincoteague original......my friend till the end.
A whitetail deer charges past a flock of snow geese on Assateague National Wildlife Refuge.
A European Starling searches for insects in the mane of a wild horse on Assateague Island.
Sewell Thornton, Chincoteague waterman and his 'gull friend' emptying crab pots.
Bob Melvin...........Chincoteague waterman. Chincoteague is known for it's world class big sweet and salty oysters, as
well as the annual Pony Penning.
Dockside.......Chincoteague harbor and fishing boats at night.
Tom Clements, Chincoteague cowboy from North Carolina, at the roundup on Assateague Island.
Out of the morning mist, Chincoteague cowboys drive the herd of wild horses down the beach on Assateague island
during the annual ‘Pony Penning.’