Chesapeake Quarterly
More Bay Photography
Skip Brown
Two skipjacks. Photograph, Skip Brown
Watermen on skipjacks sail out to the oyster grounds of Chesapeake Bay (above). Watermen haul up dredges full of oyster shells on skipjack working unter sail (two below). Photographs, Skip Brown
Oyster dredge. Photograph, Skip Brown

SKIP BROWN WAS STILL AN UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT at the University of Maryland in 1979 when he came looking for part-time work as a photographer with a new science program called Maryland Sea Grant. As the leader of the communications program, I decided to hire him because we had a darkroom and he had experience running one.

Better than his darkroom experience was his portfolio. It was skimpy on photojournalism, but strong on portraits and on fairly abstract art photography. And in nearly every shot he showed me, you could see an artist's eye at work: a compelling, almost formal sense of composition, a command of tones and shapes and lines of perspective. Based on that eye I hired young Brown, lent him my copy of Robert de Gast's book The Oystermen of the Chesapeake, and crossed my fingers when I sent him out to photograph scientists and watermen working the Chesapeake.

Oyster harvest on a skipjack. Photograph by Skip Brown

It may be coincidence, but Brown's best black-and-white photography on and around the oyster boats and crab boats of the Bay were soon resembling Robert de Gast's work. In retrospect, de Gast may be been influencing me more than Brown. After all, I was the one choosing which Skip Brown images to publish. And I tended to choose the de Gast look-alikes.

It turned out the student I hired was both genetically and geographically programmed for taking artful photographs of life around the Chesapeake Bay. One of his uncles, John Brown, taught the philosophy of art at the University of Maryland. Another, Dean Brown, was a professional photographer who did assignments for Time/Life Books. And Skip grew up in sight of the Bay. His childhood home on Grandview Island, a waterside enclave near Hampton, Virginia, included nearby views of a large salt marsh and distant vistas of large ships entering the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. He started early on watersports and outdoor photography.

A waterman taking a smoke break. Photograph by Skip Brown
Taking a smoke break from hauling dredges and culling oysters Photograph, Skip Brown

Brown worked part time for Maryland Sea Grant for several years, the black-and-white years when color printing was too expensive, and his artful work gave our early newsletters and magazines a distinctive look. Our first publication to win an award featured his photo essay focused on watermen dredging oysters from the deck of a skipjack under sail. We featured his work in publications, in prints that still line the hallway at the Sea Grant office, and in a photo exhibit at the University of Maryland Student Union.

An oysterman heads out of Smith Island on a patent tonging worksboat. Photograph by Skip Brown
An oysterman heads out of Smith Island on a patent tonging worksboat equipped with a hydraulic rig for scraping oysters off the bottom. Photograph, Skip Brown

As a professional photographer, Brown transitioned early on to color photography where he shot travel, adventure sports, and portraits for a variety of editorial, corporate, and advertising clients. With the ongoing evolution of imaging technology, he now produces professional and award-winning work with his Canon camera, his Go-Pro camera, and his iPhone. The Go-Pro in particular has helped him develop a specialty in what he calls "adrenaline sports," like hang gliding, whitewater kayaking, and most recently whitewater paddleboarding. His assignments have taken him around the world, including a photo shoot running the Grand Canyon and a National Geographic expedition with a team of pro kayakers who made the first-ever successful descent of the lower Congo River in Africa.

J. Court Stevenson, a marsh and seagrass ecologist, studies a map of seagrass beds. Photograph by Skip Brown
J. Court Stevenson, a marsh and seagrass ecologist, studies a map of seagrass beds. Photograph, Skip Brown

Brown's work with Sea Grant and the Chesapeake never ended. Since we began our new magazine, Chesapeake Quarterly 15 years ago, we have used him on frequent freelance assignments to photograph scientists, watermen, and Bay landscapes. He has contributed 14 iconic cover shots for the magazine.

Brown lives in Cabin John, Maryland, with his wife and three children, who often end up as subjects in his sports and nature shots. Many of his Chesapeake Bay photographs can be seen at www.art.com; just search for Skip Brown and Chesapeake Bay. His other work can be found in the National Geographic stock library and through his own web site at: www.skipbrownphotography.com.

The late George Krantz sorting oysters. Photograph by Skip Brown
The late George Krantz, biologist, sorts through a catch on an annual science survey of oyster reproduction in the Chesapeake. Photograph, Skip Brown
Two biologists sort through blue crabs. Photograph by Skip Brown
Two biologists sort through blue crabs on the annual winter survey of crab populations. Photograph, Skip Brown
Counting Blue Crabs in Winter, cover of Chesapeake Quarterly Volume 5, Number 4. Photograph, Skip Brown
Bay marsh, cover of Chesapeake Quarterly Volume 15, Number 2. Photograph, Skip Brown
Photographs, Skip Brown
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