An Unflinching Look by Benjamin Dimmitt
A photographic essay spanning decades of environmental change
An Unflinching Look is an examination of a unique North American ecosystem in decline, investigated through eighty-five duotone photographs, scientific analysis, and critical interpretation. The project’s focus is the area of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s Gulf Coast and the history and fate of its wetlands.
Dimmitt began photographing in the salt-damaged sawgrass savannas and spring creeks there as a way of examining and reckoning with the ecosystem loss and of understanding what was becoming of his native Florida. He narrowed his focus to a small, remote area that he knows well and loves. Dimmitt’s intention in bearing witness to this loss has been to portray the ruined landscape with respect and beauty. To document the progress of the saltwater intrusion, Dimmitt has rephotographed landscapes that he first photographed more than forty years ago. His photographs reveal the impact of several factors that are causing the loss of an entire ecosystem: rising sea levels caused by global warming, excessive pumping from the underground aquifer, and the contamination of limited natural resources.
In addition to Dimmitt’s photographs, An Unflinching Look includes contributions from four other experts. Susan Cerulean—the author of several books about Florida’s natural environment—provides a foreword that tackles loss and the complicated water and environmental issues raised by the rising sea levels at Chassahowitzka. Matthew McCarthy—a graduate of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science and currently a research scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory—offers a scientific meditation on deforestation along Florida’s Gulf Coast using aerial photography to document the increasing saltwater intrusion over a seven-year period. Alison Nördstrom—an independent photography curator, scholar, and writer—offers her expert take on the photographic context for Dimmitt's breathtaking images. And Alexa Dilworth—a native Floridian who was the publishing director and senior editor at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University for more than twenty years—pens an afterword to the book, exploring her experience of natural Florida, the degradation of the state’s environment, and Dimmitt's photography. Additionally, distinguished photographer Emmet Gowin contributes a reflection on what is required of a photographer when photographing damaged landscapes.