Noted photographer, writer, and fly-fishing guide Jeffrey Cardenas will speak at The Custom House Museum on Thursday, January 14, from 6:00PM-7:00PM as part of Key West Art & Historical Society’s Distinguished Speaker Series. The 35 year Key West resident will present Saltwater—Seeing Art in the Natural World, a collection of images showing the work in progress of his new project documenting maritime landscapes. It will be followed by a Q & A discussion on the study of water and light.
Cardenas comes to the platform with many accolades: fly fishing guide of the year; single-handed ocean sailor; Pulitzer Prize nominee (for his series of articles about the Mariel Cuba Boatlift); and most recently, the first living American to exhibit in Cuba (in a major exhibition at Havana's acclaimed Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes). He has published three books— Marquesa: A Time & Place With Fish, Sea Level: Adventures of a Saltwater Angler, and Como lo vemos a Usted (How we see you), and his work has appeared in major publications including the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Time, Outside, and Playboy.
But his nature is humble—he would rather turn his focus to the environment around him. When asked for an action shot to help promote his talk at the Custom House Museum, he replied “I have 20,000 images in my Aperture file but only about four pictures of me.” We caught up with him just before his next trip to Cuba (where his paternal grandfather was born) to reveal his relationship to the island and the waters that surround it, his ocean wanderlust, and his lyrical observations on the beauty that is offered to us if we are willing to slow down enough to see it.
How long have you lived in Key West?
“I have lived in Key West for nearly 35 years. During that time there has been an incredible amount of change on the island but what has remained constant is the water that surrounds us. The designation of the National Wildlife Refuges and the Marine Sanctuary surrounding our island was one of the greatest gifts we could have given our future generations. I can still go out to the Marquesas and see parts of that wilderness that look like no human being has ever touched it.”
How has your background in photography, writing, & sailing shaped your perceptions of the world around you?
“Writing and photography continues to shape my perceptions of the world because in these two disciplines it is necessary to slow down and observe. It’s therapeutic. When I am thinking about business my entire posture changes, I feel tight and my eyes are focused downward. But when I have a camera in my hands, I see everything. I see the way the sunlight changes on the surface of the water. I see details and textures in the layers of clouds. The beauty around us is always there. We just have to remember to look at it.”
How has the island shaped you?
“I am born of the ocean. I feel the tidal change in my own body. I’ve tried living in other places but it just doesn’t work for me. Key West is my nucleus. Every so often my electrons go spinning out of control and I have to see a new landscape. Ultimately, that restlessness only adds perspective and appreciation for my life on this island. I return because I want to, but also because I have to.”
Do you care to mention your upcoming sailing adventures?
“One result of that restlessness is a calling to see remote ocean horizons. Some of the most memorable moments in my life have been in mid-ocean. When I was younger I sailed extensively, three times across the ocean including one transatlantic passage made alone in a small sloop. Now that I am 60, that window of opportunity will be closing soon and I’d like to see that mid-ocean landscape once more. I have an ocean-going boat under construction (slowly) and an itinerary that includes Key West to Panama, Tahiti, New Zealand, Bali, across the Indian Ocean to South Africa and back to Key West. God willing, the boat will be completed while I still have the ability to undertake such an arduous adventure. And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll always have Key West.”
The Distinguished Speaker Series is made possible in part by the Helmerich Trust, Key West Marriot Beachside Hotel, and the Florida Humanities Council. Tickets for the event can be purchased online at KWAHS.ORG/LEARN: $5 for members, $10 for non-members. For more information about this and other programs please contact Adele Williams, Director of Education, at 305-295-6616, ext. 106.