Georgia in July is HOT. I mean, really hot. It’s the kind of hot people like me from Pennsylvania don’t even know. The kind of hot where you step outside and you just immediately sweat–and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re just wet and salty. And there are mosquitos. So many mosquitos. They ate me alive. My legs were reminiscent of a crime scene straight out of an episode of Criminal Minds. I guess I have what people call “sweet blood.” Folks there would look at my legs and say, “OOF! Have you tried *any number of bug repellents*?” or, “Yes, ma’am. I see you’ve discovered our Georgia State Bird.” (Yes, the “bird” is referring to the damn mosquitos.) But in spite of the sweltering heat and all the damn bugs, I loved being in Darien–a small town of about 2,000 people in Southern Coastal Georgia. I was there to attend a photojournalism workshop hosted by Collective Quarterly and, almost as soon as my feet hit the ground, I was graciously invited into peoples’ homes, to their pool parties, their neighborhood bars, to church, onto their boats, etc. and I am thankful for the things I learned, the kindness of those who are no longer strangers, the food we shared, and the wine we drank. Oh, and I am especially thankful for all the tequila I drank with Martha on her porch and the beautiful summer nights in Tolomato Island.
Revisiting my experiences from the workshop months later has been edifying. I have been able to think a bit more critically about what I learned and what I need to work on while creating stories in the future. I know that I am privileged to have these opportunities. I feel at peace with acknowledging my shortcomings, correcting my bad habits, and allowing others to affirm my strengths and encourage me. I was challenged, for sure, but more importantly, I feel exponentially more so prepared to critically look at my own work without feeling like I’ve hit a wall with every project.
I’d like to thank Jesse Lenz, Seth Putnam, and the rest of the team at Collective Quarterly for taking the time to organize these workshops and bringing all of us together. Thank you for choosing to be people who curate spaces where we can all learn and feel encouraged and nurtured. Thank you for publishing my photo of Martha in the Golden Isles issue. Thank you to my photo editors, Benjamin Rasmussen and Judith Puckett-Rinella, for guiding me, letting me know that I am enough, and that my heart is a valuable resource. Thank you, specifically to Ben, for establishing what I need to work on while captioning… even if all of that information didn’t materialize in this project, your words were exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you to Rita, my workshop roomie, for almost instantly becoming my friend. You are a light. And thank you to all of the other speakers, photo editors, photographers, and to all the sweet humans that we met in Darien. I feel like a very lucky Dani Fresh.
Photo by Rita Kovtun.
Portraits from Darien, GA. July, 2017.
“If you stop in a place and just take the time to talk to people and care—people just want to be cared for… and no one does that anymore,” Martha said one night while having dinner with friends at Skippers Fish Camp.
She and her husband, Maurice, moved into a historic house up near Tolomato Island on October 31, 1992. “It was a full moon with an appropriate owl just outside the window that night.” Mrs. Garnett, the woman that previously owned the house lost her husband in 1924 and lived in the house alone until she passed in 1960. In the interim, it was a “vacation house” for Martha’s family. “She used to chloroform herself to sleep every night,” she says of Mrs. Garnett. The bottle is still on a shelf in the kitchen. Martha now lives in the house alone.
Pastor George is the pastor at the First African Baptist Church. It will be 195 years old this December. They have service every 2nd and 4th Sunday. He also makes a mean rack of ribs.
“I was homeschooled. It was really hard because I loved being around people… I had to learn how to be alone.” Joscelyn has lived in Darien since she was 9 years old and began homeschooling in the middle of the 3rd grade. She is frank about her struggle with depression and anxiety.
Sister Ophelia is a member of the congregation at the First African Baptist Church and performs with the Gullah-Geechee Shouters. “We’re performing in Savannah tomorrow!” She is very persistent about Darien’s story being told accurately. “My mother-in-law, Sister Margie B Washington. She’s an encyclopedia about Darien.”
Dee and her husband, George, just built their house in Tolomato Island. She is a waitress during the day at Blue Bay Mexican Restaurant. “We really love it here.” She lists numerous locals that they have become close with including a number of shrimpers. “Really, really wonderful, salt-of-the-earth people,” she repeats.
Lime and his wife, Toni also live in Tolomato Island. They have lived there since 2009. He urgently created a 2-page outline on why, “Darien is so incredible!” Originally, Lime is from England and Toni is from Columbus, Ohio. They have an antique tray with a faded photo of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip on it. He brings her tea on the tray every morning.
And here is the essential document:
“I hate Spanish moss. It’s messy.” Mario said with a grimace. He and his wife, Joanne, are originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He cuts Martha’s grass.
John Wayne Anderson has lived in Darien his whole life. He’s also been a shrimper his whole life. He speaks soft and is astonishingly polite. He says, “Yes, ma’am,” with a subtle head bow.
Bobby and Gina both graduated in 2002 from the same high school. “It’s just home, “ Bobby explains why he still lives in Darien.
Brother Abraham grew up in Darien and moved back after living all over the US working construction on bridges. “It’s fine here,” he shrugs. Once a year, he escapes to the Gulf Coast of Florida for a few days to watch the sunset.
Rob and his wife Anita live in the condos by the water near Skippers Fish Camp. They split their time between their house located in the mountains of Georgia and Darien. There is an alligator that follows their Boykin Spaniel, Trout, along the dock every time they board their boat.
Melanie is a ‘life of the party.’ “Sit down and talk to us,” she winks.