“Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”
Photography by Preston Gannaway
2015 Paul Conlan Prize Winner
Stricklands in Concord, GA
SlowExposures 2016, Sept. 15-18
Opening Reception: Friday, Sept. 16,
“Wildness is a necessity.” —John Muir
Seven and a half miles of beach stretch along the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in the Ocean View neighborhood of Norfolk, Virginia. There are few, if any, spots in Ocean View where one can actually see the Atlantic. It’s a place of inherent contradictions. Vulnerable to weather’s every whim, the connection to the natural world—even if not embraced—can’t be denied. Once a rowdy playground for sailors, the picturesque landscape was rampant with drugs and prostitution. Over the decades, it’s been a siren call for transients and misfits.
© Preston Gannaway, 2009
But low rent also provides a way out of the projects for working-class families. For them, the beach is free. And it’s always there. Ocean View is an area filled with pride, yet perpetually changing. Old cottages are being bulldozed to build million-dollar homes. “We’re gonna reclaim some of this property and make it what it should be,” said a woman who moved to the neighborhood’s affluent subdivision a few years ago. Competing desires are at the heart of this community.
Gentrification is far from egalitarian. Though lower crime is an obvious upside, other effects of the changing demographics are far murkier. They are, as the saying goes, somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea.
© Preston Gannaway, 2014
When I first moved to Ocean View in 2009, I found the beauty and complexity overwhelming and intoxicating. I felt compelled to photograph it. Having grown up in a homogenized part of the Old South, I’ve long been drawn to—and felt liberated by— difference.
I found the neighborhood’s imperfections attractive, and, perhaps more importantly, truthful. I hope the viewer recognizes these aspects common to all American communities. As a hairdresser here once put it to me, “A place so diverse must be forgiving.”
Preston Gannaway © Lexey Swall/GRAIN
Preston Gannaway (b. 1977) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning documentary and fine art photographer. For 15 years, she has focused on intimate stories about American families and marginalized communities while addressing themes such as gender identity, class and our relationship to the natural world.
Gannaway is best known for her long-term projects like Remember Me, which chronicled a family coping with a parent’s terminal illness and was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. Her work has also been honored by Pictures of the Year International, NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism, Critical Mass, American Photography and Communication Arts. She’s been supported by grants from the Chris Hondros Fund Award, The Documentary Project Fund, NPPA and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
Editorial clients include New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, ESPN, ProPublica, WIRED and AARP among others. Her first book, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, about the changing character of a seaside neighborhood along the Chesapeake Bay, was released in 2014.
Born and raised in North Carolina, she now lives in Oakland, California. Gannaway’s photographs are held in both public and private collections and have been exhibited around the world. She is a regular lecturer, often serving as guest faculty in educational workshops. She is a member of the photo collective GRAIN.