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Photo Essay | Tom Schifanella’s hidden Jacksonville

Published on October 21, 2021 at 5:00 am

Introduction by Matthew Shaw | Photographs and captions by Tom Schifanella

Tom Schifanella has trained his lens on unique landscapes all over the world. Perhaps the Atlantic Beach-based photographer’s best-known image is of a woman immersed in the entrails of the Svínafellsjökull Glacier, a rapidly disappearing icecap in Iceland. The photo, which appeared in National Geographic and was featured in an exhibit at the 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference, was just one of many Schifanella has taken in exotic locales around the globe. 

Still, Schifanella remains intensely curious about the natural environs in and around his native Jacksonville — a place he describes as “a hidden gem” for nature photography. 

“I find Northeast Florida to be one of the most interesting landscapes in the world,” he says. “The variety is unique, with the beaches, Intracoastal [Waterway], upland forests and one of the largest urban park systems in the country. And it’s all within striking distance.” 

Schifanella is the first of three locally based photographers I picked for this series of photo essays simply titled Jacksonville Today. The assignment: show us what Jacksonville looks like through your lens.

Here’s what Tom came up with:

“For this photo assignment, I decided to use a vintage 1980s Hasselblad film camera to capture images of Jacksonville today. Having grown up here, many of these places are like old friends that I have visited many times. The analog process, requiring a slower, more thoughtful way of shooting, helped me to see our city in a fresh, new way as I focused on a side of Jacksonville that is often hidden from view.”

“Early morning view of the Spanish Pond trail at Theodore Roosevelt Area of the Timucuan Preserve. Spanning 600 acres along the estuaries of the St. Johns River, this is one of Jacksonville’s natural gems with several hiking trails, sweeping views from a series of bluffs overlooking the marsh and the remnants of ancient oyster middens left by the native people that once lived here.”
“Established in 2001, Cradle Creek is one of Jacksonville’s newer preserves. The 45 acre park is situated along the Intracoastal Waterway and offers a canopy of old-growth live oak, magnolia, and water oak trees.”
Fitzpatrick Plantation Ruins
“This single tabby wall in the isolated woods of Cedar Point, at the southern end of Black Hammock Island is all that remains of the plantation established by William Fitzpatrick in 1795. Enslaved people farmed the land here, and boiled salt from seawater to supply the Confederacy during the Civil War.”
“Did you know that Jacksonville has a waterfall? It’s at Bulls Bay Preserve on the Westside. The 1,200-acre park encompasses the wetlands of two tributaries of the St. Johns River, Cedar River and Six Mile Creek. This area was first settled in the 1820s and was once known as ‘Cracker Swamp.'”
“‘The Poles’ are the boundary of the Mayport Naval Base and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park in Atlantic Beach, Florida. The wide curving beach here attracts surfers and the park is a popular destination for hiking, biking and camping.”

About Tom Schifanella:

Tom Schifanella is a landscape, editorial and fine art photographer based in Atlantic Beach. He’s the author of the photo book Sacred Waters: A paddling guide to twelve of Florida’s wildest waterways. View more of his work at tomschifanella.com. Follow him on Instagram @tom.in.abf.


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