In the northern Spring of 2017, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md. will open the very first exhibition to showcase the black-and-white Chesapeake-focused photography of Robert de Gast. This major exhibition, Robert de Gast’s Chesapeake, runs May 12, 2017 through April 2018, and features 80 photographs curated from the more than 10,000 by de Gast in CBMM’s collection.
De Gast’s black-and-white photography gained widespread attention with the publication of his book, The Oystermen of the Chesapeake, in 1970. Local author and writer for The Baltimore Sun Tom Horton wrote that de Gast “produced a work of genius, one of the finest books on the bay ever done. His black-and-white photographs captured the elemental nature of watermen and their work better than color ever could.”
Born in Holland, de Gast (1936–2016) immigrated to the United States with his family after World War II. He volunteered for the U.S. Army, which sent him to photography school. First stationed in Washington, D.C., de Gast ultimately settled in Annapolis, Md., where he briefly worked with American photographer Marion E. Warren before leaving to work as an independent photojournalist and commercial photographer. His work was published in Skipper, Popular Boating, US Naval Institute Proceedings, Sail, The Rudder, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, and Smithsonian from the 1960s to the 1980s. After The Oystermen, de Gast went on to publish The Lighthouses of Chesapeake Bay (1973) and a journal of a cruise, Western Wind, Eastern Shore: A Sailing Cruise around the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia (1975).
The works in the exhibition are principally drawn from these three books and his assignment photography for various periodicals. Although he never completed high school, de Gast showed a gift for writing that is reflected in his books’ essays as well as in later books of photography and prose.
Robert de Gast’s Chesapeake will include 80 matted and framed exhibition prints, shown in a manner that enhances the stark aesthetic, artistic perspective, and intimate familiarity of his work. While it is on show, CBMM is planning a wide range of accompanying programming, including a speaker’s series.
“I'm very excited for these exquisite photographs to emerge from CBMM’s collection for all to enjoy,” commented CBMM President Kristen Greenaway. “Robert de Gast’s work is exceptional in capturing the Chesapeake’s stories and quintessentially Eastern Shore sense of place through his keen eye and captivating photographic style.
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St Michaels, MD, USA 21663