Changing Tides in Key West

At the very tip of the Florida Keys lies Key West, a real life Never Land known mostly as a tourist destination. But who lives on Key West? This tiny island of only eight square miles is a fascinating enclave of wildly disparate cultures and communities tumbled together in pressed proximity. Here, sailors and fisherman, Caribbean immigrants, hippies and artists, drag queens and strippers, poachers and smugglers, long established Key West families and affluent retirees cope with swarms of sunburned tourists and college students that come and go with the seasons. Nothing can be taken for granted in this place where millionaires look like bums, straight husbands dress as women, and a man slathered in oil wearing only a neon sock turns out to be one of the best pilots for bush hunting in Alaska! Key West is a place of contradictions, where escapist hedonism and inescapable poverty exist side by side.

I returned to this place that was an integral part of my own coming of age to document this time while the island community exists in a transient limbo. Over the last nine months the people here have let me into their lives and shared their concerns about new challenges facing Key West. Caribbean and mainlander immigration and the uncomfortable realities of rising sea levels are testing long-held island hierarchies and traditions. There is no doubt that Key West faces unpredictable change. These photographs capture a balance among many diverse peoples before the tides shift, and the moment is lost.

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