Arts & Culture

Gull’s-Eye View

A photographer offers rare perspective on the beauty and fragility of the South Carolina coast

Known for his arresting, almost impressionistic aerial images, the South Carolina–born photographer and conservationist J Henry Fair spent years traveling the world to document industrial waste and pollution. But for his latest project, he turned his lens toward his home state. Hanging out of the window of a Cessna 172, he set out to convey the beauty of the South Carolina coast as few have seen it. And he hopes those perspectives will inspire others to care about its future as much as he does. “I’m a Charleston boy, and I love the water,” Fair says. “And if you really love something, you want to save it.”

From his sky-high perch, he snapped inspiring scenes of the Combahee River cutting long lazy curves and impossible loops into the wetlands of the ACE Basin, one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the East Coast, and of powerful winds dancing across the deep blue water of Winyah Bay. But he also captured less pristine views, as in his shot of dense cookie-cutter clusters of pastel-hued shoreline condos in a Myrtle Beach housing development. A selection of his large-scale coastal aerials will go on display this summer in a new exhibition at the Columbia Museum of Art, Eyes on the Edge: J Henry Fair Photographs the Carolina Coast (August 19–October 23). And he isn’t stopping with the Palmetto State. A larger coasts-of-America project is already under way. So far, Fair has completed all of the Texas and Alabama shorelines, much of Louisiana’s, various stretches of New England’s, and a good chunk of the Great Lakes’. Two photo books on the series are forthcoming.

“I want people to look at my work and say, ‘My God, how beautiful,’” Fair says, “and in the next breath, ‘Are we really protecting it?’”