Photographer working on project that documents local Gullah-Geechee people

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Photographer working on project that documents local Gullah-Geechee people

Published Sunday, November 25, 2012   |  543 Words  |  

Descendants of African slaves, the Gullah and Geechee people have always relied heavily on their land -- for food, to make money and to keep their traditions alive.

That land has been threatened by development for years. As property taxes increase, the people can no longer afford to keep their land. And the loss of land means the decline of a culture.

The plight of the Gullah and Geechee people caught the attention of photojournalist Pete Marovich, who spent many years living in Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island before moving to Washington, D.C. The 1979 Sheldon Academy graduate now freelances for McClatchy-Tribune Photo Service, covering the White House and Capitol Hill.

"When I was growing up in Beaufort, I was always kind of oblivious that the culture existed," he said. "It really wasn't on my radar as a separate culture."

Marovich said he did see the development going on but didn't make the connection that it was affecting another culture. When he moved back to the area as an adult, he started paying more attention and saw that people were being pushed off their land because of taxes.

"Because the Gullah-Geechee culture is so based on the land and the water that they live by, it's really affected them," he said. "Sure, they can go to Harris Teeter and get fresh seafood or down to Benny Hudson's, but it's not the same when you grew up being able to go down to the marsh and throw your cast net in the water and bring home dinner. That's obviously a lot less expensive to do than to actually go purchase it somewhere. And when you have all the private developments and the golf courses and everything else, their access, especially on Hilton Head, became more limited."

Marovich said he thinks a lot of people don't pay much attention to the issues the Gullah-Geechee communities face. He said developers are usually thinking about the environment and the people for whom they are building houses. They might not be thinking about the people who are being displaced by their developments.

Marovich began photographing the local group of people years ago as a way to document their culture and raise awareness of the issues they face. He tries to capture images of everyday life that are unique to the culture. Now he's working on a project he calls "Shadows of the Gullah." Marovich plans to come up with a collection of 20 to 30 images that he will frame and loan to Gullah-Geechee organizations and galleries for display.

So far he has taken photos on Hilton Head, Daufuskie and Sapelo islands.

He would like to spend more time in those spots, and also visit Charleston and St. Helena Island. And he might make a book out of the photos at some point.

"I decided that what I wanted to do was two-fold -- try to bring awareness to the situation and at the same time just try to document the culture as it is now, sort of a snapshot in time," Marovich said. "Hopefully the work can be used as an educational tool."