Q: How would you describe your professional life?
A: In a nut-shell: Photographer/Publicist/Historic Shipwreck Professional.
Q: You’ve traveled in your life as a photographer, archaeological diver and many other areas, so where did you grow up and how’d it lead to such an eclectic life?
A: I was born on Long Island, New York; some of my earliest memories are of repeatedly listening to my dad’s Tom Lehrer albums, so that probably explains a lot. We moved to California when I was 8 years old, just in time to witness the Summer of Love. That moment in time – the beauty, the creativity, the freedom - embedded itself in my consciousness. I tend to think that is when the vital seed for my journey was planted.
Q: With all your travels, how did you settle in Key West? Has your wandering itch been scratched?
A: I came to Key West to work with sunken shipwrecks and their treasures. It seemed the next logical step from being a nightclub disc jockey and promotions director. Seriously though, it was a convergence. When I was a little girl, I was the kid with a camera in one hand and a transistor radio in the other. I was all about images, sound, and creating events. Produced my first fundraising event at age 10. Spent my teen years in Texas, going to high school and working in service industries. After high school I worked as a photographer, managed a custom photo lab, worked in live concert promotion, and as a disc jockey. In my late 20’s, having become fascinated with the saga of the Atocha shipwreck, I forced myself to overcome a long-time fear of water, learned to scuba dive, and attended a marine archaeological field school taught by some of the Key West Atocha shipwreck team in the Netherlands Antilles. We recovered amazing artifacts from a historic harbor, founded a museum, and I was hooked.
In 1992 I jumped on an opportunity to come to Key West to work with a company that was curating coins from the Atocha, planning a traveling exhibit, and in need of someone who could promote and direct a tour. Soon after I bought my first underwater photography equipment and the rest just unfolded in its own time. Over the years I absorbed a lot of information about 16th and 17th century shipwreck recovered coins, which became my specialty within the industry. Eventually I alternated between working on shipwreck search and recovery projects, curating shipwreck recovered coins, and researching and writing about shipwrecks and their artifacts.
Q: Okay, I’m looking at a woman who obviously has wanderlust driving her but have to wonder myself how did you end up advising the government of Mozambique on dividing up treasure?
A: The shipwreck exploration company Arqueonautas Worldwide has a contract with the government of the Republic of Mozambique. Whatever Arqueonautas discovers in that land’s territorial waters is split with the government. When it was time for division of treasures recovered from a 17th century Portuguese carrack, the Government of Mozambique required a neutral expert to ensure that coins truly representing ‘National Maritime Heritage’ would be properly identified and documented. This type of work is always fascinating, because you go in with a certain approach, with certain expectations, and then end up redesigning the methodology – everything - depending on the specific set of circumstances.
Q: Name some of the shipwreck exploration companies that you have provided services for.
A: Mel Fisher's Treasures, Odyssey Marine Exploration, Arqueonautas Worldwide, The Pilar Project, Ltd., Robcar S.A., Fathom Exploration, Old World Survey & Recovery, Inc., and Blue Water Ventures.
Q: Not that you need more in your life, but you’ve also done photography and publicity for other diverse people and organizations. How’d that come about?
A: I am a passionate believer in the power of writing dreams and goals on paper to coax them from the place of invisible ideas into physical reality. Back around 2001, done with touring the country, just back from a shipwreck project in Ecuador and at a crossroads in life, I set about describing on paper my ideal of a fulfilling professional life. The result was a vision that would allow me to intertwine components of photography, publicist services, research and writing, and work with historic sunken shipwrecks. I also felt a strong pull to become more integrated into the Key West community. I think I was longing for a nest. So, I spent a few years working in retail to make ends meet while establishing myself locally as a photographer and publicist. I met and moved in with my partner of 10 years, Michael Shields. We were adopted by a cat; then another. Today, a typical day might include working on an article about shipwreck recovered artifacts in the morning, writing a press release for a local business or arts event in the afternoon, and photographing anything from a wedding to pets in drag in the evening. Michael and I will often wrap up the day at an arts event, or he’ll cook us dinner. He doesn’t mind that I’m an absolute disaster in the kitchen.
Q: With a life full of so many interests, if you had to choose only one to do, what would it be?
A: Before I was anything else, I was a photographer, but now I can’t imagine a life separated from shipwrecks, treasure, and the amazing people who share in and pursue that dream.
Q: When did you go digital and do you prefer it over film?
A: Digital changed everything! As you know, the first good digital cameras were terrifically pricey, so I started with a nice little fixed lens Olympus point and shoot with manual features, allowing for some creative control. That was it. I hardly touched my film cameras after that. In 2006 I received a grant from The Anne McKee Artists Fund of the Florida Keys to assist with a photographic fine art project and exhibit. That’s when I broke out the Master Card and got my first high performance, large sensor camera. While film has its look and its own particular beauty, there are so many advantages to digital. Anything that can be accomplished creatively in a dark room, and so much more, can be accomplished with photo editing software. Plus, photographers working with digital tools don’t need to subject themselves to noxious photo lab chemicals.
Q: Are any of your photos on display in town or on your website?
A: Some of my fine art photographs are in private homes, and some in the photography area of my web site at KismetKeyWest.com.
Q: You been involved with and written books. Tell us about them.
A: I have a small book out, called Treasure Coins of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita, which answers the most frequently asked questions about silver coins from 1622 fleet shipwrecks. The little book is excerpted from a much larger ongoing project – still work-in-progress because it requires time away from the necessary pursuit of making money in order to write about it. I have a few shipwreck related articles out in the world; my favorite is called Stones of Green and Other Treasures—all about pre-Columbian jade and greenstone artifacts recovered from 1622 fleet vessels, and the meanings they held for the peoples of Mesoamerica. Researching and writing this article was a blast—an odyssey of inquiry that brought me into contact with some remarkable experts. And, I just finished final edits on a paper for Odyssey Marine Exploration that will appear in Oceans Odyssey 3, their next volume of scientific reports. This article is a study of coins recovered from the 400m deep Dry Tortugas shipwreck, another of the eight 1622 fleet vessels lost in the hurricane that destroyed the Atocha and Santa Margarita. Writing this paper was quite a departure from my usual style, because I had to write in a scientific voice – meaning I couldn’t describe a coin as “mind-blowingly beautiful.”
Q: What’s the most interesting aspect of Key West for you?
A: That it is a small, creative, and for the most part tolerant and compassionate community with multiple interacting tightly knit layers. In Key West you get to witness the impact of your contributions (for good or ill). If you make a decision to be useful to others, to participate in the community, you can jump right in in an immediate and hands-on way—volunteering with a humanitarian or arts organization, becoming a Take Stock in Children mentor—and actually see the results of your contributions as they flower.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: Hopefully “vertical and ventilating” (as my friend Watherwax would say), and living a meaningful life.
Q: Why did you get your Miata painted the way it is?
A: The paint job on our 20 year old Miata was looking pretty seedy. Sherry Sweet Tewel needed an editor for her book, Cosmo the Boat Cat. I edited Cosmo; Sherry outlined a mural on the Miata (not to mention the sanding and priming required beforehand!), and during the Mel Fisher Days street fair we collected donations for Wesley House Family Services from anyone wanting to paint an area of the mural. An unexpected benefit of the community car painting project is that now, with all the construction and bottle-necking going on in Key West, people laugh and smile when they see the Miata – and then let me merge into traffic.