It is with absolute joy that I am finally able to announce the release of 'Saints of Old Florida', a coastal lifestyle book curated and written by my dear Floridian friends - Melissa Farrel, Christina McDermot and Emily Raffled.
I am so proud to say that I photographed this book. And after an impatient year and a half wait, this hard backed, linen bound, gold embossed beauty has finally arrived. All 252 pages worth. Inside the book you'll find five unique chapters, each sharing timeless stories, recipes and pictures from five small coastal towns on the Gulf Coast - St Joseph, St Vincent, St George, St Theresa and St Marks.
Because I am so excited for the books release, I wanted to give you a little preview as to what the book entails. As you scroll through below, you can see a collection of my favourite photos from our time shooting the book. Some you'll find inside the covers, others are outtakes from the four wonderful weeks we spent on location. Along with the photos, I also wanted to share a couple of personal stories with you, too. Firstly of how this Australian girl, temporarily living in Jacksonville Florida, came to get this incredible gig (I think it's an unlikely and fun story to tell) and secondly, a little excerpt from a story that I was asked to write for the book.
Oh, I do hope you enjoy!
Happy release birthday Saints of Old Florida!
A stroke of luck story - How I got the gig.
I received an email from a lady who had recently seen my work and weekly article in Jacksonville Magazine. 'I would love to meet you Lean', it read. 'Would you like to meet up for coffee?’. It was the first time I had ever received an email from someone who liked my work and wanted to meet. Of course I said yes.
Suzannah and I spoke photographs and florida over cups of coffee and tea. ‘You have to come and visit my family home’, Suzannah said. ‘It is a converted lighthouse on Port St Joe bay and in just a couple of weeks it is the annual scallop festival. My dad is a fisherman and can take us all out on his boat to go scalloping on the bay. It’s a really special part of Florida. You and your family would be so welcome’.
Two weeks later, my mum and step dad were visiting from Australia. We packed up the Jeep and headed west. We drove for four short hours, first on the I10 and then along rural back roads of the Panhandle to end up in Port St Joe, at the Raffields house, the one with the lighthouse on top.
Just before we arrived, we received a phone call from Suzannah. ‘I’m so sorry Lean. But my car has broken down and I'm stuck on the I10. I’ve organised someone to come and pick me up, but it means that I will miss out on going scalloping with you. Don’t worry though, dad is there and waiting and would still love to take you out’.
This could go either way, I thought. We are rocking up at a complete strangers house in an unfamiliar town about to commit to an afternoon on the bay in a fishing boat. Who were these people that we so willing to host us for the afternoon? Wasn't this a strange situation to be putting ourselves and them in?
As it turned out, Danny Raffled was waiting and ready for us when we arrived at his light house home. In a thick southern accent, he warmly welcomed us, joked with us about being Australian and before we knew it we were carrying coolers and nets onto his sweet little fishing boat, JoAnne. With him was his daughter and Suzannah’s sister, Emily. We headed out on the water with Danny pointing out skipping mullet and Emily sharing stories with us about the bay. These people, I rethought, are the epitome of that southern hospitality that I had been hearing so much about.
‘Lean’, Emily said above the hum off the boat motor and through the whipping bay wind, ‘Suzannah told me about your photography.’ ‘Yes’ I replied back, ‘I’m fairly new to it, but I love documenting and everything about taking photos so far’. ‘Well', Emily replied, 'my two friends and I have decided to make a book on the lifestyle of the local area and surrounding coastal towns. We are looking for a photographer to photograph our book. Would you be interested?’.
I didn’t know the right thing to say, this was again the first time I had been asked this sort of question. I very quickly spoke up and said ‘Yes! Of course I would be interested! I will do it! For free!!’.
Despite my wild enthusiasm, I thankfully didn't scare Emily or the other ladies off. And, as was insisted, I didn't do it for free. The next year and half became the most exhilarating, educational and creatively fulfilling career journey that I had ever experienced. I came back to Port St Joe four more times to photograph Emily, Melissa and Christina’s book. Three times that winter and once again the following summer.
BOOK EXCERPT - LAST WORD
Special Place by Lean Timms
It takes a special place to make foreign blood feel instantly at home. To turn you swiftly from feeling like a stranger, to feeling welcomed, connected and relaxed. Often a place like this is unexpected, incomparable and full of endless treasure. Most times, overflowing with a rare type of generous people.
...Oyster months. Citrus months. Grapefruit for breakfast and oyster roasts for supper. Crab legs, tupelo honey and smoked mullet dip served somewhere in-between. So much that was new and strange to me. Prawns were shrimp, frypans were skillets, scones were biscuits and gah-lee replaced all curse words. There were beach bonfires with their flying stoked embers and a pot of pompano stew bubbling a top. There were days of foggy beaches, pouring sporadic rain, boat rides on springs, alligators, palmetto palms and porch swings. I learned the beauty and hospitality of many an Old Florida home, how to clean snapper, eat fried oysters for lunch, drive a Jeep on the beach, and what it means to cook buttermilk pancakes on the griddle. And then there were the people. I had never met more generous, kind and genuine people.
This hidden pocket of Florida and this way of life had opened my eyes to a whole new world - a world full of honest, admirable culture and real, endless treasure. It is a place of a slower, more considered lifestyle. Where traditions are valued, food is often foraged, meal times are shared, strangers are welcomed, and long summer evenings spent shucking oysters on porches hugged by palm trees are normal. Each visit was always so nourishing and never quite long enough.
...I’ll always feel indebted to the kind people of this area for inviting me into their bighearted community and letting me photograph their Old Florida stories. From my first boat ride on the bay to my last time shucking oysters on the porch, I’ll always think back and feel a piece of home here. No matter how foreign my blood or how many kilometres, oceans or time zones away.
Although I have tried with the above stories, there really are not enough words for how thankful I am for the small part I was able to play during the creation of the Saints of Old Florida book. I stumble to share my experience with anyone who asks. Every visit, every moment was so good that when trying to explain my experience, the words just get stuck in my heart and all I do is feel a great sense of warmth, adoration and gratitude. Exactly the feels you get when you open and read through this book.
My stories are but a drop in the ocean when it comes to the incredible vision, journey and creation of this book. There is just so much more to be read and felt among the pages of each chapter. I can only urge that if you are interested in coastal lifestyle, southern recipes and getting to know the cultural, historical and community vibe of a truly special area, do pick yourself up a copy of this book. You can do so here.
We also have one copy to GIVEAWAY!
Melissa, Christina and Emily have kindly gifted one Saints of Old Florida book to send to one lucky duck. If you would like to enter and live State side, please leave a comment below telling us why you would like to get your hands on a copy of this book. Winners will be announced next Saturday, 18th June. Good luck!
EDIT - We have a winner! CONGRATULATIONS to Loran Polder! Thank you all for your entires and comments. Your stories were all so appreciated - we loved reading every one of them. We hope that you all get to enjoy the pages of the Saints of Old Florida book soon.
Thank you so much, ya'll. Happy reading.