For those of you that frequent US 17 Coastal Highway, it’s obvious by now that I’ve neglected Florida horribly thus far. It hasn’t been intentional – I just haven’t been able to carve out enough time to go on the kind of road trip that Florida deserves. Because of family and work obligations, I spend much more of my time further north along the Highway 17 Corridor. So I was thrilled that Ronald Broome – ofFlorida Native Photography fame – agreed to do a Q&A with US 17, and to share a few of his wonderful photographs with us. I’ve followed his site for awhile now, and his work has made me realize just how much I have missed by not traveling down Highway 17 in Florida yet. A love ofOld Florida resonates in his images and in his words.
US 17: First, thank you for ‘talking’ with US 17 – and for sharing some of your photographs of the Highway 17 corridor in Florida with us. Let’s start by having you telling us a bit about yourself.
Ronald Broome: I was born in Live Oak and raised in Jacksonville a couple of miles from US 17 which was known as Roosevelt Blvd. I spent 4 years in the Air Force in Germany and then worked for the Department of Defense as a logistician for over 30 years. That career included a lot of moving and we lived in a number of states as well as Germany on two different occasions. I’m married to Jan Forrest, another Florida native, and have 2 grown children and 4 grandchildren. I’m now retired and live in the country in southern Marion county in the North Central area of the state.
US 17: When did you become interested in photography? Do you remember your first camera, and the first photograph that you took and thought “I like this!”?
Ronald Broome: I became interested in photography in 1969 while in Germany. I bought a used Zeiss Ikon 35mm rangefinder for $20.00. It had a fixed 35mm wide angle with manual exposure so I learned everything from scratch to include the fact that your feet make the best zoom lens. I’m still pretty good at estimating exposures based on what I learned back then and the old “sunny 16” rule and I highly recommend that anyone who wants to learn photography to move the dial to Manual and learn exposure first. I don’t remember the first photo but I really enjoyed street photography in the beginning. I still do but I’m not any good at it so I look at others who are. I shot a lot of old castles and churches and I’m still very interested in them. I later bought a Minolta SRT101 and a couple of lenses about a year later and have been hooked ever since. I bought my first Nikon in 1978 and have used them ever since. I still regret selling that Zeiss Ikon after I upgraded.
US 17: On your website, Florida Native Photography, you state that your focus is on photographing Old Florida. Could you share with us a bit about some of the remnants of Old Florida that you are documenting through your photography?
Ronald Broome: That’s a really hard thing to pin down. It’s easier to describe what it’s not and that is theme parks, strip malls, condominiums on the beach and the like. Florida is like two states, the coast lines and the interior. There is a lot more of Florida left in the interior than along the coast with a few exceptions such as Fernandina Beach and St. Augustine. I have a love/hate relationship with Florida’s beaches. I love them but I hate getting to them if you know what I mean. Old Florida is really about having a spiritual connection to the land and water. Native Floridian’s comprise about 20% of the population meaning that 80% are spiritually connected to some other place or sadly to no place at all. That’s why conservation in Florida is so difficult, many of the transplants (or carpetbaggers as I sometimes call them), would rather have a golf course than a wetland and God forbid there be an alligator or snake to disturb them.
US 17: If someone wanted to go on a road trip down Highway 17 in Florida, what places would you tell them to include on their ‘must see’ list – places that will help them experience a bit of the Old Florida that you photograph.
Ronald Broome: Highway 17 in Florida is not blessed with areas that allow the expansive marsh views like you find in Georgia and South Carolina so you have to look hard at what is here. I would recommend the drive from Palatka down to Deland. There are some great old towns such as Crescent City and Seville and a few of the old shells of 1800’s vintage homes and barns along the way. There is not an area of Florida where you will see these in large numbers so you have to be content with the few that remain. Check out some of the old cemeteries as well. I highly recommend exploring Highway 17 on foot as it runs through downtown Deland. If you are here in the winter you should check out Blue Spring state park as there are numerous manatees that spend the entire winter in the clear spring run to escape the cold water of the St Johns River.
US 17: If someone returned for a second visit, and had more time – where are the secret places that you might not know about unless you live there?
Ronald Broome: The drive from Kissimmee to Arcadia is very rural and is in the Florida cattle ranching region. The Kissimee Prairie is awesome and it’s only a short detour off of 17 to get to Corkscrew Swamp. Florida has always been a major beef producing state and still is. There are some interesting initiatives going on here to include a Greenway that runs the length of the state from the Everglades to the Okefenokee. A lot of that land is state and federal land but major segments are cattle ranches where the owners agree to keep their land as agricultural and open for the migratory wildlife, including the Florida panther and black bear, to roam. Wildlife and open landscapes would be the draw for the photographer on this drive.
US 17: I’m sure that you’ve had experiences where you have photographed a place, only to go back later to find that it is either gone, or no longer the same. Do you have examples of this that you could share with us?
Ronald Broome: I can’t recall any incidents along 17. I’m afraid the old souvenir shop that lies just on the Florida side of the St Mary’s River will be gone soon. That building photographs so well (see image at the top of the post). Most of the old Cracker houses I photograph have been slowly falling down for many years and I think they will just continue that slow demise without assistance from bulldozers. The developers have been slowed by the economy and are still largely tied up on the coastlines or in some of the major retirement communities that are still growing like a cancer.
US 17: So I have to ask – how much of Highway 17 have you driven down? Do you have a favorite section of Highway 17 in Florida or beyond, or a stretch of highway that you haven’t been on, that you have on your bucket list?
Ronald Broome: I have driven all of it in Florida with the exception of the last leg from Arcadia to Punta Gorda. My favorite stretch of 17 lies in Georgia, from Brunswick to Savanna with special emphasis on Darien and some of the smaller roads that hug the coastline. I’ve driven 17 as far north as Charleston and then again near the Great Dismal Swamp. I love swamps and coastal marshes and 17 offers many opportunities to see them. My bucket list is so full that I have no hopes of completing it. I add places faster than I mark them off.
A big thank you to Ronald Broome for sharing his vision of Old Florida with US 17. Please remember to check out his website, Florida Native Photography, and you can also find Florida Native Photography on Facebook. His photography is wonderful, and I need to fit in that Florida road trip soon (and so should you).