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Photographer documents Georgia barrier islands
“I’m trying to get them to look like paintings,” says Jill Stuckey

I’M GOING to write something terrible about Georgia’s wonderful barrier islands. It might get me some mean looks here and there. It’s not even true. How about truthy?

Our dear islands, at least the more natural and remote ones, aren’t very colorful. Tybee, yes. But Wassaw, Ossabaw, Blackbeard, etc.? Woodsy, sandy, green, blue or brown.

It takes a true artist to pull color out of our landscape. And photographer Jill Stuckey is a true artist indeed because she does it without paint, brushes or canvass.

The instruments of her rainbow are a camera and computer. “I mess with them,” she says of her photos, recently published in a book, “Ossabaw Island: A Sense of Place.”

“I’m trying to get them to look like paintings.” So she takes several photos of a place, in this case, a state heritage preserve saved from development, in different light.

And she smashes these images together using software to render a masterful mix of art and reality that the eye doesn’t really see. It’s called high dynamic range photography.

“A friend of mine from Australia turned me onto it,” she says of the technique, rich in history and complex in execution. “I love deep rich, colors.”

Stuckey turns an ordinary sea shell into a flame of red and blue. She turns plain grass into a living creature. She beams the marsh into an alternate universe.

It’s like when the farmhouse crashes in the Land of Oz and you see things like you’ve never seen them before. Only Ossabaw doesn’t have lions and tigers and bears.

“It’s hard to get the donkeys and the dogs and the other animals to remain still,” she says. “For high dynamic range, you need about 20 seconds of stillness.”

“Ossabaw Island: A Sense of Place” beautifully captures the island’s wildness and calm, things that make it so special. But I can’t write about island color without Roger Parker.

The book’s other subject, Stuckey’s boyfriend, Parker is known as Georgia’s “saltwater cowboy,” a man who has worked on the island for 65 years. You know he has stories!

“I always felt like the island belonged to me,” he says. “I looked after everything.” An island caretaker, he killed deer, trapped hogs, built fences, herded cattle and fixed roads.

He lived in a small cabin, birthed donkeys, cleaned up after horses, repaired cars and waited for a weekly boat to come with groceries from the mainland.

As hard as island caretaking sounds, Parker doesn’t have anything bad to say about remote island living, except for occasionally running out of dairy products.

“I didn’t like milking no cow, uh uh,” he says, noting the taste of raw milk and the bovine temperament. “By the time you get it half full, she’ll put her foot up and step in it.”

Parker started working for the Torrey family in 1951 when the island was private. When Sandy Torrey West sold it to the state for conservation in 1978, he worked for the state.

He retired when he couldn’t do it anymore, physically. But he still gets back any time he can. “Anybody that worked on Ossabaw Island couldn’t say that they didn’t enjoy it.”

Jill met Roger when she came to the island as part of her career in rural development. She helped to get electricity to the island, obviating the need for gas-by-barge for generators.

The couple’s book, co-written by Evan Kutzler and featuring a forward by Jimmy Carter, a close friend of Jill’s, paints the island in brilliant colors, artistically and culturally.

It’s available at The Book Lady and E Shaver booksellers.