Chesapeake photo becomes a stamp

Correction: The article misspelled the last name of WAMU radio host Kojo ­Nnamdi. It also misplaced the South River. It is in Maryland, not Virginia. This version has been corrected.

September 25, 2012

Cameron Davidson has been shooting aerial photos of the Chesapeake Bay since the late 1980s, so he knows the landscape as well as anyone with a camera and lens. Sometime in the early 1990s, when he spotted the shallow creek that winds through the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, he knew it would make a memorable image.

“I’m always drawn to curvy patterns I see in marshes,” he said. “The Blackwater — I keep going back to it.”

One of those dramatic green-and-blue photos, shot on film from a small plane, is going to be one of 15 stamps featured in a new U.S. Postal Service series called Earthscapes Forever. Some of the other stamps feature wilderness icebergs in Alaska, saltwater evaporation ponds in northern California, sawmill-bound log rafts in Idaho and a New York City skyscraper. Two were captured by NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite.

“We get 40,000 ideas for stamps and only about 2,000 make the cut,” said Mark Saunders, the Postal Service communications official. “He’s really the best of the best.”

Davidson, who has published his work in National Geographic, Vanity Fair, Audobon and Smithsonian magazines, is happy that his work will be used on envelopes going through the world’s mailboxes, but he’s most enthusiastic about raising awareness of the complex natural phenomenon called the Chesapeake watershed. The author of a 2011 book by that name (who also published some of the photos in The Washington Post magazine in 2009), he told local radio host Kojo Nnamdi last fall that his photos are “vignettes.”


One of the US Postal Service's Earthscapes winning image, by Cameron Davidson of Alexandria, Va. (Courtesy of USPS)

“You can’t shoot all of it at once. I wanted to show the little parts of the bay to make a greater whole,” he said then.

From the deck of a sailboat on Virginia’s South River at the southern end of the Chesapeake watershed, the Alexandria-based Davidson on Tuesday talked about the impact of New York and West Virginia land use on the rich ecosystem that many residents consider a summer playground.

“All these little creeks, all these towns are part of the Chesapeake Bay,” Davidson said. “I’ve had people say to me ‘I didn’t know the Susquehanna was part of the Bay.’ ”

The stamps in the series will be issued Oct. 1 at NASA Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt during a 10:30 a.m. ceremony, which will be open to the public. Davidson will talk about how he shot his photo. NASA officials also will talk about their images in the collection, a view of the Mount St. Helens volcanic crater and Kansas croplands with center-pivot irrigation.

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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