Loggerhead Key

A series of photographs taken during September 2016, when Carter and I lived completely alone in Loggerhead Key in the Dry Tortugas National Park for a month. We received this opportunity thanks to the National Parks Arts Foundation, who chose us for this residency. During that month we created two short films, and this photo series.

Writings are excerpts from the journal I kept during that month.

Photography by Paula Sprenger and Carter McCormick.

Watch the trailer of our short here.

Listen to the NPR story here.

Day 1

I woke up soon after sunrise. Yesterday was a long day, we moved around from 5 am to midnight and learned everything that there is to know about this island (technical things anyway) in the span of five hours. Yet, I woke up full of energy and ready to start this adventure. Once we were both awake we head straight to the RO (Reverse Osmosis) building to make water. When we were done with that we came back to the house and had breakfast, cereal and milk. After eating we finished cleaning the house and unpacking. It’s very homey now.

Once settled in we decided to go outside and explore the eastern side of the island. We tried spotting Little Africa, and we snorkeled in different areas. We found a cool man made object submerged not too far from the shore. There’s some coral and fish around it and we plan on filming that today, even though our oxygen tanks have not arrived yet, and it’ll probably be hard to film underwater without them. While walking around we saw a Nurse Shark, Carter attempted to swim next to it. -Note to self: sharks are more afraid of us than I am of them.

We came back to the house to eat. We had some suspicious chicken that had accidentally thawed on our way out here. For dessert we ate ginger cookies with manjar.

When we were ready to head out and film the submerged man made object we ran into a group of twenty year olds. We soon found out that they had arrived here on a boat and that they had been fishing most of their way here. They invited us to see their boat, and offered us a big bag of fish (later on they also gave us olive oil, we had left ours in the fridge in key west by mistake). Two reef sharks and a huge barracuda approached their boat while we were there, Carter swam and filmed both the sharks.

When they left we went out again and shot some photographs. We got hungry quickly and went back home to grill our new fish.

Day 13

Wow! Almost done with week 2, it’s unbelievable. We’ve done so much already. I can’t help but wonder how week 3 and 4 will be like.

We skipped breakfast and instead had rice with sausage. After eating we went out immediately to film underwater, we have spent a lot of time filming Little Africa and a reef we call Fighting Monkeys, so today we went shooting under the dock. We saw so many fish, including two barracuda and a bunch of needle-fish. The barracuda were hunting the little fish, there must have been millions of them swimming all together.


Today we also did laundry for the first time, it was pretty fun to do it and hang it all on the clothing line.


Eventually we left the dock because a boat came, and we had also been out there for longer than an hour, and we had told Dave (park ranger), that we’d be out in that amount of time. When we got home we chilled out pretty much until sunset. It’s almost impossible to film during the daytime because the sun is so harsh, which isn’t just hard on our bodies but also the cameras. The cameras can not register such intense contrast in the light. It has definitely been a logistical issue while here.

During our chill out time we saw five minutes of Independence Day (on the house's VHS player). Carter then read his book ‘Jaguar’, while I edited on the computer. We left the house to shoot the sunset and walked around shooting animals  that caught our eye, like lizards and birds. At night time Carter spent a lot of his time shooting the moon, it was almost full, so beautiful. We then went and walked on the beach, the moon was shining bright and we could see everything. We walked to the dock and got some shots of the ocean. We then decided to look for turtles. I have been wanting to see one so bad, and we see new turtles tracks almost everyday. We must have been only 20 ft away from the dock when we saw one little turtle making its way to the ocean. It was moving so fast we didn’t have time to photograph it. Still, under a full moon I saw a wild ocean turtle for the first time in my life. It was so small, so fragile, and in a such hurry. What a sight.

Oh! And I almost forgot. The most eventful part of the night. I was working out before showering (I finally got inspired to work out), and we heard a noise coming from the kitchen. We checked but there was nothing there, so we dismissed the noise. A few hours later we were in the kitchen again and as Carter moved his scuba gear a MOUSE came out from behind it. It’s face reminded me of Luna (our cat), it was grey and very cute. It scratched at the door, signaling “I want out”, smart mouse. We tried opening the door but got too close and it ran. We tried catching it but it ran again. This time however it ran straight out the door. Relief. Rats are so smart, it makes me so angry that they are treated so unkindly by humans. I get sad every time I see a trap or poison around the island.

Day 28

The last day. How strange it feels. My mind isn’t even ready to accept it. It’s 11 pm and we haven’t even packed.

We spent the morning diving in Little Africa, we saw a bunch of cool fish. It was clustered with them everywhere you turned. We saw a lot of hog fish, and Carter had a special encounter with one of them, who kept observing him the whole time he was filming it. Carter says you could see the intelligence of that fish in its eyes, just by the way it observed what he was doing. Right after our dive Melissa Block arrived to the island. We had lunch with her and then took her snorkeling to Little Africa. It was fun, I think she enjoyed all the fish. The water was murkier than in the morning (although still spectacularly clear).

After snorkeling we took her on a walk around the east side of the island. She was surprised by how much trash is washed ashore that side of the island and we talked about plastic and the world's irresponsibility with it while she recorded us. She has been recording us since she stepped out off the boat, it’s been really interesting to have your every word recorded. It’s actually kind of fun to have a conversation like that because you have to think about everything you say twice. While we were walking we saw Glenn (park ranger) walking on the dock, he had come to bring sheets to Melissa. We talked to him for a few minutes and then headed back home.

When we were home I cooked dinner, our last pieces of fish (courtesy of those people we met the second day). While I cooked, Carter and Melissa were outside. Carter recording the sunset, and Melissa recording sounds of the island. After dinner (and sunset) we all sat on the front porch and witnessed the most fantastic lightning storm. There were lightning bolts lighting up the sky every 10 seconds for hours, it was surreal. Melissa recorded us having a conversation while we watched it. After an hour or so we walked to the dock under the moonlight because Carter thought he had seen a rogue boat, we never found out what the boat was doing.

It’s so bizarre to leave so soon. To know that you’re experiencing your last dive, your last walk on the beach, your last night, your last meal in that kitchen. It’s very sad, because we don’t know when we may come back. We don’t even know if this island will be here when the ocean rises. I have conflicting feelings at the moment, I want to stay but also talk to my family as well. I had so much fun this month. I lived everything so consciously. I was so there, so in the moment. So many things happened it’s almost impossible to put it into words. I loved every second of this, and will cherish this experience forever.

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