People of The Everglades

Dynamic wetland living, past and present

By Ephemera documentary

Angelo Chiacchio

Florida Keys (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The Everglades is a unique ecosystem with a rich cultural history. 
The natural diversity of this spectacular swamp is complemented by the diversity of people whose lifestyles and cultures developed there.

The ways of life that have evolved in the Everglades are no less fragile than the threatened environment. 

Street of Miami (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

In August 2018, photographer Angelo Chiacchio - in his journey to the world's most fragile places and cultures - visited various communities in South Florida with cultural ties to The Everglades 

Aerial landscape of the Fakahatchee Bay (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Until the end of the 19th century, Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida would regularly overflow during the rainy season.  Its waters traveled unobstructed through The Everglades and all the way down into the Gulf of Mexico.

Old lock in the Everglades (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

In order to expose more land for agriculture, the United States government drained parts of The Everglades.  Canals, locks and dams were built. The natural flow and currents were inevitably changed. The animals and plants throughout the region had to change too. 

A canal in teh Everglades (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Today, navigating through The Everglades requires the use of man-made canals and waterways that can take you all the way to the Florida Bay.

Deer In The Everglades (1966-08-01) by Lynn PelhamLIFE Photo Collection

Airboats are used to access the shallows, and have become the most popular and iconic means of transportation in The Everglades.

Key Largo docks (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The build-up of luxury homes and hotels started on the eastern coast. 

Fisherman in Key Largo (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The Florida Bay has long been seen as a strategic locale for the fishing industry. In Key Largo, fishermen are constantly offloading their catches and preparing lobster traps for the next round.

Portrat of fisherman in Key Largo (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This Cuban fisherman goes about his work in much the same manner as one would during Hemingway’s time in the Florida Keys.  

Aerial view of the Everglades before sunrise (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Even as modern projects transformed the wetlands, many locals took a more balanced approach to life on the ‘glades.

House in the Everglades (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Up in the north, some figured out how to build stable houses at the edge of the canals.

Portrait of Gladesman (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Keith was born a Gladesman, and was taught how to make his livelihood in The Everglades.  He learned to navigate the canals while accompanying his father on a small family boat. Their trips could last weeks - some even months.  Wherever they went, they would build temporary lodging and hunt and fish in near total isolation. 

Portraut of Gladesman and daughter (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Today, he is a single father raising his daughter, Bryanna, in the place where he grew up.  However, he notices that the birds he heard all throughout his childhood can no longer be heard.  

Miccosukee totem pole (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The Shark Valley is also home to locals with Native American heritage.  

Everglades 76' (1950/1960) by Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

The Miccosukee tribe migrated from Lower Chiaha (modern-day eastern Tennessee) in the early 18th century to escape the increasing numbers of European settlers staking a claim to their territory. 

Everglades 76' (1950/1960) by Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

They adapted their lifestyle to the intricate ecosystem of their new, adopted homeland. 

Portrait of Miccosukee man (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Today, the Miccosukee mostly live a modern lifestyle, but still find ways to preserve their heritage. 

Miccosukee man wrestling an alligator (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Some are skilled alligator wrestlers.  

Portrait of Miccosukee woman (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Others honor the past by lending their voices to calls for the preservation and conservation of The Everglades. Betty is a Miccosukee entrepreneur and environmentalist. 

She leads efforts to protect the Miccosukee reservation, located in the center of The Everglades, from agricultural pollutants in the water that flows from the north. 

Sunset over Florida Bay (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary


The Gladesmen and the Miccosukkee have made the most of life in The Everglades.  They’ve adapted to its seasonal shifts, and ever-changing water levels and wildlife population.
As climate change threatens the future of The Everglades, their lifestyles may hold the keys to adaptation and resilience.

Terra by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Partnership by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This story was created with the support of Art Works for Change, a nonprofit organization that creates contemporary art exhibitions and storytelling projects to address critical social and environmental issues.

Credits: Story

Written, shot and produced by Angelo Chiacchio
Copy editing: Al Grumet, Rajesh Fotedar

With the support of: Google Arts & Culture, Art Works for Change

Thanks to: Betty Ossiola, Keith Johnes, Miccosukee Indian Village

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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