The Conch Republic: A Cut-rate Paradise
On April 23rd of 1982, in response to the United States Border Patrol placing a federal blockade segregating the islands of the Florida Keys from the rest of Florida, and thus, the mainland United States, the residents of the region declared independence by seceding from the United States and baptizing the islands the Conch Republic. The rebellion, and the succeeding “mock secession” resulted in the people of the region identifying as both, citizens of the United States, and as citizens of the now symbolically independent Conch Republic.
As the southernmost region of the continental United States, Key West, as the final island of the cluster, and by all accounts the major city embodying the spirit of nonalignment and rebellion in the Keys, is a sort of Mecca for escapees: both in the sense of its actuality as a tourist destination and (perhaps more crucially) as a place to retire and spend the last of your days. Florida as a whole has long been known as an ideal place of retirement, and the bridges of the Florida Keys, concluding on the southernmost connected point of the United States, along with all of the misconceptions of the Keys as a tropical paradise, for me are a metaphor for the end of the road that is ever present, and perhaps even more pronounced in a region that seems to be designed around the concept of pushing that fear aside.
Traveling every two weeks alone along the 100 miles or so of bridges of the Keys, I felt upon myself a similar kind of isolation and loneliness that I encountered when I first drove down the islands years ago. I knew I wanted to present a portrait of both the landscape and the residents, and with my own solitary wandering as a filter of my experience, I encountered a paradise filled with trailer parks, drug abuse, homelessness, oversaturation of failing tourism, and the before mentioned fear of acknowledgment of the dimming light. Through my own sometimes pathetic propositioning of people in various locales, bars, and the streets, rarely knowing where I will sleep, I tried to gain access to a lesser seen element of the Florida Keys.