Sweetgrass basket weavers scrounge for materials in a Walmart parking lot in Mount Pleasant.Eddie Grant Jr. leans on the handle of a hoe while fancy, new homes sprout at the end of his collard row on Hilton Head Island.An airplane roars low over the steeple of St. James Baptist Church nearby.
Hungry gulls squawk at Diogenes Miller as the aged Rip Tide shrimp trawler chugs across Port Royal Sound. They are snapshots of life in the Lowcountry. But the eye behind the camera is focused on a bigger picture.
Photographer Pete Marovich of the Washington, D.C., area has worked for years to document the culture of African Americans living along the Atlantic coastline. He's done it between assignments at the White House, but his limited-edition, self-published book of black and white photographs is almost finished.
"Shadows of the Gullah Geechee" shows seldom-seen areas of Hilton Head, Daufuskie Island, St. Helena Island, Charleston County and Sapelo Island, Ga. He sees the Gullah culture that dates to the Lowcountry's era of slavery as threatened by today's society.
"I really wanted something that hopefully would give people down the road a living, historical record of the Gullah-Geechee culture now," he said. "But also something that will be educational."
Marovich's insights into the Gullah culture began as it does for many people: in blindness.
"I grew up in Beaufort," he said, "but when I was young, I never really paid attention to the Gullah as a culture. I knew them only as people whose language I could barely understand."
He went to Sheldon Academy while his father, also Pete Marovich, served as sergeant major in separate stints at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
His parents, Pete and Evelyn, retired in Beaufort and his father was security chief for many years at Windmill Harbour by the bridge to Hilton Head. Marovich photographed professional golf tours for a number of years, but came back to Beaufort County in 1991, and later became a photographer for the late Carolina Morning News.
"I remember distinctly riding down the main highway there and thinking, you know, from the days of slavery with the wealthy white people living on plantations and the African Americans, the Gullah, were still, many of them, doing the service jobs, cutting the lawns and all that kind of stuff in places that were all named ‘plantations,' " Marovich said.
"It's sort of the same, even though it's different," he thought.
He met Emory S. Campbell of Hilton Head on assignment and a long journey began.
Campbell, who became the first chairman of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission created by Congress in 2006, opened his eyes.
And many doors.
He also got guidance from Marquetta Goodwine of St. Helena Island, founder of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition.
Many of the photographs show the last remnants of an old, simple lifestyle when the Gullah were sustained by the land, waterways, churches, small schools and remote communities built around family.
"We tend to take things for granted," Campbell said. "Like somebody said, the culture is hidden before our eyes. But in this case, it's moving to another stage right before our eyes.
"So from that perspective, his work is going to be very important for this period of time."
Marovich is not the first "camera man" to come this way.
Julian "Camera Man" Dimock recorded the dirt-poor landscape not long after the Civil War.
Leigh Richmond Miner, photographer and teacher at Hampton Institute, left behind large-format images of life on the barrier islands in the same era.
Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, widow of the great tennis player Arthur Ashe, photographed life on Daufuskie Island. Her book was first published in 1982.
Teresa Bruce and Paul Keyserling of Beaufort created the 1997 video, "God's Gonna Trouble the Water."
This year, students and faculty of Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach produced a CD and booklet on St. Helena Island spirituals called "Gullah: The Voice of an Island."
In October, Butch and Carrie Hirsch of Hilton Head produced a documentary, "Hilton Head Back in the Day: Through the Eyes of the Gullah Elders."Marovich found the greatest conflicts to be land ownership and use of the land. The most consistent rub he found centered on access to old cemeteries as development swamps the Lowcountry.
He also found newcomers and Gullah elders working to preserve this unique slice of American life. "I think they're aware of the situation," Marovich said. "I think they're taking strides to make sure it is preserved and people know about it."
Campbell's hair is now white. He is retired. His children earned advanced degrees and have left home.
His life is a snapshot of the trials of the Gullah culture.
He explains it in typical Gullah fashion, in a tale laced with laughter.
"You know, I always tell the story about leaving here and going to Boston after college, and, oh, this place was rural in the 1960s. It was, oh Gosh, get out of Hilton Head!
"So I go to the big city and my sister who I went to stay with for a while lived in the midst of this high-density place called Dorchester, Mass., and I mean it was just hustling and bustling almost like Hilton Head is getting now.
"And the people who were in the city for a while were moving out to the suburbs and that was, oooh, you've got class if you could get a home in the suburbs.
"I met this guy, a Jewish guy, and we became friends and he said, ‘I'm going to take you out to my parents' place next weekend.' So we get in his car and we drove, and we drove and we drove. And I'm thinking, gee, it's going to be another city.
"I get to his parents' place and it looked like the Hilton Head I left. And I said, ‘Oh, my goodness. Is this where everybody is running to? This is what I left.' So I had a different perspective of where I came from.
"From that point on, I made an effort to save what we had. It was family, land and it looks just like what my friend's parents thought was paradise.
"Many of us cherished what we had and came back to it. Cherishing your neighbors, your family.
"Documenting that is important. And educating. And as a result of educating, people may have a different perspective of life and places — places that are dear to them."
Places in the fleeting shadows before our eyes.