Jamaica Bay Guardian Don Riepe Showcases 40 Years of Photography

 Jamaica Bay Guardian Don Riepe Showcases  40 Years of Photography

By Kami-Leigh Agard

For over four decades, longtime Broad Channel resident Don Riepe has been majestically capturing rare moments in nature around Jamaica Bay, and for the past month, the Jamaica Bay Guardian and revered photographer’s work has been on display at the Red Wall Art Gallery at Resorts World NYC. And judging from the rave reviews of his exhibit, “Wildlife and Nature in New York City, 40 years of Photography by Don Riepe,” the passionate conservationist is certainly the don when it comes to illuminating the beauty of the wildlife that call the bay, home.

Originally from Ozone Park, Riepe first lived in Far Rockaway, before he planted permanent roots in his Broad Channel home, perched right on his beloved Jamaica Bay. As for how he developed interest in photographing the bay and its wildlife, Riepe said it began when he started working for the National Park Service (NPS). He shared, “I’ve always been interested in wildlife, and when I got my dream job working for NPS, I started to document through pictures the bay’s wildlife and habitats.”

Riepe has a master’s degree in Natural Resources Management from the University of New Hampshire. For 25 years, he worked for the NPS as a naturalist ranger and manager of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. In 1982, he founded the NY Chapter of the American Littoral Society (ALS) in Broad Channel. He said, “I was always interested in the ocean and coastal areas, and so when I learned about the ALS, I joined and eventually started a chapter here.”

Founded in 1961, the ALS promotes the study and conservation of marine life and habitat, protects the coast from harm, and empowers others to do the same. Their objective is not only to restore a dune or rebuild marshland, but also to motivate people to invest “sweat equity” into a piece of the coast, take ownership and become committed stewards.

Riepe certainly has invested “sweat equity” in Jamaica Bay, so much so, that in 2003, NYS awarded him the title, Jamaica Bay Guardian, which he describes as being a “bay keeper.”

“Being the bay keeper means that I work with all the organizations that have an interest in protecting, enhancing and restoring Jamaica Bay, its overall environment and wildlife,” he said.

Through his work with the ALS and as Jamaica Bay Guardian, Riepe has run countless conservation programs with schools, garden clubs, environmental groups and government agencies. A longtime member of the Port Authority’s Bird Hazard Task Force, he also serves on NYC Audubon’s board and is co-chair of the Jamaica Bay Task Force. He coordinated the annual International Coastal Cleanup for NYS, initiated the derelict boat removal program known as Jamaica Bay Clean Sweep and spearheaded countless community-based marsh restoration efforts.

As for how the exhibit happened at Resorts World, Riepe said it was purely accidental. “The ALS held a beach cleanup with Resorts World. During that time, I showed them some photographs and thought it was a good idea to host a little show. Then this year, they said, ‘Why don’t we do a big show in the big gallery on the second floor?’ So, I sent them about 85 photos, and here we are,” he said.

Riepe’s photographs have been published in Scientific American, National Wildlife, Audubon, Underwater Naturalist, Parade, The New York Times and The Rockaway Times. In fact, Riepe won the first-ever Rockaway Times photo contest and has been the second-place winner since then.

When asked about how he masterfully honed his art of nature photography, Riepe, who uses both a Canon 400mm lens and iPhone 13 Pro, boiled it down to practice, passion and patience.

He shared, “I worked at the Jamaica Bay Refuge for 25 years, so I’m very familiar with the whole area and its wildlife. So, part of it is being at the right place at the right time. Also, knowing a little bit about photography, like depth of field, maintaining a horizontal line and lighting. The cameras today are so sophisticated, they do everything for you, but you do have to capture the moment, which requires a little patience. When taking a photo, you have to look at it like a painting. Do you want the background in focus? You don’t want anything distracting in the background. Photography requires a good artistic sense of composition, and some of that cannot be taught. It’s just innate. You learn by looking.”

When asked about his style of photography, Riepe boiled it down to his preference for the juxtaposition of nature and city life. “I like to have buildings in the background or structures to show that it’s NYC, like for examples, the Freedom Tower or the Empire State Building. It makes the photograph very centric to nature in the city.”

Riepe also emphasized that Jamaica Bay’s open landscape makes taking photos of wildlife easier. He said, “Jamaica Bay is not like the Catskills or Adirondacks, where there’s so much vegetation, making it difficult to see anything. However, here with the bay’s vast, open landscape of water, complimented by the cityscape as a backdrop, it’s great to take photos of for example, a sunrise or sunset. Also, the coastal area is a big migratory route for a lot of birds. We get to see a lot here.”

With over 40 years under his belt photographing the bay and its inhabitants, Riepe has quite the arsenal of pictures, and for his Resorts World exhibit, he had the difficult task of selecting 85 photos that reflected the diversity of his subjects.

“I wanted to show the diversity of wildlife—whales, seals, birds, horseshoe crabs and more. So, I laid them out in different series. For example, some of the shore birds we put on one panel. Another panel was dedicated exclusively to my friend, ‘Edgar the egret,’ who frequently visits me on my dock,” Riepe said.

The last day to view “Wildlife and Nature in NYC, 40 years of Photography by Don Riepe,” at Resorts World Casino NYC’s Red Wall Art Gallery (110-00 Rockaway Blvd.) is Friday, September 8.

However, Riepe said due to popular demand, he’s hoping to get it up and running at another venue such as the Rockaway Artist Alliance building at Fort Tilden or the Queens Public Library. Also, he’s arranging to have some of the photos posted online.

Save the dates! Riepe invites the public to two Fall ALS events: Monarch Mania, a celebration of pollinators, happening on Saturday, September 23 at Bldg. 1, Fort Tilden; and the Fifth Annual Jamaica Bay Raptorama on Saturday, October 15 at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center (175-10 Cross Bay Blvd.). For more info about these events and Riepe’s exhibit, visit: www.littoralsociety.org or email: donriepe@gmail.com

Related post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *