Art

Miami Photographer Documents Decades of Vehicles Abandoned in Everglades

As a historical preservationist and native Floridian who loves the Everglades, Matt Stock had always wanted to find a unique way to use his work as a fine art photographer to capture one of America's most singular places. Then he met Charles J. Kropke, a longtime Everglades explorer and adventurer, who had a crazy idea: hunting down the untold number of bizarre vehicles abandoned to waste away in the swamps.

That's exactly what the pair has spent the last year doing. Starting with rumors and sightings from Gladesmen, environmentalists, and hunters and using clues from satellite photos, Stock and Kropke found everything from rusted-out '30s cars to a VW Bus to a long-lost airplane crash site.

"So many times I would end up asking myself, 'What the hell is this doing here?'" Stock says. "Most of the backstories of these vehicles are still pretty mysterious."

The result of their collaboration can be seen starting tonight at the Biltmore Hotel, which will display dozens of Stock's photos — and even a pair of old vehicles rescued from the River of Grass. In all, the project paints a vivid and odd picture of the decades of adventurers who tried to explore and conquer the Everglades, many of whom saw their plans swamped by the environment.Stock, who is 35, grew up in Plantation and studied at the University of Miami before launching his photography practice. He works with elaborate lighting rigs to document his subjects at night. Kropke, who runs Dragonfly Expeditions and has collaborated on documentaries about the Everglades, realized the technique would be a perfect fit for his longtime dreams of photographing vehicles left around the Glades.


The pair collected intel from anyone who spends time in the Everglades — airboat owners, hunters, scientists. Stock was amazed at regular Glades explorers' ability to find long-lost relics in the marshes.

"It's always kind of miraculous because these Gladesmen know exactly where to find these things in places where, if you were off by even ten feet, you'd never see them in that environment," he says.

Stock hauled his light rigs out for shoots, braving mosquito swarms and sunburns to shoot in feet of water. The pair found a remarkable variety of vehicles: from 1920s-era tractors to a 1937 four-door Chevy sedan to a "walking dredge," a huge, antiquated piece of machinery used by workers digging trenches to fill in land for the Tamiami Trail.
They even found a submerged 1960s-era small plane crash on Miccosukee land that Stock had to photograph underwater.

To Stock, the wreckage speaks to the human need to explore even the most inhospitable environments.

"As an artist, I'm a naturalist and a preservationist and I'm fascinated by what happens to manmade objects and structures when nature takes over," he says. "These vehicles are a reminder that people have been exploring the Everglades for decades and decades... It inspires me to keep exploring."

Abandoned Vehicles of the Everglades. Opening vernissage, Tuesday, December 5, 6 - 10 p.m., Cortile Loggia, Biltmore Hotel. Continuing exhibition Wednesday, December 6, through Sunday, December 10, at the Majorca Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave, Coral Gables; 855-311-6903; abandonedeverglades.com.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink