Does the world really need another coffee-table book on the Chesapeake Bay?
Well, if it's "Chesapeake Bay," a compilation of some 150 photos of the area taken over the years by current Los Angeles Times news photographer and experienced small-boat sailor Robert Grieser, maybe it does.
Originally made about 10 years ago, when he was working for the Washington Star and doing occasional free-lance work for the Capital, Grieser's black-and-white images are stark, clear and capable of a type of realism frequently more expressive than color photography.
The book has an introduction by novelist James Michener and was published by Harry A. Abrams Inc. of New York with the cooperation of The Baltimore Sun. Michener, who has written a book on the bay, says in his foreword that "Chesapeake Bay" is "a fascinating selection of photographs, varied in style, rich in texture and highly personal."
Grieser explained that Abrams originally contacted then-Publisher Reg Murphy of The Baltimore Sun, who, after examining the photographs, expressed his interest in purchasing a number of the books. This persuaded Abrams to publish the work.
He describes his book as having "a different look, one that captures, I think, the spirit of what the bay was about, and is about."
Asked why he used black-and-white photography exclusively in the book, Grieser said, "I think the bay lends itself just perfectly for black and white because it can be so dramatic just in those tones, the grays and whites and black. You don't really need the color, because there's just so much life to it."
Grieser added that such photographers as Aubrey Bodine and M.E. Warren, with their black-and-white work, influenced him, as did his own professional newspaper experience.
"I've always worked in black and white. I thought it was purest. Besides taking the picture, and filtering for the clouds, it's what you get to do with it in the darkroom to help carry the mood through," he said.
The creation of the book was more by accident than by design.
"When I started taking the pictures around the bay, I never thought of it as a book project," he said. "That was years later that I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to publish all these pictures together? Because most of them have been published at different places already, and it would be nice to see this body of work published as one unit of work.' " Michener had written his introduction several years before the book was assembled, Grieser said. "I had never gotten around to doing anything with it, because the economy went soft and I moved to the West Coast when the Star folded."
He contacted Michener, whom he had first met during the late 1970s when the author was preparing his novel about the bay. The Washington Star had just finished a story on Michener, which Grieser shot, and Chesapeake Bay magazine was planning to do the same.
Grieser, who works for the magazine during periodic visits to Maryland, offered to contact Michener and shoot the magazine story.
He called Michener and told him that he was going to sail over, which he did -- during a gale-force storm.
"I remember it was blowing 30, 40 knots -- rainy, miserable weather. And I hopped in my little yellow boat -- it's called a Sea Otter, a very salty (dependable) boat -- put on my foul weather gear, and I left Annapolis for St. Michael's, where he lived."
He recalled that Michener was so intrigued by his arrival and appearance during such a storm that they later became good friends.
After several visits, and showing Michener samples of his work, Grieser took the plunge.
"I said that I was shooting a book on the bay, and I asked him if he would do me the honor of writing an introduction for me."
Michener replied, "Come see me when you've got a publisher."
Grieser's first publisher, in 1979, was Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately the magazine was forced by a slump in the national economy to withdraw from the project.
Then the Star folded, and Grieser left the area, hired by the Los Angeles Times to work for its San Diego edition.
The book project languished on the shelf until 1986, when Grieser returned to the East Coast to photograph the centennial celebrations of the Statue of Liberty.
He took the bay collection to Abrams Inc., which expressed serious interest. After it was finally published this year, following various delays, Michener told Grieser, "You're the only person I've ever written an introduction for who waited 10 years to use it."