One glance at Geoff Coe’s wildlife gallery, and it’s easy to see why the Philadelphia native dropped his geology career for one in photography. Now a Florida resident, he can indulge himself in the ornithological specimens in which he specializes.
Next month, Coe will return to Bethany Beach – an area he frequented in the summertime during his childhood, with his family – as a featured artist in the 32nd Annual Bethany Beach Boardwalk Arts Festival, hosted by the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 11. But this trip to lower Delaware will be much more than business. It will also serve as a means of inspiration for one of Coe’s forthcoming projects.
As a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, Coe was introduced to photography, mostly by accident, he noted.
“I was creating a research paper at the end of my first year,” he explained, “and my advisor asked if I had slides to accompany my thesis. When I said, ‘No,’ he told me I better learn.”
A friend and colleague agreed to help Coe get some slides together, and as they developed the shots in the darkroom, Coe was instantly hooked.
“The hair stood on the back of my neck,” he recalled. “I knew right then that I wanted to do photography. It was like a transformational experience. I immediately got my hands on all the tools I needed for photography.”
He spent the next 10 years of his life as a writer and photographer throughout the Washington, D.C., area, contributing to the Washington Post and freelancing around the area.
“The work I did helped me get to know the people in the photography lab and the field photographers at the Post,” Coe said. “They encouraged me to freelance, so that’s what I did.”
Coe spent time as a technical writer in Colorado but was soon drawn back to the lens and into the great outdoors.
“I went for nature walks through the canyons south of Denver with my girlfriend at the time,” he said, “and I’d often tell her that the light was fantastic. I said it so much that she finally asked, ‘Why are you not doing nature photography?’ And I went out and bought a new Canon [camera] system the next day.”
After a move to Florida in 2004, Coe took up flatwater kayaking – a far cry from the rushing rapids of whitewater rafting he had enjoyed in Colorado, but nonetheless a great way to take in nature, specifically, the birds.
“I’d take different lenses and cameras out – against my insurance agent’s recommendations,” Coe noted, “and would capture these pictures of birds. I started noticing their behaviors and movements were amazing, too. I’d put the photos online, and soon, people started asking if my pictures were for sale. When I realized this was something I could do for a career, I got more and more involved with birds in nature.”
Initially, Coe planned to make his photography hobby a source for his retirement income, but by 2008 his work was gaining popularity, and he began featuring his shots in art shows.
Not only has Coe been featured in a wide range of art events, but he has accumulated several awards for his work across Florida. And now, with the upcoming trip to Delaware, he hopes to capture even more wildlife to add to his repertoire.
“What intrigues me most about Delaware,” he said, “is that, for a birding photographer, it’s heaven. You have migratory birds coming around in the spring and fall, and you get to see all kinds of plumages that you don’t see in Florida. It’s invigorating for me.”
For next month’s art festival, he has prepared prints and gallery wraps of birds common to both areas, as well as pictures from a visit to Delaware earlier this summer.
“In photography,” he added, “you don’t want to get to point where you’ve seen something before. It’s one thing to be surprised by something you haven’t seen before, but there’s something valuable about going to somewhere familiar and looking at it from a different angle.”
Through his expanding career, Coe has had the fortune of meeting other nature and bird photographers, including local shooter Kevin Fleming.
“It’s great to get feedback and take in their images,” said Coe. “But, most of the time, I see it as a challenge for me to step up my game. It’s very influential. When others come up to me and compliment me on my work, it’s incredibly gratifying.”
Coe has already spoken with art galleries and design stores in southeastern Delaware and plans to make his work available throughout the region. For more information on his work, including galleries, awards and upcoming shows, visit www.wildimagesfla.com.
Geoff Coe will be featured at the 32nd Annual Bethany Beach Boardwalk Arts Festival, which will be held throughout downtown Bethany Beach on Saturday, Sept. 11, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. For more information on the festival, visit www.bethany-fenwick.org.