Even people who have lived their whole lives on the Eastern Shore have an evergreen sense of wonder about it. You can never really get used to the untamed beauty of this place. Most “come here’s”, as non-natives are lovingly called, have vivid stories about their first time experiencing the barrier islands—the unusual wildness of it, the unexpected mud between their toes, the endless horizon, the freedom.
One Cape Charles resident tells his story in photography, and reveals the Eastern Shore as we’ve never seen it before.
Gordon Campbell is all about perspective. An acclaimed aerial photographer, he’s used to seeing things differently. Sitting in front of the wing of his open-air ‘Dragonfly,’ a frame-only light aircraft, he buzzes along, taking photos of the golden grasses and twisting waterways of the Eastern Shore and barrier islands. The aircraft is spare to say the least. With no fuselage and not even a windshield between him and sky, he flies low, and captures images of the breathtaking shoreline from a true bird’s eye perspective. He seems to be floating more than flying, traveling at only around 35 miles an hour.
Originally, Gordon learned to fly—not necessarily for the joy of it— but so he could easily pilot himself away from the hectic pace of his work in the New York area. “I liked to fly but mostly, I just liked the control and convenience of being able to hop in the plane and get out of town,” says Gordon.
Eventually, Gordon and his wife, Christine decided it was time for a change of lifestyle. In 2003, Gordon happened across an old airfield for sale on the Eastern Shore. He bought it and renamed what was the Kellam Field Airport to ‘Campbell Field Airport.’ Flying was no longer about getting somewhere. It was about being somewhere.
As Gordon ventured out over the Eastern Shore coastline by air, he began taking photos to document what he was seeing. In 2006 and 2007, he documented all the barrier islands.
Digital photography equipment began to improve and Gordon invested in a good digital camera. He began taking his photography more seriously. The result was a catalog of photography that would become both documentarily significant and deeply important to those of us who love the Eastern Shore. “I had two long-term goals,” remembers Gordon. “To photograph the entire east coast of the United States and to open a gallery.”
The Campbells purchased and renovated a portion of the historic Wilson’s Building in downtown Cape Charles. The ground floor was in quite a state of disrepair until they restored it, creating stylish, new retail space, and bringing excitement and energy to the district. In 2015, the space became home to Gordon’s own gallery, At Altitude, where he prints his own photography in-house on high definition aluminum panels. It didn’t take long for the color-drenched, eye-popping aerial photos in Gordon’s gallery to start a buzz. Visitors and lifelong locals alike were amazed as they witnessed the barrier islands and Eastern Shore in a completely new way.
The Barrier Islands Center in Machipongo uses Gordon’s imagery to educate and inspire. “We are able to show people the islands in a way we never could before,” explains Monika Bridgforth, Museum Director. “Visitors walk up to these large, vibrant images and are amazed that this is right here, off our shore.” The photography is a key part of the story the museum tells.
Campbell enjoys living in Cape Charles and the community has been greatly enriched by his work.
Gordon and his wife, Christine, along with their two children, aged eight and four, reside in the Heron Pointe neighborhood of Bay Creek. “There are all kinds of people in Bay Creek. We’re full time residents with young kids. We may not be exactly what you’d think of as ‘typical’ but our family loves it here,” says Gordon. “Not long ago, my daughter and I explored the marsh islands in the middle of Plantation Creek. We walked for miles,” explains Gordon.
His contribution to the understanding of the unique natural beauty that is our coastline cannot be overstated. Gordon continues to photograph and has travelled north to capture the coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, and south to the Outer Banks, Charleston and the Georgia coast and beyond.
With so many hours and photos under his belt, does Gordon have a favorite location? “Bar none, our unmanaged barrier islands are the most beautiful place on the East Coast,” says Gordon.
We here on the Eastern Shore tend to agree.
See Gordon’s photography:
At Altitude Gallery
245 Mason Ave.
Cape Charles, VA 23310