Lake Wales Photographer Adam Strang Bass Captures Images of Old Florida
by PAUL CATALA
It’s not hard to picture the scene.
Adam Strang Bass lives in the world he captures in his photographs. After a day of fishing with his children on Lake Marion Creek east of Haines City, he’s on his home porch frying up a freshwater captain’s platter of bluegill, pumpkin seeds and shellcrackers.
Although Bass has a fork in his hand rather than a camera, that’s the exception. On days when he’s not working as a director of conservation for Conservation Florida, Bass is out doing what he loves: catching and preserving Florida’s vanishing wildernesses and wildlife.
Bass is a Winter Haven native now living off Lake Pierce in Lake Wales for the past year and a half with his wife, Kim, son Max, 7 and daughter Hattie, 4. Over the past three years, he has become an active, award-winning Florida landscape and wildlife photographer. And along the way, he’s worked to preserve vestiges of old Florida scenes from Pensacola to Miami and ways of life that seem to be disappearing beneath the cement and ongoing push of bulldozers.
Photography isn’t just a hobby and certainly doesn’t make a living for Bass; it has become more of a quest to preserve during the week and weekends.
“I don’t make a living doing it, don’t even come close,” says Bass, 35. “Honestly, I picked it up about three years ago to get back into art. I wanted some sort of creative outlet. I’m a big outdoorsman and spend a lot of time working outside. That’s where I like to be, out on the Everglades headwaters.”
The son of Jerry Bass, a retired Publix warehouse supervisor, and Eve Bass, who helps run a family wedding venue in Lake Alfred, Bass says although he grew up working groves, harvesting and cattle, art has always been an extracurricular interest.
The Bass family has been in the Polk County citrus business since the 1920s, with groves in Auburndale, Lake Alfred and Fort Meade. However, Bass says the way the citrus business has gone recently with greening and his “family dynamics,” he decided to go into commercial real estate about seven years ago.
“Mom kind of always had us doing art projects ever since I can remember. I thought about going to art school at one point but decided to go to the Marine Corps instead,” adds Bass, who was discharged as a corporal in the U.S. Marines after serving from 2004 to 2012.
In middle school and through high school at All Saints’ Academy where he was a ’04 graduate, Bass says he dabbled in photography classes using 35mm film and darkrooms. About 2017, he says he became more involved in outdoors digital photography and is mostly “self-taught.”
“By the time I was old enough to afford a camera, everything was digital; digital was prevalent. I basically picked it up and taught myself,” says Bass, who has three sisters: Tiffany and Misty Bass and Erin Trotter.
Since making photography an integral part of his weeks, Bass has also branched out environmentally. He serves on the board as staff for Conservation Florida, founded in 1999 as a nonprofit statewide accredited land trust working to protect Florida’s natural and agricultural landscapes.
“I was really kind of tired of seeing the way things were going with all the development and what’s going on around here. We’ve done a pretty good job of screwing it up,” Bass laments. “It’s sad to see all the conversion of agricultural lands and the destruction of all of the wild land.”
Among Bass’ favorite subjects are cowboys and cattle. In 2019, then-President of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association Matt Pierce of Okeechobee invited Bass to ride horses and photograph with him on a cattle drive – and he got what he considers some of his favorite pictures.
“I tell you what, as soon as I can afford to do it, I’m going to buy a horse. I enjoy tagging along and photographing cowboys. I like shooting working dogs, cowboys working cattle. Old Florida is probably what my favorite thing to photograph is,” says Bass. “The thing is, pictures we’re taking now will be historic in our lifetimes.”
For inspiration, Bass looks to Ansel Adams, Clyde Butcher, Paul Marcellini, and personal friend and internationally renowned photographer Carlton Ward Jr., who also serves on the land trust board.
Ward, winner of the Conservation Leadership Award from the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida and named a Florida icon by Florida Trend magazine, says Bass is a “powerful voice for wild Florida,” especially when it comes to his landscape pictures of the Everglades headwaters.
“His work is purpose-driven and grabs people by the eyes and hearts,” Ward says. “It has been a pleasure to work closely with Adam toward our shared goal of saving the Florida Wildlife Corridor.”
Some of that effort is evident in select photos Bass considers his personal favorites. Those include: “Pushing Sunrise,” a picture of Pierce pushing cows into a cow pen during the early morning in Glades County; “Space Gator,” an alligator snapped lounging in Chandler Slough, 15 miles north of Okeechobee; and “Golden Girls.”
I just figured I’d like to start showing people what’s out there and what’s pretty about it. And help raise the question: ‘Why is it worth protecting?’ ”
Although his main focus is nature photography, Bass says he also dabbles in portraiture, but not in the studio.
“I’m out there capturing people — more candid shots, and I really like black and white. At some point, I’ll probably transition into only black and white,” he says.
Currently, Bass’ photos can be seen exclusively online, although he had a solo show in the Lake Wales Arts Center from September to November 2019. He says he hopes to someday have his own gallery, when he’s retired. For now, while he’s still out and about with camera in hand, having fun while preserving a small slice of fading life in the Sunshine State.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s creative and I don’t know, there’s just something fun about going out to capture cool images,” concludes Bass. “I kind of try to use the photos I take to document properties from a land-protection aspect and use them for work. Protecting Florida and photography is a pretty cool gig.”