Skip to Content

Karen Glaser (USA)

Springs and Swamps

I am forever moved by water. Living now in the Suwannee River Basin in north central Florida, amongst woods, rivers, and our beloved springs, I know freshwater is the link to life, and my spirit is full of joy as I swim in these waters every morning.

The region is home to some of the most distinctive and breathtaking ecosystems in the world. Its underwater caves and sinks are second to none for diving, swimming, and snorkeling. But the terrain is very fragile because of its karst geology. This soluble rock has made one-of-a-kind underwater landscapes, but the same soft rock can wreak havoc with construction and big agriculture, raising continuing concerns about the aquifer.

My interest in the freshwater springs first began in the mid- to late 1980s when I was in Crystal River, Florida. My first encounter with a manatee there was a startling but thrilling experience. While I was swimming, a manatee quietly approached me. Feeling something under my fin, I looked down and discovered three huge manatees were in the water underneath me. I was frightened, excited, inspired, soothed, and, most of all, humbled. I started photographing manatees and their habitats, where springs are an important part of the freshwater reserves.

Time spent in the freshwater springs and rivers of north central Florida inspired my trip to the southern part of the state where the most magnificent primordial swamps are located, in Big Cypress National Preserve and its neighbor, the Everglades National Park. Parts of the park and preserve are a mere forty-five minutes from the sprawl of Miami to the east and Naples to the west.

Some of these areas are still wild, primitive, and untouched. With artist residencies from both the park and the preserve, I was able to explore this vibrant and organic region, capturing the rare beauty of nature. The photographs are made “inside” the waterways and show the worlds that exist below the surface—powerful, visceral, and mesmerizing “worlds” that are layered with rich and different environments, “worlds” that most people don’t see.

Karen Glaser


According to Kevin Miller, director/curator of the Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona Beach, Florida, “Karen Glaser is well known for her expertise and sustained practice in innovative underwater photography over many years.”

She was born and raised in Pittsburgh and lived most of her adult life in Chicago. She now lives in the Suwannee River Basin of Florida, where she joyfully swims in its freshwater springs and rivers each morning.

Glaser’s work has been widely recognized. Her solo exhibition The Mark of Water: Florida’s Springs and Swamps was organized by the Southeast Museum of Photography and traveled to the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, Florida, and the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery, Fort Myers, Florida. Blue Sky Books recently published a book on this project.

Her work has been widely published, including in Slate, Orion,Lens Culture, Aperture, artUS, and National Geographic. She was named Photographer Laureate for the City of Tampa, Florida, and was an artist-in-residence at both Big Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades. She was also awarded an Art Midwest and National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Regional Fellowship.

Her work is held in many museums, including the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art,Kansas City; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, Florida; Southeast Museum of Photography,Daytona Beach, Florida; Harry Ransom Center, Austin; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; and the National Park Service.

Back to top