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People enjoy the beach next to some heavy equipment in place for jetty construction on Willoughby Spit in Ocean View.

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Watermelons are set out on display to attract drivers to a roadside stand along Ocean View Avenue in August.

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Judy Dickinson and her husband Fred have a drink with friends during a picnic event at East Beach, a new upscale subdivision in Ocean View. Bobby Waldrop (background) primarily lives in Richmond and spends a couple of weekends a year in his house here. Before the area was redeveloped, only a handful of the 1500 residents were homeowners.

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Chairs dangle from a storm-ravaged deck.

Chairs dangle from a storm-ravaged deck.

Chairs dangle from a storm-ravaged deck.
Ocean ViewOV

Family members and friends Quayshawn Banks, Jasmine Warren, Raymeka Fennell and Richard Fennell use a tent for shade while spending the day at the beach with their kids.

Ocean ViewOV
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Neighborhood kids ride on improvised sleds, including bodyboards and an inflatable mattress, after a rare snowstorm in Ocean View.

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Snow covers a bay-side apartment building the day after Christmas in the Ocean View neighborhood of Norfolk, Virginia. A nor’easter dumped fourteen inches of snow – the third heaviest on record. Extreme weather is not uncommon here. Scientists says rising sea levels and sinking land makes the city of Norfolk more vulnerable to flooding compared with other cities along the East Coast.

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Oysters cook under wet burlap at the Annual Knights of Columbus Oyster Roast.

Oysters cook under wet burlap at the Annual Knights of Columbus Oyster Roast.

Oysters cook under wet burlap at the Annual Knights of Columbus Oyster Roast.
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Jennifer Osborne cuddles with her daughter Portia at their home in Bayview in Norfolk, Va. Jennifer was a crack addict and prostitute in Ocean View for many years. She’s still “not where I want to be,” she said, “but a long way from where I was.” She cleaned up when she got married and had kids. Though she loves the neighborhood and living by the water, they can’t afford the rising rental costs.

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Two young men pose for a photo “planking” a beached fin whale in Ocean View in Norfolk, Va., on Tuesday, February 21, 2012. Though the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center released a statement asking the public to stay away from the beached whale until a necropsy could be performed and the animal could be disposed of, some people couldn’t resist.

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The genie and sumo wrestler

Stepsisters Kaitlyn Blaney (left) and Sonya Self, both 10, pose for a portrait while taking a walk to McDonald’s before trick-or-treating on Halloween.

The genie and sumo wrestler
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Shriners from Khedive Temple wave to spectators during the St. Patrick’s Day parade and festivities in Ocean View. The annual parade is the neighborhood’s largest event.

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An 11 year-old girl (name withheld by photographer) makes a penis out of sand while playing at the beach with her family in Ocean View.

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A game of pickup basketball in Ocean View. The court is right on the main drag, squeezed between the Ocean View Senior Center, a bus stop and a demolished beach motel. It’s an open space that lures guys from all directions.

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Caught

A die-hard fishermen pulls up a catch as a storm passes through Ocean View.

Caught
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On a foggy morning, a woman waits at the bus stop near the site of a demolished motel. The beach and former amusement park in Ocean View were popular tourist destinations from the late-1800s until the 1970s. Recent redevelopment is aimed at replacing motels and cottages with upscale properties.

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Nicole Stanley is baptized by fellow members of the Ambassadors For Christ church in the water of the Chesapeake Bay in Ocean View.

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Ocean ViewOV

A blue crab in the process of being picked and eaten.

Ocean ViewOV
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Fritz Hensley soaks up some sun during a particularly warm day in early April. Hensley recently moved back to Ocean View from Virginia Beach to be with his high school sweetheart.

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A small carnival group makes a stop in Ocean View every spring. Decades ago, Ocean View was known for its amusement park that was eventually put out of business by diverted tourists and larger theme parks.

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People cruise around the main shopping center of Ocean View on a late summer evening.

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Undeterred by the wind and the waves, Cailyn Ayers, 1 1/2, runs along the beach as Hurricane Earl passes through the area. Ocean View is “not for the faint of heart,” said one resident.

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A documentary project on the changing character of a working-class neighborhood along the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. By exploring residents’ relationship to the environment over the course of five years, Gannaway reveals both the dark and light facets of this complicated community.

“Wildness is a necessity.” —John Muir

Seven and a half miles of beach stretch along the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in the Ocean View neighborhood of Norfolk, Virginia. There are few, if any, spots in Ocean View where one can actually see the Atlantic. It’s a place of inherent contradictions. Vulnerable to weather’s every whim, the connection to the natural world—even if not embraced—can’t be denied. Once a rowdy playground for sailors, the picturesque landscape was rampant with drugs and prostitution. Over the decades, it’s been a siren call for transients and misfits.

But low rent also provides a way out of the projects for working-class families. For them, the beach is free. And it’s always there. Ocean View is an area filled with pride, yet perpetually changing. Old cottages are being bulldozed to build million-dollar homes. “We’re gonna reclaim some of this property and make it what it should be,” said a woman who moved to the neighborhood’s affluent subdivision a few years ago. Competing desires are at the heart of this community.

Gentrification is far from egalitarian. Though lower crime is an obvious upside, other effects of the changing demographics are far murkier. They are, as the saying goes, somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea.

When I first moved to Ocean View in 2009, I found the beauty and complexity overwhelming and intoxicating. I felt compelled to photograph it. Having grown up in a homogenized part of the Old South, I’ve long been drawn to—and felt liberated by—difference.

I find the neighborhood’s imperfections attractive, and, perhaps more importantly, truthful. I hope the viewer recognizes these aspects common to all American communities. As a hairdresser here once put it to me, “A place so diverse must be forgiving.”

A limited edition book of the project was just published.