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MOCA showcases inspiring work of local artist and alum Doug Eng

Doug Eng in his Riverside studioFor Doug Eng, home is a special place. And his work clearly reflects that.

The Jacksonville native worked for decades as a successful engineer and computer programmer, and in the late 2000s had a bit of an epiphany.

With a lifelong interest in visual arts and recreational photography, Eng found himself on a family farm on Jacksonville’s northside taking a few final photos before the property sold. He had spent every Sunday there as a child. The barn was still erect, and there was an old tractor.

“I had never had that kind of nostalgic experience before,” Eng said. “I started to understand how art can be a personal expression about something that either happened to you … or an idea that you had … or a feeling you have. All those memories, the smells, all came back. It was really cool.” He said it was his first “aha!” moment recognizing the emotional connection that photography can provide.

Having retired from his career, Eng became intrigued with pursuing nature photography as an art and started seeking out local spots to shoot. He recalls admiring paintings by his friend Jim Draper and being surprised to learn that the scenes Draper painted were almost all local.

Eng and a photographer friend decided that to best capture nature they must be immersed in it, which led to his first kayak trip to Thomas Creek, in northwest Jacksonville. “I was hooked within 15 minutes,” he said. “I have never been so taken by the beauty of the landscape. Black water makes a perfect reflection of what is above.”

For a year, Eng went out almost every weekend – 30 or 40 trips to 16 different creeks. “What I was seeing was incredible, and it was all within a 25-mile radius of my home,” he said. And it never got old. Return visits to favorite spots often yielded very different experiences. “As the year went by, the landscape changed. In summer everything is so green,” he said. “Then as fall comes, leaves start to change, then winter and the light changes and you could see deeper in.”

Eng connected with local artists and quickly developed a signature style. His engineering background and interest in form and structure is evident in his work.

While he has had photography projects all over the country, the majority have been in Florida. He has participated in work to support the North Florida Land Trust and the St. Johns Riverkeeper, again, knowing that his photos can help make a connection.

Clearly Eng’s work is helping to inspire appreciation, raise awareness and encourage preservation. Yet, he will be the first to admit that he never set out to be an activist.

“You know how special a place is when you see it and experience it,” Eng said. “My strategy has always been to show people how much there is to appreciate and draw from it. Enjoy what you have and be thankful for it. Take care of nature, and recognize that nature is trying to take care of you.”

Eng received an MBA from UNF. He earned a bachelor's and master degree in engineering from Cornell studying structural engineering and architecture. His latest exhibition at MOCA Jacksonville highlights the need to preserve endangered wetlands and forests in Northeast Florida. Structure of Nature | Nature of Structure opened in July and will run until Jan. 2, 2022.