I have for your consideration today my photos on the way to, and at the beach. It’s taken me about a month at this point to write about these images; I get the feeling that these are the last few moments when I care enough about them to write something. I have 55 minutes before my next class, I’m going to try to lay this down stream of conscious- I also don’t want to devote much more time than that to these photos.
Jumping right in without an “establishing shot” that really helps outline what I did and how- I biked to Duck, N.C., took 4 days and 3 nights to do it, and went about 250 miles overall on the trip. I had my camera the whole way, and I slept in strangers’ homes and with my friend Kevin in Norfolk. It was very hot, and my bike was heavy with food and equipment for all the camping I ended up not doing, mostly because it was too hot.
Photo, text, photo, paragraph of text, I’m literally going to just keep writing and not let myself come up for air, or let the photos breathe either. Paragraph, photo, paragraph, photo, and so on. I’ll probably take a break for a hot second in a little while to go refill my coffee, but I have 52 minutes left before my next class, so I ought to keep writing. And that was what this project was supposed to be- writing and text. I was feeling quite high and mighty after I made my book (which I never really documented, nor do I think I’m going to write about at this point. Maybe I will). It was good that I made a book, finally got that out of my system, but I was having some trouble with the format.
I certainly saw some interesting things along the way. I don’t really want this to *click* and here we are at the grand canyon *click*, but I will mention that this photo was made in a house that looked only partially built then abandoned. It caught my eye from the road so I slowly photographed my way up to it. I poke around some, and there was a running refrigerator with drinks in it, powered by an extension cord run from an adjacent, normal looking house. There were also suburban possessions scattered all about, but seemingly no beds or “essentials” other than the refrigerator. I scratched my head, made this photo, then left- it was giving me the creeps.
Ahhhh there were such high hopes for Americana, and I think I saw it too. I stopped at recreational parks, I looked at endless fields, I looked at profane and bloated subdivisions I solicited the kindness of strangers, I photographed it all as I rambled along. I did my best, tried my very hardest to feel as cynical yet looking as Robert Frank but guess I couldn’t summon it. I don’t know if it was revulsion or a strange kind of morbid fascination that compelled him across this country, making 70,000 photographs (on film!) in order to try to figure it out. Maybe I just don’t care to keep trying, keep diving into these landscapes with the vernacular tools- text and digital images.
Because I look at these photos and I struggle with them being kind of boring. I think they’re kind of a bad poetry. I’ve got 45 minutes left before my next class. I think at this point, I’m willing to say that I’m a good enough photographer to only shoot what I mean to shoot in a frame, to reduce a photo to only the visual elements, the signs, that I want to “say”. However, given that, this kind of landscape photography, I think, needs 70,000 photos of breathing room so that you can pick out 83 that really “say” it right- and some of those had better be pretty damn good. If that work can still be done in an age of image oversaturation, I certainly don’t have the patience to do it. I don’t think I have a clear enough head to put together that document.
I thought a lot about privacy. That almost goes without saying, but especially when I got down to the outer banks there was the clearest possible delineations between public and private space. Everyone wanting to carve out their own respite from the world on this tiny, tiny strip of land, and everyone else had to know exactly where your respite started. But I have to imagine that most people on the Outer Banks enter into that social contract knowing what they’re getting into- no one is going to step on your toes because they don’t want their stepped on while they’re away from it all. I had to kind of respect people a little bit in this sense- I let people be.
Okay, on this photo journey we’re now at the beach.
There was such a real air to what was going on down there. I really wanted to capture it because it was so far out of my normal experience. I pushed my bike 7 miles through sand with 18 more to go before a stranger picked me up- I was hitch hiking for the first time in my life. She actually lived on this weird strip in the north that only had sand and beach for roads. No 700×38 tire was rolling over that, let me tell you. We talked about where she lived- I kind of thought she was an angel, but she refused to take credit for pulling me out of state of pissed off bike pushing.
And some interesting things did happen I guess. Especially if you consider how everyone is hanging out in these massive houses an interesting thing. If you consider what kind of society needs to produce a long, narrow strip of dirt and sand with endless houses and institutions built only for people to go to to relax, to try to put away and put on hold what’s happening in their daily lives.
I could probably make myself content just photographing the inside of these houses. They have such interesting things going on sometimes. They are built for all different potentialities of people and groups- not the least of which are some provisions for nights of absolute drunken revelry. Even when I was a kid and we went to these “vacation places” I always sort of marvelled at the tools laid out on arrival for all different kinds of leisure. I thought about how it was weird, and maybe kind of sad, that you couldn’t possibly use all the things and do all the activities at once. But now, reflecting on it, I have to imagine that you wouldn’t really want to, either.
You stay outta my way, I stay outta yours. 35 minutes left and I need to get some more coffee. I told my brother with that second picture that I took a very handsome picture of a fence. It took me about five minutes to find the right angle and right way of portraying it, but I think I got it. He probably thought art students were weird, and I don’t really blame him on that reading.
These photos are a dumb kind of poetry. I don’t think it’s enough in “fine art photography” to just sort of take in the world and pick out the best parts anymore. We do that on the daily on Facebook and Instagram. I think selections of photos are meant to be read for the best face people can put on for society- I don’t think people can make that pivot towards reading a series of images (or endlessly flicking past some square images before you fall asleep) as “fine art”, or read them as “sober and morose reflections on the nature of leisure” or anything even close to that. But I’m giving myself too much credit- I think these are vacation photos by a moody art student. For too long I’ve made the mistake of trying to reorient the world to my brilliance rather than trying to engage it where it’s at. I used to get really bothered by people not recognizing what I was “doing” with my “art”.
Sorry that may be too much autobiography. I have 30 minutes left, and this is, mind you, when I need to have my butt in the seat. I still need to change out of my morningtime clothes and get my book and bike to class.
So I took all these photos because the landscape around me was utterly fascinating as a testament to the kind of people that live in that area, and the things that they do. That’s been a valid photographic thing to do (or, in another way of thinking, has not been an interesting thing to do) since the New Topographics in… 1972? With 29 minutes left I don’t feel like googling that piece of photo history.
I really did have a nice time with my family by the way. I feel like that should’ve come sooner in this stream of conscious, but I’m glad it came in there at all. In spite of myself, I am in this culture and had a wonderful time with my family who is also in this culture. My brother and I hung out a lot, and we don’t always get time to do that. He’s thinking about coming to school in Richmond, and even if it’s U of R, I really hope he can be here, I’d love to spend more time with him.
Boy that’s some real fine stream of conscious, because that was completely tangential. Just kind of wanted to roll onto the next photo, but it is important, I do think it colors this work a little bit. I love my family, and my extended family too. We’re a rather diverse group of families, but it was really nice catching up with them and spending time with them, even if we all sort of, in a distinct Seitz way, basically just wanted to spend time as nuclear families for a bit at the end of it. And that was even nicer.
And I think that’s the best possible version of what these places try to be- nice places to spend time with your family, or with your friends. Don’t think of this as poetic justification and celebration of their existence, because my goodness there was quite the excess at that place, but so it goes with most of American society I suppose. But I did have a nice time.
I came across this house one day as I was biking along. It had burnt out the top and into the main house area somewhat. I wondered if anyone was hurt, and if it was the house of someone who lived there year-round or a vacation house. I was leaning towards the former, as it was pretty far away from the beach.
And of course I had to stop to take a photo of this- it’s a visual poemmmmmmm. But this road was fascinating and I couldn’t really adequately get a picture of it. If there hadn’t been so many cars I would’ve dragged that can out into the road to photograph it. You could see all the way down the bolt straight road until the horizon- until your vision was choked out by coastal humidity and the haze of heat rising off the blacktop. Just to my right in this photo was a sea, and a sea of people. I didn’t take any photos of people by the ocean, or even really that many photos of the ocean, but I assure you it was there.
The rains came down and the floods came up, the rains came down and the floods came up, the rains came down and the floods came up, and the house on the sand went SPLAT!
I wonder how long before the rest of that strip of land is built out. Maybe they’re replacing stuff that burnt down. Maybe they’re just finally getting permits for some of the last few unbuilt places. I didn’t have more than a week to think after all these questions, and I don’t think I would want more than that. It was a nice vacation, but the photo essay is not for me, I do not think.
I think there’s more agile deployments of my photo making abilities. I think that I can make clearer imagery that communicates an idea more than wandering around and looking at things. I wanted to write this piece that would be an expose on modern America, with these beautiful photographs and poignant write with some teeth to it. I’m going to try really hard to not feel like I’ve done that, but at least I have my thoughts out on paper now. And even though the houses spring up on the beach, the houses spring up on the sand- it’s back to work on dry land for me.
And I have 18 minutes to get ready for class! 2180 words in 45 minutes- not bad.