Essay No. 6

At low tide, when the sand bars are drawn out of hiding, and stretch in the sun for an hour or two, on the Gulf you can see wave layers piled-up on top of each other.  That should be impossible.  Water can’t stand up; it’s structure-less, our principle metaphor for mutability, running around, over, and underneath us, always in thrall to gravity.  And yet, there it is, witness-able by eyes.  Perfectly flattened, the old waves have a new life, not rushing back to the sea this time, instead spreading over the sand flats, perhaps veering a bit down shore, their patterns of little foam bubbles breaking askance and disconnecting through radial expansion, little big bangs of miniature firmament.  For once suspended from interminable motion, the water just stops still.  New waves come on top, sheering at first, but ultimately thinned-out too.  You can see four or five wave layers at once, and out there where the breaking starts they collectively stand so many feet high over the plain where we stand in a few inches of water.  It’s so beautiful.  Right at that moment in the cycle of the tides, I swear that I can literally see that force in nature that makes the water want to stick to itself.  I can see it like the spherical edge of a drop that holds fast, and unbroken, in my palm.

essayimage blog #6 web.jpg

Two weeks ago, I took a photograph of one of my daughters running-wild at low tide.  Her silhouette leans right in mid-stride, as a gull faces left, wings fully vertical together, like praying hands or pendula.  In different planes of depth, they are just about to cross each other.  I think about the barrier islands that way, because living on the sand forces you to reconceptualize solidity.  Surprisingly, I actually remember Xeno’s paradox of instantaneous motion from school.  I must have had coffee that day.  Imagine an arrow, the ancient thought experiment goes, flying through the air; if you could divide time up into a super tiny increment, the arrow would levitate in place, and defy gravity.  Waves stand still, measured in moments.  Photography is like that; it differentiates time into an instant.  How an instant relates back to its context, I can’t say, but the magic that was there was real.  It did take me a while, I have to acknowledge, to understand that the journey is what life is all about, not some endpoint.

When I was a kid, my grandfather did slideshows.  With impish delight, my brother and I would sabotage the circular Kodak slide-magazine to the side of the projector box, so that two slides would go together in front of the lamp, making some crazy double image.  The grown-ups would erupt in feigned surprise, and someone would chase us off as we laughed and ran.  I love the topicality of this image, with my girl and the gull, it’s multiple layers of subject.  The linear texture of the sand pattern, and its analogue the wave pile.  The depth of the seaweed elements, as they connect me in the foreground with the Gulf in the background, but also seeing them as a content layer, like a slide superimposed on the base image.  The leftward orientation of the birds, and the rightward motion of the figure.  There’s a shadow layer, and a white layer.  In my mind, I can picture the image just as a sea-scape, devoid of the living content elements, or I can see novel combinations, like the gulls and figure floating in a blank field.  That simultaneity of meanings, and explanations, is something I want to capture in this work.