Tonight I will be submitting the book files for “After the Storm” to the printer, and if all goes well I will have a limited edition of books arriving by June 10, in time for the Look3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, VA, where “After the Storm” will be showcased among the heady company of some of the most talented emerging photographers on the scene, as well as a number of true icons of the photographic world. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, please contact me either by email or place an order through the button at the bottom of this post, as supplies will be limited, and I am only allowed to bring 20 copies to the festival bookstore. For an overview of the project with the accompanying essay, which has since been revised somewhat, check it out on Burn Magazine
It was exactly one year ago today (well, tomorrow actually) I took the first picture for “After the Storm”. The night before, my friends Jesse and Michelle had been married in a beautiful ceremony on the beach, and the next day a few close friends were invited up to the Saltaire to hang out by the pool and finish up the leftovers from the reception. It was a perfect Outer Banks day, clear blue skies, yummy food, guitars and mimosas…
To the north, however, the sky was getting dark, then darker, then even darker still. My friend Shane and I had driven up in my old Wrangler, top down, and figured we’d better make a run for it and head back into town before all hell broke loose. We managed to outrun the storm, but when we got to Kitty Hawk pier the sky looked so freakin’ cool that we just had to go out and take a look. It was classic OBX: blue sky to the south; dark, ominous, nearly black sky to the north. We stood out on the pier tasting the wind and just getting down with the electricity in the air. I snapped a few photos of Shane looking out into the ocean, his wild mane of hair flapping in the wind, the crazy black sky behind him, and I knew we had just captured what I needed to start this project. We looked into the LCD, just freaking out at the photos. “Dude, this is it!” I said. “The project has begun!” Seconds later the sky opened and drenched us from head to toe before we made it to the jeep.
The first photo of that quick series has remained the beginning photo of “After the Storm” ever since.
The second photo in the book, appropriately enough, is of Jesse, a few weeks later, riding his longboard in the late afternoon light, a happily married man.
Today is Jesse and Michelle’s first anniversary, and in honor of all of this the Nature gods have given us another classic OBX storm. In the morning it was beautiful; 83 degrees on the beach with clean glassy waist-high waves rolling in, blue skies, a light west wind. By 1:30, however, the sky to the north had turned to black, little drops of rain awoke me from my beach-towel doze, and in half an hour buckets of the stuff were coming down. Now the rain has settled in and I am free to sit here on the computer guilt-free, posting this blog entry and looking back over the last year of this project.
I have been dreaming this project for years, ever since I moved down to the Outer Banks and started surfing–or should I say, trying to surf–some seven or eight years ago. There was something about being in the water and being so intimately connected with the raw and ever-changing moods of the ocean, the wind, and the weather patterns…I don’t know, it did something to me, and before I even started photographing it, I knew I wanted to make some kind of art that conveyed the essence of it. At first I planned a video documentary, but it never really took shape. Then I thought about a book, but the book I first envisioned was much more expository, much more of a “traditional” book, with a lot of history and portraits of influential figures in the local surf world. For a while I wrote down little descriptions of scenes I wanted to re-create, almost like an advertising shoot. In the end, I ended up just going out with a camera and gathering fragments from the spectacle of life all around me, and stitching them together into a little song. Many of the photos in the book are of friends of mine, some are of complete strangers; most are purely grab shots, a few are posed. But as a whole they have come together to achieve what I originally set out to do, which is to give a sense of how it FEELS…and, beyond that, to create the Outer Banks of my imagination, or of our collective imagination: a sepia-toned world of sand fencing, seagrass, weathered cedar, bleached and windblown hair, stormy skies, and thick grains of sand that get dragged into every corner of life. It is not necessarily the Outer Banks that you will find if you come here on vacation, unless you know where to go. If you take the wrong turn, you will end up in a 10-bedroom McMansion with all your aunts and cousins from Ohio and Florida; stuck in a traffic jam that will add three hours to your journey; eating in an air-conditioned “family” restaurant with fake palm trees out front and bad paintings of Key West on the inside; or sitting at a bar with crewcut guys wearing dry-cleaned Tommy Bahama shirts and talking just a little too loud about their golf game…for better or for worse, this is part of the “reality” of the Outer Banks that I have chosen to leave out of my story.
But the further I get along this photographic path, the less I’m concerned with “reality”. Reality is there for all to see, nobody needs me to document it. What I am interested in is imagination, and a way of living and seeing life through the lens of imagination, so that life permeates your dreams, and dreams permeate your life.
The irony in all this auspiciousness is that those few days last year, when it finally came together and I started shooting in earnest, and all the days that followed up to now, have been some of the darkest days of my life. I have suffered from debilitating health problems, acute insomnia, emotional fallout from a long and difficult breakup, and a deep existential discomfort with my place in the world. Every day has been a battle to keep the demons of depression from kicking down the door, the specters of loneliness from swarming down from the attic, and the ghosts of old chronic infections from charging through my body and making mincemeat of my mitochondria. I’ve spent nearly everything I’ve earned this year–which hasn’t been much, due to the current world economic crisis–on doctors, therapists, acupuncturists, supplements, medication…I’ve read just about everything there is to read about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the Epstein-Barr virus, Flinders Island Rickettsia, chronic insomnia…I’ve studied tarot cards and recorded my dreams…Most days I’ve been able to get through okay, and hide my state of affairs from all but those closest to me. Some days, especially after a good night of sleep and a rare sense of well-being in my body, I’ve even been able to convince myself for a bit that the storm is over, or that it was all just a bad dream. But inevitably, on a regular basis, a bad night of sleep; a day of cold sweats, dizziness, and lactic acid raging through my body; or just some old memory or nagging feeling, will start to tear out the stitches I’ve so assiduously sewn around the fissures in my body/soul and it will rip open again, revealing a vast, dark, raging emptiness that so consumes me that I can barely keep my attention focused long enough to tend to the basic day-to-day demands of life.
But I kept shooting, and for some shots I paid dearly. A couple of early-morning surf sessions threw my delicate and already taxed-to-the-limit metabolism into a tailspin that took me months to recover from. But I got some KILLER shots to show for my troubles. And somehow, through all that darkness and fatigue, this project has come to fruition, and with it have come other opportunities, and with those opportunities the promise of even greater opportunities. My personal life aside, I know that I’m on to something in my artistic life, and I’ve got a long list of projects and books to start or complete once my health is fully recovered and I get past this little bout I’m having with the dark side.
I have many people to thank for helping me through this strange time, too many to list here, but most of them will be listed in the book. I do, however, want to thank the community of BURN magazine, for providing so much support, enthusiasm, and useful criticism of the project; in particular, Anton Kusters, Tom Hyde, and most of all the inimitable David Alan Harvey, without whom we’d all still be twiddling our thumbs trying to figure out what the hell to do with this vague notion that we want to do something really special with a camera.
Also a big shout out to everyone who weighed in on the cover design. In the end we went with the more classic look, after several modifications and a little advice from Mau Carey. The dogtown-style handwritten look was cool, but we figured it would have to be REALLY cool not to look amateurish or dated in five years. Plus there was something about that splash of red (Tom Hyde’s idea) that really made it sing.
The temperature has dropped 30 degrees in five hours. It feels like winter all over again.
I called up Shane last night to catch up. Last November he left the OBX on a journey to Kauai, a place he has dreamed of living for a long time. He’s living in a tent on a beautiful piece of land far up in the hills of eastern Kauai. I told him the project was off to the press, and he was, shall we say, stoked. Even more stoked when I told him that while trying to figure out a decent way to make the title page a little more interesting, I dug up a photo of him from this summer, which had somehow fallen through the cracks. “Man, that’s like my favorite picture!” he said. “I kept looking for it on your blog, but I couldn’t find it.” So here it is for you, my brother. Freestylin’ it in Kitty Hawk, after the storm: