A Few Days One Summer

Last summer, I went to the beach with a friend who wanted me to teach her something about photography. We took two Holga cameras and a load of film and walked along a shoreline just south of a rugged jetty of an inlet where the surf is famously good. It was slightly overcast, a good day for teaching the Sunny 16 Rule. With a stick of driftwood, I drew out a square in the sand and divided it into thirds both horizontally and vertically and talked of composition briefly before we started. "But," I said, "the most important thing is courage. You cannot be afraid to take the photographs you want or you will never get them."

Just then, a man and his son were walking toward us from the surf into the shallows carrying their surfboards under their arms. "There," I said. "That is a wonderful photograph. Why don't you ask them if you might take their picture?"

And with that, she approached the two men and began to gesture. They were handsome and rugged looking, young and old, and as they postured for the photograph, I began to feel vexed, for I had long wanted to do a series of portraits of surfers at this beach using a large format camera and the old Polaroid 55 P/N film. But two things happened that caused me to abandon that project. First, Polaroid announced that they would no longer continue making that magical film. Simultaneously and even more devastating, I stumbled on the work of Joni Sternbach. Her tintype portraits of surfers simply floored me with their terrible and wonderful beauty. It had been done and done too well.
When my friend had finished taking her portrait, I sheepishly approached and asked, "Would you mind if I took one as well?"

We walked on a few more steps when a mother and son emerged from the surf. Emboldened by success, my friend asked if she could take their portrait. And once again, I did as well. This turned out to be a good thing, for my friend had forgotten to manually advance the film on the primitive Holga and had exposed the same negative twice. I was surprised at how dismayed she was, but she was miffed to the point of defeat. As she returned to our blanket to lie on the beach, I thought I would continue on.

A man on the beach with a camera is generally a suspicious thing, so I wondered if I would have the nerve to approach anyone on my own. A man with a long board and a white mustache stood on the sand waiting for his friend. Might as well, I said to myself, then to him, "Hello there. Would you mind if I took a snapshot?" Unlike the surfers my friend had asked, this fellow wanted to know what I had in mind. "I'm doing a series on surfers," I said, "with this toy camera. I'm shooting with black and white film and the lens is pretty crummy, so the images tend to look old. If you could just strike one of those old-fashioned heroic poses, I think you will like the results."

And that is how this series was born. Week after week, I would return to that little half mile stretch of beach, thinking each time that I would not be able to approach people as well, believing that I had been lucky before but would not be lucky today.

Then, sucking in my breath, I would approach someone holding out the little plastic camera before me, and the magic would all begin again. Rather than being dragged down the beach by an angry mob, I was able to get image after image of the friendliest people in the world. I asked each for an email address and told them I would set up a site they could visit to see all the images that I took that summer, saying that if they wanted a copy of their photo, I would send them one.

And that is how the project came about. "A Few Days One Summer." I have made a blog of the pictures if you would like to see them all.

Text and photos © William Schmidt

Website of photographer Joni Sternbach www.jonisternbach.com/


Anonymous said…
I like them a lot! Simple and beautiful. Good story as well.
/Simon Johansson
Rhonda Boocock said…
yep...a great series!
D said…
one of my favorite blogs!

Man, I'm ready for summer,sand,surf and sun :)

keep shooting man
Jan Bernhardtz said…
Out of my window I see only snow and I'm freezing. It is said to be the coldest winter since 1942.

Your images give me hope for a summer to come. Thanks for showing, Bill!

br said…
wonderful photos...even if they were taken with a Holga..ha. Surf boards make people look good....and you make them both look even better. !
preston said…
these are perfect, I adore the square format, like memories etched in my brain. Wonderful :-)
Mikael said…
Very nice photos and nice to get the story behind it
mia said…
Beautiful! Thanks for the taste of summer to dream on..
cafe selavy said…
Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I am inspired to continue with the project. Thank you 591!