on photographs

Sandy by Night

Mantoloking, NJ

As I've mentioned before, I used to spend a lot of my summers down the Jersey shore and have been back a few times since Hurricane Sandy and seen how the small beach community where my parents own a house has fared. By now, most of the damaged houses have been demolished and what's left are huge piles of debris that are slowly being hauled away. A few houses that are structurally unsound still stand, and they remain somewhat of a ghostly presence. During a summer night, their darkness stands out against the lights of the intact houses and cars passing by on the road. Here are a few images for walking the beach at night observing these lingering after effects of a storm that hits New Jersey almost exactly nine months ago.

On the beach

As photographers, or more specifically photojournalists (of which I'm not so sure I identify with anymore), we inhabit a world of transit, interrupted by brief, often intense experiences as we drop into stories, spend a few hours or days on them, then just as quickly move on to the next. I watched the path of Hurricane Sandy filled not with an itch to cover the next big story, but with memories of the New Jersey shore, where I spent parts of each summer of my childhood swimming, surfing and making sand castles. Now we take our children there and I still marvel at this narrow stretch of land, how fragile it is, and how new and different the ocean and sky can be each day.

Our family has a home in Mantoloking, where one of the more iconic photos of the storm, showing the Mantoloking Bridge descending into water, was taken. The house is about a five minute walk from that bridge and for a long time, we had no sense of whether our house made it through the storm or not. So this was unmistakably my story and my place and I immediately felt protective of how it was covered and of all the little details that journalists were getting wrong (the bridge was misidentified by the Times and others as being in Seaside Heights for nearly a week).

These photographs are from a single day (last Monday), as I walked along the beach starting around 4AM until the sun came up. To reach the beach, I walked down silent roads, framed by bumpy piles of waterlogged mattresses, sofas and tables stacked high on the sidewalk. With no electricity, the beach and sky were deeply dark and there was no delineator between horizon and sky. The destruction was mostly just jagged dark shadows against a slightly lighter sky. The news media quickly moved on past the Jersey shore and rightfully so, as many areas of New York were hit much harder with much more vulnerable populations. Still, this place, my place, is just in the beginning of rebuilding, and inevitably, this will be the place I return to, again and again.