You see all kinds of people on the Coney Island boardwalk. And sometimes, these people seem to be ready-made for a camera - any camera - to take their picture. There was the woman in full Kabuki make-up, the guy decked out in top hat and old fashioned tux and weighed down with all kinds of decorative chains and metallic objects, and the wedding couple covered in head-to-toe tattoos and piercings. And, of course, there are the whole range of costumed boardwalk performers. Early on, I took the bait, and snapped these pictures. But they invariably disappointed me when I reviewed them later. I quickly learned that, for me, the made-for-Instagram images were never as interesting as those of the “regular” people I see, just eating a hot dog or grabbing a selfie, or sitting next to a stranger and watching the rest of the day’s crowd pass by. They’re just everyday people being themselves, going about their day, and without the make-up and the costumes, they’re always somehow more revealing and, for me, a whole lot more fascinating, and often revealing.
Landscape isn’t really my focus, but on this day the boardwalk was pretty empty again so I wandered onto the beach, attracted by the bright white ice caps across the tops of the jetty rocks. They appeared courtesy of a rare combination of rain, choppy surf and suddenly plunging - then rising - temperatures. A bright cloudless sky gets most of the credit for the beautiful color.
Today presented the ultimate challenge to Brooklyn boardwalk lovers: single digit temperatures with a frigid and bullying wind that at times threatened to knock you over. Clouds of sand blew across the beach and the giant stones of the jettys were frosted with white. Who the hell comes out on a day like this? Well, mostly no one. At times I could look both ways down the Coney Island Boardwalk and not see a single half-frozen soul. But still, there were a few random crazies. Why they were here and where they were going - hard to say. No one was soaking in the sun or enjoying a leisurely stroll, that’s for sure. The rare human I saw was either hustling along to who-knows-where or, in one case, part of a foursome of determined Scandinavian tourists apparently on a poorly-timed trip to New York; they came, they snapped a few cell phone images of one another, and they hustled back to the subway. I lasted little more than a half hour myself, before I started to seriously fear for the safety of my fingers and toes. Back on the subway, they burned as the heat slowly thawed them out. I only took about 20 shots this day. Mostly nothing, because there was mostly nothing to shoot. Till next time...
So, what’s a bustling beachside amusement area like in the dead of winter, when everything is closed and the temperature drops into the 20’s? Well, the word “quiet” certainly comes to mind. And did I mention that the NFL playoffs are in full swing, presenting another very good reason to confine your weekend entertainment options to whatever can be viewed from your sofa. But off I go. As I settle into a seat on the Coney Island-bound subway, I fully expect the boardwalk to have all the makings of a post-apocalyptic stage set featuring zero actual humans. But my quest is the same - to find at least one great moment that I can capture, one more telling image that adds to the story of this unique place. So that’s today’s challenge, in two parts: come back unfrozen, and come back with one image that might surprise you and provide yet another insight into what makes Coney Island Coney Island - even in winter. Bye. Check back with you later.
(Two hours later...) I have to say, I was surprised to see a fair amount of people scattered up and down the boardwalk, though, as is becoming typical of this time of year, few were choosing to sit on a bench and freeze their butts off. Better to keep moving. So overall, a quiet day for “Meet Me on a Bench.” But just as I was leaving, I caught this image of an aspiring ballerina and friends taking what I assumed were publicity shots. The boardwalk seems to have unlimited potential as a backdrop. Fashion shoots, music videos, publicity shots, promotional photos and videos... seen them all. But ballet? That surprised me a bit. Maybe next, an opera?
Determining where the boundary lies with digital retouching is a personal decision, I guess. For me, it’s acceptable to declutter, to beautify, to stylize even, but not to rewrite. In other words, if it changes the narrative in any way, that’s a line I don’t want to cross. But, of course, exactly where that line sits is not always clear. This particular photograph had a fifth member of the cast sitting on the bench, but he was looking off to the side, and I was mesmerized by the other camera-facing three, who all seemed to be looking straight into the camera, or more accurately I suppose, straight at the photographer, with what appears to be an accusatory eye. The other guy, for me, spoiled the moment. So, bye bye. Still not sure if I broke my own rule on this one, it’s a close call; but it definitely makes for a much more compelling shot, so in the end, I took the liberty. May I not burn in hell.