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’s the thing. You just never know.


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.


Apparently there are people who can’t wait for the weather to turn frigid, so they can rid themselves of all that restrictive summer-wear. A surprisingly early blast of sub-freezing temperature was all the Coney Island Polar Bears needed to strip down to their bikinis and banana hammocks and charge unblinking into the Atlantic. Another guy was seen stripped down to his gym shorts, cooling off on a court-side bench after a vigorous game of handball. And a rather determined-looking runner jogged by me on the boardwalk -  he looked to be 75 at least, apparently still working on his upper body tan. Of course, even here on the Coney Island boardwalk, those locals are the exception rather than the rule. But you have to applaud their spirit, and their unwillingness to let a little thing like winter undermine what is otherwise a beautiful Sunday afternoon.


During the entire two hours I was on the boardwalk this afternoon, a day after Thanksgiving, there was a man standing in the ocean, up to his shoulders maybe 90-100 feet from shore, wearing a big pair of yellow headphones and poking around the ocean floor with something on the end of a long pole. He barely shifted his position the entire time. So, what was he doing? Was he wielding some kind of metal detector, a not-too-uncommon site here. Doesn’t seem likely, though. Metal? Using an electronic device? 100 feet from shore and underwater,?; and not extending his search beyond a 5-square foot area? Was he clamming? Maybe, but he never seemed to bring the end of the pole out of the water. And does one generally go clamming in one spot, without moving around? And can you find clams a short distance off the Coney Island beach? I’m sure there’s a completely rational explanation. I just can’t imagine what it is. 


If you’ve recently misplaced your photographer, you might want to look in Coney Island. They’re all here. With almost everything closed and strolling visitors down to a hearty few, the camera toters have the place to themselves - not necessarily a good thing if you’re looking to capture “scenes from a bench.” But apparently Coney Island does offer photographers - professional, aspiring and selfie takers alike – an outdoor studio of limitless possibility. There are dueling music videos being shot along the boardwalk – one a more DIY approach featuring a young guy showing off some dance moves while mouthing to a pre-recorded song (I assume his), all captured on his partner’s iPhone; and another, more sophisticated production, with a steady cam, hair and make-up team, and what appears to be some well-mapped-out choreography. There’s a fashion shoot underway on the beach; there’s a man who snuck under a half-closed gate grabbing a photo of an old beer sign; and another guy is taking aim at a clump of grass peeking through the boardwalk planks under a bench. (He clearly sees something I don’t.) Of course, there are, as always, lots of guys shooting lots of cellphone photos of girlfriends posing in front of all kind of things. (I can’t remember ever seeing a girlfriend taking a photo of a boyfriend, by the way. Why is that?) Anyway, for me and the benches, a quiet day, though I did capture this image, of the more organized video crew huddling up to review a take and plan their next strut. (That’s your future Youtube legend in the striped leggings.) So, there’s always something.