Saturday, August 05, 2006

Another trip to the coast.

At the beginning of summer I made a short mental list of the places I wanted to travel to during my break. I knew I was going to Ocean City, NJ with my family, and Sandbridge, VA with friends. I thought I might put a theme to my wanderings, and make this the "summer of beaches". I had the opportunity on my first two trips (along with one I took to the Delaware shoreline last year) to explore beach towns of many types. I saw family beaches and party beaches, and the monster of them all- Atlantic City. I got lots of good photos and a feeling for the culture of the northeastern seaboard. What I hadn't seen was any rundown community that could be characterized as a "shadow of it's once proud self". Sure A.C. and Wildwood come awfully close to meeting that definition, but I wouldn't choose either of them as the archetype of that category. Atlantic City has plenty of money and an identity built around the glitz of the casinos. Wildwood is no longer a "family resort" but there is plenty of activity for teens and young adults. What I was after was a beach way past its prime.

Two places immediately came to mind... Asbury Park and Coney Island. The former's decline was made notorious by the songs of Bruce Springsteen's magnum opus, "Greetings from Asbury Park". When I was a kid, I remember my dad and his parents discussing the way it used to be- a thriving family-centered resort town. After the riots of the Vietnam-era, Asbury Park's decline was well documented and much lamented. Coney Island is a part of classic Americana. Hell, it's the birthplace of the hot dog. But it too has hit quite a rough spot. It's on the southern tip of Brooklyn, so it's not like it's a ghost town. But economic forces have conspired to form it's currrent reputation- seedy, grimy and dangerous.

Now the impressions I am describing are purely secondhand. I have no idea of what I will find in visiting these two places. Most of my information has come from folks who haven't been to either in over a decade. I did do some Internet research. I have seen photos that were shot recently. They mostly reinforce the conventional wisdom- they focus on the deterioration of the boardwalk and the surrounding areas. Being a photographer, I am aware of how much the individual's perception and intention can inform shots of a particular place. Is the work intended to challenge or reinforce the prevailing stereotypes of the material? Possibilities for manipulation are virtually endless. And I want to see for myself.

Months ago I set about trying to find companions for my journey. Given the dubious safety and conditions I risked encountering, I wanted to find one or more like-minded buddies to join me. Several folks expressed interest, but no one was willing to commit. So here I am setting off on this journey alone. I hope to provide regular updates from the road... but without access to a laptop, it's going to be difficult.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't remember hearing about it....

1:12 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Man... now people are coming out of the woodwork. I'd have loved to have company on this trip... I was fotunate enough to enlist my dad into braving NYC with me. But of course, "the more the merrier" would have been my refrain. That being said, obviously I can't discern whether or not I told you about it, "anonymous".

3:57 PM  

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