Isle of Palms: 72 Hours

Isle of Palms: 72 Hours by Ara Hagopian is a 30-piece photography exhibit of the popular Atlantic seacoast area near Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.  The exhibit was shot with three cameras, the Sony A7R w/ 55mm Carl Zeiss prime lens, Sony NEX-5N w/ 55-210mm Sony E-Mount, and iPhone 6s.

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This is my fourth Charleston-area exhibit. Other 72 Hours exhibits include New York, Manhattan Beach, and Perkins Cove. As always, the photographs don’t delve into the “must-see” attractions of the area. Instead, I’ve taken 3+ days and nights to wander the area and capture what catches my eye. My criteria: Is it beautiful? Is it interesting, and worth the viewers’ time? That is the heart of the 72 Hours series.

1. BELOW: This is a classic Isle of Palms view on the middle west end of Ocean Boulevard. There are many beautiful places to stay, and this resort is right on the beach. The ocean is just out of sight at the lower left corner of the photograph, past the two trees.


2. BELOW: Pelican on patrol. How high is she? Are we miles up in the air, not a care in the world? It seems so!


3. BELOW: Seabird flying along with us. There is such joy in this picture! I feel like we’re soaring right with this fellow, moving as fast as we can, and I’ve turned to look back at his smiling face.


4. BELOW: Breach Inlet. Such an innocuous, narrow slice of water. Here’s where Revolutionary War British soldiers tried crossing from the Isle of Palms side, which you can see here, to the Sullivan’s Island side, where I was standing when I took this picture. The British thought the Inlet was less than two feet deep, but the waters were way over their heads and they were forced to attempt with small boats. They tried three times and were turned back due to the skills of an American sniper, the rough currents, and a crashing afternoon rainstorm. In this photograph, a dolphin plays for all to see.


5. BELOW: Moonlight, 4:45 AM. Photographing sunsets or sunrises can be rewarding but I hadn’t felt compelled to hunt such shots. Frankly, nothing has bested Newport RI or Perkins Cove ME for said events.

Isle of Palms had great sun setting and rising scenes, which I enjoyed, without the camera. What I didn’t expect was seeing a full moon, on the water, and the scene below was breathtaking.

I think what I enjoyed most was the modesty of the moment.  My feeling was, this event came and went without many people seeing it. While photography has so much to do with the sunshine, it was an unexpected pleasure to witness this kind of light. What makes this scene extra-special is knowing it’s the result of a double-reflection. The water reflects what the moon has caught off the sun. For us to receive the benefit from two magnificent objects is indeed outer-worldly.

Imagine if you were on this beach and stood in the glow of this light. Not from above, but the reflection from the water. Magical! Your face would be host to the connection of the sun, the moon, and the ocean.


6. BELOW: Two friends. These two rabbits were cooling off at Palmetto Park, at the start of the Oyster Point trail. They were in the wild but appear to be descendants of domestic breeds. Thanks to my 210mm lens and cropping, we can get close to them.

The rabbits were wary of me as I approached the park that morning. It was ten AM and already very hot. I spotted the brown fellow first, he was on the grass in a small open area. He was alert and moved around this small tree. When I followed, he disappeared under it. I circled around, saw he was with a buddy, and I got this shot.

A photographer’s gentle rule is to record, not disturb. I’m not on-scene to disrupt. One rule that supersedes all others, including the gentle rule, is to get the shot. If that means I’m disturbing my subject, then I’ll do my best to minimize the intrusion. The shot is everything, it’s the reason I’m here. It’s what I carry back to the viewers, to tell a story. Even if my telling is just a hint, the picture must be presented. It’s the one thing that’s okay to take away.


7. BELOW: Tree on Oyster Point trail. Does it seem magnificent to you? Because when I looked at it, in the middle of a hike on a hot morning, this tree looked extraordinary.


8. BELOW: Oyster Point forest. Is this how the forest looked to Robert E. Lee when he fortified this area against Union forces? The general set up three gun emplacements overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. My bet is this sight has not changed over the years.


9. BELOW: Oyster Point view. It took some effort to walk to this spot, and I made sure to appreciate a sight that evaded the crowds. When I was through for the day, I counted over 60 mosquito and chigger bites between my knees and ankles–the environment was brutal.

I’d walked some distance to get here. The area was remote and I was alone. I had plenty of water and free time.

I wanted to come back with a photograph of sight that’s not seen by many. You can’t drive here. It’s not a comfortable place to visit. There are no public facilities or quick exits.

The dirt trail leading to the scene below is covered with thousands of tiny land crabs. They look like half-inch long dark brown spiders and their sight is keen. They spot the trail walker and hustle to the safety of the forest, coming out again when the danger passes.

The sound of the land crab is a faint crackling, as they run over the sand and rocks to hide. They move very fast. Their eyes are always on you, which adds to the eeriness. They love the puddles of water and small creeks that cross the trail.

In the photograph, we are looking in roughly the direction of the Atlantic Ocean, with Isle of Palms on the far horizon. The band of water we see separating us from IOP is called the Intracoastal Waterway. This is a river deep enough to support warships, which is why general Lee set a gun battery here.


10. BELOW: Isle of Palms connector. This beautiful road is the primary route to and from the Isle of Palms, crossing three miles of marsh and waterway. There is a sign on this road, warning of the high winds. As cars pass, the pavement shakes. The sun is hot, and the humidity is high.


11. BELOW: Imagine a field that’s inaccessible to people, a wilderness of soft grass and protective trees. There’s a palm tree we can sit under and read for awhile—if we could get to such a place.

At night we could camp in a clearing, build a fire and tell stories. Maybe later we could explore what’s past the tree line—there’s a wide area open to us.

This picture was taken through the window of a speeding car, off the connector highway. No matter how closely we study the photo, there’s nary a trace of civilization.

If the photograph happened to be taken out of context, we could be in a faraway land. Frankly, out of context sounds just right to me!


12. BELOW: Sea Cabins Pier. This is a private way that I had sole access to one sunny afternoon. I am fond of the openness to the water, the view is very welcoming. Let’s see what’s out here! Photos 13-15 take place on this pier, the only walkway on the length of Long Beach.


13. BELOW: Isle of Palms, from both ends. This photograph has an interesting story. It started out being a strict obligation piece, because Isle of Palms is all about the stretch of beach that covers the entire west side. An exhibit needed to include a crowded sand and water shot, right?

Realistically, I couldn’t come home without a beach picture.

I felt this exhibit needed a token beach shot, even though I couldn’t envision how I could shoot it in any fun or unique way. Full disclosure, the beach wasn’t inspiring me.

An analogy: A beach shot is like a plate of chocolate chip cookies at a special party. Patrons are going to expect it, but it’s not really a treat the chef wants you to waste your calories on.

I’ve got other treats planned for you! But ugh, you’re going to expect cookies!

People know what a great beach looks like. Why do you need me to shove another pic at you? How is a beach picture going to add to your life? Those were my thoughts.

I took a bunch that checked all the boxes: Proper camera and settings, level horizon, balanced composition, (showing what I want, not just what’s in front of me), interesting sky, lots of sun, lots of people on the sand and in the water.

In short, people having a good time on a great day.

I was sure I didn’t have anything special because I didn’t believe in special beach pictures, not from me.

Everything shrinks in a photograph. A picture’s colors aren’t as fresh as when seen with our own eyes, even with Photoshop’s best tools. You, the viewer, also lack the sound of the scene, which affects how you see. We’re missing hundreds of cheery voices bringing the beach to life—how can a photograph compete with that loss?

And what about the warm sea breeze? And the gulls calling around us? Don’t forget your relaxation, and being away from your cares. Viewers–at your home or office, you’re robbed of all that, and more.

Everything shrinks in photographs, except the ideas each viewer happens to bring along with them. As you reflect on the image, an inflation occurs. Aha! That’s the amplifier that saves the magic. The viewer—you—fills in the lowered drama of the flat screen. And not just in beach pictures. Any artistic piece you see, be it visual or performance art, is expanded upon by you.

Where does your mind go when you see this piece? Because it’s your place now, and no one’s ever been there. Does it remind you of a fond time? Bring to life a long past memory? If your answer’s yes, then you have added more value to the picture than I have. As only you could.

My opinion was that a beach picture, by me, would be an obligation for this exhibit. A requirement of the set. I found out after I’d returned home I was wrong.

Here’s a clue as to how much I dreaded including a beach photograph. I put off examining any such pictures until I was pretty much set with the thrust of this show. My plan was this: At the last minute, I’d pick a nicely-focused shot, crop it landscape, and drop my plate of chocolate chip cookies on the table.

And then… I was looking at the beach shots I’d taken from the Sea Cabins pier. On one of my shooting days I’d walked out on the pier as far as possible, took a photo of the beach to the left, and then took a shot to the right.

At home, these two shots showed up in my preview pane facing left and right, just as I’d shot them. Right away, I saw it. Boy, it would be really neat to see how these two pictures would look merged together, like a panorama. I carefully blended the pictures in Photoshop.

What we see is the full island, except for the pier area directly in front. To the left, we see the edge of the island with Breach Inlet (see my photograph of this area earlier in this exhibit).

To the right, we see the end of the beach where Dewees Island lurks.

Mostly though, we see people enjoying a beautiful day. Look at those colors. The camera is about twenty-five feet off the ground, and over the water. Magically suspended, it seems. That’s the beauty of this shot. No one’s looking at us, but boy do we have quite a view!

I got my beach shot. And it ain’t no boring plate of cookies.


14. BELOW: The boardwalk. Two pigeons take a few minutes to break from the hundred-degree sun. They were enjoying the shade of the Sea Cabins pier and who could blame them! They occupied themselves by watching the beach crowd enjoying the summer day. This is a moment filled with personality—one of my favorite in the series.


15. BELOW: Dragonfly. The electric attention-grabber.


16. BELOW: USS Yorktown deck and the Cooper River bridge. Keeping tourists off the flight deck while waiting for the wind to fill the flag.


17. BELOW: Flight.


18. BELOW: Rehabilitation. Care and courage at the Center For Birds of Prey.


19. BELOW: Hunter flight.


20. BELOW: Time to make room. Somewhere near 9th Avenue and Carolina, a house demolition took place. One man was on site, doing this terribly violent work.


21. BELOW: Left with no one. An abandoned home is a residence of loss. We are reminded of the cycle of time. Let’s imagine, shall we?

Rewind fifty years, to a young man and woman excited to purchase their first home. They had great plans for it, they cared for the lawn, furnished the house and held social parties for over a decade.

Time bleaches all ink. Time invalidates lengthy intention. Time drugs the present, blind to the future. The couple aged until one of them was left to mind the property. The excitement had traveled, faith to echo.

They were here, and gone.

Ripped screens, broken furniture, dirty rooms and unclaimed mail. The man and woman from their glory years, standing arm in arm with their smiles—can you see them? They would be heartbroken to know the future. Perhaps it’s best they didn’t have a clue it was coming.

We turn and assure them: You loved what you had.

We remind each other, today—love what you have.


22. BELOW: Palmetto trees, sunshine, and blue sky.


23. BELOW: Touch. Read the story here:


24. BELOW: This is a frond from a Palmetto tree just past Wild Dunes. I chose this picture because I see the lines of an elegant bird.

The twists of hanging strands were getting in my way, but they were tightly bound to the tree and I would never dream of removing them. I tried holding them out of the way but that didn’t work. In the end, the strands added a curvy element to the picture.

My regret is my camera’s F stop setting. I should have gone with a higher value to get more of a depth of focus.

Going beyond the obvious palm tree subject matter that’s important to the area, I see something more here. The lines are attractive, from the center and moving up and over. When an inanimate object shows personality, it’s worth sharing.


25. BELOW: Sunburst tree between the traffic lanes at Ocean Blvd. What looks like a gnat stuck to the center of your screen is actually a bee flying around the tree.


26. BELOW: This is a rare view of Shem Creek. I took it through a restaurant booth’s dirty window. Cleaned in Photoshop to put you in the scene.


27. BELOW: Someone who lives near the ocean has an activity that gets them off the shore, to their destination. They keep their canoe at hand, for when the time is right to hit the water.

Whenever you’re ready, we can head out. Even if it’s just for a couple of hours, we can break away from here. The Intracoastal Waterway is but five minutes away, and I know a tiny island’s clearing. Travel light, but we’re staying overnight.


28. BELOW: After a heavy rainfall, a seabird takes several gulps of water from a parking lot puddle. The puddle was clean; the birds know where they can drink. All the birds of the area seek a good fresh water supply, often taking advantage of what the nightly rains have left behind. This is a candid, early-morning drink.

I was making the bird nervous. He knew I was spotting him and I did my best to let him be. I was glad he got his hearty drink for the morning. Nice deep fresh water, who could complain!


29. BELOW: After a heavy night’s rain, and a day’s wind and sun, a pattern emerges.

This was my only shot of this scene. While I shoot dozens of variations of most every scene, for whatever reason I took this one photo and moved on. I must have changed my mind about the subject’s value. I’m happy to say I was wrong. There is so much to say about the sand. An observation: For this spot, a day passed without a person breaking the crust left by the night’s rain.


30. BELOW: String of flight. The sights from Isle of Palms never get old. I walked or drove to a dozen locations to give this exhibit variety and depth. This is a feature of the 72 Hours series. Thank you for traveling with me!


Thank you for looking!

About Ara Hagopian's The LITERATE Show

For over thirty years, I have enjoyed drawing beautiful shapes and writing complementary stories. The imagery tends to focus on our place in the world—whomever or whatever we may be. I am influenced by Twentieth Century history—I read vintage magazines, books and letters. Inspiration comes from visualizing human achievement and personal interaction—derived from people, places and things which may be obscure, but never insignificant. My pen-and-ink THE MAGNIFICENT RECOVERY was selected by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for their 2008 summer art auction.
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