Wild Dunes Walking

Welcome to Wild Dunes Walking, a photography & writing exhibit of Wild Dunes, at Isle of Palms South Carolina.

Click on the photo to see it big! Hit the back button to return to the show.

This exhibit features 30 photographs captured with the Sony A7R full-frame camera and 55 mm Carl Zeiss lens. With commentary written in situ during the week of photography, July 3-9, 2021.

ABOVE: Early Morning. Take a look. How can I present the color of sand to you? How can I tell you about the excitement of being right here, at this moment? Let’s start by sharing as much as I can.

There are many Photoshop adjustments that can change what we see. Which setting is best? Should I leave the picture untouched, directly out of camera? Or maybe click one of many auto-correct buttons– auto level, auto tone, auto color, etc.? Or effect a custom mix of some sort?

None of my photographs are presented directly out of camera. Pictures always need some work: Lightening, cropping, hue, and other conversions. The reason for this is artistic choice. I am making a picture, not taking one.

The sand color you see came after a few hours of studying the dune, on site. The work continued in the condo unit, which was a twenty-second walk from this exact spot. I edited all the photographs in the unit at night, last week, when the pictures were shot. This was my true standard for the best choices. I was there; I was open to the flow of what was being captured and made ready.

Color, here: It’s not just sunlight. It’s 8:00AM angled light, filtered through sub-tropical clouds, and humid island air.

Color, here: It’s not just sand, it’s fine particles layered from high winds that have folded fresh patterns overnight. This sand was dredged directly offshore a few years ago to build up the beachfront.

A lack of footprints does not equate to a lack of people. It equates to, no people yet today– many will traipse, and soon.

Early Morning is getting out of bed and getting out there. Early Morning is wondering if stopping at this spot is keeping me from getting to a better spot. Early Morning is my setting proximity aside, as an interest factor. It’s hard for me to believe when I’m on site that the viewer does not care about proximity! But you do not care, at all. The viewer’s sole point of reference is what the photograph provides. If there was a dumpster just out of frame, it would only influence my perception of the scene, not yours. That is why I say, you do not care about what you don’t see.

The easy appeal of Early Morning is the warm color, yes, but also the mixing of fence shadow and dune ripples. These shadows are like choral voices, originating separately, emerging collectively, where the blend makes something big.

Shadow exceeds source. Source is bland and unartful. Shadow is the presence we notice. Shadow makes money. Remove source and shadow’s gone.

Early Morning is how I want you to start the Wild Dunes Walking 2021 exhibit. Now let’s get your feet wet.

ABOVE: Separations. How does a photograph rate for the second selection in a series of thirty? If you love grades, and tactile changes, and unity of difference but not of type, then you’ll understand why I assigned the high rating. Sand to water, left to right, and here you stand, in the soft, muddy middle. What you feel under your feet, you can hear behind your ears. It’s the mucky slap back. What you touch, is sticking with you.

Do you understand that coincidence is communication? And with coincidence, you are being spoken to. This is what I’ve learned in 56 years. Here is the only picture in the series where I wasn’t shooting for the exhibit. This picture was for my own use, for sun values and capturing beach goers. I didn’t see anything artistic here, when I was on site.

That night, during editing, the magic of the four demarcations became obvious to me. Oh, what a grand evening that was! I had the understanding that in this picture, yes, something was working that I hadn’t seen. That evening of editing was warm and dark, I was draped on a couch with a Dr. Pepper Cherry Zero double on full ice, in the tallest glass I could find. Law and Order CI on the TV, for sound only.

Heaven, in other words, in which to work.

I cropped out the people up top, and allowed the photo to be a narrow horizontal piece. I squeezed it together about 10%. Then I selected colors that shifted the entire being into this perfect little thing. This picture is not just about wet and dry. There are tons of glorious footprints to the left, and no prints possible to the right. That is what we call range, and I love the concept. Range is grounding. It gives me my field of play.

We can see a few prints in the wet sand, that the tide was just beginning to reclaim. The third quadrant was glass-smooth, where the latest wave just receded.

A word about what I just said, selecting colors. You might say, “Wait, these colors look natural.” Think what a lens polarizer does. Or if you don’t know that, then take into account the wealth of color 36 megapixels provides. We have the power to adjust any hue we wish, in a combination that defines the theme. I started with a washed-out photo with little separation and formed this, as something without obvious effort.

Final observation. I like the curvy separations. As is often the case, I went back to the site in subsequent days, to “shoot it better”. I didn’t see anything as clear and obvious as Separations. The next days’ demarcations weren’t artful. This picture was the one that worked best.

ABOVE: Day after Tropical Storm Elsa. Elsa hit Isle of Palms on the night of July 7th. Winds reached 50 MPH. A tornado briefly touched down. The next day the rough water added a great subject to our Wild Dunes Walking show.

The seabird in this picture is a treat because she isn’t one of the more common birds on the Wild Dunes shore. We hardly ever see this type. The lines of her wings and body are accentuated by the red beak.

A theme you may see repeated in this show is a flag motif, where horizontal bands of color call for you to step back and look, to see the flag. A focused subject matter to the upper left also adds to the flag presentation.

ABOVE: Day after Elsa, picture 2. What was here, is still here. Every bird playing on the day after the storm, survived the storm.

ABOVE: Sunrise. I have a lot to say about the sunrises at Wild Dunes. Sunrise comes at 6:15, about an hour later than my native Massachusetts. This picture is from about an hour into it.

For the waterfronts I’m most familiar with, up north at Wingaersheek and Perkins Cove, sunrise comes from the right, or in front of me.

On the other hand, Isle of Palms is situated such that, to me, the sun appears to rise in the west. I will probably never get past this false orientation, since it’s my lifetime impression of where I am when I face the waterfront. The left will always seem west.

Let’s talk about the challenges of sunrise photos on Isle of Palms. When I get up in the morning to hunt early sky, I’m betting on a certain combination of clear and clouds, and am fighting time.

Fighting time is a two-front war. Yes, getting onto the beach by 5:45 is just the start. The real battle is the camera’s temperature and humidity transformation from air-conditioning to the outdoor humidity.

The camera and lens system needs about 20 minutes to equilibrize. The lens fogs, not just on the outside glass, which should be wiped frequently, but also inside the lens, where you can’t touch. You just have to wait it out, outside. If you don’t have patience, and don’t plan your time, you’ll end up with blurry photos.

This is one of two Sunrise photos I had prepared for you. The photo I didn’t include in this show, I can describe. The sun was a small pink ball that had just breached the sea horizon. It radiated a larger orange circle, on a dark-but-lightening beach. The camera wasn’t fully de-fog equilibrized– the picture’s a bit fuzzy– but the shot was suitable for use. The slight blurring effect actually aided the image.

The photo captured a woman in close-up pose and she is smiling at us. The sun is precisely between her pretty hands, and her fingers reach to the sky, in a way that would pause Angels from their morning’s work. The woman is not cupping the sun or doing anything with it that she’s aware. She is simply being beautiful, as the tiny fireball backlights her. She did not want the picture to be exhibited and I respect her wishes.

For the Sunrise photo shown above, you would be disappointed if you saw how I set it up. What you see is beautiful and open. You don’t see me crouching in front of a 2-foot square pathetic clump of reeds awkwardly growing in the middle of an otherwise open beach. Once again, the proximity matters so very little. All we care about, is the world we see point blank. And then, we fill in all the other details for ourselves.

ABOVE: Wild turtle walk. A brash, good-sized turtle decided to take a walk from the shrubs. When it saw children, and me, it took an about face. Back to the thicket.

You can be strong, and only have to use that strength once in your life.

Don’t focus on the chigger bites on your legs. Instead, think about where those legs will take you today.

ABOVE: Fetch! Keep your eye on the ball, whoever you are, and as best you can. No one can fault you for being sharp. I’ve dipped the horizon line a half a degree, to open up the field of play. Crazy artists, like me, equate the wave to the dog. And the frisbee, to the water’s shine. There are four characters, you see, and they are playing for us.

Aim for a score of 100, and be satisfied with an 85. Don’t be satisfied if you aim for 85 and get it.

Bound, when you’re unbound.

ABOVE: Peaceful. I was here, and it was just like this. Essentially two sky overlays were flooding grays and blocking light. Dear sky: I can see what you’re doing because the ocean betrays you. The ocean could sell your reflection as moonlight but it’s too damn honest.

The color range in this picture is very narrow. How, then, does this scene work so well? Because you are simply watching magic. I want to help place you here.

Crashing, rolling, stereo surf, gulls are midrange, human voices fade out.

Sea foam sizzles. Wet sand hisses as the water retreats. Tick, tick, tick goes the sand holes, and what lies beneath.

Sparkly surf, due to low angle of the sun. Very few people see this view.

Later in the day, the straight-up sun washes out everything, including the masses of people lost in the glare and center of the Bell Curve.

ABOVE: With me. Studying the social life and hunting method of Sand Pipers was alone worth my week at Wild Dunes.

Dear visitor: What put you here? How was it placed before you? You don’t have to ask, but you do have to know.

If you don’t enjoy the world, you’ve failed all the people who have made great efforts, most of which not for you.

Sand Pipers teach us a lesson. Let’s stick together when someone drops off. Let’s stick together when someone joins us.

ABOVE: With you. You can dig without scraping. You can get into this without getting out of that.

You can take this in without taking it away.

I don’t want to shoo you, but I want you to be shoo’d. Take flight so I can see your next change. Someone needs to scare you to get moving. Then you can pause again, when the jolt is over. And you’ve forgiven me.

ABOVE: Look to me. The partially-buried sea creature said, “Dear beach visitor, I’m a being in need. One of many, at your mercy. We count on you to be strong. And I think, you count on us when you’re weak.

“Look away, if you want me to die. Look to me, if you want me to live.”

I needed a conversation with someone who didn’t want to talk. And that’s how we got started.

“Sir,” the creature said, “Don’t look back unless it’s great there. Skip the present, that’s passing. Force your future exactly as you want it to be.”

“Hello creature: I came very far and very fast, to slow it all down. It seems to me, you are in complete living peace. I am locked-in on that.”

“You can focus on relaxing but I would skip the focusing.”

“Ouch,” I replied.

The creature said, “I can’t take a step, and I’ve traveled no place; only you have come to me. You’ve done me a great service. With your hello.”

“Sea creature, I have a question for you. I am counting on you to dig deep for your answer. What is here that is not here? As I squint at you in this terrible sun.”

“Dear visitor, if the sun burns, then what sears the dungeon? If the wind stings, would you prefer unfeeling skin?”

I asked, “Why is life not this right, all the time? What place can I carry, if I have to set you down? I must be so out of balance, to have this need! To compensate for the extreme that’s called normal.”

“Why is this not the right time? For anything you wish to do?”

“Sea creature, let me put it this way: Do the waves dream of the city?”

“How can something so free and and so fluid, be held to one place? I’m speaking of you, not the sea. Someone who thinks they’re worth nothing, will spend all their wealth to prove it.”

I understood.

“You can only divide your time,” the creature said. “Everything else that you split, will either rejoin or disintegrate while your attention is turned away. This is why you are searching.

“I have an answer for both of us,” he continued. “I’ll make a particular kind of noise, for your particular kind of ear. Ready for it?”

I nodded. “Please, yes.”

“If it is given to you, you will give it away.

“The more you share, the less apart we’ll be.”

ABOVE: Waiting. When you’re having fun, why stop? Why not stop the place but not the feeling?

Why not keep it going, the fun I mean, and flow the smile into your work and toward others.

ABOVE: Sorry. The saddest sight on a sunny beach is your empty chair. Paid for, carefully set up for you, holding a place that won’t be taken.

I want you here!

You wanted to be too, but something pushed you away and now for six hours this shaded spot goes to waste.

I can’t stand to look at it. It reminds me that you’ve been disappointed today, on a vacation you’ve long waited for.

Too much wind? Neighbors rude with a radio, or smoking, or being obnoxious?

Breaks my heart to let you down.

ABOVE: Your time. It’s all laid out in front of you. Look and see. Leave it for others. Take as much as you can away.

The shade in the sun is the only cheating allowed. Beach shadows cover the water until the sunshine returns from its bathroom break.

The only thing that lasts is the same view through different eyes.

If the waves break, I’m fixing to sea.

ABOVE: Trails. As the tide pushes forward and pulls back, a trail is created, soon to be erased– by the same forces.

ABOVE: Shell 1. Look down while you’re walking, or you won’t miss the pretty shells; observe, pay attention, or they will cut your feet.

Observe, pay attention, or you will crush them. Better walk before the tide turns! Better walk after the tide turns!

ABOVE: Shell 2. The finest natural pottery shard. Shells look so much better by the sea.

ABOVE: Shell 3. Natural wetness from the ocean a foot behind me, and rushing. The water is the only way we’d see the blue and brown.

ABOVE: Shell 4. Take a good look at the shell fragments that surround this pretty thing. They were all part of something bigger, until they became part of bigger still.

ABOVE: Shell 5. If I show you a pretty shell, don’t tell me you’ve gathered many like it; you have never seen it from me.

If I take a picture, don’t tell me we have many of these. Think of it as, I’ve never taken this photo before.

Tell me you can’t wait to see how it came out.

ABOVE: Sand dollar. You say “No secrets,” and then you hide me.

Every crushed shell in this huge mass of Isle of Palms shore was once and still living; it’s the state of matters.

ABOVE: Three-Inch Dead Rhinoceros Beetle. The creature with no overseer is such a crushing shame. Once a body looked after, is now under no control. Your tidy legs, you used to groom, your magnificent shell and body, you would align in the order of your life, now lie abandoned.

It has to be, and I have to see.

Where now do you go? As I walk away.

ABOVE: Life bubbles as water retreats. Imagine if you could talk to me, without wanting to change my mind.

Imagine being in a room full of dear people, where no one accepts your dearest point of view.

Think of what it would be like, to never be able to ask for what you need, your name never making the list of Okays and We Understands and That’s All Rights.

That’s where I walk.

The answer to Life isn’t: “This is what makes sense to me.” The answer is, this is what’s been shown to me, for dozens of years, gently, over and over again.

And there’s no one on Earth that will accept my point of view, if they get their answers via other men.

ABOVE: Crying out. This shell looked like a canine’s yelp, complete with the fanning of water stains. I had about five seconds to stage this shot before the tide killed the dog, for good.

ABOVE: Opaque shell. The translucent shell, a large lens to only let through my kind of light.

My sight isn’t stopped by a solid plane, when what I’m presented halts the rest of the world.

ABOVE: Very old. No one will believe the colors of Wild Dunes beach, the shapes, or the wear of the ages. But you have seen it.

ABOVE: Blue-gray. Blue-gray points, blue-gray all over, just a fraction of its shell, getting a sense of its life. The being on the inside of this that I touch, built it for itself, for its life and battles.

Imagine this creature’s prime, eclipsing this piece. But it sure did.

ABOVE: Very thick. The clam grew its shell so thick, there was no way it was going to die.

ABOVE: Lost sunglasses. Isle of Palms is a very clean beach. There is no litter to speak of. Shell shards form a base for these pristine lost sunglasses. I took the photo and caught the sky, with a foreshadow of the storms to come.

ABOVE: You’re gone. There will always be good options. Pick one and enjoy it. The ice cream you didn’t buy was enjoyed by someone else.

Things are disposable, and will be gone soon, while we are here, all are too.

###

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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6 Responses to Wild Dunes Walking

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Ara, fascinating read re: sights, sounds & emotions emitted from a simple, yet considerably complicated setting- a beach!
    Actually spent a week in a condo there sev. years ago, sitting very close to the beach. The following year, a hurricane came thru & all the beachfront condos along that area washed into the ocean, as well as severely damaging several other rental properties. Wonderful read. MerryMarilyn

  2. Anonymous says:

    Love it. I live now in the desert, one giant beach, but miss the sea and the real beach. jealous.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I really like the image with the sunglasses. I love the way the color of the frame is picked up in the shell fragments and the menace of the storm reflected in the lens!

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