Your gifts have filled my days with encouragement. When I’ve deserved nothing, when I was at my repetitive worst, you placed your hands in that barren field and pulled out something good. You turned to me with your arms outstretched and I cried at your offering. How did you come up with that, and why for me?

Gift, when I didn’t ask. Gift, when I insisted. Gift, when I was in danger. Gift, when my car was full and my tank was empty.

Diving rocks, the day after a heavy storm. The ocean was rough and this nine-year-old shouldn’t have been swimming alone.

The waves pushed me against the rocks and I did my best to climb out of it. No use, the retreating water pulled me back down to the sea. I kept my eyes focused to where I needed to end up, as my body was tossed like a paper cup on the waves.

Three times I was deposited onto the jagged walls of that cliff, three times I tried climbing out and three times I was ripped back down. For the fourth bout, the waves pushed me onto the rocks and I waited as the water equalized. The pushing had stopped and the pulling not yet started. I held on as tightly as possible. I knew the power of this retreat well now.

The pulling water! So strong, like heavy chain links over my shoulders, nullifying my arms, trying to yank me back down again. I ducked my head and– fortune! A moment’s success! I climbed a few inches before the fifth wave came and lifted me a bit higher up the cliff, dislodging me in a perverse agreement towards fake safety. Yes it was pushing me higher but it was also providing buoyancy, the enemy of my fingers and the grip needed to hold me in place. I defeated that fifth-wave lift because I tucked my head down, and held my ground, as the water drained around me.

And then it was over, I was free of the pulls and pushes. I climbed to the top.

Your gifts were many that day. One was a warning: Don’t ever do that again. Another was deleting fear from my head during those tense moments. If I’d been scared, I don’t think I’d have made it. I would have wasted too much energy when I needed to grip the rocks. Another gift was giving me memories of the perilous details, so I could feel the terror in safer years.

Gift, to observe and understand. A gift that allows me to keep my eye on the ball, when others, often a majority, lose focus.

Gift, to see the arcs of life, and my place in the same.

Gift, to be one of many to care for my mother.

Gift, to be cared for. Gift, when an unnamed nurse sat with me in a hospital overnight in 2008 during a health scare.

To be told in 1972, “The baby’s kicking,” and to place my ear on mom’s belly to hear my future sibling.

To share the above experience with my older brother, side by side, our hands on mom’s belly. Do you feel it? Me too!

Gift, to make many friends along the way.

To have the right lady in my life, when all she wanted to do was talk to me. And all I wanted to do was place my hands on her. Gift, in a class beyond me. Gift, to hear her and to feel her.

Gift, to enjoy life. To be happy with so-called lower standards. To not be bothered by trivialities. That’s part of keeping focus, after all.

Gift, to feel bad to make someone cry.

To be spoken to at night. To be given the only answer I will ever need.

Gift taught me how to give.

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Grand Train

Grand Train, what wonders are you bringing to town? Everyone’s eager and awaiting your arrival. When will your bright light show you the way to our smiling faces and waving arms? People have ordered many things, and stand patient for their deliveries. Someone’s brought an empty cart, will you fill it?

We know you will.

The people have high expectations, they know what you can carry. What an immense machine you are! Miles-long, perfectly-maintained, clean and beautiful to look at. You have access to wealth and opportunity, food, clothing, necessities, and luxuries, just enough for everyone to share.

Last I looked, my eyes were on those who didn’t place an order with you– they didn’t have the ability or means to plan. They are standing shoulder to shoulder with everyone else, do you have something for them too?

The word on the platform is yes! Something’s coming for everybody. No one will be turned away. Because you are the Grand Train.

Grand Train, just about all the townspeople are at the platform. They are pleasant and orderly; they know you’ll come. Each moment it seems, someone’s caught a glimpse of your bulbous engine. False alarm– but you’ll be in sight soon. Our arms are locked, our voices in song. I imagine your huge doors are ready to spill a wealth of contents, on to eager hands.

The stories are well-known, your legacy is untarnished!

Grand Train. We couldn’t wait. My family packed our belongings and we got out of town. We’re headed very far away, over a thousand miles, to a tiny station that doesn’t have anyone waiting. The townspeople there will probably be too busy to be untasked– heck, they won’t even know we’re coming. Our hope is that one day, soon, they’ll gather for our companionship, our livelihood and maybe, our ideas. From what we’ve learned, that’s all they’ll need in that town.

Grand Train, thank you for the promise of great things to come. Keep watch for our tail lights; we are one less family waiting for you.

Grand Train by Ara Hagopian.
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One High Place

You find out what your life’s missing, when you travel. Up ahead there’s a road, that leads to a place that can really open you up. You don’t have to do any self-examination. It’s simple; what’s revealed is what you don’t possess.

If you enjoy reading, then you know when you read, you go places. Sometimes this grows beyond escapism; a part of you is actually planning ahead, envisioning a more comforting place to be. Not just for your imagination to settle in, but for your body, too. One day.

That I believe to be true.

When we daydream, we’re transported in a similar way. Books, daydreams, live theater, movies– these activities lead to one destination: We’re on to a better place. We’re moving in a certain way, by non-physical means, until we find another means. Or until we give up. We can say, we’re traveling to a place worthy of our time.

Consider this. When treetops look like transformed mountains from superior dreams, you could ask, if I made my way towards one of those trees, what else could be transformed?

And, what would be changed in me?

When your attitude improves from breathing new air and from being there, how can you deny the cascade within you? When strangers offer a welcome like it’s all new to them too, then let me be the first to break it to you: You’re not just passing through. Your travels have brought you to a new home.

You find out what you have to offer when you travel. If your inspiration flows and doesn’t have to be pulled out of you, when a place makes itself easy to alter but you choose not to change a bit of it, then stop and think: Why not settle here?

Your best contribution to the world starts from your home. How fine would it be, if that address was One High Place.

There’s a locality of aspiration, with many paths to get there. The tallest, strongest trees are always set on raised ground. Does the base sit higher than where you are today? Isn’t that a good place to get started? Meaning, could you move to someplace a little better than where you live today?

One High Place, and its opportunities for you.

Not The Highest Place. Not The Best Place. 1HP4U.

When I was hurting and stuck, I didn’t have to get to the highest tree. There was no way I’d have the means to make it there, anyway. And I couldn’t get to the beautiful mountaintop that rose behind it–that too was for someone else, richer, smarter, younger, more ambitious, you name it. I just needed to find a higher place than where I was.

Let me tell you the story of a beginning. In 1986, I lived in a North Adams MA apartment building that overlooked South Street, which at that time was one of the poorer sections of the city. This was a rural college town and naturally, students made life harder for the locals. South Street was about six blocks away from the college and was the first line of homes that didn’t include off-campus housing.

In other words, South was not the most desirable street for townspeople to live on.

One day, I looked out my third-floor bedroom window. Directly across the street I saw a fortyish lady sweeping her driveway. She was dressed in modest clothing, suitable for yard work. Her clothes were worn. As I watched, her body was bent and she looked tired.

It was a windy day and trash was blowing in the street. A food wrapper found its way to her dead-grass lawn and stayed there. A loose dog trotted down the sidewalk, with a direct pace that no person would dare intercept.

My eyes came back to the driveway and to the lady– she was looking up at me. She’d seen my face in the window and just stared back.

I wanted to duck out of sight. I was caught, and embarrassed. In fact, I felt that by looking at the street I’d been doing something wrong, in violation of the residents’ privacy. I lowered my head to drop out of sight but changed my mind and froze, my face just a few inches lower in the glass. This was not an act of courage, or standing my ground. I felt ashamed. I surrendered.

She was leaning on the broom and looked more haggard than I’d thought. She was wearing a dingy kerchief that let loose some hair on her forehead. Even the broom looked pathetic, taped in the middle from a break, and missing many bristles.

Take a good look, kid. That’s the feeling I got from her.

I was 21 years-old and living a dream life. I had a drum kit in that room. A six-piece set! On occasion, I had guitarist friends bring their amplifiers up the three flights of stairs to jam when we wanted. Never thought about the noise.

Take a look lady, that was me.

I had a seventeen-year-old girlfriend who gave me everything I wanted and a model airplane hobby that filled my dreams and non-school hours. In fact I built and painted fifty models that year, in that room.

I got great grades and had great friends.

My face filled the window. Our eyes met. She made a motion to stuff her hair back and halted halfway. I’ll never forget what her eyes said to me.

Take a good look, kid. From your high place. That’s not your home. That’s not anybody’s. Not that building. Your landlord makes promises and breaks agreements. Not just with you, but with us. The people who live here.

Because this is our home. We are just barely making it.

Let me guess. You’re an immature man who counts on someone else to do the heavy lifting. Does Mommy pay your bills? You are going to find out very soon, you’ll take what broom you have. Come a few years you’ll wake up owning nothing, with piles of debt and your peers a long way gone past you. You are making decisions that will lock you into a life that will be impossible to get out of.

Or maybe you’ll learn something. Hey, kid up there. Maybe you’ll put a fraction of that education to use. Do you think you can do better?

One High Place by Ara Hagopian.

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Between Two Worlds

Between two worlds. My voice needs to be heard, and self-protection is but a nudge greater than that need. I’m overloading, and have to bail, and the jump spot seems worse. The life machine is just stringing me along and I want to fight it, or correct it, and I don’t bother.

Why do I shout? When my whisper makes them wince. Why do I speak, when no one reads. Why do I write, when they’re not listening?

Peace is being unaware of the war around me. Which is why both will always exist. Which is why my being dulled and shut down is the way out of the fighting. Gladly so!

And that’s why I have to move. Because I don’t want to be glad about shutting up. Because I want to speak with an even volume. I want others’ voices to resonate with me, in all their tones and different ways. I want to look and smile, and be smiled back.

I have to travel very far for this to be so.

I have to travel to a place that will tear me up to get there. I need to be torn.

In twenty-two years, hmm, no one’s asked me to explain what I learned with my MBA degree. If they did, I could say, “You can’t change just one part of a system,” and I could break that down, like an MBA. Instead, for those decades, people have counted on me to leverage, not explain, what I know, to benefit the team or situation. Or the essay, or the art work, or the photograph.

Between two worlds. The seagull with the fish in its beak makes the biggest noise. The gull without a fish makes the biggest complaint. When you hear the same sound from both, and perceive no difference, when you’re not getting who is happy and who is bitching, not able to discern the right vs. the wrong, you’re right here with me.

I lost an idea and it was gone like a child. I can come up with many other ideas, beautiful, short, fitting for just now, and never-ending for a lifetime and beyond, but I can’t ever re-create the one that I didn’t write down. An idea that’s gone forever is fuel for me. I have to make up for it! Fuel sustains. Fuel is a continuance. It allows to happen what’s to be changed. And that is movement.

I’m given a register of what I’m to remember, what I’m to possess in my memory, and without a reason; I don’t know why I remember locking an eight-year-old classmate in a school closet and running away as she begged to be let out. Am I given this etched memory to make me never do a thing like that again? Or to sting my foolish fingers for a lifetime?

Out of all the billions of experiences since that day in 1973, why has hers stuck with me?

Was she given a memory too? Was it– Don’t trust? Or, trust in the teacher who thankfully opened the door?

How long did it take for the girl to shake the fear that I caused? Did it grow to a phobia? A semi-opaque curtain wrapped around her life? Don’t trust boys, don’t trust people in general. Don’t venture alone.

Or did her fright lead her to become an inspired lady, growing so much bigger than a shrunken, cowering kid? And going so much further than a foolish, fleeing boy.

I can’t go back to her, but I can come back to her. I have to travel to do it, I have to bend this and reconfigure that and this boy stops in his tracks. Retraces his steps. Quickly. I open the door and tell her it’s all right, and I’m sorry. That, dear reader, is movement from one world to another. It’s making a change to something that can never be changed, fixing what can’t ever be fixed, but in one place. I can travel to fix it by telling the world about it. By opening other doors, for other people. By learning, and re-learning, over and over again, to not run away and to not harm.

I have used up every bit of the resource that is me here. Every moment after trauma is improvement. I will no longer accept being between two worlds.

Between Two Worlds by Ara Hagopian.

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Your Impression

If someone was to describe what you are, they could say you’re rough and dirty. Anyone would say it, because it’s the truth. Step back, pause, and look again; I see something else. The hardness that is your being holds something very fine too. While the revealed definition is graceful and made of fragile, rare stuff, your function is not impeded, not in any way at all.

I have seen you carry the load of many trucks, with muscle and ease. I have walked away and come back to see the work you’ve done. I have seen you get shit on and spit on and counted on, in the same day, in the same night, by the same people. Most see you one way: Gritty. And then a few will stop, forget their phones, drop their bias, and take a long look. I’ve seen the change happen. Your impression makes an impact that adds something positive to the world.

You dismantle barriers. You make barriers. You help people who have been broken, find their way home. You wait outside until you see they’re greeted and safe and the light’s turned out. You do this without being asked, and without telling a soul. You do it because it’s a neighborly thing to do.

You do this, because you are our neighbor.

You stop a bully from impeding, and get a lady on her way. You allow bullies to go far enough to make a turn. You’ve let people like me be stupid and get away with it, many times. One time you stopped me before I could go one inch further, and I hated you for it.

I want more people to step back and take a look at you. I want them to hold on a moment and see you a different way than they’re used to, a different way than they’re told to. Your impression has made me change.

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Not A Thru Way

I can hear much activity that I can’t access, at the end of my dead-end street. The street is mine, the activity is yours. I walked as far as possible today, like many other days, to the paved limit, and stopped to listen. There, it’s you.

Through a thick coating of trees, and an impassible ravine, I could just barely see flashes of cars, people going places, not having to tap their brakes for a long while. No one taps brakes because they want to. Oh, but to be on a road where one can drive for quite a while! Without thinking of slowing. Without having to stop. I want to tap my brakes!

This ravine. That fence. Heavy thicket. Sharp spines. Private property. Barking dog. My hesitation, the one real barrier.

How many years have I stood at this edge and strained to hear you? There’s a party going on, with laughter, and some music, too. Treble is absorbed. Low frequencies have soundwaves that don’t fully form until they’re quite a distance from your speakers, and they reach me differently. I don’t want to hear the music this way. I don’t want this muffling. I bet it would sound so much better if I were there.

You’re having a cookout, the aromas betray you. I’m sure the chicken and pork will be a hit. Grilling rolls maybe? Garlic butter rolls?

I see a red frisbee, just a glimpse through the trees, for a second’s bit of flight. I can’t see who’s thrown it, or where it’s landed. No hands, no fast motion of your pal running to make a spectacular catch. There’s what sounds like an excited chuckle or exclamation, but sound is nearly as limited as sight. I can only guess. I have learned to imagine it so.

A butterfly caught my eye. It flew past me, to a bit into the thicket, and sputtered around for a moment. Butterflies are clueless. Then on a breeze, it came towards me. It said: “Why do you stand and look at them? When so much is going on behind you.”

Excuse me? Did she mean this crappy street? This football’s throw of a mapmaker’s broken-pencil smudge? A road so-called planned and laid out on the B-Team’s coffee break? Approved by a planning board that couldn’t see what they were overlooking?

“Yes. Your street. Your home. Your neighbors.”

Well, I didn’t know them. I didn’t want to know them. They didn’t want to know me.

“Have you said hello? Recently? With any sincerity, or a linger? A pause?”

I had not. And, no one’s approached me either.

“Well then you deserve to stare at others having fun. Others going places. Friends socializing. Smoking their cigars. Enjoying some company. Their neighbors.”

The butterfly didn’t get it. That was the real world out there. Over there. A bigger sampling, an actual flow of life. Just over this clump of bushes was activity. Better than anything going on here.

“You’ve got it wrong. Behind you is the real world. Too. Beside you. And if this so disgusts you, if this little road is so offensive, there’s a way out. Have you not lived enough years to have learned that? Or have you lived too long and have forgotten it.”

I couldn’t smell the cookout anymore. I couldn’t hear racing cars. My eyes were blind to not just the frisbee, but the forest, too. I turned around. To new sensations, finally given their opportunity to reach me.

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Remember Who Wins Forgets

Historically, people who trail tend to pick over what’s left in the wakes of winners. Winners make wakes, which means, winners are going forward.

Winners move any way they can, not any way they are allowed to. And not in the way that others have moved. Movement must equal course correction, so winners adjust.

Winners stay focused on what they want to accomplish. Accomplishment is one-hundred percent new activity. New activity has nothing to do with the past.

Learning from the past is forming useful ideas from legacy information. Dwelling on the past is facing backwards and standing still.

Be prepared for negativity. Someone in your party, that’s their biggest luggage. You don’t want them to drop their bag. You want them to switch it out on their own, empty it, exchange it, and to do whatever it takes to sort it themselves. Maybe they’re loaded with negativity because that’s all that happened to be around them when they had the opportunity to pick up what they could.

Winners stay fluid by forgetting. They park old glories and seek the new. They don’t languish over failures and setbacks. Winners only carry what’s useful, and stick with a team that steps up.

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To The Lady I Met

I’m not a fan of ingredients, but I’m a big fan of the soup. People, roaming randomly, bring me nothing; people, gathered, and talking, is everything.

It was 7PM, July 3rd 2021 at the Harris Teeter on Palm Boulevard. You were standing in a long checkout line, your full cart indicative of taking care of a large family. You were stationary, smiling, with kind eyes. We shared hellos.

You were a brown-haired fortyish lady from Atlanta, Georgia. You had a timeshare at Myrtle Beach that you lamented you missed out on. Where was I from, you wanted to know?

You were visiting Isle of Palms with a dozen family and friends. As we chatted, your teen daughter politely asked you, friend in tow, “Mom, can I get an Everything bagel?” She also asked if she could get a few other things. You said yes to all her requests. I was impressed how she asked your permission. It was respectful.

Our supermarket line wasn’t moving–this was the pre-July 4th crush. You and I rolled our eyes at what was in front of us, lots of people, waiting to buy their private stocks of food and drinks, and sandals, and Everything bagels.

Your dark-haired friend joined our conversation. She was happy to be away from the stress of her own two kids, she said. It was a wholesome expression. I could tell she cared, and that she was glad to be far from her everyday hassles and routines. A few words and a certain look told me so much.

From the look of your group, your men were either not a part of this vacation, or were sitting this shop out.

The line crept forward and I said to you, “Oh, ask the cashier if she can scan the visitor VIP card for you– you can save a lot of money.” You thanked me, again showing your kind eyes. Southern friendliness sweetens even a simple thank you.

And then you were gone. Registers opened up and a store manager directed you one way and me, another. I began unloading my cart and focused on my here and now.

I should have taken an earlier moment and asked your name. How forward would it have been for me to do that? How bold would it have been to want to exchange numbers? Unthinkable! Right? Oh, why not? You knew I was married. This was about making a friend.

That didn’t happen– of course it didn’t. Food shopping on summer vacation isn’t about being bold, it’s about grabbing what you need and getting the heck out of there. Getting to your car, and back to the beach or cottage.

Oh but what I needed was in my cart, and in that line.

I should have connected with you, because we connected. I should have asked, because it was the South and you were from Georgia and what would you have said? Even a decline would have been the nicest thing, I suppose.

Instead, we turned back into ingredients again. Separate, and somewhat lesser for it.

I caught a last glimpse of you. Your checkout line was several over from me but I caught your eye, as you managed your kids and all the bags of stuff. I waved and said goodbye. Nice meeting you!, I mouthed. You smiled, and said the same.

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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. Have you read the story Look To Me? See the December 2021 archive for it.

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.


Posted in Charleston, Photography | 6 Comments

Wild Dunes 72 HOURS

Wild Dunes 72 HOURS by Ara Hagopian is a 20-piece photography exhibit covering the Isle of Palms beach resort in South Carolina. The work was captured with the Sony A7R full-frame camera and 55 mm Carl Zeiss lens.

My 72 HOURS exhibits cover popular United States destinations such as New York City, Manhattan Beach CA, Perkins Cove ME, and Isle of Palms SC. The pictures are not intended to be a highlight of the best, or most famous, of the attractions’ sights. As such, today’s exhibit is not a collection of what a visitor must see if they’re staying at the resort.

What viewers get is this artist’s impression of what was beautiful or interesting during three-plus days on site. To be free to wander the area with a camera—and without a checklist—is the heart of 72 HOURS.

Once again, and perhaps for the last time, I present the photographs in their shooting order. Why is this worth mentioning? When I took the pictures, I had no inkling to consider their order. Now that I’ve arranged two shows this way, I will never shoot innocently again, if I for a moment think I’m filming the series flow.

Wild Dunes 72 HOURS.

ABOVE: First steps. Monday, ‎June ‎17. Here’s what it’s like to step out at 7 AM. Have a fruit breakfast on the balcony, and decide what wonderful things to do today. In fact, how about we explore this beach, together, right now?

ABOVE: View. The week had several short, heavy rain storms, plenty of sun, and wind–lots of wind! The only sun umbrella that withstands the force is the kind the housing authority can set up for you. It’s the only way to go, if you want to read near the water. Believe me, there is nothing in this world like reading a good book on a beautiful beach, where you’re not fighting with your drug store umbrella and sinking-sand chair. A cold drink at hand, and you’re on vacation baby.

ABOVE: Layers. Here we can see the four textures from sand to sky. I wish I’d shot it in landscape but portrait brings focus. What’s missing from the photograph is the hissing sound as the foam rushes us, and retreats, both movements in victory.

ABOVE: Front six. What caught my eye was the beach, so white and clean from the constant wind. Then the homes looked smart and beautiful, their colors adding to the casual walkers’ pleasure. What made this photograph an inclusion to this exhibit is the sky. That perfect sky, a drop-in complement to the structures and the sand.

ABOVE: Storm coming.

ABOVE: Interlock. Have you read their story?

ABOVE: Three old souls. I love the splay; they are laying like cats on a sunny rug. The turtle with the most-dry shell has been enjoying the warmth the longest. He wants me to go. I obey.

ABOVE: Condense-tension. A funny thing happens when you carry a camera from an air conditioned living room, out to the humid morning– the lens fogs up, on the outside and inside of the camera, too. One simply has to wait about twenty minutes for equilibrium to take place, naturally. Most of the time, condensation-lens photography is a waste until the glass is clear. In this case, the fogginess has added a pleasing haze.

ABOVE: Party’s over. A beach ball has lost its mojo. The kid or the parents have moved on. Maybe they didn’t realize their possession had become trash. An exit question, at their moment of purchase in the store that morning: “How long before you stop caring about this beach ball, and where it’s going to end up? Seven hours from now? Six?”

ABOVE: To be removed. An old ribbon marker on a long-gone branch. Some time ago, maybe a decade or longer, a city worker marked this branch to be removed, like so. The wood was cut, the ribbon remained, and everyone has moved on. Except, the trace that remains tells the story. Was the branch removed because it was unsightly? Isn’t leaving the ribbon at least equally unsightly? Respect your work. Finish the job.

ABOVE: Pelican run. A serious storm is approaching Isle of Palms and this bird is heading home. I wish I got a bit more of the beach houses into frame, but this photograph is full of tension and energy, and the moment came and was gone– one picture only. Cropping the rooftops added nothing to the composition so they remained, grounding us in this uncertain moment. How will nature pummel us? We will see!

ABOVE: The Wild Dune. The thing with the world is, you’re going to miss most of it. If you really understand what I mean, you would look around, a lot more than you do now. That would be fighting our nature, which regulates on the routine. And the routine is an artless world.

This is the money shot. Take a look at the prettiest thing I saw all week. What we’re looking at is a scrub brush after a night of heavy wind. The wind blew so hard, and so long, it left a trail of sand ten feet long.

See this dune. Not only is this a deposit of the lightest, finest sand, but look at that lay. Look at nature’s design, so fragile but created with such force! If it were even possible, this wedding gown train could only have been made by the gentlest of human hands, and where would they plant their feet! –but we know Man had nothing to do with this arrangement. Except perhaps, to share it.

Once again the reward of photography is delivering something new to someone like you. You weren’t there but you are here. For another view of this gorgeous creation, go back to the title graphic of this exhibit.

ABOVE: Fill ins. The beating rains of the night have hardened the dune. Then the winds fill the grooves with light, dried sand. Incredible to see; irritating to feel as it hits your body; decibels louder than city traffic; and wilder than anything else worth seeing.

ABOVE: Being. I think about the highest being, and the lower beings too. How one made the other, and one makes the other. This crab was walking the beach, as I was. He looked at me. He didn’t seem afraid. Oh, the gulls love his kind.

I study this picture and I look at his claws. What I see is this. His two arms are perfectly suited to bring food to his mouth. It’s that simple. Look for yourself. How can I be disgusted with him? How can I fear him? A fragile creature wanting to nourish himself, and I can say, I get it. I understand. I am beginning to understand.

ABOVE: Right here. The beating force makes you hold your hat, then maddeningly you take it off for the duration. The white grains rush past you like they’re in a race and you are a useless overpass. Don’t bother about getting out of the way. They’ll go right around you.

The color of the sand can be captured but not encapsulated. It is this color you see here and is not one hue or even a themed palette. Are you ready for the truth? The color is shaped by the sound, and what you hear is a forced whipping, that alters intensity depending on where you happen to point your head. And on Wild Dunes beach, you are looking all over.

There is a fine place you’re going to, but this isn’t the way. This is a diversion from a worthier destination. You’ve chosen this time but it isn’t the best time, you’re filled with thoughts that are out of place here.

Yet, by the time you’ve finished this end-of-day beach walk, you have been to the one place you needed to be. You have turned to look at what’s exactly important, heard the one kind of quiet that the wind has carefully filtered for you. You have well-filled your footprints. It started out all wrong but you stuck with it. Not because of your superior judgement or intuition, but the superiority of right here.

ABOVE: Time laps. Ten pelicans scrape the water, always stopping people in their tracks, to stare.

ABOVE: Storm. Here it comes. The rain and violence push you away. Yet, we stay. Because, it will change. We won’t want to give up our place. We don’t want to be harmed, so we cover up and take it. To claim what’s to come after. And here it comes.

ABOVE: Sun shadows. There’s a moment you can’t recreate, set up, or plan for. You can only be ready, if you haven’t fled or hidden yourself. This is why we stay– and for so much more.

ABOVE: Your pace. Southern birds have longer tails than their Northern cousins. The South Carolina flourish makes me happy. I know you, kinda. Show me more, at your pace please.

ABOVE: The one question on everyone’s mind. How do you stay so clean on the beach of Wild Dunes?

Posted in 72 Hours, Photography | 6 Comments