The Sandbar Experience – Evaluating Roll No. 1

Annual trip to North Carolina coast is always a great time for relaxation, reflection, and coming up with new ideas. This year I decided to cap the year of film photography experimentation with a film-only project at Oak Island. With the working title “The Sandbar Experience”, this project is a study of Oak Island beaches and landmarks, using the moody look of black and white film.

The process was to shoot exactly 15 rolls of medium format (120) black and white film over the period of two weeks. My initial idea was to organize the results in a photo book. This quickly evolved into a more open ended work. Perhaps, a more honest qualification is to say that the idea is to seek a more expressive essence of Oak Island.

The ocean, the beach, and piers at night and in the morning have a very distinct character. The endless cadence of waves and wind creates that contemplative atmosphere. This mood is what defines the core of the Sandbar Experience to me, more than your typical day at the beach and midday sunshine. The sun, beach, and sand are fun, but morning wind and waves seem to make a deeper, more lasting, impression.

I shot and developed the film while on vacation. Now, back in Toronto, the time is to go through the slow, painstaking process of scanning and editing. I have decided not to rush this process, pay due attention and observation to each roll of 15 frames. Careful consideration and selection, not high volume throughput with presets and templates. The blog is going to chronicle this process.

The first roll of 2016 set was shot on the morning of August 28th. A windy morning at the beach, strong but pleasant wind blowing off the sea.  This was the initial walk-around, no expectations or strict shooting plan, just going out there and looking through the viewfinder.

Caswell Beach, Oak Island, August 2016
Caswell Beach, Oak Island, August 2016

Waves create an ever-changing micro landscape.  Shapes, lines and split-second moments evolve continuously. I find it hard to decide what better captures the force – a solid form of a long exposure, or a frozen motion. Difficult choice, but one that is happily revisited. Sometimes, I feel like I could just stand there, facing the endless restless body of water and feed off of that force and energy. In awe, feeding off nature’s power.

Violence of the sea in contrast to the smooth ride of the clouds above. Horizon line dividing and connecting the two worlds. The constant wind creates the motion in both of these worlds. Like the light, the wind is a force we cannot capture but for it’s impact on the environment, indirectly through the motion it creates. The light reveals, the wind moves.

Castle Beach, Oak Island, August 2016
Caswell Beach, Oak Island, August 2016

The rhythm of this dance between water and sky captivates. Human structures seem small in this large tableau. The big landscape scene dwarfs a long fishing pier. The scale difference is a reminder of just how small and marginal we are in the face of nature’s grandeur.

Oak Island, August 2016
Oak Island, August 2016

Technically, Roll 1 of the project is not the best work in terms of exposure and development. The negatives seem to be all slightly underexposed and grainier than I would like. Still, a few interesting scenes and images to consider, evaluate and take notes.  The discovery continues, on to the second roll.

Caswell Beach, Oak Island, August 2016
Caswell Beach, Oak Island, August 2016

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