Stephenie Young: Beach Scenes

Texan photographer Keith Carter has said that when you practice photography the important thing is to “just shoot it”–“just shoot it and think about what it means later.” In my work I have tried to keep Keith’s words in mind and not get too hung up on giving an explicit meaning to every shot. Sometimes it takes days, weeks or even months for me to articulate what a picture means for me. The day I made this image I was at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, Massachusetts and because it was in June of this year and there were COVID restrictions, there were very few people out on the beach. I was actually taking slow-exposure pictures of a landscape at sunset with my tripod when these children walked into my viewfinder. I saw them slowly coming into the frame and I just shot it. Perhaps, unconsciously, I knew that I was capturing something interesting, but it wasn’t until I reviewed the images a few days later that I saw the ghost-like quality of the bodies and how the picture just worked for me. It is the mood of this image that I like and how it alludes to action and the presence of humanity in a time when we were having limited contact with each other here in the United States. I also loved how, as children (and adults) often do, they walked right through my scene unapologetically. By interrupting my scene, they made it far better.

Sometimes I don’t assign any particular meaning to an image but prefer to leave it open-ended. Words can make a photograph stronger, but they can also kill the charm of the imagination. In my photography I aim to show people something other than what they think they see with their eyes. I love illusion and surprise and to undermine assumptions about the world around us. Sometimes I just like to see what a thing or a person looks like photographed. But whatever I do, it’s first and foremost for myself and for my love of the practice of photography.

I am a writer, educator and photographer now based in Boston, Massachusetts, but I have lived, worked and studied in other places including several years in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. I originally come from Southern California, so the beach has always been a significant part of my life. Photography has also been an important part of my life as far back as I can remember–my grandmother with her Bolex 8mm camera following us around everywhere documenting our lives–and my own mother, a photographer, who insisted on painting our living room walls a zone 5 gray and making our second badly needed bathroom (three females in the house!) into a darkroom. I still wax nostalgic when I smell darkroom photo chemicals.

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