Ocean Beach
Project info

This project is study of a unique place in the American landscape that appeals to my vernacular taste and sense of style and order.

The cottages at Ocean Beach (NJ), some might say, are nothing more than oversized trailers. They are laid out in a symmetrical grid in three units, with the democratic and institutional sounding names Unit I, II, III, that total over 2,000 cottages. The streets, still made up of sand in Unit III, adds to the sparse and strong sense of place.

Photographing there in the off season allows me to de-contextualize the cottages from their vacation purpose. From a formal perspective, color, form and spatial relationships are studied. Here color helps to create individuality among uniformity in the architectural landscape with subtexts of time, memory, and identity.

The interiors have hardly any decorations creating an abstract time stamp and few clues as to who the owners are. The bedrooms are utilitarian in nature and minimal in size to where they straddle the line between intimate and claustrophobic.

As a photographer I am interested in the cottages still showing signs of a bygone era when wood paneling, vibrant colors, and kitsch decorations were the order of the day. I always felt it was a race against time to visually preserve the cottages. That was based on the rapid pace of cottages being renovated and modernized to attract more potential vacationers on the competitive rental market.

Unfortunately, Ocean Beach was hard hit when Superstorm Sandy made landfall in October, 2012. 90% of the ocean facing cottages at Unit III were destroyed and have since been demolished. As the project was completed before the storm my initial instinct was that I didn’t want to document the post-storm landscape. Not having access for two months helped change my mind and better understanding the historical importance, too.

Gone though was the quiet and solitary work process I had come to love. Now the place was bustling with homeowners, police patrols, curious day-trippers, demolition, construction, and utility crews. And gone was the feeling of time standing still at Ocean Beach. I guess it’s true, nothing lasts forever!

The project was published by Kehrer Verlag in the spring of 2014. The book includes separate sections for photographs made before and after Superstorm Sandy with introductions by Harvey Benge and Steve Bisson.