Have you ever paid attention to sand? Its colors and textures? The patterns derived from its interaction with water, especially waves? If you haven’t, do it.
See, I’ve never been a beach person. That’s primarily because before becoming a devoted naturalist, the only purpose I knew for a beach was to lie on it to get a tan. But I was a fair child and teenager and the only thing lying on a beach ever got me was a serious sunburn.
Today, I simply haven’t the patience for it. Boring. But… I have always loved being near the ocean, hearing the sound of the sea, watching waves roll in. In my 30s, I learned to scuba dive and underwater was the first photography I did seriously.
On my first trip to Dauphin in December 2020, I began to discover the riches a beach has to offer a naturalist: birds that you must go to a beach to see, shells, plants that grow in sand, crabs, mammals that specialize in dune habitat. And so I have become a devoted beach walker.
My second trip to Dauphin Island was in June, 2021. I had studied maps of the island and identified stretches of beach I did not walk the first time. East End Beach was one of them. I spent about two hours walking the length of it, photographing birds, shells, crabs, and sand dune plants.
And then I had to turn around and retrace my steps to get back to my car. In doing so, having already photographed the living creatures along the way, I began to focus my attention on the sand under my feet.
I noticed that every wave that rolled in from the gulf left behind a tiny edge of foam that stayed on the sand when the wave receded. And then the next wave left another thin line of white foam on the sand, and because water never takes quite the same shape twice, the lines of white foam form patterns on the sand. Some of the patterns were intricate, some incorporated bits of rock, wood and shell in interesting ways, and some were eloquent in their simplicity.
I became completely absorbed in imposing my camera’s frame on this continuous scroll of pattern the length of the beach to see what I could make happen within the frame. Once, while standing there deciding how exactly to frame a pattern, another bigger wave came in and wiped it out even as I peered through the viewfinder.
What the camera isolates and freezes in time and space will be gone when the tide changes, and the process of building patterns begins anew. That’s how my #TrackingTide collection began. I love them. They speak to me of the essentially ephemeral nature of all lives within the cyclical continuity of life, death and rebirth.