When you grow up at the Jersey Shore, you get used to making room for strangers. One year, my family crashed in my grandmothers attic while tourists slept in our beds. A tree would scrape against the window in the eaves. The stormy sounds filled my nightmares with tidal waves for decades to come. I learned to believe that I could breathe underwater. I pictured myself surfing tsunamis. Now, when the nightmare recurs, I just lift up my feet and swim.
It took me a long time to find that kind of power in my waking life. In college, the 35mm camera gave me a grown-up's security blanket, but it was not until 1992 when someone loaned me a Yashica twin-lens camera that the dream we call life became lucid. Framing with the square format made immediate visual sense to me and I thrilled at photographing people without the camera hiding my face. I could engage with people in a way that felt like being able to breathe under water. Now, whenever I feel like I am drowning in fear, I grab my Hasselblad and dive right in.
Over the past 18 years, I have continued to make images in various towns along the Jersey Shore. My focus shifts season to season from my nuclear family, to total strangers on the street, to recurring strangers who feel like family after all these years. When I would share the stories of my photographic adventures with my family, my stepfather would say, Loose marbles roll down hill. I'm sure that along with the day trippers and the summer workforce, he was speaking of our own extended family and Cape May neighbors as well.
In this series, recurring appearances are made by an Elvis-worshipping dishwasher with fetal alcohol syndrome, a self-declared town security force of two, a movie theater manager who commissioned a painting of himself as Captain James T. Kirk commanding the theater staff as the crew of the S.S. enterprise (to hang in the lobby), a restaurant hostess in her 90's, and a woman with Asperger's Disease who firmly believes that she will burn in hell if she is not a world-renowned interpretive dancer before she dies.
To represent the endless party that is the Jersey Shore, I weave in my father's hi-jinks throughout the book. He is expert at playing the fool and winning people over with his self-deprecating humor and loud, Jersey Shore drawl. Born with a name like Harry Back, a.k.a. Hair Bear, you'd better be funny.
To give the viewer a respite from this crowd and to recreate the sense of space one feels at the beach, many images contain only the evidence of these people having been there.
It can't be denied that Arbus or Fink never totally leave your side when shooting the offbeat and ironic with the bull's eye of square format black and white film. What I hope to add to the practice is perhaps an insider's understanding of how the tourist industry is a metaphor for the love/hate aspect of human relationships.
The nineteenth century writer Stephen Crane, a native of Asbury Park, once wrote of the place in the off-season, There is a mighty pathos in these buildings, impossibly and stolidly suffering from an enormous hunger for the public. While documenting the various events that shore towns orchestrate to attract this much desired public, I hope to also reflect the exhaustion that locals can feel when faced with three months of dutiful, friendly subservience.