When I am on the German North Sea island of Norderney, I go for a walk on the beach almost every day. Needless to say that I always carry a camera. My walks always start at the same spot. The landscape appears to be always the same. Sand, dunes, sea grass, the sea, beach markers, and groynes. And yet, I keep finding new images and seemingly fresh compositions every time. Let me invite you to join me on a walk on the beach in the very early morning hours of a beautiful summer day.
It’s just shortly after 5 AM when I hit the beach. The sun has just started to rise above the horizon. It’s going to be a warm day, but at this time of day, the wind is blowing cool and fresh air in from the sea. A welcome chill after a night in a warm and stuffy bedroom. I walk by some beach chairs that are standing close to the promenade and head towards the sea. With every step, I feel like I am walking away from civilization, leaving its hectic demands behind, even though, of course, civilization is only 100 meters away. It’s freedom that I seek. The kind of freedom I can only seem to find in solitude and nature. The wind coming in from the sea, the sounds of the waves and the sea birds, and the light, they all take up my attention completely. It’s easy to forget about life for a while here. And yet, to my utmost surprise, I find that I am not alone. A solitary jogger is doing his thing in the distance. I am okay with his presence as long as he keeps his distance. And fortunately, the waves have already erased his footprints. I love the sight of untouched sand in the morning sun. Thank you for being there and acting as a nice photo subject, Mr. Jogger.
I move on, but I take my time, observing my surroundings. The landscape here is constantly reshaped by the relentless cycle of ebb and flow. “The tide rolls out, the tide rolls in, without a care for the ways of men.” That’s what good old Gordon Sumner (aka Sting) wrote in one of his many maritime-themed songs. It couldn’t be more true for this place. I return to the same stretch of the beach every morning, but it looks different every time. “Change is the essential process of all existence,” the great Mr. Spock once said. This change requires me to be present and in the moment. That inlet of seawater that is now blocking my way hasn’t been here the last time I was here when the tide was lower.
I pass the beach markers and walk on towards the sun, enjoying the light and the breeze, when all of a sudden, a realization strikes me, letting me halt abruptly. At (almost) this exact spot, I tried to capture the incoming tide using a long exposure last year. It resulted in a serene image with smooth tonal gradients, both in the cloudless sky and the sand, and instantly became a personal favorite.
Now the place looks drastically different. The tide is much lower, revealing more of the rippled pattern that is so typical of beaches around here. I decide to shoot another image as another documentation of this place’s ever-changing beauty.
Beauty comes in infinite variations, both bold and glamorous – or simple and quiet. I can appreciate both types, but if I had to choose, it would be the latter one. I love the beauty of simple things. “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention” is one of my favorite lines in the fabulous movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” And here on the beach, simple beauty can be found in many places, many of which are so easily overlooked. I find immense pleasure in enjoying the sunlight as it is reflected by the went send, revealing its intricate patterns that were created by the sea. As I lift my camera to photograph this display, I am completely aware of the fact that, according to photography lore, this is not the stuff great photographs are made of. I know it is quite likely that no one is ever going to appreciate this photo but me. But I don’t care. Like beauty, photography can be many things: documentation, journalism, documentation, art – but most out here, and to me, it is first and foremost personal pleasure.
By now, I have lost all sense of time. I have no idea what time it is or how long I have been on the beach. And, to be frank, I couldn’t care less. These days, shrinks and self-improvement gurus never stop youtubing their mantra into the world that to be happy, you have to let go of the burdens of the past as well as your worries about the future and live in the moment instead. As if this was possible. But right here and now, I realize that to live in the moment, all it takes for me is to forget about time entirely by taking a solitary early-morning walk on the beach. This realization is as refreshing and invigorating as the morning breeze itself. And all of a sudden, I am not weary anymore.
As I am walking and thinking and enjoying, I am approaching an old groyne. How dare you interrupt my walk, you decrepit old thing? You have disturbed me often enough. As a punishment, you shall be photographed by me from any possible angle. And you won’t be asked for permission.
Even though it may sound more than a little self-serving, I have to say that I enjoy old decrepit things, at least as a black&white photographer. As I approach another group of beach markers, I can’t resist the temptation of photographing them again, even though I have already taken so many pictures of them in the past.
These beach markers, to me, are the quintessence of wabi-sabi. They look old and decayed, and yet they also have their own unique kind of beauty. I love the rough structure of the wood, the cracked paint, and the withered seagrass that is hanging from the old ropes.
This walk on the beach is coming to an end. The sun has already risen considerably, and I know that behind me, more and more people are coming out to go on what they consider to be an early morning beach walk. Besides, my people are probably already preparing breakfast. Time for me to leave. But first, I take my new 20mm f/1.8 lens for a spin to see what it can do. I take many photos of seagrass on a nearby dune, but my findings are stuff for another blog post. So, for now, I leave you with one of these images. I hope you enjoyed this little walk on the beach and maybe feel a little refreshed or inspired. If you did, please consider subscribing to my mailing list.
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