The following excerpt and photos are from Summertime by Joanne Dugan [Chronicle Books, $29.95]:
It turns out that my first summer love was not a person but a place. My earliest memories of the season are at the water’s edge, first at the ocean in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, a typical East Coast boardwalk tourist town, and then later on the bay in the Cape Cod town of Orleans, Massachusetts.
I spent most of my childhood summers in the first town, but remember the second much more clearly. I recall gazing at the horizon right outside the door of our splintery vintage beach house, set near the edge of a beach called Skaket.
The dramatic shifting tides in front of us changed twice every twenty-four hours, like clockwork. There weren’t any clocks that I can remember -- it was the rhythm of the water that gave those loose summer days structure as we sat on the water’s edge waiting impatiently for the show to begin.
During the shift to low tide, the water would rapidly roll past our line of sight, mysteriously disappearing more than two miles out -- exactly where to, we weren’t quite sure. Once a day and sometimes also in the not-yet-dark evenings, we would find a just-made beach, covered with a tapestry of tide pools that served as perfect, child-sized animal viewing stations. The pools were filled with young hermit crabs, silvery minnows, and transparent glass eels, and they all seemed a bit shocked that their habitat had changed in less than an hour from being six feet below water to just a few inches.
We dashed from pool to pool, staring down at the multiple sets of eyes that seemed to follow ours, each species contemplating the movements of the other. Sometimes we stepped into the pools without looking and leapt out when a crustacean decided to hook onto our toe, or we stumbled onto the jagged shell of a horseshoe crab, primordial with its spikes and armor. We filled up buckets with various members of this wet menagerie, keeping them just long enough to look at and touch. I remember the miniature crabs that would stay still, corpse-like, when I placed them on my flat hand, only to watch them shake and turn in backward circles when dropped back into the temporary pools, where they had taken up residence.
Eventually, we gently poured our captures into the tide as it began to swell toward land again, and both the pools and their former tenants disappeared into that shifting, growing sea. As we walked back to our house in the dusk, we turned and faced the ocean to see that the mirrored surface of the water had picked up the hues of the sunset sky. The lines between land and sea blurred in front of us and only then did we let ourselves leave, mostly because we knew that another version of the same scene would be waiting for us the next morning.
This image sits clearly in my memory. Some years ago, I decided to revisit Skaket, and this joining of my childhood past tense with the adult present one proved to be immensely satisfying. Even though I am now a staunch city dweller, I still remain at my happiest, or at least my most inspired, when on Cape Cod. I think less about the exact place I am in and more about how I feel when I am there.
After talking with many photographers and writers about the theme of this book, it became clear that most of them have their own version of my story somewhere in their memory banks. And often their most vibrant summer memories occurred at or near the water’s edge. Summer and water are inextricably related.
Our relationships with summer are as varied as our relationships with each other. Some experiences are a quick fling, a mad dash, soon to be forgotten. Others, like my tide pool moments, etch themselves into our psyches forever. As adults, we tend to revisit, or at least long to visit, what we have most loved, and if we manage to arrive there again, we find comfort in the repetition.
In thinking about these deeper connections, I realized that water was the original shield that protected us from the outside world. Perhaps we all unconsciously seek this refuge again, and the warmth of summer, combined with the primal need to be sheltered, creates a feeling of comfort we can’t quite explain when we sit by, look at, or touch the water. It may be this memory that keeps us returning to the water again and again in the warm days of the season.
Whether from a sagging inflatable kiddie pool, a deserted swimming hole, a rocky Pacific beach, the shores of East Hampton, or a gushing city fire hydrant, we define our summers by the water we sit by. We smell it, taste it, love near it, write about it, and cast our gaze out past it. We make important decisions near it and also use it to forget, just for a time, those things we don’t want to think about anymore.
The best part of putting this book together was the realization that practiced photographers seem to intuitively connect with the deeper meanings of summertime. Their images can be profoundly universal because we, as viewers, automatically relive our own summer stories by experiencing theirs. I invited the perspectives of many talented photographers in because I felt that no single viewpoint could tell the story fully.
Summertime can be interpreted in many ways, but it takes a special skill to convey a universal feeling within an image. This book features some of those most moving, simple moments of summer as experienced near the water and caught in fractional seconds.
Each photo is a version of that tide pool love story I first felt on Cape Cod. We all have memories like this, somewhere. Water is the thread that connects our lifetime of summers. And I hope that by spending time with this book, you can access the part of yourself that still can wander, wide-eyed, through the constantly shifting tides.
Take a look at these 10 gorgeous summertime photos: