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  • Writer's pictureMollye Miller


Atlantic City, NJ - July 2023

For this photo series, I wanted to abstract the ocean. I wanted to show I felt at the ocean for the first time in four years: like I'd landed on a foreign planet.

The beach is overwhelming.

Intense sun. Hot sand. Salty breeze. So many kinds of bodies. And kids. Waves crashing, seagulls screaming, wings swooping. It can make you wonder whether walking onto the hot midday sand in your TJ Max swimsuit was a good idea.

The way I get through that cacophony of senses and into what I enjoy at the beach is by

1) accepting that I'm overwhelmed and that I actually kind of like feeling overwhelmed and

2) being curious about everything, like I've never been to the ocean or seen a beach, like this is a foreign planet.

I spent most of my time exploring the oddities on the shoreline, like the little squirming, fingertip sized clams I'd never seen before called "littlenecks." I grabbed giant oyster shells, spied on a beached horseshoe crab, cradled mole crabs in my palm. I dove into the cool and sticky salt water.

I gravitate toward nature. I also gravitate toward the darker side of everyday life. It's pleasant, on the beach, to sort of dissolve into the middle of everything. You can figure out how it feels to begin.

I haven't shot (transferred) images to black and white in a while and a beach is an ideal place to do it. It's noisy with all the color, like a bunch of scattered Skittles. But it's distracting if that's not what interests you in a particular scene.

For me it was the flora and fauna and the oddness of how we swim only so far, knowing the danger that exists past that point.

And also the horror of the scene: the lifelessness in the dead branches and scattered kelp, the infinite ocean ahead, outer space thrashing with dangerous stinging biting suction-y creatures.

The thing about life (ok now i'm swinging into this thing) is that it's:

  • ALL bad

  • ALL good

  • ALL neutral

  • ALL depressing

  • ALL happening only once

  • ALL incomprehensible to believe

So it's up to your mood or discipline or life experience how you take in any experience. And the hard thing is you can't judge others for not sharing your idea of it...So you can be a stoic about it and that's great. Or you can be an artist and/or scientist and or/empath and/or athlete and that's great too.

You can also go into things feeling happy or bitter and overlaying other experiences onto the current one. While that's not super helpful, we all do it and it's fine too a lot of the time. Maye you feel like crying. Or making art. Or exploring. Or reflecting on sad things or how destructive and selfish we humans. Or how strange and depressing the days are. How long and thin our lives are, littered with darkness and light. Or like diving into the waves and telling yourself you're going to swim until you can't swim anymore.

So here are a few photos that I hope translate these thoughts and impressions.

To end, here's a poem I wrote before I went, reflecting on what the beach might make me feel and think:

Settled on the sand, oceanside, I feel unfamiliar to myself. It's a place free from buildings, cars, and intrusive feelings. In this solitude, without comparisons or the need to please or disappoint, I sit up and scan the horizon.
I listen for potential dangers—footsteps, sharks, invaders, loud noises, insults, unwanted memories. I search, but I don’t see anything to be afraid of, at least not within visible distance.

With sensuous steps, one hot footprint after the other, I pad toward the shore.

On the beach I see the hard, wet aftermath of a war between land and water, between shell and time.

Thousands of years of rain, erosion produced many deaths and rebirths. The ocean lost its mind. The shells became so many lost soldiers.

What brings me solace here is the knowledge of all things—death, pain, joy, sadness, loss, apathy, and a general un-gentleness among us.

I feel safe understanding so much and so little.

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