Today’s Featured Guest Writer is Marjorie Callahan Beck of Tide Line Still Life.
Tide Line Still Life: My Beach Treasures
As an art history major in college, still life has fascinated me for many decades. Still life is defined by the Tate Museum as art that focuses on “anything that does not move or is dead”. From paintings of food on the interior of Egyptian tombs to meticulously crafted mosaics from Rome, artwork that consists of carefully arranged inanimate objects has been a part of the history of art from ancient times. The objects found in a still life can be natural or man made, and the artist deliberately arranges found objects, considering their size, color, perspective, and overall balance with one another. Flowers, fruit, vegetables, and just about any imagined object has found its way in to still lifes; whatever the artist decides to include is acceptable. It is my love of the sea, and all things marine, that draws me to famous still lifes that include marine life.
I have a passion for the sea, and I have been walking beaches for my entire life. Several years ago I began noticing arrangements of objects found on the beach, and I was amazed at the artistic perfection of many of the compositions. It is important to note that the objects in my photos are never rearranged or positioned. Unlike still lifes in museums, the photographs are not contrived; I photograph the objects exactly as I find them. Yes, I have “lost” many perfect arrangements because I was too slow with the shutter and the tide was too quick!
I suppose that at this point I could become fairly philosophical about nature’s creations trumping man made compositions. I could easily argue (unsupported by research), that the earliest still life artists were inspired by what they found arranged in nature. Instead though, I will simply state that the ocean (and rivers and lakes) is an organic system responsive to the life it holds, and contributing to the world that surrounds it. Regardless of its power and grandeur, though, it offers me snatches of sweet serendipity when I walk its tide lines. And more often than not, I am able to find perfectly composed arrangements of pebbles, shells, feathers, and sand. These are not man made, but instead created by the ebb and flow of the sea, the wind, and the blowing sand. These compositions are my beach treasures.
What I look for when I walk the tide line is a balance of color, form, and texture in the arrangements, in the same way that these three elements are present in still life paintings. As I walk, I look for compositions that offer surprising splashes of color, or sometimes truly magnificent monochromatic compositions. Compositions with pebbles often present lovely clusters, and this past summer common mussels were a source of endless inspiration. Recently, our local beach has been full of migratory birds, so there have been feathers aplenty! The objects, the weather, time of day, and my overall mood all contribute to what I notice as I walk the beach. I am fascinated by what the different seasons wash ashore on the same stretches of sand. Several of the storms this fall contributed to captivating arrangements when the sea retreated.
Most of my work is done walking my local beaches in New Jersey, USA. I do, though, take time to photograph tide lines whenever I travel anywhere near the sea. I have walked the freezing winter tide line in Northumberland, England, and I have sun-blistered the back of my neck midday in the sub-tropical summer. Each sea’s tide line presents its own assortment and arrangements of objects. Lately, my favorite time to photograph has been in the early morning. The shadows are quite striking as the sun rises, and they often create a very different still life than is possible on a cloudy day.
Most of my photos are taken with a Nikon D3200 with an 18-55mm lens. I have been known to quick grab my iPhone for a photo if my camera is not with me, and I want to remember an interesting array of flotsam or jetsam. I am afraid that I have a bit of a compulsion to walk very long distances with my head facing down towards the sand. I do not want to miss that one perfect arrangement! I have quite a bit to learn about the technical side of this craft, but am concentrating on identifying compelling arrangements at this time. I do only a minimum of processing work on the pieces that I publish. Because of convenience, most of the work is currently done on my iPad using Snapseed. There is so much to learn about the technical side of this craft, and I will be digging in a bit more in this area over the winter.
About the Author (by Jody): Marjorie Callahan Beck (Maggie) has inspired me to take my time and look a bit closer at the tide line on my upcoming visit to the seashore. Her fabulous Tide Line Still Life blog is an absolutely delightful beach photo journal showing the beauty and solitude in the very smallest details “created by the ebb and flow of the sea, the wind, and the blowing sand.”