Photographer Simon Eeles’ initial attraction to the seaside grew out of a landlocked childhood in Tasmania. This pull towards the beach has been a frequent inspiration throughout his work, no more so than in his latest photo book, Far Far Rockaway.
Taken on Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York, over a two year period, Eeles documented beachgoers as they vacationed on the largest urban beach in the United States. Amongst the crowds – operating from a tent perched on the edge of the beach – it’s the intimate and eccentric moments Eeles manages to focus his lens upon that stand out, people performing handstands, a woman being carried damsel-in-distress style from the shore, men oil up in order to accentuate their abs.
Together these images form a diverse and eccentric picture of escapism and a blistering reminder of why we travel time and again to the seaside: to let ourselves go. Here we catch up with Eeles to talk about his project.
Violet Conroy: Why did you choose Far Rockaway? What’s your personal connection with the location?
Simon Eeles: I always wanted to start my work at the beach. Growing up, I was landlocked on a farm in the middle of Tasmania so warm weather and the beach were an early paradise. Having spent the previous six years working in NYC, I had grown to love the oddity that is Rockaway beach. The people seemed honest enough in their style to frame the idea around.
Violet: Your first photo book, Australiania, also featured beach shots, what is it about the beach that attracts you?
Simon: After my time in New York I spent the next eighteen months focusing on summers. The beach has been my canvas of choice due to circumstance, but I also just love it there. Last week I was in LA shooting the framework for my next book which will be 99% studio and a change of pace.
“The atmosphere was that of a beach in full flight, visually it was almost too much since the number of people and contrast in characters is incredible.”
Violet: What was the atmosphere like at Rockaway Beach and how was the experience of operating out of a tent?
Simon: The atmosphere was that of a beach in full flight, visually it was almost too much since the number of people and contrast in characters is incredible. Having the tent was mainly a way to get some privacy. The tent was my little island.
Violet: The characters within the series appear to have very big personalities. How did you go about casting your subjects?
Simon: Casting was done simply by plucking people off the path as they walked by. In all honestly I found that only half that I thought would be magic actually were. Some of the best pictures came from an unknown or unexpected place. I mean, I didn’t expect some people to act in front of the camera, I was constantly thinking how I could create an ideal environment for meeting people for the first time.
Violet: How open were the people to having their photos taken?
Simon: Since the subjects were found at the beach, these people were already willing to expose their bodies therefore asking to document them wasn’t a huge ask. Over two years of shooting we probably only had a handful of people that said no. Once I got behind the lens I would always try and disarm any doubts the subjects had about themselves.
Violet: Which parts of these photographs occurred organically and which aspects were staged?
Simon: All the images, portraits included, were staged in the framing and direction, but I think any good image happens in-between thinking too much about it and not thinking at all.
Violet: Your photos have an innate atmosphere of warmth, light and excitement. Why are these elements so appealing to you?
Simon: For me, that is optimism and love. These two things direct the heart of my work.
Simon Eeles: Far Far Rockaway is available now via Damiani publishing.