A couple of years back I ran Raven downeast on the coast of Maine to Schoodic Point, on the far side of Frenchman Bay, just east of Mount Desert Island. On this particular day the sea was like glass, yet under the serene surface there was a sea running, big swells left over from a storm far away.
The tip of the point is renowned for its beauty as well as infamous for being the site of people being wave-swept from the rocks to their deaths in the waters below.
I stood transfixed by the extraordinary power of the sea smashing into the point. The surge that day was strong — I mean really strong — and when the rollers hit the vertical face of the point they had no place to go but straight up. From sea level to peak of the surf, most of them were forty feet or so in the air.
I tend to strenuously avoid the “crashing surf” motif that appeals to so many artists, but that day the various elements conspired to give me what shortly proved to be a really misguided creative idea. I found myself thinking that I needed to photograph “the perfect wave” with a very wide-angle lens. Something different. And I knew that from this spot a family of three had been washed into the sea just a couple of years previously. I once knew a girl who was killed when a wave got her off Mosquito Head, over our way, so I was keenly aware that I had to be really, really careful. Zero margin for error.
So, after watching the wave sets for quite a while, I determined what I thought would be the closest/safe (oxymoron) proximity to the action and down I went. I made sure that the rocks I would stand upon were completely dry and, as some sort of insurance, I thought, that there was a crack into which I could jam both fists if something went wrong. My friends, meanwhile, stood at a considerable remove, watching me do my thing.
I saw a large swell coming in and I prepared to make my exposures — and then it hit. I have a motor-drive sequence of “the” wave taking to the air; it was magnificent and I kept the shutter down and fired off a sequence of half-a-dozen frames.
Then it got me.
In one or two seconds, it was over. I was completely drenched, but still standing. I had been under the periphery of the white water on the edge of the wave, the beautiful/deadly green water crashing down maybe twenty feet away.
It was a moment I will never forget. It was one of my life’s greater shocks — and lessons.
What a fool I had been, the real thoughtlessness in this having been the disregard for how my risk-taking would have ultimately endangered others should a rescue been called for. Not to mention the effect of an accident upon those who care for me. After all my years on the water, I should have known better, there is simply no way around that fact. I was stupid, I mean Major League Stupid, to have done this. Period.
My friend, Louis, made this (other) photograph of me and the wave. I have since titled it “The Imprudent Photographer.” I am repeatedly humbled by it, and again and again struck by what a foolish thing I had done. And, once again, I am struck by having lived through yet another lesson that might well have killed me. Sooner or later I am going to make sense of all these lessons and, well, I’m not sure what I’ll do with them.
Meanwhile, The Chastened Photographer keeps at it, albeit more thoughtfully. There are more stories to live — and lessons to learn (one hopes).