In October 2005 I was working with 35mm film along the coast, slightly north of Boston. I arrived at the shore before dawn and could feel the wind gently rock my truck; it was cold and dark. I grabbed my tripod, camera and one lens and walked towards the beach where I saw several men fishing in a soft reddish mist. The fishermen were sporadic; there was a loneliness. I stood and stared. It sparked a memory of my father; he enjoyed dawn beach fishing.
It was bitterly cold; I had no gloves and the surf spray was biting; I was locked in the memory. My dad would shove three or four tubes in the sand, cast into the sea and set the rods in the tubes. Sometimes there were one or two other men off in the distance doing the same, or we were alone. I would explore the surrounding beach, frequently looking back to check if he was packing up to leave; most of the time he either stared at the tips of the rods or gazed into the ocean, seemingly deep in thought.
My father loved photography; he taught me about exposure using film speed, aperture and shutter on his Nikon Nikkormat. The right side of the viewfinder had a simple light meter and correct exposure showed as a horizontal line; the line tilted downward if it were too dark or upward if too bright. The Nikon was off limits without him nearby, but I did not obey. Often, when at his apartment, I would open the case, practice changing lenses and learn the effects on exposure by turning the dials. It was a heavy camera for a small boy. I always put it back carefully, to avoid getting in trouble. When I was ten or eleven, he tasked me to be his photographer; he needed the perfect photograph. I was very excited. Later that evening he took me to a basement disco party, told me where to sit, gave me his Nikon and walked away. Moments later, he emerged with his African American girlfriend, dancing and kissing. I raised the camera to my eye, focused and did my best to set the correct exposure in the low light. Unfortunately, the contrast between his white skin and her black skin, plus the dim basement light, made it impossible to photograph. I decided a silhouette of the two of them doing their thing was best; I shot through the entire roll of film. Weeks later, dad told me that he was thrilled with the photographs.
Back to 2005; I positioned my tripod to accentuate the men as separate in their solitude. The dawn light on the sand was important to me. I knew how to set the correct exposure and I kept the shutter open for nearly one second. Then nearest man looked my way, as if wondering what I was doing; he returned his gaze to the sea, and to his thoughts.