The ocean does not make an appearance in Ward Roberts’s Flotsam, set on New York’s Far Rockaway Beach. Instead, the images frame isolated sunbathers against a backdrop of tightly packed houses and apartment buildings and an expanse of pale sand and bright sky. In many, these two distinct environments are divided by fences, construction equipment and the incipient sand dunes that were being rebuilt following Hurricane Sandy, during the years Roberts worked on the series, from 2014 to 2017. Published in a book this month by Atelier Éditions, Flotsam uses desaturated color and careful framing to suggest a surreal version of the beach, one where the usual high-season crowds are replaced by lone sunbathers, while the many residents of the buildings pressed against the shore and the workers who might drive the cranes and backhoes that line the beach, are nowhere to be seen. Instead, the only link to life off the beach comes from airplanes and their low shadows, which cross the sky and the beach on their way to land at nearby JFK. The result is that the men and women in Roberts’s images seem to be adrift in a sea of sand and disconnected from the busy world around them. As the title suggests, this human flotsam might be the wreckage from any number of individual or shared shipwrecks.
Massimo Vitali’s Teeming Beaches
A Portrait of the Empty Jersey Shore
Greta Rybus Creates a Human Rights Story About Rising Sea Levels, Extreme Weather (for PDN subscribers; login required)