Photographer Douglas Ljungkvist first went to Ocean Beach, New Jersey, in 1993, reluctantly. The Swedish-born, Brooklyn-based artist found the midcentury beachfront community like “some sort of work camp with rows and rows of tiny cottages as far as the eye could see.” But to please his girlfriend, he stayed, and then came vacation after summer vacation of growing more attached to the little homes in their faded pastel hues.
Then Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, and he was again hesitant to go to Ocean Beach. Yet, once the barrier island was accessible he went, and found the place in shambles, consumed by the beach. That before and after are chronicled in Ocean Beach, published last month by Kehrer Verlag.
By the time of Sandy, Ljungkvist had actually completed the photography project, and the publisher wasn’t interested in the addition of the Jersey Shore ruins. But there’s a calm composure to the artist’s work that emphasizes quiet sadness over the spectacle. The post-Sandy photographs ended up included as a sort of book within the book, complete with their own introduction. (You can also flip the whole volume from its front to back cover to see the contrast of pre- and post-destruction.)
“The quiet and solitary work process I had come to love was gone after Sandy,” Ljungkvist told Hyperallergic. “Now the place was full of crews from construction, demolition, and utility companies, cottage owners, curious day-trippers, and police patrolling for looters. For a project that is officially finished I guess I’ve been back pretty often, a half-dozen times, documenting the reconstruction process in full swing with new cottages being ready already for this summer season.”
Ljungkvist first exhibited the before-and-after pictures at the Photoville festival in Dumbo, Brooklyn, last fall. Over several summers he explored 60 cottages, from their simple, four-walled exteriors to their vibrant, matching interiors, where blue rotary phones mirror the walls and lighthouse-shaped lamps await vacation visitors in wood-paneled rooms. The houses were constructed back in the 1940s as an affordable summer choice for the working class, and little of the decor changed over the decades. People don’t appear except in a single beach photograph; the rest concentrate on the vacant spaces just before the start of the summer season, with Ljungkvist as much painting the frame with colors as capturing the cottage forms.
Even in the subsequent turn of wrecked holiday dreams, there’s an understated silence that holds some expectation for summers to come. In the last image of the book, spray-painted across two boards covering two windows are the words: “Down the shore; Everything is all right.”
Ocean Beach by Douglas Ljungkvist is available from Kehrer Verlag.