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New York’s surreal beaches shot by Ward Roberts

'Flotsam' studies the abstracted sunbathers of Rockaway Beach

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The title of this photo series ‘Flotsam’ almost subtly eludes to trash or rubbish. It’s a series shot at Rockaway Beach in New York over two summers. The first time that I went to Rockaway it felt strange, it was very surreal.

Growing up as an Australian and also growing up in Hong Kong, the beaches in New York are very strange to me. It had this really weird energy that drew me to it. It’s like an industrial, constructed beach. These beaches in New York are normally crowded with people and have planes flying overhead, commission flats just behind them—it’s quite a weird concept that you’re meant to relax in these locations. I just couldn’t really wrap my head around the idea that it was a place where people would go to unwind.

This particular series I spent some time trying to find the right way to do it. At the beginning I didn’t have any people feature in it. That made it feel like it lacked something. When I took the first photo that had someone in it—it felt otherworldly. There was something about it that felt like a different planet. There was definitely this aspect of the juxtaposition between the beach, the people, and the buildings.

There’s this sense of repetition throughout the series—almost like how the background in old cartoons would repeat itself. A lot of these images look so constructed because of the angles of the buildings, the perfect shadows of the planes overhead, and the positions of the people but it’s all-natural.

Ward Roberts’ monograph ‘Flotsam’ is available through the publisher’s website: editions-press.com

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