There’s no sky here and no horizon. Only water, sand, and these sad figures on the beach. It’s not clear who they are. If they are a family, they seem totally disconnected from each other. It’s definitely not your standard beach party snapshot.
The boy on the left seems to be asleep; the man beside him in the sand is awake, but blank and unaware. The woman on the right, beside the overturned bicycle, is mindlessly watching a stream of sand drop through her hand into a pile at her feet. Her face is empty of any feeling.
Only the boy standing in the center seems active. His face is twisted into his hands in pain. He seems to be weeping, perhaps overcome by some private sorrow. No one is paying attention to him, and no one cares.
And behind all of them hangs what seems to be a vertical curtain of water, poised to crash down and wash them all away. It’s a strange and disturbing picture. One observer said it made his head hurt to look at it.
Even stranger: although it’s my picture, I have no memory of taking it. I only saw it years later on a roll of downtown Dumaguete pictures, nowhere near a beach. I have no idea where the beach was, or why I was there.
It’s a total blank in my mind. I could see right away that it was an unusually powerful picture and worth printing. But it was like printing someone else’s photograph.
Photographs are supposed to be records of reality, actual happenings. People take them for memories, souvenirs. Even a bad photograph is at least a record of what was actually in front of the camera at the time. Seen as an art form, this reality is supposed to set photography apart from painting, or sculpture, or any other form of art.
But the “reality” is mostly an illusion. Take this photograph. Unlike reality, it has no color and is cut off inside a frame. The camera froze only a brief, isolated moment of the scene. And since I don’t remember being there, that moment is not even a memory.
The only reality that remains is this picture, the photograph itself. Its value lies not in any actual event, but in the feeling, the state of mind that it evokes in those who understand what it has to say.