THE STORY BEHIND THE PHOTOS
I had less than 24 hours on the ground in Rhode Island. The plan was to arrive early Friday afternoon and be on my way back to New Jersey by noon on Saturday. That would give me dusk on Friday and dawn on Saturday to shoot. As a landscape photographer, prime shooting times for me are one hour either side of sunrise or sunset. You just can't get compelling landscape images in the middle of the day.
Off I went. It was a 3 1/2 hr drive to my destination. I arrived at my hotel at 4PM and immediately headed out again. I drove south in search of the Point Judith lighthouse. The plan was to shoot the lighthouse from the beach as the sun began its gradual descent to the west and then hit several other spots along the coast before it got dark.
Upon arriving, I was greeted by a tall cyclone fence topped with barbed wire and a sign that said: "US Coastguard - Authorized Personnel Only". Clearly I needed a plan B. I walked the perimeter of the fence toward a bed of tall, densely packed marsh reeds. I found what I assumed was a path through the reeds to the beach. But the reeds were so tall - at least 10 ft - I couldn't be sure what I was getting myself into. Still, feeling a little full of myself, I thought, "Even the US Coastguard can't keep me from getting my shots." Moments later I felt my hubris melt away as I was sinking into slimy, ankle-deep mud.
I eventually made my way through the reeds to the beach. However, triumph once again turned to despair as I saw the beach was completely bereft of sand. In its place was an ocean of small, ankle-biting rocks and boulders. (Rhode Island is apparently known for its rocky shoreline - I didn't get the memo.) While it was difficult to walk without twisting my ankle or tripping, I eventually found a good place to shoot, setup my camera and fired away. Then almost as quickly, I realized it was time to move on to the other shoreline locations before I lost out to the rapidly setting sun.
My next destination was the Block Island Ferry inlet. When I arrived, I looked for the perfect place to capture the last rays of sunlight. I soon happened upon a small, wind-swept stretch of beach south of the inlet. It was there that I captured some of my favorite photos of the trip: several images of faded beach fence half-buried by blowing sand. The long shadows cast by the now very low sun were the perfect complement to the faded textures and uneven geometry of the fencing itself.
I hurried back to the inlet to shoot the ships passing in front of the setting sun. Several trawlers and a ferry later, I was done. The sun was down, the light was fading and I was starving. Back to the motel for some dinner, and then down for an early bedtime.
The next morning I awoke at 5AM. I scarfed down a blueberry muffin, dragged a toothbrush across my teeth and off I went. Today's destination: the rocky cliffs and shoreline of Newport.
World renown, Newport, Rhode Island is home to the richest of rich. It was still dark when I crossed the Newport Bridge. My destination was the rock cliffs on the eastern side of city known as Cliffwalk. A heavy, pre-dawn mist hung in the air as I drove slowly south on Bellevue Avenue. Massive estate after massive estate lined the otherwise quaint and narrow streets of this Revolutionary War city. I didn't know where I could best access the cliffs, but followed my intuition and quickly turned east on one of the side streets. As luck would have it, this street brought me to my directly to my desired destination.
It was still dark when I arrived at the top of the Cliffwalk. The sulfur yellow light of the street lamp burned through the mist. As I got out of my car, I could hear the waves crashing on the bedrock below but could see nothing. I eventually found my way to a stairway that led down to a stone landing. As I descended all 60 steps in the dark, the sound of waves crashing grew louder and louder. I turned when I reached the bottom, and through the faint glare of the first wisps of dawn found myself looking back at the cliffs of Newport.
I set up my camera and waited. For a moment, I was overcome by the weariness of my travels. Then I saw it: the first pinkish-red hues of the morning sky. I felt a rush of exhilaration as the stone faced cliffs came alive moment by moment with the rising of the sun. The brightness continued to grow and soon amazing shades of color emerged from the algae-covered rock along the shore's edge. I had never seen anything like it. I rattled off a bunch of long exposures. It was still too dark to see exactly what I was getting, but the excitement and energy continued to build. And then just as quickly, I knew it was time to move on. There were other scenes to shoot before the sun came into full view. I had no idea where I was going, but bounded back up those 60 steps, hopped into the car and headed to south.
Aiming to get as close to the shoreline as possible, I drove the perimeter of Newport's south coast. But actual access to that coast was all but impossible: estate after estate blocked my way. Finally I happened upon a narrow side road. Again, following my intuition, I turned and drove to the end. There I was rewarded with a small, badly-weathered sign which read "Public Fishing." The sign had an arrow which pointed down a dew covered path. I knew I had hit pay dirt. I grabbed my camera equipment and trotted off towards the beach.
The sun was just crossing the horizon when I hit the sand. I had to work fast. Unlike the beach from the day before, the rocks on this beach were widely dispersed, the in-between areas covered in coarse brown sand. These rocks were also quite beautiful. Specks of color throbbed from their gnarled grains. Some twinkled as the light grew, others glowed. Granite, Diorite and other igneous rock - stoic travelers from a billion years past. I worked quickly over the next 45 minutes to capture the sun's ascent. Many of the rocks shown like fire under the sun's healing rays. It was truly magnificent. And then it was done. The sun was well above the horizon, time to move on.
There were a few more photo opportunities further down the road but nothing like the display of granite fireworks I had just seen. By 8AM I was on my way back to my motel and by 10AM I was on the road home. It was a long drive back to New Jersey but I felt content that I had realized what I set out to achieve.
© 2010-2023 Peter Alessandria