A Dreamlike Stretch of Sand

Anyone who has trodden barefoot on a beach not long after the tide has gone out knows well the hard-ribbed softness of the undulant sand. You feel the corrugation, pushing against the flatness of your feet. You dig your toes in and the rippled sand, which seemed so fixed and sculpted, shifts and gives a little. The imprint of wave yields to the determined impress of foot.

Joel Grossman's photograph captures something of this. Grossman has been doing black-and-white photography, exclusively, for the past 7-1/2 years. Before that, he taught psychology at a university in California for 23 years.

His Cape Cod picture contains nothing extraneous. It even eschews color, concentrating on qualities that, since the early days of photography, have been its essence. A raking sunlight takes this print through the tonal range from brilliant white sparkle to deeply etched black. The sand's form and texture are shown in degrees of light and shadow, its granularity in telling consonance with the granular nature of photographic printing.

This photograph translates one recording "medium" into another. The water's movements are recorded in the sand. In turn, the stilled movements of this sandscape are recorded in the photograph. In the process, there has occurred an almost dreamlike reduction of the subject to virtual abstraction - a receding delineation of contours fascinating in their own right.

Rather than treading the sand, however, the viewer seems to float over it, like a bird. The image's focus softens lower right, as if the ripples are slipping away under you, and the ridges and furrows top left - apparently ahead of you - are the most clear and sharp. Grossman talks of "slowly and unsystematically walking the water's edge," which puts me in mind of beachcombing, of searching for the perfect pebble. Or the perfect image to photograph.

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